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Aug. 19, 2022

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Clark County History: First and Markle streetcar line

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One west Vancouver street recalls the city’s first streetcar venture. Markle Avenue parallels Kaufman and Lincoln avenues and runs south from Fourth Plain Boulevard. It’s named for disgraced Portland banker George B. Markle. The financier’s link to Vancouver rests on his 1887 Vancouver Barracks marriage to Kate Goodwin, daughter of Lt. and Mrs. William Goodwin, the city’s Commercial Bank, local real-estate investments and the purchase of the city’s first streetcar system.

Born into wealth, Markle enjoyed upper-class benefits, private schools, college and a guaranteed job upon graduation. While he worked in coal and banking, he imagined himself in the West. Once here, Markle saw the Portland-Vancouver area holding great promise and started his grand vision with the money, enthusiasm and courage to complete many projects.

From Portland, he helped organize several banks, including Oregon National Bank, where he served as vice president, as well as Northwest Loan and Trust Company and Commercial Bank of Vancouver, acting as president of both. He also formed Portland Hotel Co., constructed hotels in the city, and purchased extensive real estate, including companies like the Multnomah Street Railway, which gave him transportation experience as its president.

Markle and his two partners merged this company into Portland Traction Co. His business efforts increasingly gained credibility as he pulled off complex schemes by finding a means to solve every problem.

Markle bought five parcels in Vancouver in 1887 and two more two years later. He built a home in the West Portland Heights in 1888. In 1889, the Independent noted, “Markle’s fine team is often seen on the streets of Vancouver.” That June, the newspaper called the Markle-Goodwin wedding “the greatest social event of the season.”

Vancouver real-estate speculators formed Columbia Land and Improvement Co. to promote the sale of their Vancouver Heights development. In 1889, they built a horse-drawn streetcar line from the town’s business center to their site. They sold the faltering venture to Markle in 1892, who planned to electrify the line and then merge it with those he owned in Portland.

Electrifying the Vancouver line required erecting an electric powerhouse that Markle wanted to place on 220 feet of public levee with a 50-year lease. The city council accepted the deal, but Markle instead built the powerhouse on the levee eight blocks west of Main Street on land acquired from Michigan Lumber Co. The electric line then proceeded and was absorbed into the newly incorporated Portland Consolidated Street Railway Co.

Markle operated the line until his financial empire collapsed during the economic Panic of 1893, which sparked many bank failures. The Vancouver line operated in receivership until 1895. Its tracks were torn up within two years.

Despite pulling a second mortgage on his home, the overextended Markle faced angry investors who felt cheated. Unprepared for public shaming, he created a scandal by fleeing to Portland, still owing investors thousands of dollars. Faced with liability, his humiliated wife retreated to Pennsylvania with their son and filed for divorce. Markle vanished from history. In 1902, the city foreclosed on a tax lien against the Markles, finally ending its first streetcar venture.


Martin Middlewood is editor of the Clark County Historical Society Annual. Reach him at ClarkCoHist@gmail.com.

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