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History of the Park


Washington Park is one of the oldest parks in Portland.
View of facilities in City Park (Washington Park), circa 1902 : A2004-002.93

Washington Park is one of the oldest parks in Portland. In 1871, the City purchased the original forty acres of land from Amos King, an early developer who bought over 500 acres of land west of the city, for $32,634. The City designated this land "City Park,” despite its relative distance from the central city of the time. The park had few roads and was a wilderness area thick with brush, trees, and roaming cougars that discouraged access and daily use of the park. With ample green space surrounding Portland, limited improvements to City Park were not made until the early 1880s.

In the mid-1880s, Charles M. Meyers was hired as the Park’s first keeper. A former seaman without landscape training, he transformed the park by drawing on memories of his native German and European parks. By 1900, there were roads, trails, and landscaped areas with lawns, manicured hedges, flower gardens, and a zoo. Cable cars were added in 1890 and operated until the 1930s.

In 1903, John Charles Olmsted of Olmsted Brothers, a nationally known landscape architecture firm, recommended several changes to the Park including the present name, location of the entrance, separate roads and pedestrian paths, and the replacement of formal gardens with native species. The name was officially changed from City Park to Washington Park in 1912 to represent the main street entrance to the park off of SW Washington Street, currently West Burnside St.

Washington Park expanded in 1922 by 160 acres when Multnomah County deeded the land that was formally the Multnomah County Poor Farm to the City of Portland. Established in 1898, the Multnomah County Poor Farm was a sanatorium for people with infectious diseases and mental illness. Scandals involving lax and corrupt supervision and intolerable conditions eventually caused the closure of the facility, which was then moved to what is now Edgefield Brewery. This newly acquired area eventually became home to Hoyt Arboretum, the Oregon Zoo, the World Forestry Center, and the Portland Children’s Museum.

View of Washington Park from SW Washington Street entrance (City of Portland Archives) A2014-022-3593
View of bear pit, Washington Park, circa 1910
Each of the park’s attractions has its own unique history:
  • The Portland Zoo was created in 1888 from a menagerie of animals collected by Portland pharmacist Richard Knight.
  • The World Forestry Center traces its roots back to the Lewis and Clark Fair held in Portland in 1905.
  • The Portland Children’s Museum was founded in 1946 and is located in the former home of the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI).
  • Hoyt Arboretum has a collection of Coast Redwoods that are over 150’ tall and were the first trees planted in the arboretum in 1931.
  • The International Rose Test Garden was founded in 1917 and is the oldest continuously operated public rose test garden in the United States.
  • The Portland Japanese Garden was established in 1962 on the site of the former Washington Park Zoo after the zoo moved to its current location.

Today, Washington Park has over 15 miles of trails, some of which are part of the 40-Mile Loop connecting Washington Park with Pittock Mansion, Forest Park to the north, and Council Crest to the south. Washington Park covers over 410 acres.

Washington Park has evolved to meet the needs of Portland’s citizens. With its various attractions, it is a place for all to learn, contemplate life, enjoy nature, smell the roses and have fun and play.

More history of the park

Washington Park Statues and Fountains
View of Washington Park Fountain (chiming fountain), (City of Portland Archives): A2004-002-6702

The Lewis and Clark Memorial Column was dedicated by President Theodore Roosevelt in May 1903, to honor the discovery of the northwest by the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Coming of the White Man is a bronze statue of two Native Americans, one depicting Chief Multnomah. Sculpted by Hermon Atkins MacNeil in 1904 and donated by the heirs of David P. Thompson, it faces east along the Oregon Trail.

Sacajawea and Jean-Baptiste is a statue of the famed Shoshone Native American woman who guided the Lewis and Clark Expedition through the mountains. A massive bronze and copper piece unveiled in July 1905, at the Lewis and Clark centennial, it was sculpted by Denver resident Alice Cooper and cast in New York.

Chiming Fountain, also referred to as Washington Park Fountain, is so-called because of the sound the falling water makes. It was created in 1891 by the Swiss artisan woodcarver Hans Staehli in the style of a Renaissance fountain and originally had a statute of a boy carrying a staff from which water spouted. The statute was damaged in a freeze in the 20’s and later removed in the 40’s.

Loyal B. Stearns Memorial Fountain, erected in 1941 in honor of the former Oregon judge Loyal B. Stearns, is located in the northeastern corner of Washington Park, just south of Burnside Street at the Stearns Canyon pedestrian entrance to the park.

Frank E. Beach Memorial Fountain (officially titled Water Sculpture), a stainless steel fountain located in the Rose Garden, was designed and built by Oregon artist Lee Kelly and dedicated in 1975.

In 2001, a memorial bench and plaque north of the Lewis and Clark Memorial were created to honor the Portland born journalist John Reed. The plaque has a quotation by Reed on his native city.

Holocaust Memorial The Oregon Holocaust Memorial was dedicated on August 29, 2004 and features a stone bench adorned with wrought-iron gating, screened from the street by rhododendron bushes and a wall that commemorates the people who died in the six killing-center camps of the Holocaust.

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