The Vanport Flood, which engulfed Vanport City in north
Portland on Sunday,
May 30, 1948, will be discussed in two separate forums on March 4 and March 6
at Terrell Hall, Room 122, 705 N. Killingsworth. The event is sponsored by
the Cascade Campus Community History Center.
The first event, The Women of Vanport, features "Good
Work Sister! Women
Shipyard Workers of World War II: An Oral History," and "Women, War and Work:
Shaping Space for Productivity During the Second World War." The discussion
dovetails with Women's History Month and will start at noon March 4.
In the second event, The Vanport Flood will be the topic
of discussion at the
second annual Jackson Forum March 6 from 10 a.m. to noon, also at PCC
Cascade's Terrell Hall, Room 122. In "The Vanport Flood and its Impact on the
African American Community of Portland," a presentation of research papers on
the topic is scheduled, as is an oral history demonstration by Portsmouth
School students, a personal account by Vanport Flood survivor Edna Mae
Pittmann and a visit by "Vanport" author Manly Maben.
The Vanport Flood washed away Vanport City, the largest
project ever built in the United States, at 4:05 p.m. on May 30, 1948, when
the dike holding back the Columbia River gave way. The city, at one time
responsible for housing nearly 50,000 people after construction was completed
in 1943, was underwater by nightfall. Fifteen people died in the flood.
Both forums, sponsored by PCC and the Cascade Campus Community
Center, are free and open to the public. Parking is also free.
Several other events are slated in May to discuss and
remember the flood, as
well as celebrate those who persevered. For more information contact the
Cascade Campus Community History Center at 978-5198.
Contact: Susan Hereford, Media Relations Manager,
Office of Public Affairs, (503) 977-4421, [email protected].
Vanport was constructed originally to house the massive number of shipyard workers streaming into Portland, OR and Vancouver, WA to work in the shipyards. After the war ended it became housing for returning service men and their families. It was not the only shipyard housing built in the area but was the only one destroyed so spectacularly. My new husband and I lived in another complex, Columbia Villa, built on a bluff above Vanport. We walked to the edge of the bluff that evening and saw the total devastation.
That was a horrible day. We had been with my family, driving from Parkrose to the Sandy River. When we returned and attempted to get home early that evening people were streaming up Interstate, still coming from Vanport. They were terrified, screaming, parents trying to find children, most of them dazed and horrified at what had occured. The police check our ID to see if we lived on the west side of Intestate before they would let us drive through, which had to be done very carefully as people just did not see the cars. My parents, living in Parkrose had to evacuate and two weeks later a second dike broke, flooding their home at 105th & Simpson. I have a photo of them in a row boat looking into a window of the house a few days later. The water was still above the window sill and had been up to the ceiling of their house. My grandmother lived just down the street, never went back. I have very vivid memories of it all.
Vanport was a contraction of Vancouver, WA & Portland, OR (which is across the Columbia River from Vancouver).
I was a 100% disabled Veteran of WW2 and my wife
and I purchased a home at 7156 NE 47th Ave in the summer of 1947.
Our property bordered on the slough. Also I was attending Vanport
College on the GI Bill. In Feb. 1948 my wife, Dallas, gave birth
to our 1st child.
The flood of 1948, which we always referred to as "The Vanport Flood", inundated our house up the roof. This occurred even though it was situated on a 10 to 12 foot bank. Unbeknownst to us there was a small oil refinery within a block or so from our home. The residue covered our residence as the flood waters slowly receded and created additional damage. Also, the house to the north of us broke loose from it's foundations and floated onto our garage. The water took months to disappear.
When we wanted to go to the house and do whatever cleanup we could, we would use a row boat to navigate the few blocks from Columbia Blvd. down 47th to our house.
The evening before the flood occurred we were visiting friends and we heard a radio alert to the effect that flooding was imminent. Our friends drove us to our house (We did not own a vehicle and were dependant on public transportation) and moved some of our furnishings to the attic. A few items were transported back to their one bedroom home and we took up residence in their garage. So my wife and I and our 3 month old son spent months sleeping in their garage and sharing their kitchen and bathroom facilities. Our friends, Mr. & Mrs. Len Nellor are still residing in Portland in an assisted living facility.
I continued going to the relocated Vanport College during this time. The Red Cross had a representative at the school to assist flood victims. During my tenure in the Navy during the war, I did not have a positive feeling about the Red Cross so I didn't go to see them. After a couple of months it was obvious we could not make our residencce livable by ourselves. I had very limited mobility and we only had my 100% VA Disability income. ($138.00 a month)
The Oregonian printed that the Red Cross was about finished w/their efforts to assist flood victims. The day before they left Vanport College, as a last resort, I went in to see their representative. When I left, he was in tears. That afternoon we had a contractor get in touch and advise us he was going to do the work necessary to make our house fit for occupancy. We moved back in to our refurbished house in a few weeks. You can imagine what has been our favorite charity these past 54 years.
We have several black and white photos and other information
on our neighbors and how they responded to this difficult situation.
Almost all of them are now deceased.