During one of my recent jaunts in downtown Portland, I popped in at the Oregon Historical Society (OHS) to check out a very small but very significant artifact in our fair city’s history: the Portland Penny.
The Portland Penny came to be over dinner one evening in 1845, in the parlor of an Oregon City home. Two New Englanders – Asa Lovejoy of Boston, Massachusetts, and William Pettygrove of Portland, Maine – decided to flip a coin to determine the name of their new 640-acre town, then known as “The Clearing” or “The Village.”
The Portland Penny, photo by Carrie Uffindell
Pettygrove retrieved an 1835 American copper penny from his pocket. He and Lovejoy agreed to settle the matter with a two-out-of-three toss. The town would be named Boston if Lovejoy won, Portland if Pettygrove won. Pettygrove chose heads, leaving Lovejoy with tails.
With three tosses of a penny, our city got its name. And as we already know, it wasn’t Boston.
Pettygrove retrieved the penny that night, taking it with him when he left Portland and to found the town of Port Townsend, WA. Around 1910, the large one-cent coin believed to be the Portland Penny was given by Pettygrove’s estate to the OHS.
The penny is currently on display in the OHS’s main foyer in downtown.
When you go:
Oregon Historical Society
1200 SW Park Ave.
Local tip: Admission to the Oregon Historical Society is free for Multnomah County residents.