6 Fun Places to Experience Portland's History

6 Fun Places to Experience Portland's History

There are so many ways to get to know Portland, Oregon. Here are a few of the best to learn about the city's history.

Portland, Oregon is a city with a winning history, in more ways than one! Portland won its name in a coin toss – if Asa Lovejoy had won, instead of his co-founder, Francis Pettigrew, Portland would have been called Boston. Now, with that as the starting point, it’s clear that Portland history has much to captivate. Another great thing about Portland is that some of its best historic venues are also the most fun! Here are a couple of places to discover Portland history and enjoy yourself thoroughly while doing so.

1. Oaks Park Amusement Park

If you want a fun place to experience history, what could be better than Oregon’s oldest amusement park? The park opened in 1905, making it one of the ten oldest amusement parks in the country! Snuggled against the Willamette river in the Sellwood neighborhood of Portland, the park boasts a roller coaster, bumper cars, ferris wheel and other favorite rides, and the classic roller rink. The roller rink is the largest in Oregon and the oldest west of the Mississippi, complete with a pipe organ. Along with the views of the river and rolling ‘round the rink, consider taking a round-trip on a historic train between Oaks Park and the Oregon Rail Heritage Center. (You can also park at the center for the train ride and a visit to their free museum!) See Park and Rink entrance fees below.

7805 SE Oaks Park Way,
Portland, OR 97202
(503) 233-5777

2. Oregon Historical Society

For a more traditional way of encountering history, step into the museum run by the Oregon Historical Society. Three floors of exhibitions, permanent and traveling, tell the story of Oregon’s history through artifacts, photographs, maps, manuscript materials, books, films, and oral histories. They are open seven days a week. Admission to the interactive museum also lets you into the Society’s research library, open Tuesday to Saturday.

Oregon Historical Society
1200 SW Park Ave
Portland, OR 97205
(503) 222-1741

3. Walking Tour!

Know Your City offers “A People’s History of Portland,” focusing on working class heroes, and “Sing A Song of Portland” walking tours, run from a streetside kiosk. More topics are available for private tours (8 or more people). Tours are free and run Thursday to Sunday every summer. Or create your own walking tour! Be sure to look out for the Portland Building, a 15-story structure praised upon opening in 1982 for its innovative architecture. Framed by the building’s front stands iconic “Portlandia” sculpture, a personification of the city as a Greek goddess.

Also stop to sip from one of the Benson Bubblers, multi-stemmed freshwater drinking fountains placed downtown by Simon Benson in 1912 (additions by the city in 1917). Special fact – sister city Sapporo, Japan boasts a bubbler presented them in 1965. Enjoy Old Town Chinatown between Everett and Couch Streets, check out co-existing architecture of the decades and end along the waterfront where the Skidmore fountain and Made in Oregon sign invite you to celebrate Portland’s heart – the river flowing long before anyone got here.

Know Your City
208 SW Ankney St
Portland, OR 97204
(971) 717-7307

Know Your City is Portland’s only nonprofit organization that offers regular tours to visitors on a daily basis.

4. Learn about the Portland Police History

From photos to historic badge, patch, uniform and firearms collections to an old jail cell, see how the keepers of the city’s peace have grown and changed over time. The Portland Police Museum’s regular and rotating exhibits are kept up by the non-profit group, the Portland Police Historical Society. Open Tuesday through Friday.

Portland Police Museum
and Historical Society
1111 SW 2nd Avenue
Portland, OR 97204
(503) 823-0019

Learn more about the Portland Police Museum and our history.  

5. Pittock Mansion

Visit the extravagant home of Portland pioneers Henry and Georgiana Pittock. Coming to Oregon separately, the two met and married in Oregon Territory. Henry, an excellent businessman, contributed to Oregon through his many business ventures from newspaper ownership to sheep ranching to railroads! Georgiana devoted herself to community service.

Success in business enabled them to build the mansion, which they lived in from 1914-1919. Built entirely by Oregonian craftsmen from local materials, it nonetheless incorporates Turkish, English, and French elements. If the weather is nice, conclude with a pleasant picnic in the gardens outdoor. Don’t forget to take pictures, either with the house as an impressive background, or views of the city!

Pittock Mansion
3229 NW Pittock Drive
Portland, OR 97210
(503) 823-3623

6. Relax in the Rose Garden

Perfect for families, lovers, and individuals, Peninsula Park Rose Garden shows, spectacularly, why Portland has been named “City of Roses.” The park was designed by Emanuel L. Mische as a French-style formal garden, unique in the area. The official Portland rose was cultivated here before being planted by the thousands along the city streets, giving rise to the nickname. The first host of an annual rose show, the park still delights with its ornamental fountain, street lamps, brick walkways, and music pavilion.

A gazebo-like bandstand once used for WWI patriotic demonstrations also graces the park. A modern playground adjoins the rose garden. It has been named a National Heritage historical structure as well as a Portland Historic Landmark. Also of note is the International Rose test garden located in Washington Park, opened a few years after Peninsula Park and taking over as the host of all the rose show action. That terraced garden contains an astonishing 7,000 bushes. Both exemplify the love of Portlandians for nature, especially the namesake rose.

Peninsula Park
At Ainsworth and Albina Streets
Portland, OR 97217

International Rose Test Garden
400 SW Kingston Ave.
Portland, OR 97205

Thumbnail Image credit: The Oaks Amusement Park, Facebook

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