Geographical Position of Portland Oregon

To define her position in more particular terms, she is located in latitude forty-five degrees and thirty minutes north; longitude one hundred and twenty-two degrees and twenty-seven minutes west on the left bank of the Willamette River, twelve miles below the Falls of that stream at Oregon City, and ten miles above its confluence with the Columbia. It is one hundred and ten miles from the city by the Willamette and Columbia Rivers to the debouchure of the latter stream into the Pacific. As for distance to other well known points, it is about seven hundred miles to San Francisco by water, six hundred by rail; to the Cascades of the Columbia it is sixty miles; to the Dalles, ninety miles; to Walla Walla, two hundred and forty-five miles; to Spokane Falls, three hundred and seventy; to Lewiston, three hundred and fifty; to Salt Lake City, nine hundred; to Helena, Montana, seven hundred and fifty; to Chicago, two thousand four hundred; to New York, three thousand three hundred. On the north to Olympia by rail it is one hundred and twenty miles; to Tacoma, one hundred and fifty; to Seattle, one hundred and eighty; to Port Townsend, two hundred and fifty; to Victoria, three hundred; to Vancouver, B. C., four hundred; to Sitka, nine hundred; On the south to Salem, the capital of Oregon, it is fifty miles; to Eugene City, the site of the State University, one hundred and twenty-five; to Roseburgh, in the Umpqua Valley, two hundred; to Jacksonville, in Rogue River Valley, three hundred.

Portland sits at the mouth of the Willamette Valley, and practically at the mouth of the Columbia Basin. To pass from San Francisco by rail to Puget Sound, or vice versa, one must go by Portland. To pass by water from the sea coast to the Inland Empire, as the Columbia Basin is sometimes termed, one must pass Portland. Take a map, make Portland a center, and draw from this center lines along the natural gaps and depressions to other parts of the Pacific Northwest, and there will be formed a circle of which these lines are approximately the radii.

Topographically considered Portland is laid out by nature on a scale commensurate with the geographical environment of which she is the center. All along the south bank of the Columbia, and the west bank of the Willamette, from the ocean for more than one hundred miles, even to the Falls of the Willamette at Oregon City, there is a range of low mountains or hills, lying almost the entire distance against the waters of these rivers and in many places jutting upon them in a heads and escarpments. These highlands, for fifty miles of their distance from the sea, are the broken terminals of the Coast Mountains, laid open by the flow of the Columbia. For the remainder of their extent they break down into lower elevations, known as the Scappoose Hills, or still further south, as the Portland Hills. They are an older formation, containing much of sandstone and Andesite, and are in many cases wholly lacking the basaltic covering which is well nigh universal in this northwestern region. At the mouth of the Willamette one finds a delta, which on the south, is embraced by the arm of the river that was formerly called in the Indian language by the liquid name of Multnomah. From
this water, now termed Willamette Slough, which separates the largest of the islands of the delta from the main land, the hills rise abruptly, with but a narrow strip of alluvial soil unfit for building. Following up this slough to its point of departure from the main river, the hills still impend upon the west, their natural abruptness being much emphasized by the dense growth of evergreen forests whose unbroken wall of tops add some hundreds of feet to their apparent altitude. At a point ten miles from the mouth of the Willamette, however, one finds a great bend in the river, which now comes directly from the south, whereas, hitherto one found it flowing from the southeast. Here has been formed the site of Portland.

By the casting up of alluvium against the foot of the hills, and the formation of the river bank at some distance eastward, shallow lagoons have been formed, which during seasons of flood are united with the general flow of the river making a continuous body of water. Here are Balch’s, Guild’s and Couch’s Lakes. From the shore of the latter, as well as from the banks of the river, the land rises at an easy gradient, reaching at a distance of half a mile from the river a plateau one hundred feet above the level of the water. At a distance of about a mile from the river, the plateau joins abruptly the chain of hills, which here lift their fronts sharply six hundred feet above the Willamette. From Couch’s Lake on the north to the end of the sloping plateau on the south, where the impending hills again approach the river, and terminate the prospect, it is a distance of two and one-half miles. It is nowhere above a mile wide. It is moreover cleft by a small stream coming from the west-Tanner Creek-which throws one portion of the site of the city toward the south, with rounded surface, against the foot of the southern bosses of the hill chains, and the other portion toward the north with various undulations, against the northern and more retrogradient peaks. The cleft, however, is not deep, nor abrupt, and gives a delightful and expressive variation to the face of the site. This, then, is the topography of the city-a gentle slope, rising up from the river and lake to the hills a mile back, within the elbow of the river, and under the shelter of the highlands. The plat slopes north-east, and embraces somewhat less than three square miles in area. It is cozy, protected from the southern storm, sufficiently well watered to be green the year around, and is constantly fanned by the breezes of the river.

But while this formed the limits of the original city, the additions have spread far beyond these bounds, and manifestly if the city is to grow it must overflow, as it has already done far beyond its two or three square miles. The surface of the surrounding region, far from forbidding such extension, is favorable and inviting to it. It has recently been recognized that the outlying hills are most advantageous for residence. They rise up in separate spurs and are steep and abrupt, having all the appearance of having been cut into their present form by the erosion of sea waves, as was undoubtedly the case when the general level of Oregon was so much depressed in remote times, as to allow the flow of ocean water over the entire surface of the Willamette Valley. There may be reckoned at least six of these prominences. Beginning on the north back of Couch’s Lake, we have Willamette Heights; next south are King’s Heights, overlooking the City Park. South of this across the deep canyon of Tanner Creek is Carter’s Hill, which was the first to be called Portland Heights. Next in order is Robinson’s Hill, succeeded by Marquam’s Hill, upon which is located the addition sometimes called Portland Homestead. To close the view are the South Portland Heights. There are upon all these high ands many knobs and knolls, separated from one another by small ravines all of which make back and disappear at length in the solid body of the chain. The elevation attained by these heights is from six hundred to eight hundred feet. But they roll upward and finally culminate in a commanding ridge whose eastern terminus rises highest of all and is named Mt. Zion, over 1,000 feet in altitude. It looks eastward across the river. The western extension of the same ridge, Humphrey’s Mountain, commands the prospect toward the Tualatin plains and the Coast Mountains. These heights, having an infinite variety of surface, with innumerable networks of ravines, afford an almost countless variety of sitely building spots. An exposure facing any sun or wind may be obtained and in the deeper depressions locations sheltered from all the storms may be readily found. South and east of Tanner Creek canyon, the heights, including Mt. Zion and Humphrey’s Mountain, with their skirts and flanks, compose a region of about six square miles. North and west of the canyon, the ridge is some three miles broad, and extends parallel with the river indefinitely. Ten square miles are within easy reach of the city. Still south of the heights proper the chain of hills continue, although, it breaks down to a much lower altitude, and form a rolling plateau two miles broad, by four or five in length. This makes a region extraordinarily sightly and sunny, and while not so much diversified as the heights, it is much more easily reduced to form and use-indeed not betraying by contour its elevation, but presenting the appearance of an undulating plain. It is easily accessible to the city, and will one day be a portion of it.

From the highest points of all the elevations named the scenery is unrivaled. They command the prospect of the Willamette River, its winding and silvery way to its delta and union with the Columbia; and for many miles a connected view of that greater stream and its path from the heart of the Cascade Mountains and the chasm in their walls out of which it proceeds. There are also embraced wide strips of meadow land, plains, illimitable forests, buttes and romantic hills; the vanishing wall of the Cascade Mountains, with Hood, St. Helens, Rainier, Adams, Jefferson, all being volcanic peaks covered with perpetual snow, in unobstructed view. Seldom is there such a combination of water, valley, hill and mountain scenery to be embraced in one prospect. All in all there are twenty-five (or a much larger number if necessary) square miles of land ready for the use of Portland on the west side of the Willamette.

But this is exclusive of the east side, which by many is deemed the fairer of the two. Its surface is totally different, from that which has just been considered, since it is not at all mountainous, and little broken. It is, on the other hand, an imperial plain, with long easy slopes, wide expanses, and but occasional elevations. Beginning six miles below Portland on the east bank of the river one finds at St. Johns the first highland, north of which are river bottoms and illuvial plains subject to the overflow of the Columbia. This elevation rises sharply one hundred feet above the river and making a slow ascent gains another hundred feet of altitude before reaching its maximum. Its slopes are long and sweeping, maintaining their elevation with more or less regularity up to Albina nearly opposite Portland. Back some distance from the river the plain rises again fifty feet, or possibly in some places one hundred feet more, to a continuous ridge, a bank of ancient washed gravel, brought down in long ages past by torrents from the Cascade Mountains, and here deposited while yet the sea rolled in. The gravel ridge once attained, the surface steadily falls to seek the level of the Columbia on the farther side. Highland, Piedmont, Columbia Heights, and other names significant of the elevated region are bestowed upon various portions of this gravel ridge. From Albina southward the surface sinks by small degrees, broken here and there by ravines, until at the site of East Portland, three profound chasms or gulches, unite to form an illuvial bottom, making easy ingress from the river, but a bad water front. The first of these on the north is Sullivan’s Gulch, fifty feet deep and two hundred yards across; its bed a morass. It is down this cleft that the O. R. & N. R. R. finds a passage from the plain to the river level. Next south is Asylum Gulch, leading back to a powerful spring which leaps from under the plain behind, giving birth to a stream of water sufficient for the supply of the water, works of East Portland. A mile south of this is Stephens Gulch, bearing off another clear stream, of many times the volume of the foregoing, which also springs bodily from the ground. It is by this depression that the O. & C. R. R. passes out of the city. South of the mouth of Stephens Gulch, the ground once more rises, gaining an altitude about the same as that of Albina, and it is called Brookland. On the obverse slope, however, it sinks to a considerable vale.

The strip of alluvium in front of East Portland, at the mouth of the gulches, is but a few hundred paces across, and thence the surface rises easily, nowhere attaining an elevation of more than one hundred feet, and develops into a plain with many variations of surface leading out three miles further to Mt. Tabor. This is a solitary hill seven hundred feet in height with a commanding front and long approaches. Its slopes are most inviting for residence property, the soil is congenial to gardens and orchard trees, and its rocks of basalt give birth to a multitude of delicious springs. It is in truth a reservoir of water, as are the hills on the west. East of Mt. Tabor the plains extend for many miles with an occasional little butte or ridge; and to the south the surface rolls away in a woody expanse with frequent hills which break down at length on the margin of the Clackamas, a half score of miles distant. Comprehensively, therefore, the east side of the river opposite Portland is a plain-with undulations and a few hills-eight or ten miles long, and as many wide. The site of Portland may therefore be briefly described as a sloping plateau within the elbow of the Willamette, surrounded by hills, opposite a great undulating plain. This situation is unsurpassed for a great city.

The Willamette river, immediately above the city, spread out in shallows and enlarged by alluvial islands, is there above half a mile wide. Obstructed, however, by the high point of Brookland, and thrown from the east to the west shore, it rapidly narrows, being but fourteen hundred feet across at Morrison street, near the center of the city. Thrown again from the solid bank of the plat on which the city stands to the east shore, striking a mile further down upon the elevated plains of East Portland, below the gulches, it is forced into one strong deep channel, wearing the face of the upland into an almost perpendicular bluff fifty feet high-the formation exposed being lacustrine clay, over-lying a mixture of coarse sand and washed gravel. At this point the river is but eight hundred feet across. It thence expands slightly; still wearing the Albina shore, as its course is deflected westward; swelling at Swan Island to as great a width as at Ross Island. The depth of water at Ross Island is but nine feet. Below this obstruction the depth rapidly increases, reaching sixty feet off the lower wharves of the city, near the railroad bridge. At Swan Island the narrow channel hugging the east shore gives a depth of twenty-six feet which is frequently doubled by the vast rise of the Columbia in the summer.

Natural Advantages

The term “advantages” is relative, being always used with reference to the purpose in view. The advantages of a city relate to its adaptation to the uses of commerce, manufacturing and residence. Under the head of commerce, facility for both water and land communication is to be regarded, together with the extent and variety of commodities available for exchange. Under manufacturing advantages, power, labor, and availability of raw material, fall into the account. As to residence one must consider salubrity, beauty of natural surroundings and contiguity to his business operations, together with social, educational and religious privileges.

The geographical position of Portland, which has already been described, gives her superior advantages as a commercial center. That will be a commanding commercial point which readily effects exchanges of commodities and equates supply and demand. Chicago is a center of lumber trade, controlling this great branch of business throughout the Lake basin and the Mississippi valley, for the reason that she can most readily reach the lumber manufacturing districts of Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Canada, and can keep in supply millions of feet of seasoned and assorted lumber, ready for the greatest number of places in the surrounding regions. Her control of this trade is sometimes spoken of as due to the superior enterprise of her merchants. But this is true only in a secondary degree. From the circumstance of her geographical position there is a greater number of builders and others who can more easily find at her yards the lumber they desire, than at any other city. They find the quickest and cheapest route between them and the sawmills, to lead through Chicago. If they can save a few hours time and a few dollars in money upon every bill, they are certain to send to Chicago. The extent of patronage, the rapidity of their sales, the speedy return of their money and the consequent large margins of profit, enable the Chicago dealers to enlarge their stock and to supply still more quickly and satisfactorily all the needs of their customers, and by this to attract more and more business, and finally to under-sell the smaller and less equipped houses of even distant cities. In like manner from her proximity to the grain fields, and from her shipping facilities, she largely controls the wheat business; in like manner she is a center for market and sale of the beef and pork of the Mississippi valley.

Geography, History,

Harvey Whitefield Scott. History of Portland, Oregon: with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Prominent Citizens and Pioneers. Portland, Oregon. D. Mason & Company, 1890.

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