Official Site of Speaker, Historian and Author Sean Munger

Earth, Environment, Geography, History

Historic photo: Portland, Oregon, 1890. What can you see here?

I wanted to call this an “Earth Panorama,” similar to the one I did last week showing a view of Stockholm, Sweden in 1873, but while this photo is pretty broad, alas I don’t think it qualifies as a true “panorama.” Nevertheless it’s pretty interesting. This is the skyline of Portland, Oregon, as it appeared in 1890. Judging from the angle of the sunlight and the foliage, I’d venture a guess this was taken in the late spring or summer. But notice all the snow visible on Mt. Hood, which is completely covered. It doesn’t look like that in the summer today. Know why? Climate change.

Beyond that, you can see the gables of various wealthy houses as well as the steeples of churches, attesting to Portland’s relative affluence at this time. Extractive industries–especially timber–were Portland’s bread and butter in the late 19th century. (I think the large building in the foreground left is a mill or lumber warehouse). One of the steeples you see, indistinctly, is what’s now called the Old Church, a landmark wooden church built in Portland in 1882. I believe it’sĀ visible just above the “warehouse” building. My guess is that this photo was taken from the present location of the Rose Test Gardens in Washington Park.

Imagine what walking the streets of Portland would have been like at this time. It’d be a lot of mud, planks, stumps, horse crap, seedy bars (where drunken sailors were often Shanghaiied), single men (who outnumbered women by a large amount), and shady operators. The paradise of craft beer, coffee drinks, hipster glasses and Extremo the Clown would have to wait another century.


  1. Sean – OT for your photo (interesting in its own right). I just posted a long comment here re: your Slate piece; it was deleted by WordPress over login issues. The Slate UI doesn’t work w my iPhone, so posting here. I found your piece interesting and have some interdisciplinary biblio to recommend. In short might look at Brett Grainger’s work on evangelicals and environmentalism in the early 19th c. He looks in part at the magnetic fluid theory (animal magnetism) as it intersects with both theological and geological developments. The “deeply religious” woman you quote was the norm for her time and place; might look at classics like David Hall (Worlds of Wonder) and Harry Stout (NE Soul) among others. Millennialism abounded in 1815 New England, and most people explained weather events (and everything else) in providential terms. I enjoyed your article very much. The depth of the interconnected worldview hadn’t struck me in as rich a way before. Thank you for undertaking it.

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