As you can tell, I’m often consumed with Oregon history. But I haven’t stopped being surprised when I read discussions about the J.K. Gill Bookstore in Facebook groups like Dead Memories Portland or Forgotten Oregon. With the downtown store closing in 1991, you’d have to be 25 now to be alive when Gill’s still had a presence downtown. Most likely, though, you’d have to be at least in your thirties to really have any of your own memories of shopping (or working) in the store.
As a soon-to-be-first-time published author, I was thrilled to hear someone I’ve never met tell me how she can barely wait till my memoir is published to read a bit more about J.K. Cool – now I have at least one buyer outside of the copies I’ll give family! But seriously, it did seem like a reasonable thing to share a few photos and details about J.K. that won’t be in my book.
In my last post you “met” my great-great-great-grandmother Chloe, whose daughter Frances ended up marrying J.K. – that’s how it happened that he is my great-great-grandfather. J.K was born in Yorkshire, England in 1841 where his father worked in the woolen mills and J.K. was the oldest of 11 children. The children were all expected to help support their family from an early age, but were remembered as being a musical family – lying in bed on Sunday’s (their only non-work day) they would sing their favorite hymns, often in harmony. When J.K. Was 14, the family emigrated to Worcester, Massachusetts where his father continued to work in woolen mills. A few years later, J.K. was enrolled at Wesleyan Academy in Wilbraham Massachusetts but came out to Oregon in 1864. While there are lots of details in between, those most interested in his business might like to know that although he co-owned a store earlier, the first J.K. Book Store opened in Salem at 356 State Street in 1868. It was a few years later, in 1871 that he moved his store to downtown Portland where it became the legacy that so many of us still remember.
On the eve of Portland’s Wordstock, it seems particularly relevant to remember this bookseller. I’d love to hear from you – do you have memories the J.K. Gill Bookstore?