GRANTS PASS, Ore. — Jeanette Spencer Dickson was born and raised in Grants Pass, and has had a life-long interest in local history. One question always on her mind was why several streets in the southwest part of town suddenly make a dog-leg bend after heading nearly east and west.
“It just didn’t make any sense. And then all at once when I’d discovered about the surveys, the light bulb went off, and I thought, ‘Oh! There’s my answer!’” Dickson said.
It all goes back to 1883, when the California and Oregon Railroad was laying out its line through Southern Oregon. All along the proposed line, speculators were looking for good townsites where they might be able to sell lots to potential home and business owners. One of those was a future U.S. senator from Portland, Jonathan Bourne. He sent his “people” south to lay out what would become Grants Pass. At the same time a Roseburg attorney, William Willis got title to an area of what is now southwest Grants Pass. And it was on Nov. 28, 1883 that he filed a plat for the proposed site of Grants Pass, 10 days before Bourne could stake his claim. Willis then transferred title to a Polish Jewish emigrant businessman, Solomon Abraham. Abraham was the right-of-way agent for the railroad.
And Abraham’s site was laid out on the lines of the compass, with streets east and west, north and south.
“So they were competing at the same time to get buildings and merchants and all sorts of things to–that would be the backbone of his new town. And the agent (for Johnathan Bourne) did not like Solomon Abraham at all. And so he began derisively calling Abrahams little settlement area New Jerusalem, and that was, it was not conducive to poor Solomon Abraham being able to continue,” Dickson said.
It wasn’t long before Solomon Abraham decided to pull out. He sold his townsite to the Bourne interests and moved on to found a town 30 miles up the road which he called Julia, in honor of his wife. Today it’s known as Glendale.
As Grants Pass began to grow north and east, the angle of the streets changed to more closely parallel or cross at right angles the railroad. You can see it on maps today.
If you go on down “G” Street here the street makes a bit of a dog-leg, and there it runs east and west. Other streets cross it at a north south angle. That was Solomon Abraham’s idea. When Bourne came along, he decided to follow the railroad tracks.
At the same time, possibly through Bourne’s influence in the Oregon Legislature, the Jackson County line, which crossed near what is now Western Avenue in Grants Pass, was shifted five miles east to Savage Rapids. And that opened the way for Grants Pass to become the new county seat of an expanded Josephine County.
“The three names that appeared on the ballot were Grants Pass, Kerbyville, and Wilderville. Well, only the ones with Grants Pass on it were printed. The rest they had to write in. And because these were mostly uneducated miners at the time, all they had to do was check a little box next to Grants Pass. They didn’t have to write what they didn’t know how to spell! And uh, Grants Pass came out on top!” Dickson said.
And until now, Solomon Abraham’s efforts to establish a city on the Rogue River have gone largely unrecognized, until Jeanette Dickson came along and dug up the facts.