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Portland History

The Rose City began as a clearing on the banks of the Willamette River that travelers used for a rest stop on their way between Oregon City and Fort Vancouver. In the 1840s, city founders Asa Lovejoy, a Boston lawyer, and Francis W. Pettygrove, of Portland, Maine, flipped a coin to decide whose hometown name to use for their new settlement; Pettygrove won. Portland’s deep-water harbor boosted its growth, and by 1850 it was the largest town in the Northwest. Still every bit a frontier village, with stumps and deep mud everywhere, the town was dubbed “Stumptown.” The frontier village lived up to its reputation throughout the late 1800s, as bar owners and hoteliers conspired with ship captains to intoxicate potential crewmembers and hustle them into indentured servitude on ships. Lumber mill jobs and Klondike Gold Rush money helped regulate the seedier side of Portland, and by the turn of the century the city had spruced up its streets and its image. The 1905 Lewis & Clark Centennial Exposition focused the nation’s attention on Portland, and between 1900 and 1910 the population doubled. When teetotaler lumber baron and philanthropist Simon Benson urged his workers to drink water instead of beer in 1912, he followed through by commissioning graceful drinking fountains dubbed “Benson Bubblers.” Parks and public spaces sprang up around the fountains, and today, Portland’s leafy, art-filled parks are central to the city’s character. The fountains—now numbering 60—are still found throughout downtown.