Scope and Contents note
The Ainsworth Papers are divided into nine groups, housed across 27 boxes and 32 loose volumes. The loose volumes primarily consist of bound correspondence and are listed within the series appropriate to the content of the volume. The collection contains Ainsworth’s diaries, autobiography, personal correspondence, and the business records of the Oregon Central Railroad, Oregon Steam Navigation Company, Northern Pacific Railroad Company, and various mining, building and shipping enterprises.
The Diaries group contains Ainsworth’s diaries and his autobiography, and may be found in the first five folders of Box 1.
Personal Correspondence from family, friends and associates, arranged alphabetically by the sender’s last name, fill the rest of Box 1 and most of Box 2. Documents relating to the Freemasons—mostly correspondence but including some official papers— are in folder 8 of Box 2 and the first eight folders of Box 3. Notable correspondents in this group include Evans S. McComas.
Personal Correspondence from family, friends and associates, arranged alphabetically by the sender’s last name, fill the rest of Box 1 and most of Box 2. Documents relating to the Freemasons—mostly correspondence but including some official papers—are in folder 8 of Box 2 and the first eight folders of Box 3. Notable correspondents in this group include Evans S. McComas.
Oregon Steam Navigation Company correspondence and business records may be found in Boxes 5 through 9, and in the first three folders of Box 10.
Northern Pacific Railroad Company correspondence and business records begin in folder 4 of Box 10 and run through folder 2 of Box 15. Notable correspondents in this group include Hazzard Stevens.
Mines and Mining and Other Corporate Enterprises (except shipping and Portland Hydraulic Elevator Company) correspondence and documents begin in Box 15, volumes 6 and 7 and folder 3, and run through volume 32 and folder 2 of Box 18. While most of the businesses are mining operations (gold, silver and coal), Ainsworth’s enterprises also included two mills (Ainsworth Mill Co. and Cabinet Steam Sawmill), and the Oregon Steam Brewery.
Records of Barks Alden Besse, Coloma, and Kate Davenport, owned by J.C. Ainsworth, CM. Noyes, Allen Noyes, and others (1879–1888), are housed in volumes 35 through 37, and folder 3 of Box 18 through Box 21.
Records of Building and House Construction, Portland (1880–1883) are housed in the first nine folders of Box 22.
Personal Finance and Corporate Records are housed in volume 38, and in folder 10 of Box 22 through Box 27.
Photographs consists of 78 black and white copy prints of ships, shipping personnel, and Oregon landmarks.
- Creation: 1858-1911
Conditions Governing Access note
Collection is open to the public. Collection must be used in Special Collections and University Archives Reading Room. Collection or parts of collection may be stored offsite. Please contact Special Collections and University Archives in advance of your visit to allow for transportation time.
Conditions Governing Use note
Property rights reside with Special Collections and University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries. Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs. All requests for permission to publish collection materials must be submitted to Special Collections and University Archives. The reader must also obtain permission of the copyright holder.
John Commingers Ainsworth was born in Springsboro, Ohio on June 6, 1822. His parents died when he was young, and with only two years of formal schooling he went to work for his uncle, a merchant. They became partners in a business selling trade goods from boats along the Ohio River, but soon young Ainsworth split from his uncle and bought a store with a partner, which they sold at a good profit after a successful year. He married a young woman, Josephine Augusta Kendall, who died fifteen months later. Ainsworth was not yet twenty.
In 1844 he bought a steamboat with his uncle and for the next five years they ran a successful packet service along the upper Mississippi. When the Gold Rush hit in 1849, Ainsworth sold his share of the business and went to California. Failing to find wealth or even interesting work, he took a job piloting a steamer on the Willamette River in Oregon. In 1851 he married the daughter of Judge S.S. White, and built his Greek Revival-style house in Oregon City (it is open to the public and listed in the National Register of Historic Places). Over the next few years Ainsworth purchased several steam boats, becoming a central figure in the fiercely competitive river transportation industry.
In late 1860, Ainsworth and a group of investors incorporated the Oregon Steam Navigation (OSN) Company. The OSN Company controlled the shipping routes of steamers, railroads, and freight lines, and under Ainsworth’s direction, quickly became the most powerful transportation monopoly in the Pacific Northwest. By 1869 the OSN Company had consolidated its control over the Columbia River transportation market. In 1872, Ainsworth bartered a controlling interest in OSN to Northern Pacific Railroad (NPRR) in exchange for capital and NPRR bonds. When NPRR bonds dropped from $0.90 to $0.10, Ainsworth involved himself in the company’s affairs, traveling to the East Coast and helping oversee the completion of their railroad. In April 1879, Henry Villard purchased the OSN Company for its full capitalized value of $5 million. Ainsworth retired to Oak Lawn, California after the sale.
While in Oregon Ainsworth had become a Freemason, and eventually the third Grand Master of the Oregon Masonic Lodge. After retiring to California he wrote his autobiography, addressing it to his children George, John, Harry and Daisy. Ainsworth died in California in December 1893.
25 linear feet (28 containers)
Language of Materials
John Commingers Ainsworth (1822-1893) was the major founder of the Oregon Steam Navigation (OSN) Company, the most powerful transportation monopoly in the Pacific Northwest. Ainsworth was also involved in a number of other ventures, including the Northern Pacific Railroad (NPRR) and various gold, silver and coal mining operations. The John Commingers Ainsworth Papers contain Ainsworth’s diaries, autobiography, personal correspondence, photographs, and the business records of the Oregon Central Railroad, Oregon Steam Navigation Company, Northern Pacific Railroad Company, and various mining, building and shipping enterprises.
Collection is organized into the following series: Diaries; Personal correspondence; Oregon Central Railroad Company; Oregon Steam Navigation Company; Northern Pacific Railroad Company; Mines and mining and other corporate enterprises; Records of Barks Alden Besse, Coloma, and Kate Davenport; Records of building and house construction, Portland; Personal finance and corporate records; and Photographs.
General Physical Description note
Collection processed by staff.
This finding aid may be updated periodically to account for new acquisitions to the collection and/or revisions in arrangement and description.
- Northern Pacific Railroad Company (Organization)
- Kate Davenport (Bark) (Organization)
- Cooke, Jay, 1821-1905 (Person)
- Villard, Henry, 1835-1900 (Person)
- Stevens, Hazard, 1842-1918 (Person)
- Oregon Steam Navigation Company (Organization)
- Alden Besse (Bark) (Organization)
- Coloma (Bark) (Organization)
- Ainsworth, J. C. (John Commingers), 1822-1893 (Person)
- Guide to the John C. Ainsworth Papers
- Complete Description
- Finding aid prepared by Rose M. Smith
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Language of description note
- Finding aid written in English.
- Funding for encoding this finding aid was provided through a grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.