|A dam at the Willamette's mouth|
|The U.S. Army Engineers operated several snag boats to deal with the roots of mighty forest giants washed into the sand by river currents. This is a picture of the snag puller, Mathloma.|
|Propeller sluicing at St Helens|
A U.S. Coast Survey chart from 1851 shows the original depths, in feet, of the beginning of the river channel above Astoria. This was the area where the original discoverer, Robert Gray, turned back after briefly running aground.
By the 1890s dikes and dams ran along the rivers from Portland to the sea. Here are some images from an 1894 map of Portland showing the dikes along the Portland harbor and on to St Johns. The dike running from the lumber mill in northwest Portland to Swan Island acted as a harbor wall for a large community of "scow dwellers" on both sides. They used the dike as a walkway to access their houseboats.
|Dike from lumber mill to Swan Island|
|Dike below Saint Johns|
|River channel by Swan Island (appx 25 feet deep)|
|The dike in front of North Pacific Lumber mill as seen from Portland Flouring Mills|
In anticipation of the completion of the Panama Canal the Port of Portland developed a remodel of the entire harbor. The original wharves were razed and a seawall constructed. The larger wharves were already operating north of the city, or across the river in lower Albina by that time. The river channel was moved to the west side of Swan Island, and a large system of docks was proposed for Mock's bottom and Saint Johns.
It seems to me that there is no financial incentive to dredge the Willamette deep enough to accommodate ships designed for the new Panama Canal channel opening in 2014-especially with the industrial waste superfund sites preventing normal dredging. This is a subject that would take me far too long to do justice in my little blog. I am so immersed in the old days that I recently realized that dyke (as seen on the maps) is now spelled "dike." I am probably the wrong person to write about the present state of affairs, or those to come.
I won't be here to see much of what will happen, but it seems that Portland harbor is sliding into the shadow of larger Columbia river grain terminals and larger Pacific Coast docks. Maybe the best use of these old dockyards would be to invite the scow dwellers back. That would surely humanize these sad areas of desolation that one sees as one travels down the river from Alber's Mill to Kelley Point. Finally, it goes almost without saying, we should rebuild the old Willamette River Light Station. What good is a river mouth, obscured by the fog, without a bungalow on stilts shining its light into the mist? Once the industry is gone Portland will need to survive by being a place of unique weirdness to attract future generations of hipsters.
|Willamette River Light Station|