Friday, December 30, 2011

The Esplanade of Yesterday

Anyone who bicycles, walks, skates, or jogs on the Eastbank Esplanade wedged between the roaring Interstate 5 freeway and the Willamette river will pass by the Fire Boat Dock beneath the Hawthorne Bridge. In 1905, when this newspaper image was produced (I can't really call it a photograph, can I?), Washington Street ran straight down to the river, ending abruptly at the fire tug dock.

In the nineteenth century things were always catching on fire, including boats. Portland burned to the ground in 1873 (well, most of downtown). There couldn't be two steamboats going in the same direction without it turning into a drag race, so that caused a lot of boiler explosions. Gas lights burning everywhere, cigar stubs, candles, oil lamps--and almost everything was built from timber.

The historic newspaper databases are as close as I suppose I will ever get to a time machine (something Santa didn't bring me for Christmas). But with a few details, a splotchy old picture, and an active imagination I feel like I have walked the streets of this fair city throughout each decade of its short history.