One of the Portland’s “painted ladies” is undergoing a restoration on SE 16th, a block north of Morrison St. It was the home of William D. Fenton he finished building in 1894 and it is a two and one half-story, 2,900 square foot, single-family dwelling built in the Queen Anne style on a quarter of a city block.

At the time it was built, it was a fashionable Portland home in the recently-annexed east side of the river. Its notable features included a number of porches and projections, intricate decorative gingerbread, variegated siding, a wrap-around veranda, a flare-top chimney, and a stained-glass side door. The parlor and the master bedroom include ornate fireplaces. Much of the interior woodwork and trim is original, however some of the exterior detail is missing.

The building was brought up to Portland city building standards in 1976 and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.

The owner and builder was William David Fenton, born in 1853 on a Missouri farm. The Fenton family with their seven children crossed the plains to Oregon in 1865. William Fenton, the oldest child drove one of the ox-teams and was of considerable help to the family during the journey.

For a year they lived at French Prairie, near Woodburn where his father taught school. They established their home in Yamhill county, and took on the difficulties of developing a farm from virgin forest land near Lafayette. Fenton graduated from the Christian College at Monmouth at the age of nineteen and in 1874, began the study of the law in Salem. In the following year he was admitted to the bar. Educated in western schools, with an accurate knowledge of the west, and well-grounded in the principles of the law, he began the practice of law with a good foundation and hopes for success.

In 1877 he formed a partnership with a Lafayette attorney and become a junior member of the firm. The following spring he was elected on the Democratic ticket to the state legislature serving one term with an excellent record. During the legislative session, he served as chief clerk of the senate committee on assessment and taxation.

In 1885 he relocated to Portland, securing a desk in the law office of J. C. Moreland and Richard W. Montague. He was engaged in practice in Portland with a specialty of corporation law and the counsel for the Southern Pacific Railroad in Oregon. Soon after he affiliated himself with one of the strongest legal firms in the city. This was a time of freewheeling commerce that required a superior talent to cope with difficult circumstances.

In addition to the Southern Pacific Railroad, he was attorney for American Steel & Wire Company, the Standard Oil Company, the Equitable Assurance Society of New York and other  significant business interests. He remained a Democrat until 1896 when he joined the Republican party and became a leading advocate of the gold standard.

An example of William Fenton’s work occurred between 1905 to 1908 while representing a woman employee in a complaint against her employer. Recent Oregon legislation prevented women from working beyond 10 hours per day and her employer was repeatedly violating this statute.

After she won her case in the county circuit court and the Oregon Supreme Court, the employer appealed the issue to the United States Supreme Court. Judge Fenton and the State of Oregon sought the assistance of Louis Brandeis, well-known Boston attorney and later a Supreme Court Justice, to argue this case that would have national implications.


The Justices ruled unanimously in favor of protective legislation for women. This decision was to help improve the legal status of women for many years.

Historic Fenton house undergoing restoration

Historic Fenton house undergoing restoration

For forty-five years, Judge Fenton was a member of the Masonic order. He was a charter member of the University Club and belonged to the Arlington Club. He was a founder and president of the Oregon Historical Society and a leader in the creation of the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition in 1905.

Prominent in civic affairs, public-spirited, and possessing a marked talent for leadership, Fenton was a man who exerted a strong influence upon the current events in the city of Portland and the state of Oregon. He manifested an unselfish devotion to the general good and served well both his city and state. The reminder of his record is renewed by the restoration of  his Victorian home in East Portland.