Tuesday, August 21, 2012


From the 1878 Portland City Directory

Some time back I promised to update my old Portland waterfront history website, and I have been plugging away at it for some time now. The most difficult part, for someone like me, is images. Were I unscrupulous I could easily load the site up with images stolen from university websites, navy history sites, and the like, but I actually believe that digital media has as much right to ownership as any other media. So, although the process has been slow, there will be a completely new www.portlandwaterfront.org very soon--and it will be bulging at the seams with pictures.

The grain docks of Albina from the West Hills

Since my book, Portland's Lost Waterfront, is now finished (and bulging with pictures), and will be out in November, I have decided that the residue of the images, the ones I ddn't use, and belong to me personally, will be made available on the www.portlandwaterfront.org website in fairly large format (1020 pixel width). I will also be able to complement the book by going into greater detail on some issues. I plan to send the final version of the book off to History Press either later today, or tomorrow--so wish me luck.

It can currently be pre-ordered at this link: http://www.amazon.com/Barney-Blalock/e/B008WAZXU2/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1

Let it not be said that I was too shy to make a sale.

 Portland in the early 1870s

This book has already helped me in several important ways: I am now ten times better at researching that I ever thought possible, I have become reacquainted with my old friend Thomas Robinson, who has graciously allowed me the pleasure of looking at old negatives of the waterfront for hours on end. And I can see how naive it was for me to put together my little website, way back in 2004. I feel as though I have been living in the 19th century for some time now. I have spent as many as 12 hours at a time reading old newspaper articles, so with the eye of a 19th century man I look at my old website and I say:
 "This could stand a bit of improvement."
Fear not, improvement is on its way.




Friday, August 10, 2012

Shanghai Dock

The Shanghai Dock by Ross Island from a 1924 map showing the location of the Columbia Shipbuilding Co. shipyard.

Every now and then, over the last several decades, I have happened upon the mention of a mysterious "Shanghai Dock" reported to be somewhere down by the Ross Island Bridge. A "whole lot of shanghaiing went on there," it is told. So, it couldn't actually have been by the Ross Island Bridge, since that bridge wasn't finished until December of 1926, and the period of shanghaiing of sailors in Portland ended well before World War I.  Being something of a map lover I tended to ignore references to the mysterious "Shanghai Dock," knowing that no such dock had ever appeared on any of the detailed maps of the waterfront that I have poured over hours on end. 
One such reference that I ignored was a report on Shanghaiing in a 1976 Oregonian that said, "…shanghaiing was not confined to the Burnside area, but occurred all along the waterfront, even as far south as the Ross Island Bridge, a place known then as "Shanghai Dock."

Then one day I came upon a reference to the "Shanghai Dock" in the Marine Notes in a 1920s Oregonian. That prompted me to search in earnest to find this mysterious dock, and as often is the case, I was rewarded with a disappointingly mundane answer to the mystery. 

The answer to this mystery, and a great deal more information about Portland's old waterfront will be found in the pages of my upcoming book  Portland's Lost Waterfront: Tall Ships, Steam Mills, and Sailor's Boardinghouses, which will be published by History Press. But, I don't think it will spoil anything by publishing in this blog post an excerpt containing the paragraphs from my book that deal with the mystery of the Shanghai Dock.

On occasion someone recalls that their great uncle (or someone) worked at a mysterious place called "Shanghai Dock" down by where the Ross Island Bridge crosses the river. This dock has been mentioned as proof that shanghaiing went on as far up river as Ross Island. The facts are far less romantic, and occur in an era that is slightly beyond the period covered by this book. 

In 1923 the Shanghai Building Company established a dock to load lumber for China at the site where the Columbia Shipbuilding Company shipyards built vessels during World War I. From then on the dock was known as Shanghai Dock, even after it was purchased by the Pacific Bridge Building Company several years later. It is almost amusing that this dock is mentioned (in hushed tones) by those who wish to embellish a tale of shanghaiing that needs no embellishing. I do admit that the name has a certain charm and would make a great title for a volume of pulp fiction, or an adventure starring Tintin and Snowy.
So, the mysterious dock turns out to be nothing more than a lumber dock belonging to a company based in Shanghai. It serves as an example of what became of all the shipyards that lined the river during World War I—the period when Portland proved itself as a major seaport.

The infamy of yesteryear can be a distraction from the horror of the present. For instance, being fascinated by Hitler, while being  quietly complicit toward some sort of apartheid.  I can guarantee any readers of this blog that the sex slave traffic through our city today harms a far greater number of people in one year than the entire era of shanghaiing did over a period of four decades. The details of history, though—the examination of how powerful bullies can get away with heinous crimes, and the relationship of law enforcement to this underworld—this is a lesson that we can learn from Portland's era of shanghaiing. Once we are fully aware of the facts behind yesterday's horror, we may begin to look around us with a little more wariness.