Portland Excursions, Public Festivities and Celebrations

The gorge of the Columbia, with its Latourelle, Multnomah, and Horse-tail Falls, and its Oneonta canyon, with the Cascade mountains themselves, are most inviting, and to the artist no less than to the common excursionist, prove wonderful. Mount St. Helens has been an object of attraction to the Alpine Club of this city, the members of which recently played snow-ball upon its mosque-like top. Mount Adams and Rainier, although the finest and most curious of all, are too much removed to be frequented by the men of Portland; they will ultimately, however, come into due appreciation. For those bent on wider exploits, Alaska offers immense attraction, and is not unknown to our citizens, many visiting its shores on business or pleasure. The Sandwich Islands have also been a spot of popular attention by our people. Regular trips are made to California, and to the old Eastern and Southern homes; while as elsewhere among Americans, the more wealthy take an occasional journey to Europe. The health, culture, refinement and mental and moral quickening, derived from these less and greater evolutions and revolutions, probably more than balance the dissipation, hardening of the heart, and the restlessness that they induce.

As popular festivities and celebrations in the city, the ordinary homely American feasts and jubilations are observed. The New England fasts have been suffered to lapse, and the Carnival and Mardi Gras, although sometimes tried a little, have never been general. There is something that sticks in the throat of our dignity to deliver ourselves up to uncontrollable mirth, unless first unbending by the mellowness of drink; but this is held to be disreputable, at least to the point of intoxication. No more than other Americans or Teutons can Portlanders abandon themselves gracefully to their animal feelings; but if attempting it, fall into gross riot and rude license. Washington’s birthday, by balls; Decoration Day, by military parades, speeches and floral displays; the Fourth of July, by explosives, processions, orations and pyrotechnics; the Autumn harvest, by fairs, or particularly the Exposition, lasting twenty days; Thanksgiving day, by sermons in the churches, and family reunions at home; the Christmas time ” The Holidays, ” by special decoration of the shops and stores; by “trees” at home and in the churches, and by musical festivities-these all come around in order and in truth afford a refined source of pleasure. There is not an excess of rudeness connected with even the most noisy, and on the whole they are profitably enjoyed. Probably there is little that is unique or peculiar to Portland in any of them, but as a part of the culture of the people, they show no sign of dying out. The reunion of the Oregon Pioneers in June, which usually takes place in Portland, may become a special feature of the country, as the Pioneer Association passes on to the descendants of the early Oregonians. The “Native Sons,” “The Alpine Club,” the “Indian War Veterans,” or other organizations peculiar to this State, may give some day a feast that will add to the usual stock of American holidays in our city.

A remarkable Fourth of July is spoken of as having occurred in 1861. This was during the days when the fires of patriotism burned brightly, and a general depression of spirits and anxiety of the public mind, as well as an imagination excited by constant reading of preparations for war, led the way to a great celebration. The firing of cannon during the day and orations by able speakers, was succeeded at night by a display of fireworks, which was regarded by every one with respect. To most of the spectators it was magnificent, being far superior to anything they had ever seen even in “Old Missouri.” Country people came in for miles around to witness the views, and the woods were thick with their camps.

Since that day the demand for rockets, roman candles, etc., has been sufficient to keep at least one resident pyrotechnist in the city, and the burning of fizzes and red fire, and illumination of the river at night by fire-boats, has been a more or less regular circumstance of the day. In 1869, Geo. Francis Train was present on Independence Day, and his oratory, and the man himself, as a specimen of a great man of the East, brought in crowds to see and hear, and excited a vast deal of old-time curiosity. In recent years, as mentioned above, the illumination of Mount Hood has been added as a sort of good night at 11:00 P. m., and in the near future we may expect to see electric lights, the power of some millions of candles, touched off on each of the great snow peaks at the close of the exercises.

Portland has an enviable reputation for processions. Scarcely a day passes but thick or thin files of men, accompanied by drum and brass band and banners, march to and fro. The most of these are of orders or combinations of men who work, and of those who do not, who desire to emphasize some feature of their political or economical creed as to wages, or the Mongolian, or else of showmen or of religious enthusiasts, as the Salvation Army.

On occasions, however, the city has made processional displays of such a character as to excite high encomiums from all. The celebration of the completion of the N. P. R. R., in 1883, and the welcome to Villard and his guests, was an affair of great good taste and significance. No history of the place would be complete without giving it a fair place; accordingly we insert the salient features as they were depicted at the time by the Oregonian:

The main thoroughfares of Portland never presented a more animated appearance than on yesterday. Flags and garlands fluttered from hundreds of buildings, and a small army of men and boys were engaged in decorating and beautifying stores and dwellings in all parts of the town. Myriads of ladies and children in gaudy colored dresses materially heightened the effect of the gorgeous scene. The main attraction was First street, from A to Salmon, where regular colonnades had been established, flanked on either side with garlands of evergreens and elaborately festooned bunting, which had been arranged in an artistic and picturesque manner. Near the corner of First and A streets an arch representing the entrance to a feudal castle had been erected with such fidelity to nature that it elicited expressions of admiration from visitors and residents alike. The arch is surmounted with towers, and is elegantly adorned with evergreens, streamers, flags and bunting. On either side the word ” Welcome ” in evergreen stands out in bold relief. Statues emblematical of Europe, Asia, Africa and America are placed in such a way as to give the spectator the idea that the statues are standing in niches. The whole is elaborately finished, and reflects great credit on the artist.

The middle arch on the corner of First and Alder streets is a specimen of pure Gothic architecture, and is also finished and decorated in an elaborate manner. It is surmounted by beautiful American flags.

The arch at the corner of First and Salmon streets is of the Roman order, and is ornamented in an elaborate manner with flags, battle-axes, hunting, etc. Banners have been suspended along the whole line, bearing upon them the names of gentlemen who are either officers or directors of the Northern Pacific Railroad, or guests of Mr. Villard.

The coming of the visitors was in the nature of a triumphal march, and Villard had taken the greatest pains to secure the presence of distinguished men from all parts of the Union and from England and Germany. The journey from St. Paul to Portland is described as a continuous ovation. At every point of importance the citizens made demonstrations of welcome, speeches were made; and compliments of all kinds were exchanged. The honors of Caesar Augustus were lavished upon the man who had performed the work of finishing the road. As the train sped by through the Dakotas, cow-boys followed along racing with the train and exhibiting feats of horsemanship and daring. It was especially arranged for Indians to be present at stopping places along the way and they were inspected with great curiosity by the visitors. The scenery was passed at the best advantage, and the party was conveyed in four different trains, running severally about half an hour apart. The first section contained Mr. Villard, his private car, and the private car occupied by his most distinguished foreign guests. The second consisted of eight private cars, two of which belonged to Mr. Robert Harris, a director of the Northern Pacific Railroad Company; another was occupied by Geo. M. Pullman and party, and the car of ex-president Billings was attached in the rear. General Grant occupied a car with Secretary Evarts, General Cass, General Haupt, and various others. The third section was made up of ten cars, for American guests; and the fourth of ten Pullman cars was occupied by representatives of the newspaper press.

Full accounts of the progress of the trains were dispatched to our city, and at the prospect of men of such positive ability and standing as the guests mentioned coming to see the end of the work and to congratulate our State, all our citizens rose to the full requirement of the occasion. It was one of those rare times in the history of a place when the entire population was drawn out by one sympathetic impulse and most cheerfully did each do his best to show his appreciation of the hour. There has been much discussion of Mr. Villard’s abilities and general caliber. But in nothing did he show more perfect good taste and administrative facility than in the conduct of this excursion and celebration. The Northern Pacific had been for more than twenty years a subject profoundly interesting to the people of the Eastern States, upon grounds of economics, of politics and patriotism. With the best of judgment Villard concluded that in no way could the consummation of the building of this road be better celebrated than by the presence here of representative men of the nation. To give still further emphasis to this idea he invited noted men of England, and of his own native Germany. His own efforts were confined to securing the presence of these men and affording them the privileges of guests upon his trains, and making the completion of his work the occasion of the meeting and acquaintance of great men of the three great Teutonic nations.

The following general description of the day and procession is taken from the Oregonian of September 12, 1883:

“If Portland was filled with people Monday morning, she was overflowing yesterday. It was a veritable Fourth of July, on a grand scale, without any of the deafening noise or disagreeable features. From early in the morning until afternoon the country folk pressed into town through every entrance, and, as if to welcome them, merry bells and loud mouthed whistles sounded forth upon the morning air. Everything on wheels was brought into service, to transport the holiday seekers through the streets of the city. Business was almost entirely suspended and every-body thronged the streets along the line of march. From across the river came the whole population of East Portland. Street cars on all the lines were crowded; restaurants ran a double force of waiters to feed the hungry populace. Everyone was moving after the usual American style of rushing. Any estimate of the number of people in the city would either be considered the wildest kind of a guess, or fall far short of the truth. Not to be enthusiastic, the display yesterday was the grandest sight that Portland ever witnessed; not one of the grandest, but the very greatest of them all. As for the weather, it was simply perfect. The light rain of the past few days had effectually subdued the summer dust, and the streets were in fine marching condition. The air was clear, bracing and mildly warm, while light fleecy clouds obscured the sun just enough to afford a gentle screen, for which every one was grateful.

As the hour for the parade grew nigh, the crowd packed most densely along Fourth street, up to the corner of Court House square. Here was the grand stand for the distinguished guests of Mr. Villard, before whom the entire procession was to march and counter-march in review. At this point the eyes of the people were fairly divided between the great men and the parade gotten up in their honor. Ropes stretched across the street kept back the crowd from the main entrance of the Court House, where the carriages stopped with their load of guests. Ranged along the side walks across the street from the grand stand were three rows of benches, and upon them were seated families of the members of the City Council, of the city officials, and many old pioneers, who would otherwise have had no chance to view the great scene which their earlier labors had done so much to bring about. Of the whole procession, their husbands and fathers formed the most noticeable part.

” Those against whose familiar names not yet
The fatal asterisk of death is set,”

upon the records of the Oregon Pioneer Society-a handful of men, fine, sturdy and full of vigor, but now for the most part grey and bent with age-fitly led the van of the parade, as years before they had led the van of civilization, of which the Northern Pacific Railroad is the outgrowth. Honored veterans of frontier life, all of them, and representatives of the near past, but without which the present would be impossible. Among those whose faces were familiar to thousands as they led the greatest parade ever witnessed on the northwest coast, were Nesmith and Crawford, Gray and Pettygrove and Parrish, and many others whose names may be less known, but not less prized among them all. Tears came to many eyes as these men, with heard and hair whitened by the frost of time filed slowly by, and the thoughts of many reverted to lowly mounds which swell above the honored dust of Lane, Meek, Payne, Fletcher, Scott, Newsome, Geer and Kinney, a host not less honored than the remaining handful who still answer to the pioneer roll-call, and vastly more numerous.


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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