NH: Ladd Estate Company

Nature as the Antidote to Civilization


The 1928 Ladd Estate Company Forest Hills Branch sales office. This was one of the four Ladd Estate Company sales offices located  in Oswego and Lake Grove; two remain.

After the demise of the iron industry, the Oregon Iron & Steel Company held extensive acreage in the Oswego, Lake Grove, and Dunthorpe areas. In 1912, they hired Atchison & Allen as their exclusive marketing agents and embarked on real estate venture to sell their land holdings. That same year, a petition was submitted to rename Sucker Lake the more melodious and marketable “Oswego Lake.” In 1921 a cement dam raised the level of the lake, submerged unsightly stumps, and created additional lakefront lots. The Ladd Estate Company took over as the marketing agents for Oregon Iron & Steel in 1923 and the work of transforming Oswego into a residential-recreational paradise began in earnest. In 1928 the Duck Pond was flooded and the result was Lakewood Bay. From 1923 to 1925, the site of William M. Ladd’s Iron Mine Farm was transformed into the Oswego Lake Country Club. An abandoned mine road was incorporated into a system of bridle trails. Rentals on the lake transitioned from makeshift tent cottages to International-style cabanas. Prior to rail service and good roads, excursion boats toured prospective buyers past lakeside lots.

Paul Cole Murphy’s association with Oswego lasted from 1923 until his retirement in the early 1940s. The Ladd & Tilton Bank formed the Ladd Estate Company in 1908 to manage their real estate holdings. Murphy relocated from Seattle to Portland about 1915 and he was one of a group of investors who bought Ladd’s Hazel Fern Farm to develop Laurelhurst. Murphy was kept busy marketing Laurelhurst until 1921 when almost all of the lots were sold. Murphy joined the Ladd Estate Company in 1923, the same year that the Company assumed the exclusive marketing rights for the Oregon Iron & Steel Company’s land in Lake Grove and Oswego from the Atchison-Allen Company who had been granted these rights from 1912 through 1922. By 1926 Murphy and his partner, Frederick H. Strong, purchased the Ladd Estate Company and the Oregon Iron & Steel Company. Strong sold his interest in 1930. Murphy’s son, Paul Fuller Murphy, became President in 1940. One of his early actions was the formation of the Lake Oswego Corporation in 1941. In a unique arrangement lakefront property owners and residents with easements were given private ownership of the rim and lakebed, but the water remained public. Some or all of the lake has been privately owned since 1850. In 1960, the Oregon Iron & Steel Company’s sale of the powerhouse and the dam to the Lake Oswego Corporation was finalized. The former remained a registered corporation until 1989.

Murphy wanted the best and he led by example. Architect-designed homes were accompanied by world-class recreational amenities. The Oswego Lake Country Club was the centerpiece of the Ladd Estate Company’s vision. Architect Morris Homans Whitehouse designed the clubhouse in 1925. The following year Henry Chandler Egan laid out the eighteen-hole course. The Olmsted Brothers, a firm started by Frederick Law Olmstead who designed Central Park in New York City, influenced the romantic nature of the developed landscape, as did the Arts and Crafts and the City Beautiful movements. Oswego was transformed from a gritty, iron-manufacturing company town into the crème-de-la-crème for discriminating homebuyers with time for leisure activities.

Paul C. Murphy and his wife Mae never resided in the town he did so much to create. Although there were other business partners, Paul C. Murphy saw the area’s potential and present-day Lake Oswego owes its appeal and lasting high real estate values to his vision.