Lewis and Clark's Columbia River
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Lewis & Clark's Columbia River - "200 Years Later"
"Vanport City and the 1948 Vanport Flood"
Includes ... 1948 Vanport Flood ... Vanport City ... "Miracle City" ... "Kaiserville" ... Heron Lakes ... Vanport Wetlands ... Portland International Raceway ...
Image, 2006, Staff gage, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Staff Gage, with 1894 high water and 1948 high water, Water Resources Education Center, Vancouver, Washington. Image taken January 1, 2006.

Vanport City ...
At one time Oregon's second largest city, called the "Miracle City", existed between the Columbia River on the north, the Columbia Slough on the south, Denver Avenue (Interstate 5) on the east, and the Union Pacific Railroad Tracks and Smith Lake on the west. This city was called "Vanport City", a name derived from the two cities on either side of it, Vancouver, Washington and Portland, Oregon. The construction of Vanport City began in 1942 as "temporary housing" for World War II workers in the shipyards, and often was referred to as "Kaiserville" after Henry Kaiser, owner of the areas largest shipyards. The city was built on the floodplain of the Columbia River and was protected by levees and dikes.

"... Henry Kaiser was importing so many workers from the eastern United States and the South to work in his shipyards that he chartered special trains to carry them directly to the Portland area. Because there was insufficient housing available in the city, new housing had to be created in a matter of months. Kaiser's solution was to build his own city in the flood plain of the Columbia River. People began moving into Vanport on December 12, 1942, and it came to be the second largest city in Oregon, with 35,000 people, a movie theater, five schools, a library, a police station and even a college. ..." [Oregon Historical Society website, 2006]

The Vanport City Post Office was established on April 22, 1943. On May 30, 1948, Vanport City was destroyed in the second largest flood in recorded Columbia River history. The Post Office was officially closed on June 30. Today the area which once was Vanport City is the location of the Portland International Raceway, Huron Lakes, and the Vanport Wetlands Wildlife Habitat.

1948 Vanport Flood ...
A warm May in the spring of 1948 resulted in rapid snowmelt in the Cascades and rising waters of the Columbia River. By May 25, 1948, both the Columbia and the Willamette Rivers were nearly at 23 feet, eight feet over flood stage. On May 30, 1948, at approximately 4:17 p.m., the railroad dike between Smith Lake and Vanport City gave way. Within moments a 10-foot-high wall of water rushed over lands north of the Columbia Slough and inundated the city of Vanport. Sixteen lives were lost and Vanport City was forever gone. Today, Vancouver, Washington's Water Resources Education Center, located upstream of Ryan Point and downstream of Wintler Park, has a staff gage on its property showing the high water marks of the 1894 "Great Flood", the 1948 "Vanport Flood", and the 1996 Columbia River flood.

Image, 2006, Staff Gage, Water Resources Education Center, Vancouver, Washington, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Staff Gage, Water Resources Education Center, Vancouver, Washington. Staff gage shows height of 1894 flood (top, left side of gage), the 1948 "Vanport Flood" (center), and the 1996 flood (bottom of gage). Image taken January 1, 2006.

Vanport Wetlands ...
The Vanport Wetlands Wildlife Habitat is a 90.5-acre wildlife habitat site located in the Columbia Slough corridor, between Interstate 5, the Multnomah Expo Center, and Portland International Raceway. Smith and Bybee Lakes lie to the west. The site was formerly known as the "Radio Tower Site". The site was renamed to "Vanport Wetlands" in 2001 as it was developed into a wildlife habitat. The name "Vanport" is reminiscent of the 1948 flood which wiped out the community of Vanport.

Image, 2006, Vanport Wetlands, looking towards Expo Center, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Vanport Wetlands, looking towards the "Expo Center", Portland, Oregon. View from West Delta Park. Image taken January 18, 2006.
Image, 2013, Vanport Wetlands, Portland, Oregon, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Mallard family, Vanport Wetlands, Portland, Oregon. View from West Delta Park. Image taken May 17, 2013.

From the Journals of Lewis and Clark ...

Clark, April 2, 1806 ...
This morning we came to a resolution to remain at our present encampment [Cottonwood Beach, Washougal, Washington] or Some where in this neighbourhood untill we had obtained as much dried meat as would be necessary for our voyage as far as the Chopunnish. ...     about this time Several Canoes of the nativs arived at our Camp [Cottonwood Beach] among others two from below with Eight men of the Shah-ha-la Nation those men informed us that they reside on the opposit Side of the Columbia near Some pine trees which they pointed to in the bottom South of the Dimond Island [Government Island], they Singled out two young men whome they informed us lited at the Falls of a large river [Willamette Falls] which discharges itself into the Columbia on it's South Side Some Miles below us. we readily provailed on them to give us a Sketch of this river [Willamette River] which they drew on a Mat with a coal, it appeared that this river which they Call Mult-no'-mah discharged itself behind the Island we call the image Canoe island [Hayden Island], and as we had left this Island to the South both in decending & assending the river we had never Seen it. they informed us that it was a large river and runs a Considerable distance to the South between the Mountains. I deturmined to take a Small party and return to this river and examine its Size and Collect as much information of the nativs on it or near its enterance into the Columbia of its extent, the Country which it waters and the nativs who inhabit its banks &c. I took with me Six Men. Thompson J. Potts, Peter Crusat, P. Wiser, T. P. Howard, Jos. Whitehouse & my man York in a large Canoe, with an Indian whome I hired for a Sun glass to accompany me as a pilot. at half past 11 A. M. I Set out ...     at 8 miles passed a village on the South side [Chinook Landing and Blue Lake area] at this place my Pilot informed me he resided and that the name of his tribe is Ne-cha-co-lee, this village is back or to the South of Dimond island [Government Island], and as we passed on the North Side of the island both decending & assending did not See or know of this Village. I proceeded on without landing at this village. at 3 P. M. I landed at a large double house of the Ne-er-cho-ki-oo tribe of the Shah-ha-la Nation. at this place we had Seen 24 aditional Straw Huts as we passed down last fall [November 4, 1805, in the vicinity of the Portland International Airport] and whome as I have before mentioned reside at the Great rapids of the Columbia [Celilo Falls].     on the bank at different places I observed Small Canoes which the women make use of to gather Wappato & roots in the Slashes. those Canoes are from 10 to 14 feet long and from 18 to 23 inches wide in the widest part tapering from the center to both ends in this form and about 9 inches deep and So light that a woman may with one hand haul them with ease, and they are Sufficient to Carry a woman on Some loading. I think 100 of those canoes were piled up and Scattered in different directions about in the Woods in the vecinity of this house, the pilot informed me that those Canoes were the property of the inhabitents of the Grand rapids who used them ocasionally to gather roots. ...

I left them [village near today's Portland International Airport] and proceeded on on the South Side [North Portland Harbor] of Image Canoe Island [Hayden Island] which I found to be two Islands hid from the opposit Side by one near the Center of the river. the lower point of the upper and the upper point of the lower cannot be Seen from the North Side of the Columbia on which we had passed both decending and ascending and had not observed the apperture between those islands. at the distance of 13 Miles below the last village [location of Portland International Airport] and at the place I had Supposed was the lower point of the image Canoe island [Hayden Island], I entered this river which the nativs had informed us of, Called Mult no mah River [Willamette River] so called by the nativs from a Nation who reside on Wappato Island [Sauvie Island] a little below the enterance of this river. Multnomah [Willamette River] discharges itself in the Columbia on the S. E. and may be justly Said to be the Size of that noble river. Multnomah had fallen 18 inches from it's greatest annual height. three Small Islands are situated in it's mouth [Belle Vue Point and Kelley Point, on opposite sides of the mouth of the Willamette, use to be islands] which hides the river from view from the Columbia.     from the enterance of this river [Willamette River] , I can plainly See Mt. Jefferson [Mount Jefferson, Oregon] which is high and Covered with snow S. E. Mt. Hood East [Mount Hood, Oregon], Mt St. Helians [Mount St. Helens, Washington] a high humped Mountain to the East of Mt St. Helians [Mount Adams, Washington, is east of Mount St. Helens]. I also Saw the Mt. Raneer [Mount Rainier, Washington] Nearly North. Soon after I arived at this river an old man passed down of the Clark a'mos Nation who are noumerous and reside on a branch of this river which receives it's waters from Mt. Jefferson [Mount Jefferson, Oregon] which is emensely high and discharges itself into this river one day and a half up, this distance I State at 40 Miles. This nation inhabits 11 Villages their Dress and language is very Similar to the Quath-lah-poh-tle and other tribes on Wappato Island [Sauvie Island].

The Current of the Multnomar [Willamette River] is as jentle as that of the Columbia glides Smoothly with an eavin surface, and appears to be Sufficiently deep for the largest Ship. I attempted fathom it with a Cord of 5 fathom which was the only Cord I had, could not find bottom ? of the distance across. I proceeded up this river 10 miles from it's enterance into the Columbia to a large house on the N E. Side and Encamped near the house [downstream of Cathedral Park and the St. Johns Bridge, Portland, Oregon, near Portland's Terminal 4.], the flees being So noumerous in the house that we could not Sleep in it.

this is the house of the Cush-hooks Nation who reside at the falls of this river which the pilot informs me they make use of when they Come down to the Vally to gather Wappato. he also informs me that a number of other Smaller houses are Situated on two Bayous which make out on the S. E. Side a little below the house. this house appears to have been laterly abandoned by its inhabitants ...     The course and distance assending the Molt no mar R [Willamette River] from it's enterance into the Columbia at the lower point of the 3rd Image Canoe island.

[This area has changed during the past 200 years. Lewis and Clark called today's Hayden Island "Image Canoe Island". Their "3rd Image Canoe Island" however maybe in reference to the "three Small Islands are situated in it's mouth" (see journal entry above), two of the islands possibly were islands which are today's Belle Vue Point on Sauvie Island, and Pearcy Island which eventually became Kelley Point. Lewis and Clark's route map (Map#79 and Map#80, Moulton, Vol.1) shows a long "Image Canoe Island" with two small islands on the north side of "Image Canoe Island", and three small islands at the mouth of the "Multnomah R.". ]

S. 30 W. 2 Miles to the upper point of a Small Island [???] in the Middle of Moltnomar river [Willamette River]. thence

S. 10 W. 3 miles to a Sluce 80 yards wide [Multnomah Channel] which devides Wappato Island [Sauvie Island] from the Main Stard. Side Shore passing a Willow point on the Lard. Side [???].

S. 60 E. 3 miles to a large Indian house on the Lard Side below Some high pine land.

[Lewis and Clark's map plotted against an 1888 map of the area shows this location to be closer to 2 miles from the Multnomah Channel, just upstream from Portland's Terminal 4, and across from the community of Linnton.]

high bold Shore on the Starboard Side [Tualatin Mountains]. thence

S. 30 E 2 miles to a bend under the high lands on the Stard Side [St. Johns Bridge area located at the base of the Tualatin Mountains]

miles 10 passing a Larborad point [???].

thence the river bends to the East of S East as far as I could See [the stretch through Portland, Oregon]. at this place I think the wedth of the river may be Stated at 500 yards and Sufficiently deep for a Man of War or Ship of any burthern.

Vancouver PlainsReturn to




*River Miles [RM] are approximate, in statute miles, and were determined from USGS topo maps, obtained from NOAA nautical charts, or obtained from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers website, 2003

Sources: Center for Columbia River History website, 2005; McArthur, L.A., and McArthur, L.L., 2003, Oregon Geographic Names, Oregon Historical Society Press, Portland; Oregon Historical Society website, 2006; Port of Portland website, 2007; Portland Parks and Recreation website, 2006.

All Lewis and Clark quotations from Gary Moulton editions of the Lewis and Clark Journals, University of Nebraska Press, all attempts have been made to type the quotations exactly as in the Moulton editions, however typing errors introduced by this web author cannot be ruled out; location interpretation from variety of sources, including this website author.
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May 2013