Portland, Oregon has a wide variety of nicknames – the Rose City (or City of Roses), Stumptown, Rip City, Silicon Forest, PDX – but in our investigation into our beloved town’s nicknames, we’ve saved the most misunderstood one for last – Slabtown.
Why is it misunderstood? For starters, it’s not a nickname for the city – it’s a nickname for one of the neighborhoods!
Intrigued? Read on and we’ll delve deeper.
In the 1870s, a new lumber mill opened on Northrup Street. The mill threw away the scrap wood from cut logs, called “slabwood,” which residents, particularly poorer residents, collected as a source of cheap heating and cooking fuel.
These Portlanders would stack the slabwood outside the fronts of their homes, living along the streetcar lines to allow for easy commuting access to and from their jobs, typically at the docks, slaughterhouses, and lumber mills throughout Portland.
Because of the difficulties of areas with low socioeconomic status and correlations to crime rate, Slabtown quickly became known as a rougher part of the city leading to some people believing that it earned its nickname because you might end up “dead on a slab” if you spent too much time in that part of town, thus “Slabtown.” However, the nickname refers to the stacks of slabwood making the area appear to be a town defined by stacked wood – Slabtown.
Where is Slabtown now?
What once was the roughest part of town with high levels of crime is now the neighborhood sandwiched between the Northwest District and the Pearl.
That’s right – the ritzy residential areas and restaurants stretching from NW Vaughn Street to NW Glisan Street (North-South boundary) and from I-405 (NW 16th) to NW 20th are where Slabtown currently resides. Just a few blocks west, and you’ll be able to visit upscale stores of NW 23rd Avenue and bars on NW 21st, and just a few blocks east will put you in the Pearl.
Care to learn more? Check out our References for this topic – we particularly enjoyed doing the research for this one.
Is there anything else about Portland you’d like us to answer? Leave your suggestions in the comments!
- Portland’s Slabtown – Images of America (link to book at Amazon.com)
- Why Slabtown? – Slabtown Chronicle
- Slabtown is a Neighborhood – History Treasured & Sometimes Endangered