Former Mayor John Gates

"Kindly, hardworking, religious man."

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The winner of the 1885 mayoral race John Gates bested the next governor of Oregon, Sylvester Pennoyer by a margin of only 150 votes in doing so. But Pennoyer-Harvard-educated, pro-labor, avidly anti-Chinese- was not to be discounted. He would not only wield power over Portland in his role as governor, but would take a much closer relationship with Portland in the years to come.
The city’s twenty-sixth mayor, John Gates, was a prolific inventor whose credits included nautical innovations such as a hydraulic steering gear for steam vessels, propellers for sluicing out sand bars from navigable streams and also some top secret projects sold to the Federal Government during the sugre to flight after the Civil War. He supervised construction of numerous steamers, including the John Gates. A 1947 Oregon Journal photo caption proclaims him a “Steamboat Genius” who was known as “the Edison of the West”. Born in Main in 1829, Gates was the second-oldest mayor in the city’s history thus far, at age fifty-six. Gates had joined the California gold rush, then came to Portland as engineer for the Reed & Abrams sawmill in 1853. He was later chief engineer for the influential Oregon Railway and Navigation Company, a position he continued to hold throughout his mayoral term.
Gates spent alot of his almost 3 year term fighting corruption, cleaning up the city and defending the Chinese against many anti-Chinese labor activists.
With only two months left in his three-year term, John Gates died suddenly on April 27, 1888, the second Portland mayor to die in office. At the time of his death Gates was in the midst of a campaign for governor. He was fifty-nine years old— a “Kindly, hardworking, religious man.”
In the short time following, the final ballot delivered six of the eight votes to a political newcomer- Van B. DeLashmutt
In a final sad note, John’s wife, known to many as the The Widow, Lady Gates began reporting to officials, papers and any who would listen that she believed her husband was not dead and is in fact missing. A story she can get none to listen to. Efforts to excavate John’s supposed gravesite have fallen on deaf ears to this day.

Former Mayor John Gates

Portland 1889 coreyvw