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Few American cities can furnish so many instances where men have accumulated large fortunes simply by well directed labor, however adverse the circumstances which surrounded their early struggles, than Portland. The subject of this sketch is a striking example of the truth of this statement. Arriving in Portland some thirty odd years ago, without friends or money, but possessed of good health and plenty of pluck and energy, he has steadily pushed onward and upward until today he occupies a prominent place among the leading business men of the city.
He was born in London, in 1830, and is the third among eleven sons and daughters of Richard and Mercy Johnson. His father was a butcher, but on coming to America, in 1843, settled on a farm in Waukesha County, Wisconsin, where, with his family, he continued to live until 1869, when he came to Portland, and resided with the subject of this sketch until his death in 1871. Young Johnson had but little chance for gaining an education, a short period of instruction in the public schools of London completing his opportunities in this direction. Although he was but thirteen years old when he left London, he had become very familiar with that great city and he still retains the most vivid recollections of his early home. After the family came to Wisconsin, he assisted his father in the labors upon the farm, being thus employed until after he had passed his twentieth year. He then went to Milwaukee and secured work in the pork packing establishment of John Plankington. Here he remained about a year, when he entered the service of Thomas Cross.
In the spring of 1852, he left Milwaukee with an ox-team train bound for Portland, Oregon, consenting to drive a team across the plains for his board. He remained with the train during its long and wearisome journey until the Cascades were readied. Here he secured passage on the little steamer Flint, bound for Portland, arriving September 17th, 1852. He had been brought up on a farm and was perfectly familiar with all the conditions necessary to carry on farming successfully, and the rich soil of the Willamette Valley, combined with its genial climate soon convinced him he had found a territory which would in time become a rich and prosperous region. He determined to remain and work out his destiny here. He had no money or even an acquaintance, but equipped with a rugged constitution and plenty of pluck and energy, he was not for a moment dismayed. For the first three months after his arrival he worked for a butcher by the name of Charles Albright. He then purchased a half interest in a meat market on Front street, between Morrison and Yamhill. Richard S. Perkins soon after bought the other half interest in the business and the firm of Johnson & Perkins was then established. Both had had practical experience in this line of business, and abundant success followed their undertaking. They remained together for ten years, and during this period were located on the corner of Washington and First streets where the First National Bank now is. Since the retirement of Mr. Perkins, Mr. Johnson has managed his business alone. In 1863 he built a market on the corner of First and A streets, known as the Pacific Market. Here he remained until the Central Market was opened in 1871, where he remained for sixteen years. In 1887 he moved to his present location on First street, below Ash.
For many years Mr. Johnson has been the heaviest dealer in meats in the city. His operations in packing, butchering, handling and selling of all kinds of live stock have grown to very large proportions, his yearly business reaching a sum from $200,000 to $400,000. He has also been an extensive operator in real estate, owning some of the most valuable business blocks in the city, and 2,500 acres of timber and farming lands within ten miles of Portland.
During his whole business career Mr. Johnson has borne a high reputation as an honorable, straightforward business man. Every obligation he has assumed he has faithfully and fully discharged. His business operations have brought him into close contact with men in every part of the State, and have given him a wide and intimate acquaintance with the people enjoyed by few men in Portland. He has been a hard worker all his life, but his years of active toil have had but slight effect upon his naturally vigorous constitution. He has ever been liberal, generous and charitable, and ever ready to co-operate with Portland’s most progressive citizens in any enter-prise which promises to advance the general good.
He was married in 1853 to Miss Cordelia St. Clair, of Washington County, Oregon. They have had fourteen children, of whom ten are now living-five sons and five daughters, in order of birth as follows: Stephen M., Mercy S., wife of A. T. Dobbins, of Columbia County; Arthur R., Charles N., Cordelia J., wife of T. N. Dunbar, of Portland; Mary H., wife of E. H. Parkhurst, of Portland; Annie M., wife of Arthur L. Wylie, of Portland; Hamilton B., Caroline V. and Admire T. G. John-son. William S., his second son met with a fatal accident in Washington County, in the spring of 1889. He was married and left a family of five children.
Mr. Johnson has been a very useful man to Portland and to the country at large. On men of work and worth like him the prosperity of communities depends.