Friday, January 27, 2012

Portland and Liverpool

Loading sacked grain by chutes at an Albina grain dock

Not long after the first shipments of wheat and canned salmon were sent to Liverpool by the trading firm of John McCracken, immediately followed by Corbett and Ma Cleay, Portlanders began to imagine their city to be a seaport. I say "imagine" because many months out of the year deep draught sailing vessels could not make it past the sandbars on the Columbia, let alone navigate the "shallow Wallamat" as the Tri-weekly Astorian liked to point out. Never-the-less that did not stop the starry-eyed wharfingers from naming their planks of timber resting on fir piles names like: "Mersey Dock" and "Victoria Dock". But for those months that these vessels could come right into town, and the saloons on the north end were filled with English sailors whose lingo could not be understood even in their own country, let alone the American west, Portland seemed like a city of the world, rough and tumble, wide open, a place of sin and fast fortunes. 

I have not blogged for a little while. These days when I lay off the blogging it is because I am finding things too interesting to allow for a moment away from the mines of the Internet. Today I have discovered enough dastardly deeds and corruption in this city's past to makes my stomach turn. I have found out many sins to fill the pages of the book I have promised to finish by September. May God have mercy on me for my own sins and help me to not judge too harshly the pirates, crimps, and whoremongers of a hundred years past.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Willamette Floods Now and Then

The Willamette used to flood every spring as the snow melt in the Cascade mountains flowed down to the sea. Flood waters are also fueled by snow melt as far away as the Rockies flowing into the Columbia river. Now the water flow is mostly controlled by dams. But in 1996 a combination of heavy rains, and sudden warm weather gave Portland a little thrill. I was working on the first floor of Alber's Mill at the time. As the water reached its peak we opened the basement door and measured 14 inches to the water lapping at the steps. Some of these photos I took out the office window.

McCormick Pier Apartments--notice thee pyramid shape in the water. That is the very tip of the gazebo where people can sit at picnic tables and watch grain being loaded on board ships at O Dock across the water. On this day they would have needed scuba gear. 

Willamette River Flood

Willamette River Flood
Alber's Mill Parking Lot is now part of the Willamette river

Willamette River Flood

 Some images of earlier floods

Vanport, situated  near what today is Delta Park, was a World War II housing project for shipyard employees. The story of the flood is one laced with racism and incompetence. For some really excellent photos of this shameful event in Portland history check out Thomas Robinson's Historic Photo Archives. It is well worth the trouble of creating a free account just to browse his images.

Vanport 1948

Willamette River Flood 1898

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Willamette River Light Station, a lost river lighthouse

The Willamette River Light Station at the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia rivers. Photo taken around 1905

On a foggy day in the late nineteenth century the farmers on Sauvie Island would hear the loud, dull tolling of a fog bell every 10 seconds. On rainy, dusky evenings riverboats plying up the Willamette river heading for Astoria, or Cascade Locks would be guided by the blinking red beam coming from a structure sitting on a sand bar at what is now called Kelly Point. This was the long lost Willamette Light Station that you see in the photograph.

Many is the time I have been to Kelly Point. Having worked for the U.S.D.A. Federal Grain Inspection Service for over thirty years I have spent many duty rotations working at the T5 export grain elevator next door to Kelly Point. Often times I would spend a pleasant lunch hour there beneath the oaks and cottonwoods gazing out on the placid meeting place of rivers. When inspecting cargo holds of ships anchored in the Columbia, we would usually board a launch at T6, the automobile and container dock on the Columbia river side of Kelly Point. But in all those years no one ever mentioned the long lost Willamette River Light Station, because it was long lost.

I spent some time researching. Now I know most of the facts about the Willamette River Light Station. If I don't fit them into the book I am writing on the history of the Portland waterfront I will write an article on the subject and see if some Portland periodical will publish it. If no one wants it, then I will happily serve up all the details, plus more images, right here on my little blog. 

Note: There is a very short Wikipedia article on this lighthouse, but it leaves out some interesting facts, and the facts it has aren't  entirely correct. I will add my two cents to Wikipedia when time permits.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Oregon Steam Navigation Company Dock

By 1864 the Oregon Steam Navigation Company was well on its way to becoming the largest monopoly Oregon would ever see. That year Captain Ainsworth, one of the early river pilots and a founder of the firm, oversaw the building of a huge dock as a fitting portal to this new and booming town. The dock was built between Pine and Ash streets, and was double decked to accommodate the river at various water levels. By the time this photo was taken, sometime in the 1880s the company had been purchased by the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company. The bridge visible behind the masts in the Morrison street bridge.