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Robertson, Burns, and Failing families papers

  • Coll 784
  • Collection
  • 1786-1988

Many of Portland's early settling families created long-lasting ties with one another through marriage and business relationships. Often leaving areas such as New England and San Francisco, the first generation of transplants found Portland to be a small town of new opportunities for trade and business from 1840-1855. Family relationships, such as those seen between the Robertson, Corbett, and Failing families beginning in the 1850s, often lasted for generations. Starting with the joint venture between Henry Winslow Corbett and brother-in-law Thomas Robertson (1817-1900), multiple other partnerships were later formed, including Robertson Heavy Hardware, Corbett, Failing and Company, Foster and Robertson and Corbett, Failing, and Robertson.

The Robertson family represented a crossroads of Portland familial relationships. Beginning with the arrival of Thomas Robertson and his wife Mary Freeland (Corbett) Robertson, from New York, multiple generations of the Robertson family went on to marry into different branches of other old Portland families, such Couch, Lewis, and Reed. Through these relationships, they also gained ties with several family lineages from the East Coast. Individuals in these families later attended elite schools, traveled widely and participated in family businesses to great success. They also contributed to Portland's civic life, becoming city or state officials, and serving as early supporters for institutions such as the Portland Art Museum and Reed College.

Robertson family

Caroline (Flanders) Couch with Caroline (Couch) Wilson and Mary Caroline (Wilson) Burns

Photograph showing Caroline Flanders Couch, her daughter, Caroline (Couch) Wilson, and grand-daughter Mary Caroline (Wilson) Burns. Georgina Burns is seated on her mother's lap. Note: photograph identifies middle woman as Clementine Lewis, but notes "should have been grandma Wilson."

Abell, Frank G., 1844-1910

James F. Failing family papers

  • Coll 799
  • Collection
  • 1850-2009

James Frederick Failing was born in New York on March 24, 1842 to Josiah Failing and Henrietta Legge Ellison. His father and older brothers, Henry and John William, arrived in Portland in 1851, followed two years later in 1853 by James, their mother, and sister, Elizabeth. James completed his education at Portland Academy, then joined J. Failing and Co. as a clerk. The company was a wholesale hardware business started by Josiah and Henry Failing at the corner of first and Oak Streets. James later became a partner at Corbett, Failing and Company. The company operated under this name for 22 years, before later becoming Failing-McCalman Company, operated in part by James's three sons.

In 1877, James Failing became a director of the First National Bank in Portland, remaining a senior director until his death in 1920. He married Jane Johnson Conner in 1880. She was born in Albany, Oregon on February 14, 1855 to merchant John Conner (1820-1902) and his first wife, Martha Mariea Bancroft Whittlesey (1827-1861). Later, John Conner married James's sister, Elizabeth Ann Failing in 1863. Jane Conner and James F. Failing had five children: Edward Josiah (1881-1936), Kate Whittlesey (1883-1971), John Conner (1886-1951), Frederick Ellison (1892-1929), and Henrietta Chase, 1895-1989). Kate and Henrietta participated regularly in Portland civic life, volunteering with numerous organizations.

James Failing and his family were members of the First Baptist Church of Portland. He was involved in the development and construction of the church's Taylor Street building between 1892 and 1893, and was both a trustee and a deacon. His daughter Kate created scrapbooks documenting the history of the church. He was also a director of the Young Men's Christian Association and a trustee for McMinnville College (later known as Linfield College), and an active member of the Oregon Pioneer Society and the Auld Lang Syne Society. Both his father, Josiah, and brother Henry served as mayors of Portland. While James never held public office, he was regarded as a prominent individual in the Portland business and civic communities.

Failing, James F. (James Frederick), 1842-1920

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