The memory of Vanport is fading in the minds of many Portlanders. Some people have heard of Vanport but fewer know its history and how the events of 30 May 1948 continue to shape Portland to this day. This is a self guided history bike tour of Vanport beginning and ending at Delta Park/Vanport (yellow line) MAX station. The route is approximately 5.5 Miles and can be found here: Vanport History Route
The stops are also shown in the route here:
Descriptions and videos to play along the route can be found below.
Stop 1 - Vanport Info Sign
Vanport. It was once Oregon’s second largest city and at its peak had a population over 40,000. Built from 1942 to 1943 to address wartime housing shortages by Henry Kaiser, it was a company town with schools, hospitals, theaters, and stores, all to support the shipbuilding industry. The shipyard drew workers from across the country including 7,000 African Americans. While the city was built in the Columbia River floodplain it was protected by levees that surrounded the town. On May 30 1948, the levee failed and the floodwaters washed away the city leaving 18,500 residents displaced with approximately 6,300 being black. The story of Vanport is unknown to many Portlanders but through the efforts of organizations like the Vanport Mosaic Project and Gentrification is Weird, the history, legacy, and memory of Vanport is kept alive.
Aerial View of Vanport. Oregon Historical Society. Neg. 68777 (Oregon Historical Society)
James Harrison, professor of History, Portland Community College, Cascade Campus starts us off in the video below:
Stop 2 - Vanport Overlook
Vanport Then and Now (bikeportland.org)
Many of you have probably ridden along the Columbia Slough trail. You may have only noticed the Heron Lakes Golf Course. But this was where the city of Vanport once stood. Learn more about what drew people to Vanporrt and what life was like in the city.
Stop 3 - The Breach
On May 30, 1948, the levee protecting the city failed and Vanport was flooded. Mariah Taylor was a child at the time and recalls her experience of that day in the following video:
Stop 4 - Along the Columbia
The flood left thousands of Vanport residents homeless. Due to redlining policies, African Americans were only able to find new homes in Albina. The impacts of redlining policy and the Vanport flood can be seen in Portland today. This ride was inspired by Gentrification is Weird - The Ride (23 July, 2016). Please take a moment to watch the recap video from the ride. As you head to the end of the ride, take some time to reflect on the history of Vanport and how it ties into gentrification in the city today.
Thank you for helping to keep the memory of Vanport alive. I hope you enjoyed the tour and learned something. If you have time there are a few art installations that have gone largely unnoticed in and around the MAX station. Look for the Vanport mosaic map, the bronze railings with casts from Vanport artifacts, and the steel structures next to the parking lot that represent the rooftops of houses floating in the floodwaters.
Lastly, please consider making a donation to Vanport Mosaic, an organization that is keeping the history of Vanport alive through storytelling and oral history or Community Cycling Center, a nonprofit organization founded in 1994 that helps people access their community by bicycle.
To learn more about how gentrification is impacting Portland’s African American community check out the following resources: