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News / Life / Clark County Life

Clark County History: Lumberman Frederick Leadbetter

By Martin Middlewood, Columbian freelance contributor
Published: December 16, 2023, 5:58am

The man owned a lot of timber. Quite a lot. According to the 1908 American Lumberman, Frederick Leadbetter held nearly 1.4 billion feet of timber in Washington and Oregon. Clark County contained 200 million feet of it.

He co-owned a sawmill in Vancouver, which he purchased from its previous owners, who were losing money. Eventually, his efforts evolved into Boise Cascade Corp., now the site of The Waterfront Vancouver development.

Born in Iowa in 1869, Leadbetter’s family moved to New York and then to San Jose, Calif., where he attended school. In 1894, Leadbetter wed Caroline Pittock, the daughter of financier and Oregonian newspaper owner Henry L. Pittock, entwining their personal lives, business and financial interests. The couple had two sons and three daughters.

The lumber business was in his family. His grandfather, Horace Leadbetter, was a lumberman along Maine’s Penobscot River, the second-longest river in New England. His grand-uncle, Lorenzo Leadbetter, pioneered lumbering in Michigan.

Frederick Leadbetter’s first lumber business was a sawmill north of Washougal. In July 1900, the Vancouver Independent newspaper reported he was building an eight-and-a-half-mile flume at a cost of $1,000 per mile to carry lumber from his sawmill to Camas.

In June 1908, the jointly owned Pittock & Leadbetter sawmill on the Vancouver waterfront burned, causing $200,000 in damage and leaving 150 people without work. By October, the mill was running again. In 1909, Leadbetter-Pittock Lumber Company established a steam “power plant” producing up to 250 kilowatts of electricity. Fired by refuse and sawdust from the mill, its electricity powered the Vancouver Traction Company’s streetcars.

In 1912, Leadbetter and his father-in-law entered the banking business. Together, they founded the Northwestern National Bank Company. Their bank opened on Jan. 2, 1913, and within a few years, it ranked as Portland’s third-biggest financial institution. Pittock reigned as president until his 1919 death.

Leadbetter was involved in many timber companies, including Washington & Oregon Lumber, Willamette Valley Lumber, Siletz Timber, Salem Falls City & Western Railway in Dallas, Ore., Spaulding Logging in Newberg & Salem, Ore., the Skamania Logging Co. and Mountain Lumber.

Despite their joint business ventures, The Oregonian publisher’s name overshadowed Leadbetter’s. That is, except in Camas, where Leadbetter built a home in 1901. Technically called the Pittock-Leadbetter House, many tag it the Leadbetter House to prevent confusion with Portland’s Pittock Mansion. Now owned by the city of Camas, the 5,057-square-foot Queen Anne-style house claims three floors and a basement. Originally built as a farmhouse, it’s located on Lacamas Lake. The 34 acres of grounds include a barn and the Pomaria House.

The several Pittock-Leadbetter holdings and businesses in Clark County helped change Camas from a sleepy village with cow trails for streets into a thriving town. The community grew out of Pittock’s 1883 founding of the LaCamas Colony because he needed cheaper newsprint for The Oregonian. Although the mill’s names and owners have changed over the years, his paper mill gave the town and its high school an identity: the Papermakers.

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

Columbian freelance contributor