Jesse Nathan Griffith, 1852-1942

July 12, 2017 5:57 am Published by

Griffith Park and Griffith Drive are named after this intriguing person

By Ann Koppy, BHSoc

His name is memorialized by a Beaverton street and park. The Perkins-Kennedy school debate was held on the porch of his store. He married three times, fathered nine children, moved frequently, and found employment in an assortment of occupations.

Early years
Jesse Nathan Griffith was born February 8, 1852 in Farmington, Washington County, Oregon Territory, the second child of John and Rachel Hockett Griffith. His parents were among the earliest settlers in the Tualatin Valley.

Jesse was five years old when his family bought a 400-acre farm near his birthplace. The youngster began school the same year in nearby Reedville. After Rachel’s untimely death in 1858 at age 26, John set out to seek his fortune in the gold fields of Idaho Territory. Before his departure, he arranged with neighbors to care for the children. Jesse spoke of his early life in an interview with Fred Lockley: “I was eight years old when I went there to live. Mr. McClung believed…sparing the rod would spoil the child. He didn’t hold with playing. He said boys who played grew up to be idle and vicious. I fed the hogs, cleaned the stables and milked the cows and by the time I was ten years old, I was doing the plowing.” He also hired out to a neighboring farm. “My first regular job was plowing…on a 640 acre farm a mile and a half north of Hillsboro for $1.25 a day and board.” He stayed with the custodial family until 1869.

Jesse as a young adult
By the time he was 17, he headed south to Wilbur, Oregon to work and attend Umpqua Academy. He then found a job driving sheep to Virginia City, Nevada, which he described as “… Sodom and Gomorrah,” where “the saloons, dance halls and gambling places were the principal industries of the town.” After returning to southern Oregon, he worked as a cattle drover before coming back to Beaverton and selling his half of the family farm. Here he met his first wife.
The wedding of 16-year old Sarah Betts and 19-year old Jesse was held in the home of her parents, George and Hettie, in May 1871. About the same time, Betts sold his log cabin store–the only commercial building in town–to his new son-in-law.
Although still a teenager, he operated the general merchandise business at the corner of Front (now SW Farmington) and Angel in the finest traditions of a storekeeper. The building’s broad porch provided a place for politicking, orating, or just sitting and talking. In cold weather, everyone moved inside to continue discussions around a pot-bellied stove. J.N., as he preferred to be called, also brought and distributed mail from Portland. The establishment quickly became the social center and unofficial post office of the unincorporated community.

Family years
Daughters Minnie and Hattie were born in Beaverton in 1872 and 1874. By 1876 the family had moved to Astoria, where John was born. Within two years they were in Olympia, Washington Territory. Here Jesse farmed, logged, and worked as a teamster. Sarah gave birth to George in 1878. When the couple divorced by 1885, the children stayed with Sarah. He then married Sara Cramer in Clallam County, Washington in 1893. It’s unclear when she died, but he was a widower, once again living in Wilbur in 1900, toiling as a day laborer. No children were born in this marriage. It’s likely he met his third wife in Douglas County; Lizzie Clayton was born there in 1871.

He wed for the last time in 1901. Their journeys took them from Douglas County to the Willamette Valley and Columbia River Gorge. To them were born Lucy, Allen, Fred, Rolla, and Scott. In 1908 Fred died in a Salem hospital. He was only three. The Griffiths raised fruits and vegetables and J.N. eventually bought a second hand store while they were in the Salem area.
By 1930 Jesse had moved to Hood River to live with Lucy, her husband, their children, and her brother Scott. Jesse told census enumerators he was married, but no spouse was noted. That same year, Lizzie is enumerated as married and living in Sutherlin. She died in 1931 and was buried in Douglas County. Sometime in the next four years, the aging J.N. went to Cascade Locks, staying there until about 1940. His death came in December 1942 at age 90. He is interred at Idlewild Cemetery, Hood River.

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This post was written by Michael Wong