A Tale of Two Bridges: The History of Portland’s Steel Bridges

July 3, 2017

Portland’s first Steel Bridge circa 1890.
Photo courtesy of City of Portland Archives.

Did you know the Steel Bridge we know today is actually a replacement of the original?

Built in 1888, the original Steel Bridge was Portland’s second bridge crossing the Willamette River–the first being the Morrison Bridge, constructed in 1887. It was a double-decked swing span bridge, which let boats pass by pivoting the center span. The bridge was made with steel instead of wrought iron or wood, which was unusual at the time and inspired its name. The bottom deck was Portland’s first railroad crossing of the Willamette. Prior to the bridge, passengers had to exit their train, cross the river on a ferry, and reboard another train. The top deck accommodated streetcars, pedestrians, wagons, and later, automobiles.

Steel Bridge swung open to let a boat pass circa 1908.
Photo courtesy of City of Portland Archives.

The Steel Bridge was a vital crossing for the growing city of Portland, but heavy boat traffic required the bridge to open on a near-constant basis. The bridge’s clearance was so low that even small boats needed the bridge to open! The swing mechanism operated slowly, further disrupting traffic. Soon other problems came to light. The bridge could not accommodate either Portland’s growing traffic or heavier modern trains. This triggered construction of a new, improved bridge.

1913 photo of Portland’s new Steel Bridge.
Photo courtesy of City of Portland Archives.

In July 1912, just 24 years after the first Steel Bridge was completed, the current Steel Bridge opened. It is a double-deck, vertical lift span bridge, which lets boats pass by raising the center section. Higher clearance and a bottom railroad deck that can be raised independently of the top deck means small boats can pass without interfering with traffic. The vertical lift mechanism also operates faster than the previous swing span style. The new bridge kept the “Steel Bridge” name, and the old Steel Bridge was dismantled.

Henry Pittock (at center) celebrates with the crowd at the opening of the new Steel Bridge in July 1912.

Today, over 100 years later, the Steel Bridge is still a vital connector of Portland’s east and west sides, providing passage to thousands of cars, buses, MAX light rail, Amtrak trains, freight trains, pedestrians , and cyclists each day!

Water Testing Results at Pittock Mansion

May 25, 2017

Dear Pittock Mansion friends,

Your safety is our top priority. Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R) is continuing testing for lead in drinking water at its facilities citywide.

Pittock Mansion recently had drinking water tested for lead and we wanted to confirm that no test results show elevated lead levels. 

On April 24, 2017, water samples from Pittock Mansion sinks and drinking fountains were collected. The samples were analyzed at the Portland Water Bureau Laboratory. PP&R received results on May 4; results are posted here. All water tested below the 20 parts per billion (ppb) threshold.

Consistent with guidance from the Portland Water Bureau and the Environmental Protection Agency, samples were taken from fixtures commonly used for drinking or cooking.

If you have any questions about the water test results, please contact Mark.Ross@portlandoregon.gov or call Mark at 503-823-5300.

To stay informed about water testing for lead at all PP&R and City of Portland facilities, please see this website: www.portlandoregon.gov/LeadInfo.

To learn more about the risk of lead exposure and simple steps you can take to reduce your family’s exposure to lead, visit www.leadline.org or 503-988-4000.

Thank you,




Marta Bones
Executive Director, Pittock Mansion
A Portland Parks & Recreation partner

This Month In Local History: The Vista House

April 27, 2017

Vista House dedication ceremony, May 5, 1918.

Did you know Henry Pittock played a large role in the construction of the Vista House?

The Vista House is located at Crown Point along the Historic Columbia River Highway. The Columbia River Highway, constructed 1913-1922, connected Troutdale to The Dalles and the scenic hiking trails and waterfalls along the Columbia River. An engineering marvel at its time, the highway made passage of this difficult terrain safer.

The Vista House was proposed as a viewpoint rest stop for Columbia River Highway travelers and a monument to Oregon pioneers. The Vista House Association, made up of local businessmen, was formed to raise money for its construction. Henry Pittock, an Oregon pioneer himself, was named president.

The Vista House was completed and opened with a dedication ceremony on May 5, 1918 despite missed fundraising goals and multiple increases in construction costs. Henry Pittock was among the dignitaries at the ceremony.

Today the Vista House, like Pittock Mansion, is a favorite destination for tourists and locals alike!


History in Bloom

April 27, 2017

Early rhododendron blossoms frame Pittock Mansion.

Roses will bloom in the coming weeks!

Pittock Mansion’s grounds are stunning year round thanks to Portland Parks & Recreation and volunteer OSU Master Gardeners’ hard work, but spring is an especially beautiful time of year with the rhododendrons and roses in bloom.

Pittock Mansion’s original landscape plan included 350 rhododendrons and 276 roses, and many rhododendrons and roses can be found on the grounds today.

Rhododendrons, in a variety of whites, pinks, and purples, begin to blossom in April and continue through June. The 100 different species of roses on the grounds, including the Gold Struck “Georgiana Pittock” Rose, bloom May through August.

Visit our Facebook page to see some of the early blooms, or stop by soon and smell the roses yourself!


Preserving Pittock’s “Other” Building

April 5, 2017

View of the Gate Lodge with Pittock Mansion in background circa 1917.

The Pittocks built the Gate Lodge in conjunction with the mansion to house estate staff. While the splendor of the mansion often overshadows the Gate Lodge, the architectural significance of a four-story building engineered and built into a steep hillside should not be overlooked.

While the mansion required substantial restoration when the estate was purchased by the City of Portland in 1964, the Gate Lodge was in even greater disrepair with mold, rot, and cracked and peeling plaster throughout the 1914 home. Workers completed the initial restoration of the Gate Lodge in 1977, and the following decades saw the installation and later removal of catering equipment to accommodate a tea house, roof replacement, and extensive repairs after pipes froze and burst.

Pittock Mansion’s Gate Lodge. Erosion of the hillside has destroyed what was once a tiered garden with stairs leading to the exterior kitchen door on the second floor.

Sandbags help protect the Gate Lodge from water infiltration until drainage systems can be improved.

Today the greatest threats to the Gate Lodge are water intrusion and erosion of the hillside into which it is built. The Pittock Mansion Society is working with Portland Parks & Recreation to engineer a drainage plan that will protect the Gate Lodge and take into account the eroding effects of storm water on the southern slopes of the Mansion’s grounds.

The Pittock estate’s rescue and restoration is an inspiring story of what can be accomplished when dedicated citizens value preserving historic buildings and the stories of the people who lived in them.



Sept. 5 – Dec. 31 10am – 4pm Daily
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Thanksgiving Day CLOSED
Christmas Day CLOSED
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June – Labor Day 10am – 5pm Daily



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