Posted by: Brad Nixon | November 13, 2015

Take Me to the River

Most great cities have a river (or at least a lake, which is essentially a large, slow river). Rivers have been key aspects of urban development from Day One, along the Tigris and Euphrates, when some Mesopotamian said, “Hey, let’s stay here; plenty of water: we can grow crops instead of hunting. And later we can build boats and go fishing!” (Those may not have been the exact words; my Sumerian is rusty.) The idea caught on. Soon, everyone was doing it. Rivers not only provided water, they attracted people to one place where it was easier to defend them, rule them, feed them and tax them. Later, once people built factories, rivers provided water power and some place to dump the sludge and let it run downstream to the poor farmers still trying to make a living in the delta. And that’s how the Blues was born.

I digress.

Eventually someone — presumably a developer with vacant property to sell — wanted to get to the other side of a river without a boat, and bridges went up. As a result, many great cities have famous bridges. You can think of five or ten famous river bridges without even trying.

We’re exploring Portland, Oregon and, by gosh, they have a river, the Willamette (wil-AM-et).

Portland riverfront Brad Nixon 2212 Brad Nixon 640

Portland grew up near the confluence of the Willamette and the Columbia, fueled by the timber industry and timber shipping. It was, truly, a rollicking port town. Today, the river, bridges and riverfront are an important part of the Portland scene.

Portland riverfront Brad Nixon 2146 640

You may go to Portland because of its reputation as a great place to visit, you may know someone there, you may be interested in the food scene, culture, or whatever. When you’re there, find time to go to the river and take a look. You can ride Portland’s public transportation.

Portland tram Brad Nixon 2191 640

There are long walks on the embankments, and several of the bridges are pedestrian-friendly, so you can cross over to look at downtown Portland from the east bank. The east shore has the Eastbank Esplanade, which is an excellent walk, run or bike ride. There’s something compelling about walking out over a big river and looking up or downstream, whether it’s the Seine, the Pearl or the Danube.

Along the river, you’ll see The Portland, a steam-powered stern-wheeled tug, operational from 1947-1981, now retired and restored, moored on the “city” side. It houses the Portland Maritime Museum.

Maritime Museum Brad Nixon 2156 640

From the riverfront, choose a street and walk up into downtown. Pick Morrison and in 6 blocks you’ll be at Pioneer Square: attractive open space, nearby shopping, and the historic Pioneer Courthouse, oldest federal building in the Pacific Northwest, 1869.

Pioneer Courthouse Brad Nixon 2193 640

What’s your favorite river, favorite bridge? As always, we welcome comments with other tips for travelers to Portland. We’ve barely scratched the surface.

This post is part of a series about traveling in Oregon. CLICK HERE to see the first. Use the navigation below to see earlier or later posts.

© Brad Nixon 2015, 2017


  1. The only two rivers near my location are the Black River in Lorain, O., and the Cuyahoga, in Cleveland. Both are fouled with industrial waste, and used to transport ore freighters. There is a redeeming feature of a historic restaurant called Sokolowski’s University Inn near a bend in the Cuyahoga. Two of the Sokolowski brothers often illustrate their cooking skills on W.V.I.Z. the local P.B.S. station. On the other hand this location does feature a rare bascule bridge on Rt. 2 leading into Lorain, O., and the shoreline of Lake Erie is picturesque. Also this is the “Walleye Capital of the World” for fishing.


    • Donna, I finally looked up bascule bridge. Not a word I knew. Famous Tower Bridge in London is one. The one in Lorain isn’t quite so famous, but the Cuyahoga will never live down its reputation, no matter how much they clean it up.


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