Historical Gallery

Historical Landmark

The Stephens House is not just another bed and breakfast but an extraordinary piece of history. Located on the east bank of the Willamette River, the house was built by James B. Stephens in 1864, who was among the early overland immigrants to Oregon. Stephens quickly established what became the first commercial ferry between settlements on the east and west sides of the river. He platted East Portland in 1850 and started a new ferry crossing under an exclusive charter, which was held for a decade.

The town of East Portland was enlarged in 1870, and development was spurred by the construction of the Oregon & California Railroad from 1868 onwards.

The Stephens House itself is a two-story Italianate house and was once a prominent landmark on the riverfront where the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry is currently located (OMSI). In 1902, the house was moved to its present location to make way for railway development. The house still retains most of its original core volume with exterior cladding and trim elements. The facade features regular window bays, a central entry with transom and sidelights, and a pair of brick chimneys that rose on either side of the hip-roofed belvedere to vent double fireplaces in rooms on either side of the hall.

The original staircase with spool-turned balusters, window and door trim, and other interior features have been preserved. The Stephens House is locally significant under Criterion B in the areas of settlement and community planning and development, making it one of the oldest houses in Portland. Its exceptional status and direct relationship to the founder of East Portland is also why it overcomes the normal exclusion of relocated properties. The historic period of significance extends from the date of construction to 1889, when Stephens predeceased his wife, Elizabeth Walter Stephens, in the house.

As a guest, you can step back in time and experience the rich history of Portland in this beautiful house that stands as a testament to one of the city's early pioneers. The site is now in a discrete setting in one of the most sought after neighborhoods in the Portland Area, Ladd’s Addition. Technically, the Stephen’s house is on the edge of Stephen’s Addition but it is just across the street from Ladd’s and all of the amenities of the Hawthorne District.

Stay in the Stephens House and experience the charm and elegance of a bygone era. You will not only be transported back in time but also be part of a piece of Portland's rich history.

The core volume with its exterior cladding and most of its trim elements survived the relocation of 1902, as did the belvedere and open platform porch on the front and one side. But by 1923, the outlook was missing, and the front porch was replaced with a full width veranda with hip roof supported by round Tuscan columns. Eventually, the belvedere was lost, and the side deck removed. A single story hip-roofed attachment was added to the rear in the conversion to apartment units, and onto it was superimposed a solarium. Interior features remaining from the original construction included the staircase with spool-turned balusters, window and door trim. The Stephens House is locally significant under Criterion B in the areas of settlement and community planning and development as the only remaining building that bears direct relationship to the founder of East Portland. Because of its exceptional status as one of the oldest houses in Portland, and in consideration of the fact that the house was moved in straight alignment from the foot of Stephens Street 12 blocks to a position within the bounds of the platter's original claim, the normal exclusion of relocated properties [Criteria Consideration B] is overcome. The historic period of significance extends from the date of construction to 1889, when Stephens, predeceased by his wife, Elizabeth Walter Stephens ended his days in the house.

James Bowles Stephens (1806-1889), a farmer and cooper who, having been born in Virginia, pushed west to Illinois, was among the early overland immigrants to Oregon. He arrived with his family in Oregon City in 1844, and the following year purchased squatter's rights on a tract of land on the east bank of the Willamette. He quickly established in 1846 what became the first commercial ferry between settlements on east and west sides of the river. In 1850, after a misadventure in the California gold fields, he platted East Portland and started a new ferry crossing under an exclusive charter. Though controversial, Stephens' monoply on cross-river ferrying held for a decade. He was an organizer of the Pacific Telegraph Company in 1855, and from 1861 to 1873, he managed the East Portland Savings and Loan Bank. Development of East Portland was spurred by construction of the Oregon & California Railroad from 1868 Onward.

The Town of East Portland was enlarged by a major new addition in 1870. In the panic of 1873, Stephens suffered losses in the banking venture which he had entered into with his son-in-law, Dr. A. M. Loryea. Even so, he managed to retain a portion of his original estate, where he planted orchards and berries. Stephens was charter president of the first Oregon agricultural society. He donated land for school purposes as well as seven acres for the Insane Asylum which, beginning in 1862, was operated under State contract by Dr. J. C. Hawthorne and Stephens' son-in-law. Presumably, it was after the institution was moved to the capital city in 1883 that East Portland's Asylum Street was renamed for Hawthorne.

When Elizabeth Walker Stephens died in 1887, Stephens provided for a stele-like sculptural relief effigy to mark their joint lot in East Portland's Lone Fir Cemetery. Lone Fir started as a community burial ground in 1855 around the grave of Stephens' father, Emmor, who had been buried there in 1846. The gravemarker is unusual in Oregon funerary monumentation, one of many noteworthy monuments in the cemetery landscape. As compelling as its association is, however, the grave does not outrank the Stephens House as a tangible link to the pioneer couple. Only one of the Stephenses' seven children survived their father in 1889. The house and two acres were left to granddaughter Rosetta Jones Wallace, who, to prevent its destruction when she leased the homestead tract to Portland City & Oregon Railway Company for a terminal grounds, arranged for its relocation to SE Twelfth Avenue in 1902.

This application is accompanied by the endorsement of the City of Portland through Portland Historic Landmarks Commission chairman Deborah Gruenfeld. Portland recently entered the list of local governments in Oregon certified for expanded participation in the National Register program.


Hereby certify that the property is entered in the:

National Register

NPS Form 10-900-a OMB Approval No. 1024-4018 (8-86)

National Park Service

National Register of Historic Places

1825 SE Twelfth Avenue
Portland, Multnomah County, Oregon


The fine, two-story Italianate house which Portland area pioneer James B. Stephens built on his land claim on the east bank of the Willamette River in 1864 was moved to its present location to make way for railway development in 1902. The brisk box of a house, 36 feet square and surmounted by its rooftop outlook, was a prominent landmark on the riverfront for 38 years before it was relocated 12 blocks inland on Stephens' historic holding, where it borders the distinctive planned community of Ladd's Addition.

Originally oriented to the west to command a view of traffic on the Willamette, the house has been facing east for the greater part of its history. It fronts on SE Twelfth Avenue near its intersection with Stephens Street. The site is now reduced to a standard 50x100-foot lot and is crowded by a fourplex on the street corner to the south, but a sense of discrete setting is upheld to a degree by mature street trees in the parking Strip.

As originally configured, the house of balloon frame construction was a hip-roofed square volume with a kitchen ell. It rose from a high basement on a site that sloped west to the river's edge. It was encircled on the front and two sides by a balustraded ground story deck, and it was clad with lapped weatherboards. On the facade, a central entry with transom and sidelights and regular window bays on either side reveal an interior organization based on a central through hall plan. Access to the front entry was gained by a wide staircase centered on the front door, which in turn was sheltered by a single-bay porch with upper deck and railing. Windows typically were six-over-six double- hung sash with hooded lintels. Corner boards were detailed with inset panels and the building cap consisted of a low hip roof, bracketed cornice and plain frieze. A pair of brick chimneys rose on either side of the hip-roofed belvedere to vent double fireplaces in rooms on either side of the hall.


The Stephens Residence was moved in 1902 by the Stephenses' granddaughter. The house was moved 12 blocks east from its riverfront location on Stephens Street to a residential lot on the corner of SE Twelfth and SE Stephens Street. The building retains its association with Stephens original donation land claim and is located in Stephens Addition to the town of Portland (historically East Portland).


The James B. Stephens Residence, constructed in ca. 1864, is significant under Criteria B, for its association with James Bowles Stephens. Stephens was one of the earliest pioneers in the Portland area, settling on land on the east bank of the Willamette River. Known for his many business ventures, Stephens is credited with starting the first commercial ferry system across the Willamette, incorporating the town of East Portland in 1870, donating land for an insane asylum and a school, and incorporating the Pacific Telegraph Company (one of incorporators). He also served on the East Portland City Council for several terms. The themes of Settlement, and Commerce and Urban Development are represented in the nomination. The Stephens Residence is a Portland City Landmark.

The Stephens Residence is also reputed to be the oldest house in Portland, representing the Settlement, Statehood, and Steampower chronological periods (1847-1865) in Oregon's history and represents one of the earliest examples of an Italianate Style residence in Oregon. The period of significance, 1864 to 1889, represents the period of occupancy of James and Elizabeth Stephens.

Although the Stephens Residence has been moved from its original location, the house meets Criteria Consideration Exception B. The criteria exception states that a resource is eligible if it is the surviving resource most importantly associated with a historic person or event. The Stephens Residence is the most important surviving resource associated with James B. Stephens and was the family home for more than 25 years. The house still remains in the boundaries of Stephens donation land claim and in Stephens Addition to Portland (originally East Portland).

James B. and Elizabeth Stephens and East Portland James and Elizabeth Stephens arrived in the Oregon Territory in 1844, settling in Oregon City. James Stephens, of English descent, was born on a farm on the state line between West Virginia, and Pennsylvania on November 19, 1806. James and his parents remained on the farm for eight years until they moved to a farm in Indiana. In Indiana, James learned the cooperage trade, making a living at it for many years. In 1829, James moved to Cincinnati, Ohio were he continued to work as a cooper. In 1830, Stephens met and married Elizabeth Walker (born near Flemingsburg, Kentucky, December 6, 1805) in Cincinnati, and in 1832, the couple moved to Hancock County, Illinois (near town of Carthage). He continued his work as a cooper and also opened a grocery store on their farm. In 1844, Elizabeth and James Stephens, their children, James' father Emmor, James' brother Thomas, and 800 other pioneers crossed the plains to the Oregon Territory (Scott: p. 352). The Stephens family arrived in Oregon City on December 24, 1844 where they stayed for a year (only three of their seven children arrived in Oregon, other died in mid-west or possibly on the trail west)(Fisher, p. 37).

Stephens quickly began work as a cooper in Oregon City, making 1,000 flour and 400 salmon barrels for the Hudson's Bay Company (Hines: p. 400). In 1847, he also made 400 barrels for the transport of beef to the Sandwich (Hawaiian) Islands (Hodgkin: p. 121). In 1845, Stephens purchased squatter's rights to acreage on the east side of the Willamette River in present-day Southeast Portland from Doctor John McLaughlin of Oregon City. McLaughlin was the administrator of an estate (the land Stephens purchased) held in trust for a deceased French-Canadian Hudson's Bay Company employee named Porier. The heavily timbered acreage was sold to Stephens for $200 who promptly constructed a log house on the property (Scott: p. 351).

He later secured a 641.92 acre claim through the provisions of the Donation Land Claim Act (DLC) of 1850. Stephens' DLC extended from SE Stark to Division streets and from SE 20th Avenue to the Willamette River (this included his original acreage). This land would later become known as "East Portland". James' brother, Thomas, also settled on a DLC approximately three miles upstream on the Willamette River. Tftoaas; 's property became known as Southwest Portland (North and South Burlingame districts). James Stephens is credited with starting Portland's first ferry across the Willamette River in 1846, connecting the settlements on the east and west sides of the Willamette River (Scott: p. 353). The first ferry was known as the Jefferson Street Ferry which was south of the present-day Hawthorne Bridge. Stephens ferried settlers and trappers across the river on a flatbed boat propelled by oars for a fee based on the type of load. In 1855, Stephens paid the first license fee to Multnomah County ($10) to operate the ferry (Snyder: 240).

In 1848, Stephens followed hundreds of other Northwesterners to the gold fields of California. He purchased a site for a bridge in California that would span the American River and proceeded to build a hand-hewn timber bridge. Some of the bridge members were 95 feet long and were set on heavy buttresses. This business venture prospered for only a short period. The following year, a flood destroyed the bridge at a loss of $20,000. Stephens sold the bridge site for $5,000 (Evans: p. 579).

In 1850, in partnership with Portlander James Terwilliger, Stephens cut a large number of trees and hewed them into large square timbers for the California market. Stephens transported the lumber to California only to lose the load to an agent, who "through a series of misfortunes, lost control of his own affairs leaving Stephens the loser to the tune of $16,000" (Oregonian f Nov. 28, 1971). Stephens returned to Oregon, vowing to stay away from business ventures in California. He put his energy and money into building his ferry business and purchasing more land. Stephens started a second ferry in 1850 which was reportedly a more popular ferry than the Jefferson Street ferry. This ferry was known as the Stark Street Ferry and extended between West Stark and East Oak Street (Fisher, p. 39). On January 17, 1853, the Oregon Territorial Government awarded Stephens a charter which granted him exclusive rights (with some limitations) of all the ferrying between West Portland and the entire east bank of the Willamette River (in Portland area) for a period of ten years (Fisher, p. 40). This charter and Stephens' rights to the ferry business caused animosity with other Portland settlers and many neighbors "believed that James was involved in unethical and unfair business practices, including ruthless tactics in opposing competition" (Fisher, p. 40). The legality of the charter was challenged and many court battles ensued.

Stephens platted "East Portland" in 1850-51 and officially filed the "East Portland" plat in 1861 (Scott: 351). The townsite extended from present-day NE Glisan Street (originally A Street) to SE Hawthorne Blvd., from the Willamette River to SE First Avenue (Scott: 351). He later expanded the plat to SE Twelfth Avenue. Lots were offered to settlers on their own terms and people who would start businesses in the new townsite were given lots. Because of his generosity/ Stephens became known as "Uncle Jimmy" by people who knew him. Stephens gradually expanded his land holdings to the north (buying part of the adjacent Wheeler DCL), owning about 1920 acres. Despite Stephens' efforts at promoting the growth of East Portland, the town of Portland on the west side of the Willamette River grew more rapidly. In 1854, Stephens sold a parcel of land to Colburn Barrell. Within the parcel sold to Barrell was the grave of Emmor Stephens, James' father who died in 1846. As part of the sale Barrell promised to take care of the grave on the property. Later that year, a steamship (the Gazelle) exploded killing several people. Two of the people killed were buried next to Emmor Stephens. At that time, Barrell set aside 10 acres of land as a cemetery. In 1855, the cemetery was officially surveyed and named Mt. Crawford Cemetery. The name was later changed to the "Lone Fir Cemetery". During the Indian Wars of 1855-56 when all of Eastern Oregon and Washington were closed to settlement, Stephens transported soldiers and munitions, and furnished feed for the army transports. As payment for his services, Stephens received government script for his services. Stephens again took a business blow as the script was not honored by the government until after the Civil War. When payment for his work was finally received, it was estimated that Stephens lost about $15,000 (Evans: p. 579).

In 1857, planted orchards and berries around his home along the banks of the Willamette River. James was the charter president of the Oregon's first agricultural society, based in East Portland (Fisher, p. 42). His field produced some of the finest berries in the area and was known for his successful orchards. Stephens sold his ferry in the early 1860s to A. Joseph Knott for $18,000 who continued to operate the ferry. In 1861, Stephens started the East Portland Savings and Loan Bank (East First and East Oak streets) with his son-in-law Doctor A.M. Loryea. Problems with financing the bank arose and Stephens lost much of his land due to failure to meet the mortgage. He stayed in the banking business until 1873. After losing much of his land, Stephens retained his original estate where he built (ca. 1864) the house that now stands on SE 12th Avenue (the nominated property).

Continuing to serve the needs of East Portland, Stephens supplied lots and lumber for houses without money down and on a three year contract (Democratic Era: July-August 1871). This interest in development was spurred on by the construction of Ben Holladay's railroad to Roseburg in 1868; East Portland was the terminus for the railroad.

Land values in East Portland escalated for several years as a result of the eastside railroad project. In the early 1860s, Stephens donated land for school purposes and in 1862 donated seven acres for the state's first insane asylum (supervised by his son-in-law, Dr. Loryea).

The present-day Hawthorne Street was known originally as Asylum Street because of the proximity to the state asylum. He also laid out "Stephens Addition" in 1869 (Stephens Street named at that time), officially incorporated the town of "East Portland" in 1870, and was one of the incorporators of the Pacific Telegraph Company (1855). Stephens was elected to the first East Portland City Council which he served on for several terms (Hines: p. 400).

The Stephenses had seven children; only one child, Elizabeth McCalla (died in 1894), outlived James and Elizabeth Stephens. One son, James, drowned in the Willamette River on August 11, 1869 and another daughter died in 1878. Elizabeth Stephens died on April 26, 1887 and James died March 22, 1889. Both died in their family home and were buried in Portland's Lone Fir Cemetery (Lot 10 Block 1) where a life-like statue (holding hands) of the couple marks their graves. The epitaph on the back of the monument (west face) reads: Here we lie by consent, after fifty-seven years'...sojourning through life, awaiting nature's immutable laws to return us back to the elements of the universe of which we were first composed. The family house and associated two acres were left to the Stephenses' granddaughter, Rosetta Jones Wallace. Portions of the estate, after a lengthy law suit, were also given to a Franklin Stephens (a nephew) and to the Raferty brothers, friends of the Stephens in East Portland.

Stephens Residence The Stephens House, built ca. 1864, is reputedly the oldest house in Portland. Built with stylistic elements of the Italianate Style, the house displays characteristics of the style in its low pitched hip roof, overhanging eaves supported with decorative brackets, cupola (removed), wood frame construction, and tall windows with projecting cornices. Although the exact date of the house construction is unknown, secondary sources date the house in the "early 1860s" and "1864" (Oregonian, September 19, 1898; March 31, 1902).

The Stephens family first built a double log house that was constructed in October, 1845 on their acreage. The log house stood at the foot (west end) of what is now called SE Stephens Street, on the bank of the Willamette River. The 1852 General Land Office Survey map indicates the Stephens' log home was south of the ferry boat landing (see supplemental maps). The road extending east-west on the 1852 map directly south of the Stephens' home would later be named Stephens Street. This road intersected with "Road to Sandy River". The plat of what is now downtown Portland is also shown on this early map.

The Stephens built a second house ca. 1864 near their original log home (on slightly higher ground). The house became a landmark along the eastern bank of the Willamette Valley and was known as one of the finest houses in the region. It was as prominent architecturally as other early Oregon residences including the Ainsworth House in Mt. Pleasant, the McLoughlin House in Oregon City, and the Bybee Howell House on Sauvie Island. Some of the balustrade details, door transoms and sidelights, and interior stair details are similar to these early Oregon houses. The original front porch of the Stephens house and entrance door surrounds are similar to the entrance details of the Bybee Howell House (1856) on Sauvie Island. The two-story house was square in plan, measuring 36 ft. by 36 ft., with a back one-story extension. The hip roof was capped with a cupola surrounded with a low balustrade. Large corbelled brick chimneys flanked the cupola. Italianate paired brackets supported the overhanging eaves. The six over six double-hung wood sash windows were capped with a prominent, projecting window cornice. Operable shutters flanked the windows. Long steps led up to the front deck which was enclosed with a balustrade.

A small central porch with balcony covered the entrance door. The door had multi-pane sidelights and transom.

A conjectural drawing of the original interior plan of the Stephens house prepared by William Hawkins, AIA, indicates that the house had a central hall with four rooms downstairs and four rooms upstairs. The one story extension in the back (west) of the house was probably a kitchen wing (Hawkins drawing in supplemental material). The interior stair balusters and trim details in the house are similar to the McLaughlin House in Oregon City (Hawkins, June 1996). The house was reported to have cost $6,000 to construct (Oregonian, March 31, 1902).

Several early photographs of downtown Portland and the Willamette River show the Stephens Residence in the background. The house was easily recognizable because of its size and prominent location along the banks of the Willamette River. The Stephens house was moved in 1902 by Rosetta Wallace, (granddaughter of the Stephenses) from its river front lot on the west end of Stephens Street to a lot at the corner of SE Stephens Street and SE Twelfth Avenues. A newspaper article of the time states that the house was moved for a cost of $750 (Oregonian March 31, 1902).

According to the 1908 (corrected from 1901) Sanborn Fire Insurance map, the house retained the south and east porch platform that originally extended around three sides of the house, and the cupola after the 1902 move. By 1923, however, the Sanborn Map indicates that the cupola had been removed and a one-story full porch (not the originally open platform) was built around the front and south side of the building. Between 1932 and 1955, the south side porch was removed leaving the present porch configuration. A garage is shown in the southwest corner of the lot on the 1923 Sanborn map (1908 indicates a barn at the same location).

The house has been altered throughout the years. Major exterior alterations include the removal of the cupola and original front porch and balcony, changing the original six over six double-hung sash windows to one over one double-hung windows, and removal of one of the original chimneys. The residence was divided into five apartments in the 1940s. The fireplaces were covered or removed and kitchens, closets, and bathrooms added to each unit. The original stair balusters remain and some of the crown moldings and baseboards in the interior of the halls and apartments are intact. Although the house has been altered over the years, the Stephens Residence is still an excellent example of early Oregon architecture representing the early settlement of Portland.


  • Caplander, Jan. "Old Uncle Jimmy bought a square mile of East Portland for $200." Southwest Examiner, December 1994.

  • Conte, Alba and Jay Gilberty. Interview with current owners by S. Donovan, July, 1996. Evans, Elwood. History of the Pacific Northwest, Oregon and Washington, Vol. II. North Pacific History Co., 1889.

  • Fisher, Edmund. Some Descendants of Thomas and Jane (Jefferson) Stephens of Baltimore County, Maryland. Compiled by Fisher in 1977. Special Collections, Oregon Historical Society.

  • General Land Surveyors Map, 1852. W 1/2 of T1S, R3E.

  • Hawkins, William, AIA. Phone interview by S. Donovan. Conjectural drawings of original Stephens House.

  • Hines, H.K. Illustrated History of State of Oregon. Lewis Publishing Co., 1893. Hodgkin, Frank E. and J.J. Galvin. Pen Pictures of Representative Men of Oregon. Farmer and Dairyman Publishing House, 1882.

  • McArthur, Lewis A. Oregon Geographic Names. Western Imprints, 1982. Metro. Pioneer Cemeteries: "Brief History of Lone Pine Cemetery". Portland, Oregon. Oregon Historical Quarterly, Vol. 11. Oregon Historical Society, 1910. Oregon Historical Society, Portland, Oregon. Scrapbooks 41, p. 143; 48, p. 131; 85, p.86;

  • 125, p. 127; 272, p. 56.

  • Historic Photographs: Nos. 75590 and 003866.

  • Oregon Journal. 21 August 1869.

  • Oregonian. "Death of James B. Stephens", 23 March 1889; "The James B. Stephens House", 31 March 1902; 19 September 1898; Nov. 28, 1971.

  • Portland and East Portland. 1874 Map. Oregon Historical Society.

  • Portland Historic Inventory. City of Portland. James B. Stephens House. #9-012-01825.

  • Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps. Portland, 1908, 1923, 1932, and 1955. Scott, Leslie M. "Beginnings of East Portland". Oregon Historical Quarterly, Vol. 31. Oregon Historical Society, 1930.

  • Snyder, Eugene E. We Claimed This Land. Binford and Mort Publishing, 1989. Property Name: Multnomah County

  • County and State: Multnomah County, Oregon

  • Geographical Data: Acreage of Property Less than one acre (0.11 acres) Portland, Oregon 1:24000UTM References: Zone 10 | Easting 521415 | Northing 503941