William S. Ladd

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William Sargent Ladd
William S. Ladd - Oregon.png
Ladd circa 1870
5th Mayor of Portland, Oregon
In office
Preceded by Josiah Failing
Succeeded by George W. Vaughn
8th Mayor of Portland, Oregon
In office
Preceded by James O'Neill
Succeeded by A. M. Starr
Personal details
Born October 10, 1826
Holland, Vermont
Died January 6, 1893(1893-01-06) (aged 66)
Portland, Oregon
Political party Democratic (1853–1864)
Republican (1864–1893)

Caroline Ames Elliott

18 March 1827 - 23 October 1909

William Sargent Ladd (October 10, 1826 – January 6, 1893) was an American politician and businessman in Oregon. He twice served as Portland, Oregon’s mayor in the 1850s. A native of Vermont, he was a prominent figure in the early development of Portland, and co-founded the first bank in the state in 1859. Ladd also built the first brick building in Portland and was a noted philanthropist. Part of his former estate, the Ladd Carriage House, is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Early life[edit]

William Ladd was born to Nathaniel Gould Ladd and Abigail Kelley Mead on October 10, 1826, in Holland, Vermont.[2] Nathaniel was of English heritage and received his education at Dartmouth College, becoming a physician, while Abigail was from New Hampshire.[3] When William was seven years old, the family moved to Sanborton Bridge, New Hampshire, where he was educated in the local public schools and an academy.[3] During the summers, he worked and at age 15 his father got him a job on a farm. William later worked on the family’s 58-acre (230,000 m2) farm before at age 19 beginning to work as a teacher in area schools.[3]

His father had earned his way through school, but was successful enough to pay for William to attend college.[3] However, William decided to pay for his own way in life and did not attend college. He then began working for the Boston, Concord & Montreal Railroad at a freight house in Sanborton Bridge.[3] Ladd received several promotions and was briefly in charge of the company’s freight department before being returned to Sanborton Bridge.[3][4] Disillusioned with the demotion, and spurred by reports from Samuel R. Thurston and a local shopkeeper who had returned with a large fortune, he decided to move west to work with Charles E. Tilton, a former classmate, who was involved in a mercantile business in San Francisco.[3][4]

Ladd left from New York City on February 27, 1851, and sailed to San Francisco, traveling over the Isthmus of Panama.[4] Upon arriving in San Francisco and finding the San Francisco market was overstocked, he attempted to get Tilton to become partners in a venture to import goods to what was then the Oregon Territory.[4] Tilton refused due to the risk involved, so Ladd traveled north to Oregon on his own.[3][4]


Ladd arrived in Portland, Oregon on April 8, 1851, traveling on Pacific Mail Steamship Company's Columbia steamer.[4] He came with a small load of wine and liquor on consignment from Tilton, which he sold off at a small store, making $2000 in the first four months.[3][4][5] Immediately upon arriving, Ladd went into a bar owned by Colburn Barrell, who gave Ladd a free drink and a new pair of shoes, since his only shoes were in poor condition.[4] Barrell recalled liking Ladd immediately, and immediately became one of Ladd's best customers.[4]

The day after arriving in Portland, Ladd rented a small store at 42 Front Street and sent an order to Tilton for more liquor.[4] At that time, Portland contained 6-8 saloons and retail liquor stores, with approximately 30 retail stores.[4] One saloon had just received its first billiard table.[4] Ladd only grossed $41.40 in the last two weeks of April and was unable to pay the $6 property tax, instead exchanging several nights and mornings to remove two stumps from the street in lieu of payment.[4] Early May proved better for Ladd, selling a large amount of gin to Barrell, adding the local Skidmore's California House hotel and Ainsworth's Lot Whitcomb steamer as customers.[4] Ladd began to branch out, adding eggs, chickens, and other local goods to his liquor store.[4] He then earned $250 by selling goods from W. D. Gookin on consignment, adding shaving soap, tobacco, paper, farm tools, blasting powder to his store.[4] In August 1851, Ladd's gross sales were $1000.[4]

Ladd's house c. 1881

In association with Gookin he continued in the mercantile business for several years, and in 1852 entered a silent partnership with Tilton.[5] Ladd would then open W. S. Ladd & Company in Portland, and was soon joined by his brother John Wesley Ladd.[3] William S. Ladd handled the wholesale trade, and 'Sim', Simeon Reed was "the best dressed bartender in early day Portland."[5]

Ladd then erected the first brick building in the city in 1853, at 163 Front Street.[2][5] In 1854, William sent for his bride to be, Caroline Ames Elliott (18 March 1827 - 23 October 1909), with whom he had fallen in love back in New Hampshire.[3] She arrived in San Francisco where Ladd met her, and they were married there on October 17, 1854. The couple then arrived in Portland on November 6. He and Caroline had seven children. William Mead, Helen Kendall, Charles Elliott, John Wesley, and Caroline Ames were five of the seven children.[3]

In 1855, Ladd bought out Tilton, with Tilton returning east.[3] Ladd then made his brother a partner in his firm. In 1858, Tilton returned and after a slight delay re-joined Ladd.[3] They opened the first bank in Oregon in April 1859: Ladd & Tilton Bank.[2] Tilton would retire and leave the partnership in 1880. The company later become Ladd, Reed & Co.. when Simeon Gannett Reed joined the business.[6] Reed’s wife Amanda had accompanied the future Mrs. Ladd. William and Simeon would also partner in a variety of ventures, including a hobby farm where Reedville, Oregon now stands.[6] In 1862, the Oregon Steam Navigation Company was formed with Ladd as the second biggest investor, and Reed investing as well.[3]

Over the years Ladd would be a major player in the early economic development of Portland.[2] Investments or promotions included the Oregon Furniture Manufacturing Company in 1874, the Portland Flouring Mills Company in 1883, the Portland Cordage Company in 1888, and the Portland Hotel in 1887.[3] Other enterprises included the Oregon Telegraph Company in 1862, Oregon Iron Company in 1864, the Oregon Central Railroad Company in 1866, and in 1868 the Idaho Telegraph Company.[2] In 1867, Ladd along with Asahel Bush founded the Ladd and Bush Bank in Salem, Oregon.[7] Ten years later Bush would buy out Ladd and become the sole proprietor of the financial institution.[7] MacColl states that Ladd was equally generous and miserly, a conservative investor, and an adventurous and speculative trader.[5] Specifically, "he created his vast real estate holdings out of forfeited mortgages and defaulted loans."[5]

Ladd was also involved with agriculture. He owned farm land in Multnomah County and neighboring Washington and Clark counties.[3] He imported cattle, thoroughbred horses, hogs, and sheep for his Broad Mead farm. Ladd served as the president of the board of regents at the state’s agricultural college in Corvallis, now known as Oregon State University.[3]


In 1853 and again in 1856, Ladd served on the city council in Portland.[8] In between he was the fifth mayor of the city, serving from March 15, 1854, to April 1, 1855.[9] After serving the one-year term, he was out of office for two years before returning in 1857 for a second one-year term.[9] In 1886, he was a member of the city’s water commission. Originally a Democrat, he became a Republican in 1864 when he supported Abraham Lincoln’s re-election.[3]

Later life and philanthropy[edit]

Ladd was one of the first people to contribute funds toward the creation of the Portland Library fund.[3] He also endowed a chair at the state’s medical school in Portland (later Oregon Health & Science University) and a scholarship at Willamette University in Salem. He endowed a chair at the Presbyterian’s seminary in San Francisco in 1886.[10] In Portland, he helped to establish River View Cemetery.[3] In 1891, Ladd platted what became Ladd's Addition in what is now Southeast Portland. The addition has a criss-crossed street layout, and had parks, utilities and was annexed into Portland that year along with the rest of East Portland.[11]

William S. Ladd died in Portland on January 6, 1893, at the age of 66. He was buried at River View Cemetery.[12] His estate was valued at $10 million, including 4,000 acres (16 km2) in Tacoma and Portland.[2][5] The estate value was underestimated due to the Panic of 1893.[5]

Ladd Acres Elementary in Reedville, Oregon (part of the Hillsboro School District) was built on the former land of Ladd and Reed’s farm in Washington County, with the school named in Ladd’s honor.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ MacColl, E. Kimbark (1979). "Chapter 3: The Early Jewish Communities". The Growth of A City. Portland, Oregon: The Georgian Press Company. p. 48. ISBN 0-9603408-1-5. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Corning, Howard M. (1989). Dictionary of Oregon History. Binfords & Mort Publishing. p. 138.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u Gaston, Joseph. (1911). Portland, Oregon, Its History and Builders. Chicago: S.J. Clarke Pub. Co. pp. 517-20.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q MacColl, E. Kimbark (1979). The Growth of a City: Power and Politics in Portland, Oregon 1915-1950. Portland, Oregon: The Georgian Press. ISBN 0-9603408-1-5. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h MacColl, E. Kimbark (November 1976). The Shaping of a City: Business and politics in Portland, Oregon 1885 to 1915. Portland, Oregon: The Georgian Press Company. OCLC 2645815. 
  6. ^ a b Terry, John. Oregon’s Trails: Reeds’ desires, riches yield premier legacy of learning. The Oregonian, July 6, 2003.
  7. ^ a b Oregon History Project: Asahel Bush. Oregon Historical Society. Retrieved on December 1, 2007.
  8. ^ Scott, Harvey W. (1890). History of Portland, Oregon with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Prominent Citizens and Pioneers. Syracuse, N.Y.: D. Mason & Co. p. 198.
  9. ^ a b Mayors of Portland. City of Portland. Retrieved on February 6, 2008.
  10. ^ Curry, James (1907). History of the San Francisco Theological Seminary of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. and its Alumni Association. Vacaville, CA: Reporter Publishing Company. p. 15. 
  11. ^ Barnett, Erin Hoover. Southeast Portland, revisited. The Oregonian, May 27, 2007.
  12. ^ Welcome to River View Cemetery. River View Cemetery. Retrieved on February 6, 2008.
  13. ^ A Brief History of Ladd Acres. Hillsboro School District. Retrieved on February 8, 2008.

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Josiah Failing
Mayor of Portland, Oregon
Succeeded by
George W. Vaughn
Preceded by
James O'Neill
Mayor of Portland, Oregon
Succeeded by
A. M. Starr