First Peoples

“The confluence of the Columbia and Willamette Rivers and the surrounding lowlands form the Portland Basin. Humans first inhabited the region about 11,000 years ago—small, mobile groups who lived in winter villages and moved to seasonal camps to gather food. They fished for salmon, sturgeon, and smelt in the Columbia; hunted birds, deer, elk, and other game; and gathered nuts, berries, roots, and bulbs. From the earliest inhabitants came Chinookan-speaking peoples, including the Clackamas, Kathlamet, Multnomah, and Tualatin.

During their travels through the basin and the Wapato Valley in 1806, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark described twenty-five villages. They reported encountering some 2,400 Multnomah on Sauvie Island, on the Willamette River about fifteen miles northwest of present-day Portland. Others who traveled in the region during the early nineteenth century described Chinookan villages with as many as twenty-eight houses.

Many villages, both winter and seasonal, were located along or near the Columbia River, with relatively easy access to centers of trade, such as Celilo Falls near present-day The Dalles. When British and American fur companies entered the basin beginning in the 1810s, they traded frequently with Chinookan villagers. The trappers, missionaries, and settlers who followed brought with them diseases like smallpox and measles, creating epidemics that decimated Native peoples in the Portland Basin, with most Chinookan villages losing between 50 and 90 percent of their population. By 1843, when Asa Lovejoy and Francis Pettygrove reportedly flipped a penny to give Portland its name, the number of Indians who lived in the basin had plummeted as a result of introduced diseases such as measles and smallpox.”[1]


Fremont United Methodist Church is on the north eastern section of the original William and Elizabeth Irving Donation Land claim of 1851.  The DLC act of 1850 gave a married couple 640 acres with the husband and wife each owning half of the grant in their own name, one of the first that allowed married women to hold property under their own name.

In the 1880’s the area was cleared farmland, on the undulating plain just northeast of the commercial hub of Albina.  It was well suited for a grid of streets and rectangular blocks because there were not many natural obstacles.

Development of the east side of Portland was connected with the construction of the Oregon Central Railroad Terminus in 1868.  The Electric streetcars were extended to Irvington changing the former farmland into residential.  This brought enough growth that by 1910, 50% of the population of Portland was on the eastside, “the suburbs.”  In 1882 Irving’s descendants began selling parts of the property and  by 1906 the land that Fremont UMC is located on was owned by someone who named it the Edgemont plat.[2]

Church Planning

“In 1921 the Portland City Church Extension Society of the Methodist Church adopted a resolution that there should be a Protestant Sunday School within walking distance of any new grade school in Portland. Alameda School had just been finished, so a survey was conducted and it was decided a church was needed.  The first services were in Alameda School in July of 1922.  In May of 1923 the cornerstone was laid for the first church building.  The land or the money for it was anonymously donated by a lay person who believed in the need for a church.  The land fronts Fremont Street between 26th and 27th. It was sufficient for the first section of the church with room for a parsonage and completed in 1928. The current sanctuary was completed in 1954.”[3]

Racial History and Restrictive Covenants

Information received from the family of Jack and Mae Nash, founding members of our church.

Written by church goer born in 1929:

“As far as I know we never had a person of color attend the church until sometime after I left in 1960. No colored people lived in the area. I don’t know about rules for living in the area. When I went to Grant, a Chinese boy entered and lasted about one week. Other than that, we had no blacks, Asians or Hispanics in high school. I graduated in 1947. When I went to Alameda we never had a student of color, or Asian or Hispanic. We had a few Jewish students, even they had a hard time.

From Sally Tunstall Arvidson:

“I also attended Alameda and Grant (class of 1963) and only recall a few students of color – one was student body president and a few football players. I have very few recollections of church (except we always had to sit in the same place and wear a hat).”

From Julie Tunstall:

“I can remember two black girls at Alameda in the 60’s. One was very quiet, the other was fun to play with on the playground. Don’t know anything about where they lived. Looking back, it’s odd that our neighborhood was so white when it seemed there were so many more black people as far away as Union Avenue.”

From interview with Mark and Jane Cotton:

They moved into the Beaumont neighborhood in 1963. During their house hunt they first worked with a realtor who told them not to buy a home below 24th or 15h, they couldn’t agree which, because blacks lived there. At that point they asked for a different realtor. Mark says that the deed to their home on NE 40th still said that blacks were not to be in the neighborhood after 6:00 pm unless they were servants. In the late sixties a black couple did move into the home behind them.

In the 60’s there were no blacks attending Fremont. The congregation had about 200 members, lots of couples where both were active. There was an active church school program including two adult classes that had about 30 total members.

By looking at old directories, Jane was able to see that there was an adopted black teenager who came with her family in the early 1970’s. Azel and Mary Geneva Savage were members of the church in 1977 and Cynthia MacLeod (Thomas) came with her sons soon after. Helloise and Shelton Hill joined by 1987. Following that time there were a few mixed race couples, Bill and Julie Diaz, Mark and Elizabeth Williams. Kezia Wilson was born to Geri Wilson in 1987.

Memories from Trudy Pollard who attended Woodlawn UMC:

She remembers that her parent could not buy a home in the Alameda area. The blacks who attended Woodlawn and Hughes Memorial spoke of Fremont as being the rich white church and didn’t feel that blacks would be welcome there. In the late 1980’s Pastor Luther Sturtevant of Woodlawn and Pastor Dan Pitney of Fremont began to build a relationship between the two congregations.

[1] First Peoples in the Portland Basin


[3] Taken from the Celebrating 75 Years congregational book at Fremont UMC.