when I solicited things to do in Portland from my friends, Voodoo Doughnut was on more than a few lists. while I’d heard plenty about the shop (and it’s maple-bacon doughnuts), I still didn’t know what to expect when we made our way to the corner of SW 3rd and Ankeny.
a line was the first thing to anticipate. a neatly cordoned queue with an assortment of people – older, younger, nattily dressed, prepared for the weather, in strollers, in groups, alone. almost all conversing about which doughnuts they were going to pick out. we pulled up the menu from the website and read through all our options before we made it through the door, deciding on more than we could possibly eat in the three days we’d be in Oregon … and then ended up ordering an extra two on top of that. all very tasty, in the end.
two friends came up with the idea to open a doughnut shop in Old Town Portland in the early 2000 (reputedly between cans of beer on a tubing trip). they sought out some expert doughnut makers to provide guidance in how to become doughnut-makers (as neither had experience in that part of their proposed venture) and opened up their first location in 2003 in downtown Portland, just south of the Burnside Bridge. they’ve now expanded to four locations (another in Portland, one in Eugene, one in Denver) and a food cart.
in addition to its obvious doughnut function, Voodoo also offers wedding services and has collaborated with Rogue Ales to create some Voodoo-inspired beers. nothing that I’d ever be tempted to try, but then I’m not one for maple-bacon flavored anything.
I hadn’t really any idea of what to expect from Portland, apart from the notion that it was “kind of like” Seattle and the depiction of Portlandia might not be entirely off-base. I certainly didn’t know that the Willamette River bisects the city which is traversed by a series of bridges, including the vertical-lift truss bridge joining Hawthorne Blvd and Madison St.
the Hawthorne Bridge is the oldest vertical-lift in the country (opening in 1910) and one of the busiest cycling ant transit bridges in the state of Oregon. it carries approximately in the fall of 2012, a cyclist counter was installed to track usage and some twenty percent of the traffic on the Hawthorne Bridge comes from cyclists. it was the first counter of its kind installed on a bridge in the United States. coming in from the airport, I was a bit surprised to see pedestrians on the Morrison Bridge (to the north of the Hawthorne Bridge) — we’d just exited an interstate highway which, where we live, would have pretty adamantly deterred cyclists or anyone on foot from venturing across — but in a city that has such a demonstrably friendly non-auto atmosphere it shouldn’t have. next time we’re staying downtown, I’m game for a run along the riverfront and over the bridges.
the bridge was designed by the firm of Waddell & Harrington in the late 1900s to replace the Madison Bridges Nos 1 & 2, which were destroyed by fire in 1902. Waddell studied at Rensselaer Polytechnic in the late 1800s and spent time as an engineering consultant for the Empire of Japan before returning to the U.S. to design a series of remarkable lifting and swinging bridges. though both designs were used in the country prior to the 1880s, Waddell’s design (first proposed to span a channel in Duluth) revolutionized and popularized the design. despite (or perhaps because of) its unconventional design, it took several years and, ultimately, a partnership with John Harrington for Waddell’s design to catch on and go up across the country (the first of his design went up in Chicago on South Halstead). counterweights of 880,000 pounds are used to raise and lower the bridge some 200 times a month. it’s named after the boulevard which, in turn, is named for James Hawthorne, an early proponent of the Morrison Bridge and co-founder of the state’s first mental hospital.
one of the more interesting things in the Plaza Blocks is the statue and fountain that stand smack in the middle of Main Street. it was donated by David P. Thompson, who, among other notable positions, served as Mayor of Portland from 1879-82. he also served in the Oregon State Senate, in the First Oregon Cavalry during the Civil War, and as U.S. Minister to the Ottoman empire (for a year at the end of the 19th century. back in Oregon, he also served as regent of the University of Oregon, president of the Oregon Humane Society and first president of the Portland Public Library.
the Elk was commissioned of Roland Hinton Perry, who completed many notable works around the turn of the twentieth century. born in New York, Perry studied sculpture at several Parisian institutions in the 1890s. upon returning to the United States, his commissions included a series of bas-reliefs for the Library of Congress, a potential design for the statue atop the Pennsylvania Capitol building, a statue of Benjamin Rush in Washington and General George Greene at Gettysburg, and a pair of lions on the Connecticut Avenue Bridge in D.C.
without any grand plans for our time in Portland, beyond seeing friends and family and a drive down to Bend, we found ourselves out wandering around downtown, enjoying the spectacular fall weather, shuffling our feet through crisp and freshly fallen leaves. one of the first places we walked through was a pair of plazas flanking the Thomson Elk statue, which stands smack in the middle of Southwest Main Street. the plazas are named for Daniel Lownsdale and William Chapman and host towering trees, the likes of which I haven’t seen in a city of substantial size in recent memory.
Lownsdale arrived in Oregon from Kentucky before 1845 and became a member of the provisional legislature in 1846. he established the city’s first tannery on its northwest side and purchased part of what became downtown Portland from one of the city’s founders (Francis Pettygrove) in 1848. he was influential in helping determine the current layout of Portland — with small blocks of 200 feet by 64 feet with contiguous park blocks such as the one that now bears his name.
Lownsdale Plaza plaza is home to a monument to the Spanish-American War and two howitzers found at Fort Sumter donated by author Henry Dosch. Dosch claimed the howitzers had been used by both sides during the Civil War.
the adjoining park is named in honor of William Chapman, another early settler of Portland with a long political career. he settled in Portland in the late 1840s after traveling from Iowa, where he’d served as a Congressional Delegate for the Iowa Territory, by way of the Oregon Trail. he moved around the region, with a successful stint in California during the 1848 gold rush. he served in the first Territorial Legislature and, when the session ended, convinced Thomas Dyer to move from San Francisco to Portland to establish a newspaper. The Oregonian is the oldest continuously publishing newspaper on the west coast, predating the founding of Portland. he purchased land from Lownsdale and built a home on the site of what is now the Multnoma County Courthouse, where he practiced law for many years even as he moved around the state – to raise cattle in Southern Oregon, serve as lieutenant colonel of the militia during the Rogue River War of 1855-56, and serve as surveyor general from 1857-61 (when he resigned due to opposition of Lincoln’s election). in his later years, while continuing to practice law, he fought to get Portland connected to the Union Pacific transcontinental railroad to ensure the city would continue to grow and remain connected to the rest of the coast and country. (his proposed line was never built.) in 1870, he sold the land now occupied by the plazas that bear his and Lownsdale’s names to the city of Portland.
as apparently any schoolkid in Maine can tell you, fire has devastated the city of Portland four times. once when it was a small settlement — settlers fled and local tribes burned the structures; once when it was a fort; once during the French-Indian War; and finally on Independence Day in 1866. my guide at the Observatory said that students are told that children playing with fireworks were to blame for the 1866 fire but sadly that’s not actually the case.
the fire started in a warehouse on the docks early in the morning and firefighters quickly extinguished the blaze. or thought they did. in fact, embers smoldered late into the day and eventually the fire caught once again. the building next door housed a sugar refinery and the highly combustible material went up quickly. the direction and strength of wind are largely to blame for the spread of the fire and extent of the damage. the fire continued north-northeast from the wharf and towards Munjoy Hill mostly unchecked. my guide said what preserved the Observatory was simply that the wind died down in the evening not, as myth would have it, that the owner sat on the roof with buckets and buckets of water to douse any flames that encroached. (he did, however keep vigilant watch and put out embers as soon as they alighted on the shingles, so perhaps things might have gone differently had he not been watching out for his investment.)
prior to the Great Chicago Fire, the 1866 one in Portland was the largest urban fire in U.S. history. part of what made it so famous were telegraph cables that allowed the transmission of the story all across the country. within twenty-four hours, people in San Francisco, Houston, Chicago, Washington knew the details of the fire; it was a truly national news event.
over the weekend, I went to Maine for the first time. during my day in Portland, I visited the Observatory which sits atop Munjoy Hill in the East End of town. built in 1807, the 86ft tall building is the last remaining maritime signal tower in the United States and operated as a subscription service for merchants operating out of Portland Harbor. they would pay a fee to Lemuel Moody, a long-time captain turned entrepreneur, who kept watch over Casco Bay from the cupola and identified ships as they approached. having advance notice of several hours or even the better part of a day allowed merchants to hire the stevedores necessary to off-load the ships and get cargo moving quickly. ships could also convey messages to merchants, alerting them of damaged goods or other problems that arose during transport. Captain Moody also kept thorough meteorological records and eventually began offering them to the local newspaper for a fee. (our guide was quick to impress upon us the entrepreneurial nature of Moody.)
|Portland Observatory from the northeast side
the Observatory served a watchtower during the War of 1812 but the advent of the telegraph and, later, ship-to-shore radios rendered obsolete the original function of the Observatory and in 1923 it ceased operation. the City of Portland came into possession of the tower at that time and they retained it until Greater Portland Landmarks took it over. twice in the last century the structure has undergone renovations — the first as part of the Works Progress Administration (1939), and again in 1994 when an infestation of powder post beetles brought years of seeping water damage to light. despite the near total dismantling and reconstruction of the tower in 1994, much of the original material remains. prior to beginning the 1939 restoration, all original surfaces were painted a mahogany color and, as we stood on the third or fourth level with our tour guide, most of the walls and ceiling were still dark brown in color.
|it’s all kinds of landmarked!
the foundation of the structure is perhaps the most unique feature of the Portland Observatory. because a layer of granite lay six inches beneath the topsoil, there was no reasonable way to dig down an appropriate depth to support an 86ft octagonal structure. instead, Moody designed a “ballasted” footing for his tower — 122 tons of rock underneath the floor of the first level keep the building secure. almost immediately after touring the building in 2006, the American Society of Civil Engineers named it a National Civil Engineering Landmark. my guide (Bob) was nice enough to open the trap door on the first floor to let me take a peek at the ballast; it was exactly what I thought it would be — great big rocks stacked all over the floor!
(check out a real-time view of Casco Bay from atop the Observatory)