History museum shows diversity in Gresham's early days
After a three-month pandemic closure, the Gresham History Museum is up and running again with a new exhibit on "The Diversity of Gresham" and a lineup of history talks scheduled through the winter.
"As we researched Gresham's history of diversity, we discovered that there are a lot of missing pieces when we tried to tell the story," said Mark Moore, museum director.
Nonetheless, the exhibit shows photos and history of a few of Gresham's fascinating early BIPOC residents.
But Moore did not uncover as many artifacts and as much information as he had hoped. He reached out to Oregon Black Pioneers and the Oregon Historical Society and didn't come up with a trove of Gresham's diverse history. Moore is hoping Gresham residents might have memories or mementos to add to the exhibit.
Early Gresham, like much of the Pacific Northwest, had few African American residents. The state had passed three Black exclusion laws and combined with racist practices, that kept the Black population of the state and East Multnomah County to nearly nothing until recent years.
Likewise, Congress passed Chinese exclusion laws beginning in 1882. There were brutal attacks on Chinese immigrants in Oregon around this time.
In its early years, Gresham saw new settlers from Sweden, Japan and Germany, Moore found.
The exhibit details the history of several of Gresham's early Black residents.
One was Charlie Rivers, who was an a ship builder and handyman.
"He was a well-respected and well-dressed gentleman as seen in two real photo postcards showing street scenes of Gresham from about 1910," Moore said.
A railroad photographer took a photo of Gresham streets around 1910, and although one street scene was nearly deserted, Wilson was standing prominently in the foreground of one of the preserved shots, looking dapper in a suit and hat.
Another historic Black Gresham resident was musician Floyd Standifer, who graduated from Gresham Union High School in 1946.
He was vice president of the senior class and went on to become a world-class performer, touring with the likes of Ray Charles, Nat "King" Cole, the Quincy Jones Band and others. He was a fixture on the Seattle jazz scene and taught music at several colleges in the Northwest.
Moore had hoped to find some instruments, sheet music, programs or other artifacts related to Standifer, but did not.
Gresham's first Hispanic resident, Frank Escobar, moved here in 1902.
Moore said Escobar was "very well accepted as part of the community," and was honored by the Gresham Post Office in 1935 as the first local resident to buy savings bonds.
Escobar also developed and installed the first running water system in Gresham for a prominent doctor in town.
So beloved for his kindnesses to people in Gresham, a pioneer cemetery is named after Escobar.
Another early Latinx resident was Maria Carbajales, who ran a small lumber company in the Rockwood area in the early 1900s, according to the exhibit.
The museum is losing some of its most beloved artifacts this summer. After
spending the last 20 years in the museum on Main Avenue, the Meier & Frank clocks are set to be moved to the Oregon Historical Society in Portland in July.
On Sunday, June 27, the museum will host Bill Butcher of the local chapter of the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors to tell the story of the clocks in a farewell event.
If you go
What: Gresham History Museum
Where: 410 N. Main Ave.
Hours:10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday;
noon to 4 p.m. Sundays
Admission is free.
Masks required, social distancing observed.
The museum has limited resources for research and acquisitions, so the Gresham Historical Society is asking for anyone with memories, photos or artifacts tied to this exhibit that they'd like to contribute or loan to please contact them at 503-661-0347.
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