One hundred years ago, Portland was thriving. The population was surging; citizens were buying automobiles in increasing numbers; new bridges, streets and skyscrapers were transforming the old “stumptown” into a modern port city.
The era between 1905, the year of Portland’s wildly successful Lewis and Clark Exposition world’s fair, and 1917, the beginning of World War I, has been called the city’s “golden age.” The exposition, commemorating the centennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition’s arrival in Oregon, attracted throngs of visitors to Portland. By the end of the four and a half month long event, 1.5 million visitors had paid admission, many of those staying in local hotels and patronizing local businesses.
The world’s fair inspired local citizens and leaders to continue improving the city. It was at the fair that then Mayor Harry Lane suggested that the city needed a permanent celebration of roses. The first official Rose Festival took place in 1907. By 1910, it had become a large public event; Oaks Amusement Park on the banks of the Willamette River in nearby Sellwood was another popular attraction, having opened in 1905, just weeks before the fair began. Today, Oaks Park dubs itself the longest continuously running amusement park in the United States.
Between 1900 and 1910, Portland’s population more than doubled from 90,426 to 207,214, according to the city auditor’s office. Following the success of the fair, local citizens passed several ballot measures leading to numerous city improvements in the subsequent years. These included the funding of new parks and streets, the building of a public dock, new fire equipment, and the construction of a new bridge, the Madison Street (Hawthorne) bridge.
The year of 1910 was a memorable one politically. Oregonians voted down women’s suffrage a second time. Statewide voters also defeated a measure to limit or prohibit the sale of alcohol, but the prohibition movement was beginning to gain steam.
In Portland, 1910 saw the opening of the Hawthorne Bridge, and the city began purchasing land for Forest Park. The city also lost one its most prominent citizens with the passing of Harvey Scott, one time editor of the Oregonian and the brother of famous woman suffragist Abigail Scott Duniway.
One hundred years ago was a prosperous time in Portland, a time of great change and growth. According to newspaper reports, 50,000 people gathered on downtown streets to ring in New Year’s 1911, a big number even by today’s standards.
City of Portland Auditor’s Office. Portland Timeline : 1902 to 1951. www.portlandonline.com/auditor/index.cfm?c=cheai
Lansing, Jewell. Portland: People, Politics, and Power, 1851-2001. Oregon State University Press, Corvallis: 2003.
Weisensee, Erika. Portland’s Longtime Love of Roses. www.aerochug.com/x-7360-Portland-History-Examiner~y2009m5d2-Portlands-longtime-love-of-roses