If Not For a Coin Toss, Portland, Ore., Would Have Been Called Boston

The city was founded by two New Englanders, but only one of them got to pick the name.

Here’s a little piece of history that could have changed the fate of Carrie Brownstein and former Saturday Night Live cast member Fred Armisen’s series: if a coin used to decide the name of one of Oregon’s main cities had landed on the other face, Portlandia could have been called Bostlandia.

New England natives Asa Lovejoy, a lawyer from Boston, and Francis Pettygrove, of Portland, Maine, were trying to decide what they would call a portion of land they both owned after dividing it up back in the 1800s.

They found themselves in a stalemate and couldn’t pick between their respective hometowns, so they decided to leave it up to a coin flip to determine who would have the honor of crowning the settlement with the moniker of their choice.

Obviously, the coin fell in Pettygrove’s favor after a best-of-three series.

“It was Lovejoy and Pettygrove. One was from Boston, and one from Portland, Maine. They both had land here, and as they were plotting out the city lines, they started coming up with the names. Story has it, they had three coin tosses, and Portland came up two times out of three,” said Steve Schmidt, an administrator at the Oregon Historical Society Museum. “We could have been Boston, just like you guys.”

Schmidt said the museum has the actual coin—or what historians believe to be the coin—sitting in the front lobby, so when people come through to learn about the city’s history, they can catch a glimpse of the copper that decided it all.

Coincidentally, it was Lovejoy’s coin that led to his losing the bet. “It was found in a safe deposit box left behind by Lovejoy,” said Schmidt, who added that the city’s name would have likely become “Little Boston” if Lovejoy had won.

“It was a big deal. I’m just as glad we are Portland—not to say anything bad about you guys in Boston,” he said. “Interestingly enough, we’re considered a ‘Port City,’ too. And we have lots of shipping coming up here. We aren’t as successful as Boston’s harbor but still, that was the history.”

To be honest, though, calling the city Allston would probably have been more fitting:

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  • tvhwy

    “Here’s a little piece of history that could have changed the fate of Carrie Brownstein and former Saturday Night Live cast member Fred Armisen’s series”

    Cool lede, Bro!

  • Bob M

    I read this fact in an Uncle John’s Bathroom reader about four years ago. How exactly is this news? Or is the rule as a staff writer that every time you learn something neat about Boston, you make it into a post.

    Tomorrow’s headline: “Larry Bird was a really great basketball player!”