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John Burke Congle

Birth place or City of origin: Chester County
State of origin: PA
Last known City: Portland
Last known State: OR
Start/Birth date: 1817
Death/End date: 1888

John Burke Congle was born 9 Dec. 1817, in Chester County, Pennsylvania. Educated in public
schools, he went to Philadelphia at age 15. There he learned the harness and saddlery trade.
After spending a brief time in Virginia, he moved on to Missouri, but must have preferred
Indiana, as he relocated to La Fayette in 1841, and spent a number of years at that location.
He married Eleanor H. Gray on the 21 May 1844 at La Fayette. Two daughters were born of that
union: Clara Jane and Margaret F. Congle. Eleanor was active with the Ladies Relief Society and
both of her daughters were to rise very high in the future social structure of Portland, Oregon.
John was caught up in the California Gold Rush fever, taking an overland route west in 1849.
The excitement was short lived, as he returned to La Fayette in 1851, and remained there for two
more years. The next overland crossing was probably over the Oregon Trail, with Marysville,
(now Corvallis) as the destination, in 1853.
The 1860 census shows that John was a saddle maker in Corvallis, which was then a very small
community. He was soon elected as the first Mayor when the town was incorporated in January
of 1857. Also, he was the first Sheriff of Benton County, but held that job for only three months.
Subsequently, the family moved down river; the reasons behind this decision are unclear.
The family arrived in Portland in 1861, and almost immediately John became a prominent saddle
maker and business man at 88 Front Street. In his employ was a saddler named ROBERT
BIDLEMAN, in 1863. J.B. also employed from 1871 until 1877, a Scottish born harness maker
named Alexander W. Bennett, along with JAMES BENNETT, another Scot, who would later
become a prominent saddler. In June of 1870, Congle employed 6 persons, and in the prior 12
months, the company had produced 524 sets of harness with a value of $18,340.
John did not leave politics behind, as he served as councilman from the 2nd ward in 1870, and in
1872 was a Multnomah County Representative to the State Legislature. As early as his Indiana
days, he had become associated with the Masonic Order, and by the time he reached Portland, he
became the Grand Master for the State of Oregon in 1874 and 1875. In 1879 and 1880 he was
elected as High Priest of the Order.
His was one of the first companies in Portland devoted to saddles and harness. Combined with
his business ability and political and fraternal activity, he was surely missed when he died on 7
April 1888.
[Early marks by this saddle maker are rare, but do exist in the collector community]
[This maker in business in Portland from 1861 - 1888]
38
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REFERENCES:
Gaston, Joseph. PORTLAND, OREGON, IT'S HISTORY AND BUILDERS. Vol II, pp 204-205, S.J. Clarke Publishing,
Portland, 1911.
HISTORY OF THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST: OREGON AND WASHINGTON- North Pacific History
Company, Portland, 1889. p. 273
PIONEERS OF BENTON COUNTY, OREGON, Rootsweb project, online, including but not limited to:
Assessor lists for Benton Co. 1854
1860 Census for Benton County, Oregon
Worldwide Masonic Directory 1860
City Directories for Portland, Oregon, 1863-1881 on microfilm, State Library of Oregon, Salem
City Directories for Portland, Oregon, 1881-1890, Genealogical Forum of Oregon
Federal Mortality Schedule, and Special Agricultural and Industrial Census, 1870, Portland, OR, on
microfilm at the Genealogical Forum of Oregon.

Research by Richard and Dorothy Egan

 

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