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Portland - Seattle - Tacoma

( Originally Published 1913 )

"WHEN you get to Portland you will see New England transplanted. You will see the most American town on the continent, bar only Philadelphia."

The man on the train shrieking westward down through the marvelous valley of the Columbia spoke like an oracle. He had a little group of oddly contorted valises that bespoke him as a traveling salesman, and hence a person of some discrimination and judgment. He was ready to talk politics, war to the death on rail-roads, musical comedy and the condition of the markets with an equally uncertain knowledge, a fund of priceless information that never permitted itself to under-go even the slightest correction.

But he was right, absolutely right, about Portland. From the cleanest railroad station that we have ever seen, even though the building is more than twenty years old, to the very crests of the fir-lined hills that wall her in, here is a town that is so absolutely American, that it seems as if she might even boast one of the innumerable George Washington headquarters somewhere on her older streets. Her downtown streets are conservatively narrow, her staunch Post Office suggests a public building in one of the older cities on the Atlantic coast, and her shops are a medley of delights, with apparently about thirty percent of them given over to the retail vending of chocolate. Our Portland guide was grieved when we made mention of this last fact.

" I once went to Boston," said he, " and found it an almost continuous piano store."

Which was, of course, a mere evasion of the truth of our suggestion as to the chocolate propensities of the maids of Portland. They are very much like the girls in Hartford or Indianapolis or St. Paul or any other bustling town across this land, attending the Saturday matinees with an almost festal regularity; rollicking, flirting girls, grave and gay, girls dancing and girls driving their big six-cylinder automobiles with almost unerring accuracy up the tremendous hills of the town.

Hills they really are and well worth the tall climb to Council Crest, the showiest of them all. If your host does not mind tire expense and the wear and tear on his engine, he may take you up there in his automobile. The street car makes the same ascent, and the managers of the local traction system who have to pay for all the repairs and renewals to the cars do not hesitate to say that it is the least profitable line in creation. But the final result at Council Crest is worth a set of tires, or a six-months' ageing of a trolley car.

You have climbed up from the heart of the busy town, past the business section, spreading itself out as business sections of all successful towns must continue to do, past the trim snug little white Colonial houses that must have been stolen from old Salem or Newburyport all set among the dark greens of the cedars and the firs, and belying the Northland tales of the tree foliage by the great rose-bushes that bloom all the year round, up on to the place where tradition says the silent chiefs of red men used to gather. . . . Below you from Council Crest the town the town, at dusk, if you please. The arcs are showing the regular pattern of trim streets, the shops and the big office buildings are aglow for the night with the brilliancy of artificial illumination. It is dark down in the town night has closed in upon it.

Now lift your eyes and let them carry past the town and the black gloom of the river, over the nearest encirclings of the fir-clad hills and see the day die in the most high place. You see it now a peculiar pink cloud, which is not a cloud at all, but a snow-capped cone-shaped peak rising into the darkening heavens. Mount Hood is an asset for Portland, because for any habitation of man it would be an inspiration. And beyond Mount Hood fifty miles distant but further to the north are Mount Adams, Mount St. Helen's and sometimes on a fine clear evening Rainier bidding alike brilliant farewells to the dying day.

This then is the city into which a traveler may enter on an autumn day to find the innumerable cedars and firs, the changing brilliancy of the maple leaves proclaiming it North, with the gaily blossoming rose-bushes and the home-grown strawberries of October telling a paradoxical story and locating the Oregon metropolis to the South. The publicity experts of the town can and do sound its praises in no faint terms. They will tell you of a single day when twenty-two wheat vessels were at Portland docks gathering the food-stuffs for a hungry Orient, they will reel off statistics as to the shipping powers of the great lumber port in all the world and then, without a lessening of the pride, will go further and explain Portland's hopes for the further inland navigation of the streams that make her an important ocean port although fifty miles distant from the sight of the sea. The Columbia river is already navigable for four hundred miles inland and Portland is today cooperating with the Canadian authorities in British Columbia for extending the waterway's availability as a carrier for another four hundred miles. A great work has been performed in pulling the teeth of the mighty Columbia where it meets the sea in building jetties at the mouth of the river. The government with unusual energy is making new locks at the impressive Cascades. Portland has good reason for her faith in the future. Her railroad systems are in their infancy; a part of Central Oregon as large as the state of Ohio is just now being reached by through routes from Portland. What future they shall bring her no man dares to predict.

But we, for ourselves, shall like to continue to think of Portland as a gentle American town set between guardian fir-clad hills and sentineled by snow-capped peaks; we shall enjoy remembering the yellow and red leaves of Autumn, the luxuriant roses, the strawberries and the crisp October nights in one delightful paradoxical jumble.

To make a great seaport city out of a high-springing ridge of volcanic origin was a truly herculean task, but Seattle sprang to it with all the enthusiasm of her youth. " Re-grading " is what she has called it, and because even armies of men with pick and with shovel could not work fast enough for her own satisfaction, she borrowed a trick from the old-time gold miners and put hose-men at work. Hydraulic science supplanted men and teams and picks and even the big steam shovels. The splashing hose wore down the crest of the great hills until sturdy buildings teetered on their foundations and late moving tenants had to come and go up and down long ladders.

In 1881 President Hayes came to this strange little lumbering town and spoke from the platform of the two storied Occidental Hotel in the center of the village to its entire population some five hundred persons. The Occidental Hotel was gone within ten years, to be re-placed by a hostelry that in 1890 was big and showy for any town and that in 1912, Seattle regarded almost as a relic of past ages. And stranger still, the hills the eternal hills, if you please that looked upon the Occidental Hotel only yesterday, have gone. Not that Seattle will not always be a side-hill town, that the cable cars will not continue to climb up Madison street from the waterfront like flies upon a window-glass, but that a tremendous reformation has been wrought, with the aid of engineers' skill and the famous "hard money " of the Pacific coast.

For here was a town that decided almost overnight to be a seaport of world-wide reputation. She looked at her high hills ruefully. Then she called for the hose-men. The hills were doomed.

There was Denny hill, with a park of five acres capping it. The surveyors set their rival stakes five hundred feet below the lowest level of the little park and a matter of almost a million cubic yards of earth went sploshing down the long hydraulic sluices to make the tide-water flats at the bottom of the hills into solid footing for future factories and warehouses. And when the " re-graders " were done the architects and the builders were upon their heels.

Denny hill had boasted a hotel upon its summit, which in the late eighties Seattle regarded as an architectural triumph, a wooden thing of angles and shingles and queer Queen Anne turrets and dormers. The name of the old hotel went to a new one which supplanted it at a proper altitude for a city that was determined to be metropolitan and the new hotel was a dignified structure worthy of the best town in all this land.

" We had to do it," the Seattle man will tell you, with-out smiling. " We have got to be ready for a population of a million or more. Our house has got to be in order."

It is not every day that one can see an American metropolitan city in the making.

Back of the high-crested hills that have been suffered to remain as a part of the topography of this remark-able town for its residents still like to perch their smart new houses where they may command a view of Puget Sound or the snow-capped Rainier is as lovely a chain of lakes as was ever given to an American city. Boston would have made the edges of these the finest suburbs in the land; she is trying some sort of an experiment of that kind with her dirty old Charles river. Seattle saw in the great bowl of Lake Washington something more.

" We can crowd into Portland a little more," said the shrewdest of her citizens, " by making this lake into a fresh-water harbor."

Just what the advantages of a fresh-water harbor may be to Seattle which already possesses one of the finest deep water harbors on the North Pacific, may be obscure to you for the moment. Then the Seattle man informs you that Portland has a fresh-water harbor, that the masters of ships, still thirty days' sailing from port, make for its haven, knowing that in fresh water the barnacles that make so great a drag upon a vessel's progress will fall away from the hull. A fresh-water bath for a salt-water hull is better than a drain-off in a dry dock and a great sight cheaper.

Here, then, is a masterful new town seeking new points of advantage over its rivals, piercing canals through to its backyard lakes so that it may eventually be as completely surrounded by docks and shipping as are New York and Boston. It is impossible to think of Seattle ever hesitating. Seattle proceeds to accomplish. Be-fore she has a real opportunity to count the cost, the improvements which she has undertaken are rolling in revenue to her coffers.

Tacoma is smaller than either Seattle or Portland and not one whit less vigorous than either of them. She has not undergone the wholesale transformations of her sister to the north and still retains all the aspects of a busy port of the Far North long reaching wharves, busy, dirty railroad yards reaching and serving them, fir-clad hills rising from the water, the smell and industry of lumber and back of all these her mountain. It is her mountain " The Mountain that was God " as the Indians used to say and if for long weeks it may stay modestly hidden behind fog-banks, there do come days when its great snow-capped peak gazes serenely down upon the little city.

Do not dare to come into this town and call her mountain Rainier, after the fashion of government " map sharps" and railroad advertisements. It is Mount Tacoma, if you please, and woe be to any man who calls it anything else. Former President Taft once shouldered the question upon reaching the northwestern corner of the land like a true diplomat. At the dinners in both Seattle and Tacoma he referred to the great guardian peak of Washington as " the mountain " thereby offending no one and leaving a pleasant " lady or the tiger " mystery as to which of the two names he would use in private conversation.

But whether the mountain be Rainier or Tacoma, it is going to be one of the great playgrounds of the nation and that within very few years. Think of starting out from a brisk American city of a hundred thousand population and within two hours standing at the foot of a giant glacier grinding down from the heavens, a cold, dead, icy thing but still imbued with the stubborn sort of life that stunted vegetable growths possess, a life that makes the frozen river travel toward the sea every day of the year. A man living in Tacoma, or Seattle, or Portland, for that matter, can have both the dangers and the joys of Swiss mountain climbing but a few hours distant. It takes knowledge and courage to make the ascent of Rainier a tedious trip which starts through the three summer months in which it is possible at five o'clock in the morning so as to reach the summit before the snows begin to melt to the danger point. And yet, in the hands of skilled guides, so many women cross the crevices and climb the steep upward trails, that the record of their ascents is no longer kept.

This great Swiss mountain higher than Blanc, and vastly more impressive from the fact that its fourteen thousand foot summit rises almost directly from the sea is the central feature of the newest of all the government parks. It is in the stages of early development and already the tourists are coming to it in increasing numbers. Given a few years and Rainier will vie in popularity with the Yellowstone, the Yosemite and the Grand Canyon of the Colorado. In scenic beauty of its own inimitable sort it already ranks with these.

The man who makes the ascent of Rainier if poetry and imagination rest within his soul may truly feel that he has come near to God. He can feel the ardor and the inspiration of the red men who gave the mountain its mystic symbolism. He can look up into the clouds and feel that he is at the dome of the world. He can look down, down past the timber line off across miles of timber land and catch the silver of Puget Sound and the distant horizon flash of the Pacific. He can see smoke to the south Portland smoke to the north and west Seattle and nearer than these the brisk Tacoma that hugs this mountain to herself.

If imagination rest within him he can now know that these cities, at the northwest corner of America, are barely adult, just beginning to come into their own. A great measure of growth and strength is yet to be given to them.

Personality Of American Cities:
Steel's Great Capital Pittsburgh

Cleveland The Sixth City

Chicago And The Chicagoans

Twin Cities St. Paul Minneapolis

Gateway Of The Southwest St. Louis

New Orleans The Old French Lady Of The Riverbank

San Antonio The City Of The Little Squares

Denver The American Paris

Portland - Seattle - Tacoma

San Francisco The Newest Phoenix

Read More Articles About: Personality Of American Cities

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