Portland: History

The area surrounding present-day Portland was originally inhabited by the Multnomah and Clackamas tribes, who had established several villages by the 1830s. Most of these people died from smallpox epidemics and other diseases. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were the first settlers of European descent to travel through the Portland area during their 1806 expedition. Clark named the Willamette River after the Multnomah village he found on Sauvie Island.

The future site of Portland was originally a clearing in the woods, appropriately known as "The Clearing," where Native Americans and traders stopped to rest on trips between Oregon City and Fort Vancouver. The land underwent a series of ownerships until Amos Lovejoy and Francis Pettygrove bought it and mapped out a town called "Stump-town" in 1845. Four years later the two men, Lovejoy from Boston and Pettygrove from Portland, Maine, decided to flip a coin to determine the town's new name. Pettygrove won and the town became Portland.

Portland grew steadily through the California gold rush, reporting a population of 821 residents, a post office, and a newspaper—the Weekly Oregonian — in the 1850 census. Portland was incorporated in 1851 and became the seat of newly created Washington County (later renamed Multnomah County) in 1854. That same year the town advanced toward becoming a major trade center when its harbor was selected as the West Coast terminal for The Petonia, the U.S. mail steamer. Prior to the Civil War the salmon industry began to grow, enhancing Portland's economic status. The city experienced catastrophe when, in 1872 and 1873, the downtown area was heavily damaged by fire; civic leaders subsequently decided to rebuild only with cast iron, brick, and stone. The construction of the first transcontinental railroad in 1883, linking Portland with the East Coast, brought renewed prosperity. By the turn of the century the population had grown to 90,000 people.

Portland continued to expand steadily through the early decades of the twentieth century; the Alaska gold rush, the 1905 Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition, and the construction of the Bonneville Dam in the 1930s were important factors in its growth. During World War II the city was a ship-building and manufacturing center.

In the 1960s and 1970s Portland's city leaders were able to avoid problems experienced by other large metropolitan areas through economic diversification, controlled growth, and environmental planning. A precedent had already been set by early planners who had integrated parks and green spaces into the city's lay-out; later, city planners instituted an ordinance to protect scenic views. Local government continues to work on the Region 2040 growth plan to manage all aspects of growth in the metropolitan area to the year 2040. In 2005, Mayor Tom Potter took office with the goal of continuing to move Portland forward.

Historical Information: Oregon Historical Society Regional Research Library, 1200 SW Park Avenue, Portland, OR 97204; telephone (503)222-1741