History of Portland, Oregon

Betwixt and between the Willamette River and its confluence with the Columbia River stands Portland, Oregon, known as “The City of Roses." The nickname, having originated during the 1905 Lewis and Clark centennial exposition, was given due to its ideal climate for growing roses. Portland is the second largest city in the Pacific Northwest with only Seattle, Washington, ranked larger in this region of the United States.

Once known as “The Clearing," Portland was established in 1843, when two men beached their canoe on the banks of the Willamette River. William Overton, a drifter from Tennessee, was struck by the beauty of this mountain-ringed and timber-rich area, and thought it would make a picturesque setting for a new town. His companion, Massachusetts attorney, Asa Lovejoy, took the opportunity and loaned Overton the 25 cents necessary to file a land claim on that 640 acre site.

When Overton grew bored with clearing trees and developing the infrastructure for the new settlement, he sold his portion of the claim to Francis W. Pettygrove. Tossing a coin to determine the town’s name, Pettygrove won two out of three tosses with Lovejoy for the right to name the locale after his hometown—Portland, Maine. Had Lovejoy won the toss with the "Portland Penny," as it came to be known, the area would now be known as Boston, Oregon.

Settling the land

With the help of the Oregon Donation Land Claim of 1850, speculators and pioneers began to settle in Oregon. By that same year, Portland’s population had grown to 800 and contained a steam sawmill, a log cabin hotel, and a newspaper, called the Weekly Oregonian. When Portland was incorporated in January 1851, the city measured 2.1 square miles.

From 1850 to 1941, Portland was known as the “Unheavenly City," due to the numerous acts of shanghaiing. Innocent bystanders were whisked away through trap doors, or “deadfalls," that led to an extensive tunnel system under the streets. The captives were later sold as slaves.

Today, visitors to the city can take a guided tour through the tunnels and experience the chilling ambience of the Portland netherworld.

Growing pains of a new city

Between 1853 and 1900, Portland grew by leaps and bounds while experiencing the forces of nature and those of man. During those years, the Willamette River would swell to overflowing, causing Portland’s business district to flood six times prior to the construction of dikes along the waterfront and the eventual construction of the Bonneville, Grand Coulee, and other dams on the Columbia River, by the Army Corps of Engineers.

Portland was susceptible to fires and epidemics during that time, as well, with a major fire destroying sections of Portland’s business district in December 1872, and August 1873. As a result, the city began to require new buildings in a designated business core to be constructed from brick. In addition, the city beefed up its firefighting corps to four fire engines manned by approximately 50 volunteer members per unit.

Influx of Immigrants and the role of unions

When countless Chinese were recruited to provide cheap, but hard-working, labor by railroad magnates in the 1860s, Portland and San Francisco attracted the largest numbers. While they were admired for their commitment to the backbreaking work of carving out paths and laying down railroad ties, rails, and spikes, as an ethnic group, the Chinese were looked upon by whites as a threat to many livelihoods, which led to their ostracizing. A growing civil unrest and open racism followed.

Not unlike other cities, such workers as printers, typesetters, bricklayers, longshoremen, and carpenters, organized to form craft unions in the 1880s. The largest of those unions, Portland Local No. 50 of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, organized in September 1883, after the Northern Pacific Railroad arrived in Portland, along with another wave of Asian immigrants.

After 1890, Portland became increasingly segregated by class and ethnic district, much like other cities in America had become. That same year, two of Portland’s carpenter’s unions joined a national strike for the eight-hour workday, and a “closed shop" on the coattails of economic expansion, after several years of recession.

Having their demands rejected by the Portland Builders Exchange, other unions joined in the effort, holding a huge May Day rally that forced the builders back to the bargaining table and ultimately led to the settling of the strike.

Even when Portland’s political clout went from craft unions to bankers, developers, and other legal advisors, it was fraught with occasional rebellion. During the Progressive Era, at the beginning of the 1900s, small businessmen and skilled workers directly affected legislation that produced what came to be known nationally as “the Oregon System." This new legislative tool, brought about by the new special interests groups, led to such governmental innovations as the referendum, initiative, and recall.

With the establishment of the urban growth boundary (UGB) in 1979, along with Oregon’s proactive land use policies, Portland acquired a reputation as a well-planned city. The UGB preserved the distinctive character of 19th-century farming techniques on nearby agricultural lands, while in most areas of America, new development occurred along interstate highways, neglecting the nation’s core cities.

Features of Interest

Portland is home to the largest wilderness park found within any city limits in the country. Forest Park, which was built in the early 20th century by famous city park designer John Charles Olmstead, contains 5,000 acres of pristine, take-your-breath-away panarama of flora and fauna. The city is also home to the world’s smallest park, Mills Ends Park, which is contained within a two-foot diameter circle.

Beautiful Washington Park has within its confines the Oregon Zoo, Portland Japanese Garden, and the International Rose Test Garden. The nearby Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, or OMSI, located on the banks of the Willamette River, contains hands–on exhibits in the fields of the physical sciences, life science, earth science, technology, astronomy, and early childhood education.

Portland is home to the second-largest rose-themed parade in the nation (behind Pasadena's Rose Bowl Parade on New Years Day). The Rose Festival, with its roots in the venerable Starlight Parade, featuring the popular electric light-decorated streetcars, began two years after the 1905 Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition and has grown to be a two-and-a-half-week-long series of “must-attend" events that are scheduled beginning the first days of June.

Packed with a colorful history of creating Northwest-style beer and spirits, Portland features more than 30 brewpubs, distilleries, and wineries located throughout the area, owned and operated by such trusted names as McMenamin Brothers. Among beer aficionados, Portland’s nickname has become “Beervana."

Institutions of Higher Learning

Portland State University, whose primary campus located at the edge of downtown, has around 24,000 students enrolled in graduate and undergraduate courses. Other institutions include Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU), with its world renowned medical school; Lewis & Clark College; Reed College; and the University of Portland.

Sports in the area

Although there are two professional major league teams playing in Portland, there are also minor league teams providing sports fans with plenty of sports activities.

The Portland Trail Blazers play their NBA games at the Rose Garden Arena, as do the Lumberjax, a National Lacrosse League team enjoying their inaugural season, in January 2006.

Playing in Memorial Coliseum, the Trail Blazer’s former home, are the Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League. The Portland Beavers, a Triple-A baseball team affiliated most recently with the San Diego Padres, play their minor league games in PGE Park.

Anchored by the world-famous Ghost Creek course at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club, host for the 2006 U.S. Women’s Amateur golf tournament, Portland-area golf courses offer the finest in competition, amenities, and quiet reflection.

In addition, the up-and-coming* sport of disc golf has spurred the construction of no fewer than 20 courses in the metropolitan area that provide a wide variety of challenges and scenic topography.


* Disc, or Frisbee, golf has been around since the early 1980s but play was inconsistent, at best, with its homemade layouts being charted between unsuspecting picnickers and sunbathers. Advancements in equipment, layout facilities, and an acceptance of a codified rule book have enticed increasing numbers, especially in the 20-30 age group, to take up the sport.

- - - Books You May Like Include: ----

Wicked Portland The Wild and Lusty Underworld of a Frontier Seaport Town by Finn J.D. John.
In its youth, Portland, Oregon, combined rough-and-ready logging camp with gritty, hard-punching deep-water port. Lusty lads dallied with hard-eyed be...
Pearson Field: Pioneering Aviation in Vancouver and Portland by Bill Alley.
Pearson Field, part of the Vancouver National Historic Reserve, is one of the oldest continually operating airfields in the United States. From the fi...
Sea of Glory: America's Voyage of Discovery, the U.S. Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842 by Nathaniel Philbrick.
America's first frontier was not the West; it was the sea-and no one writes more eloquently about that watery wilderness than Nathaniel Philbrick. In ...
The Ku Klux Klan in the City, 1915-1930 by Kenneth T. Jackson.
For decades the most frightening example of bigotry and hatred in America, the Ku Klux Klan has usually been seen as a rural and small-town product an...