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Couch & Co. and Allen, DeWitt & Co., Portland // OrHi 25643
Catalog No. —
OrHi 25643
Date —
Era —
1846-1880 (Treaties, Civil War, and Immigration)
Themes —
Geography and Places, Trade, Business, Industry, and the Economy
Credits —
Oregon Historical Society
Regions —
Portland Metropolitan
Author —

Couch & Co. and Allen, DeWitt & Co., Portland

This 1850 photograph depicts two Portland wholesale firms, Couch & Company and Allen, DeWitt & Company, located on Front Street north of Ankeny. The original photograph, whose location is unknown, was made by the daguerreotype process on a metal plate; this image was copied from the daguerreotype. The photographer is not known.

This is the earliest known photograph taken in the Pacific Northwest, and it depicts two of Portland’s first mercantile establishments. Both buildings are of hewn wood frame construction horizontally clad in milled lumber and probably painted white. At this early date, lumber is used sparingly. The Couch & Co. warehouse has no ornamental touches except a basic frame surround for the windows and door, and a flagpole; that of Allen, De Witt & Co. includes four sets of ornamental wooden pilasters capped by a belt course above the first floor, window surrounds, and a single-board cornice at the top.

Captain John Couch played a key part in the establishment of Portland as the site of the region’s major port city. A New England merchant and sea captain, Couch in 1849 claimed land north of present-day West Burnside Street in Portland, and there built a wharf and a warehouse, which appears in the daguerreotype. Historian E. Kimbark MacColl wrote of Couch that “[h]is enthusiasm, advice and facilities attracted the other seafarers who would help make Portland the dominant territorial transportation center for both cargo and passengers.”

Lucius H. Allen came to Portland representing New York wholesale merchant John DeWitt in 1850. Allen, DeWitt & Company, however, stayed in business for only a month, a circumstance that makes it possible to date the daguerreotype. DeWitt replaced Allen with one of Allen’s friends, Cicero H. Lewis, who arrived in Portland in 1851. By 1880, the firm of Lewis & Allen was one of the largest grocery wholesalers in the Pacific Northwest.

Further Reading:
MacColl, E. Kimbark and Harry Stein. Merchants, Money, and Power: the Portland Establishment, 1843-1913. Portland, Oreg., 1988.

Written by Richard Engeman, © Oregon Historical Society, 2005.