The Vanport Flood of 1948 destroyed the Vanport housing community just outside Portland. The area, at the time, was an up-and-coming urban housing project that became the second largest city in Oregon until its demise.
As many survivors of the Vanport Flood are aging and dying, the question of whether or not their history has been properly documented has risen. Students at Beaumont Middle School, under the supervision of eighth grade teacher Kirsten Parrott, set out to interview survivors of the Vanport Flood, and present their research and interviews to the community.
“We really wanted to find a way to get the students out of the textbooks, so they can forget about what grade they’re getting on an assignment,” Parrott said. “Through the help of Concordia University, we’ve been able to interview the survivors of the Vanport Flood, and take those interviews and put them into an interactive displays.
They conducted research projects that investigated the causes of the flooding, and the social implications that it has caused in today’s Portland. The presentation featured posters depicting the racially integrated, rich culture of Vanport, interactive technological history stations, and chats with former residents located by Concordia education professor Shawn Daley and Matthew Blanchard.
According to parent volunteer Devani Scheidler, to research the topic, students visited the former site and interviewed former residents to understand what life was like in Vanport in the 1940’s. Scheidler said she was impressed with the students dedication to the culmination and accuracy of their research.
“As a year-long volunteer in Ms. Parrott’s classroom, I am impressed by the passion everyone brought to this project,” Scheidler said. “Maybe because Beaumont is an economically, racially, and culturally diverse school, the children have developed deep understanding of the issues of social neglect of marginal groups and of a community’s ability to pull together.”
Parrott said the work from this project will remain in her classroom, and has plans on trying to secure more grant money to fund similar programs in the future.
The resurgence of interest in the once thriving community has also been prompted by a recent article in The Smithsonian Magazine, telling the story of the town, and by The Oregon Historical Society’s current exhibit on Vanport called A Community On The Move.
In 2007, OPB’s Oregon Art Beat spoke with Allan deLay, a former photographer for The Oregonian who was on-scene during the flood. He discussed his experience documenting the flood, and where his life has gone now because of it.