The residents of Eliot are fortunate today to enjoy ethnic and cultural diversity. What is more unique about our neighborhood is that it was always diverse since the beginning, during the last quarter of the 19th Century. A healthy mix of immigrants from Europe settled here and built homes. In the northerly portion of the original town site of Albina, which is bounded by today’s NE Morris Street west of MLK & NE Ivy Street east of MLK, a higher concentration of settlers from Scandinavian countries purchased property and built homes for themselves and related family members. Most of these men held a variety of occupations that were often unskilled, but they were well-taught and highly skilled in carpentry. Luckily, clusters of these small but decorative houses stand today and some have been sensitively restored.
One of these interesting groups of houses stand on the east side of NE Rodney between NE Stanton & Graham. Hans Tonneson, an immigrant from Norway, built this group comprised of three Victorian era Queen Anne styled cottages at 2836, 2842 & 2850 NE Rodney and a Craftsman styled Foursquare house at 2856 NE Rodney. All of these homes today are in separate ownership and have had tasteful renovations in recent years.
This little story begins in 1889 when Mr. Tonneson purchased 2 large lots at this corner of Rodney & Stanton streets by a bond deed from James B. Montgomery, a developer who invested in a large portion of residential Albina in 1882. Bond terms were offered at slightly higher prices to folks who had a lower down payment during these days. Hans Tonneson was born in Norway in 1863 and was raised working as a shipwright learning the trade of woodworking and cabinetry very well. Around the mid-1880s, he married Trine, also born there in 1870. In about 1885, Hans alone immigrated to the United States and in about 1887, he came to the Portland area to work for the Union Pacific Railroad and chose Albina (now inside our neighborhood). In 1891, Hans Tonneson was able to pay off the bond debt on the property and borrowed $500 to construct three small homes. After living on a floating house on the Willamette River, he moved into the house at 2836 NE Rodney and used the other two as investments to house other recent arrivals. These three cottages were nearly identical but this one is 2 feet wider than the others and built close to the southern boundary of the property. Soon, Hans moved to Puget Island on the Columbia River becoming the second homesteader there and his wife was finally able to leave Norway to join him. This location probably reminded Hans most of the fiords of Norway and here, he established a new career as a navigation light lighter for the US Lighthouse Authority along the island for the safety of ships traveling along the Columbia River. In 1900, the couple became naturalized citizens and soon daughter Elizabeth was born followed by son Stanley S.
In 1910, the Tonneson family decided to return to Albina (now Portland) and add another larger house on the property but had to move two of the cottages over since the 3 were evenly spaced apart. In 1911, Hans finished construction of their new family house in the Craftsman Foursquare style at the corner of Stanton at 2856 NE Rodney. Apparently, the parents had little or no English speaking ability but both children advanced well in their careers. The father also did much fishing and continued his lamp lighting duties on the Columbia but it is likely his main livelihood during his later years was being a resident landlord on his property as all the houses remained in his ownership. The daughter Elizabeth worked as a clerk at various offices until marrying Roy Petterson and remained living on the property. Son Stanley moved up a career path from a bellboy to a clerk for the IRS during the late 1920s. He soon took residence and title to the house at 2842 NE Rodney after he married and in the 1940s, he became the district credit manager for Firestone Tire & Rubber Company. By 1950, his success allowed him to move into the East Irvington neighborhood on NE 27th. Around 1930, the Tonnesons sold the house at 2836 NE Rodney to Jacob Bollinger, a long-time tenant and good acquaintance. In about 1942, Hans & Trine Tonneson, quite elderly at this time, returned to their homestead on the Columbia River for retirement but he may have still tended the lamps. After a long and fulfilling life, Hans passed away in 1947 at the age of 85 and the remaining 3 houses were sold to separate owners in 1948. Trine Tonneson lived over another decade until her death at the age of 99. The house in the middle of the group saw an enormous amount of abuse as rental for about 30 years until it was acquired by the author in the 1990s and restored. The craftsmanship put into it by Hans Tonneson stood as a testament as all of its redwood windows could even be restored.
An excerpt from the book The History of Albina, available at Broadway Books at 1714 NE Broadway, Rejuvenation Inc. at 1100 SE Grand, and Powells Books at NW 10th & Burnside.