Historic Portland

Historic Portland Oregon is one of those large cities surrounded by absolutely beautiful scenery and a plethora of historic sites. The list of historic sites to visit seems endless and they stretch out in every direction. A Visit to Portland itself is quite historic for a number of reasons.

portland oregon mass transit
Portland Oregon’s efficient and popular mass transit system

The Pioneers Head Down the Columbia

Portland Oregon is located where the Columbia River and Willamette River intersect. Portland, or the settlement that eventually turned into Portland Oregon, had everything to do with these two rivers.

The Columbia of course was the river traveled by the earliest pioneers into the northwest. It was the road that took the pioneers to the fertile Willamette Valley after a 2,000 mile journey along the Overland and Oregon Trails from Missouri. The Willamette River took them a bit south to what would be Oregon City.

It would be Oregon City that would be the main settlement for the Americans from the mid west. The British would mainly reside around Fort Vancouver which is on the north side of the Columbia and base of the Hudson’s Bay Company.

Two Men in a Canoe Founded Portland

The story of the founding of Portland Oregon and how historic Portland was given it’s name involves a canoe trip between Fort Vancouver and Oregon City. The land where Portland resides today was a stopping off point along the river between these two settlements. In 1843, two men, William Overton and Asa Lovejoy, who had floated past this spot numerous times, filed claims for land in what was referred to at the time as “The Clearing“.

1890 portland oregon
Portland Oregon, circa 1890

Eventually Overton sold his claim to a man named Francis Pettygrove from Portland Maine. When it came time to name their settlement both men, Pettygrove and Lovejoy, wished to name it after their home towns. The choice therefore was either Boston or Portland. A coin was flipped, Pettygrove won, and the new settlement was officially named Portland. This event attests to just how close Portland Oregon once came to being named “Boston.”

In subsequent years the claim would be sold, resold, and split up. Some owners actually used their claims as equity for other investments.  Certain individuals owned certain sections and some with waterfront parcels. The town was incorporated as Portland in 1851.

Portland and Oregon City

Oregon City is located 12 miles upriver on the Willamette from Portland. Oregon City was the territorial capital. Although Oregon City was the capital and far older, Portland had the distinct advantage of being located where the two traveled rivers intersected and had water depth enough that could handle ocean going vessels. As a result, Portland grew steadily in population. Historic Portland grew into a major port in the Pacific Northwest.

portland union station
Beautifully restored interior of Portland’s Union Station

Historic Landmarks of Today’s Portland Oregon

Portland  Union Station– Here is an historic building that fortunately has been saved and preserved. In addition to that it still serves as a busy transportation hub serving Amtrak and other rail lines. Union Station has leased offices on the upper floors and a restaurant on the ground floor. Union Station was built in 1890 for a cost of $300,000. When you view this train terminal, a significant piece of architecture that immediately stands out is the 150 foot high Romanesque style clock tower. Having been added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975, Union Station is operated by the Portland Development Commission as part of the Downtown/Waterfront urban renewal district.

governor hotel portland
The Governor Hotel

The Governor Hotel– The Governor Hotel was constructed in 1909 and is one of the city’s oldest hotels. Architect William Christmas Knighton designed this luxury hotel billed as a “Hotel of Quiet Elegance”. The Governor Hotel has since become a landmark in Portland’s history and a place as familiar to Portlanders as home.  Portland had only four hotels in the entire city in 1900 which were considered first or second class. The Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition of 1905 in Portland brought in many more tourists and the tourism trade continued to grow after that. As a result there was a boom in the luxury hotel industry and the Governor Hotel is an excellent example of the result. Early guests at the Governor Hotel would typically pay from $1.50 for a sleeping room to $2.00 a night for a private bath and breakfast.

roosevelt hotel in portland
Portland’s old Roosevelt Hotel

Roosevelt Hotel– Built in 1924, the Roosevelt Hotel building, located at 1005 SW Park Avenue, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Named in honor of President Theodore Roosevelt, the hotel was eventually converted into 104 condos in the year 2000.

Theodore Roosevelt had a strong connection to the city of Portland. During the Lewis and Clark Exposition in 1905, President Roosevelt pressed on a gold telegraph key at the White House officially starting the exposition. Roosevelt is also dear to many in Oregon for his efforts in creating Crater Lake National Park in 1902. Many Roosevelt historians know that the president was quite involved with conservation and in setting aside a good deal of public lands for future generations to enjoy as national parks and monuments.

pioneer courthouse portland oregon
Portland Oregon’s Pioneer Courthouse

Pioneer Courthouse– Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse has the distinction of being the oldest federal courthouse in the Pacific Northwest and the second oldest west of the Mississippi River. The Pioneer Courthouse was built in stages beginning in 1869 and lasting to 1903. At one time the building housed a U.S. Post Office. Today, the courthouse serves as one of the sites of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. We are fortunate that the structure still remains because over the decades there had been efforts to have it demolished as far back as 1933.

First named the United States Building, The Pioneer Courthouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.

You’ll also enjoy our Trips into History links to other sites in the Portland area. These include the Tillamook Head Historic Lighthouse and a Visit to The Dalles.

Also, on our Western Trips site you’ll enjoy a Visit to old Fort Vancouver’s Officer’s Row.

amtrak coast starlight
Amtrak’s Coast Starlight at Portland’s Union Station

Visiting the Great Portland Oregon Area

As mentioned above visiting Portland offers the Oregon tourist easy access to a numerous historic sites in every direction. Historic Oregon City, once the territorial capital is located twelve miles south along the Willamette River. Fort Vancouver Washington is just across the Interstate 5 bridge to the north. The Columbia River Scenic Highway runs east from the Portland area and follows the south shore of the Columbia River to historic towns like The Dalles. Driving northwest from Portland takes you to the mouth of the Columbia to Astoria Oregon and Fort Stevens and the scenic coastline. There are many more areas and sites to explore in addition to the ones mentioned above. Historic Portland has much to offer.

A visit to Portland is a great way to enjoy beautiful scenery and learn much about how our historic Pacific Northwest was settled.

(Photos from author’s collection. Photo of Portland circa 1890 is from the public domain)