Where We Live: Who was James Hawthorne?

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PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Hawthorne Boulevard is one of SE Portland’s most popular, but long before its fame, it was once called Asylum Avenue.

Dr. James C. Hawthorne in an undated photo (Courtesy: Oregon Historical Society)

Oregon’s first insane asylum was on the boulevard in the mid 1800’s, around what is now SE 12th Ave and Hawthorne Boulevard.

The man who ran it, former California state senator Dr. James C Hawthorne, was considered a pioneer in treating mental illness.

“Not everybody was mentally ill. Some people just had no other resources and were cared for by the state that way, and he was a very kind, generous and innovative man that really took care of people, not just warehouse them,” Don Porth of the Lone Fir Cemetery Foundation said.

Hawthorne died in 1881, buried at SE Portland’s Lone Fir Pioneer Cemetery.

Hawthorne cared for his patients even in death. “He made arrangements with the cemetery to bury them to make sure they had a dignified funeral,” Porth explains.

There’s little evidence of the insane asylum on Hawthorne Boulevard today. Hawthorne’s patients went to the newly built Oregon State Hospital in Salem in 1883.

An asylum run by Dr. James Hawthorne located around what is now SE 10th and Salmon, undated. (Courtesy: Oregon Historical Society)

The Lone Fir Cemetery Foundation and the friends of Lone Fir are raising money to build a proper memorial to Dr. Hawthorne’s patients and the Chinese immigrant workers who he also paid to have buried at the cemetery.

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