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How the Alphabet District of Northwest Portland was named

The district's streets run in alphabetical order and are named after prominent citizens in Portland's history.

PORTLAND, Ore. — They may be just street names, but the Alphabet District of Northwest Portland hold a lot of the city's history.

The area's history dates back to the mid 1800s when John Heard Couch, a sailor from Massachusetts, claimed 640 acres as part of the Donation Land Claim Act of 1850. It was known as Couch's Addition and what is now Northwest Portland, including the Pearl District and Old Town.

Couch's plat of land was adjacent to city founders Pettygrove and Lovejoy's claim that is current day downtown Portland.

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The streets in Couch's Addition, running east to west, were labeled simply A, B, C, etc. Years after Couch passed away, the city of Portland began to expand and annexed the nearby towns of Albina and East Portland. There were multiple streets going by the same letters, so the streets were renamed in the Alphabet District after names of prominent Portlanders.

B Street was renamed Burnside, after Dan Wyman Burnside, a merchant that came to Portland from Vermont.

C Street was renamed for John Heard Couch. 

"I call him sort of the grand daddy because he really was the granddaddy," said Northwest Portland resident Harvey Kline. "He not only started this thing with a land claim, but he had four daughters."

Credit: Portland City Archives

Kline's interest in the street's names started with Overton and grew from there. In 2013, he published his book, The ABC's of Portland's Alphabet and Pearl Districts.

"There wasn't a real compact book that told the story." Kline said.

Some of the streets in the Alphabet District have close ties to Couch. Two of his daughters married doctors Wilson and Glisan. Flanders was Couch's brother-in-law and sailed to Portland with Couch.

"Couch really did, let's call it, populate or father this entire district for many, many years." Kline said.

The boundaries of the Alphabet District start with Burnside and continue north to Vaughn, although some say they consider the district's northern boundary to be York. 

In 2000, a portion of the Alphabet District from Burnside to Northwest Marshall, was placed on the National Registry of Historic Places.

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