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The Road That Built Portland


Canyon Road in 1886.

Canyon Road in 1886.

Courtesy of PBOT

It’s hard to imagine a reality in which Milwaukie or Oregon City are urban centers, with Portland on the suburban periphery, rather than the other way around. But that was very nearly the case.

Back in the 1840s and ‘50s, outposts along the Columbia and Willamette rivers vied to be the area’s center of urban development. It was clear there was going to be an important town somewhere, but it wasn’t at all clear where that place might be.

In a bid to cement the city’s claim to that title, a consortium of Portland business owners threw together their savings and built the Great Plank Road, a timber route connecting Portland’s port to farmers in the fertile Tualatin valley. The trade flow that followed started Portland on the path to becoming the bustling urban hub that it is today.

A road-widening project in Beaverton recently unearthed pieces of the Great Plank Road. We revisit the history of the road and talk about its significance today.

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