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Portland Oregon’s Natural Advantages for Commerce

Posted By Dennis Partridge On In Oregon | No Comments

Next in line comes consideration of Portland’s advantages as a manufacturing point. First, as to raw material. It scarcely need be said that if Portland can reach every part of the Northwest by natural channels and roadways, she can readily obtain all raw materials produced in the section. Logs for manufacturing lumber may be brought up the Columbia or floated down it, or floated down the Willamette, or brought on rail cars from the forests to left or right. Materials for the manufacture of paper are found near. Woods for excelsior, furniture and ship-building are no less at hand. Wheat, oats, rye, barley, for bread stuffs and meals; wool, flax, hemp, for cloths, twines and ropes; broom corn; manilla (from abroad) for ropes; tar and turpentine; ores of lead, silver, gold, copper and quick-silver, nickel and manganese from the whole circle of mountains; limestone; cement rock, marble, all may be obtained from places comparatively near. Iron, the sine qua non of modern civilization, lies in hills of limonite six miles north, and also eight miles south, and exists to even a greater extent in portions of Columbia County distant twenty to forty miles. Other iron beds are accessible from all parts of the Northwest. Such a list of materials for manufactures at her very doors, which must in truth pass by her to go else where for working up, shows that Portland has no lack of stuff to begin on.

While material is thus abundant-inexhaustible-power equal to it may be found as near. Coal exists in vast deposits in the mountains forty miles northwest, and may be obtained also in ships or by car-loads from a dozen other points. But the great source of power is the Fall of the Willamette at Oregon City, twelve miles south. This is one half greater in energy than the fall of St. Anthony, in the Mississippi, at Minneapolis. It is forty feet high at low water of the Columbia, and is six hundred feet across and never ice bound. Streams might be led out from above this fall and conducted in flumes along the hillsides to Portland, and there be made to energize machinery. But it is now a more popular method to reduce this power by means of dynamos, to electricity, and convey it upon wires direct to the machine rooms in the factories at Portland. The loss is found to be but eighteen per cent.

As if this fall of the Willamette were not enough-sufficient to drive the looms of Manchester-there are sixty miles distant the Cascades of the Columbia, of one hundred times greater strength-practically unlimited and infinite. At this point the Columbia falls thirty feet in less than three miles, with a volume varying according to the season from ten million to seventy million cubic feet per minute -quite equal to that of the Mississippi at its mouth. There is no place in the world were there is such an aggregate of water power on tide water, as at Portland, obtaining its supply from these two cataracts. Power for manufacturing, like raw material, is found here existing to an extent beyond all calculation. It only remains to put the two together to do the manufacturing of the world. Of course means of exit and transport of the manufactured articles are as good as the means of bringing in the raw materials.

It only remains to consider the supply of labor to close the circle of manufacturing. Laborers by the thousands may be gotten in a few weeks from all parts of the world. The question is whether the conditions are such that once here they can work as cheap and efficiently as elsewhere. It seems likely that in a region where food and fuel are unusually plentiful and cheap, and where from the mildness of the climate fuel is not used to so great an extent as in colder regions, the cost of living would be so much reduced that a laborer could afford to work for at least as small wages here as elsewhere. Nor, with power. sanitary regulations does any reason appear why they should not work as efficiently. Particularly, as seems likely if the laborers made homes on the cheaper lands of the hills northwest of the city, or on the highlands northeast, the greater salubrity of these elevations should impart unusual force and vigor both of body and mind. The healthfulness of Portland is equal to that of Philadelphia, the great manufacturing city of America.

With command of unlimited material, power and labor, Portland has advantages for manufacturing in excess of any city on the Pacific Coast, if not in the world. Indeed, it is unique and remarkable in this regard.

The subject of salubrity and advantages of scenery, education and society-partly natural, partly artificial-will appear farther on in this volume, and may be omitted here.

As to the advantages to be derived from topography, the description of the city’s site, with reference to the hills and river as given above, exhibits its abundance of water front ; its low lands easy for the use of wholesale houses and heavy business, for elevators, manufactories and mills ; its easy slopes, well adapted to the use of hotels, retail houses, offices and shops ; and the circle of highlands, whose eminences, knolls and peaks lift the residence portion some hundreds of feet above the smoke, surcharged air, mist and malaria to be met more or less at or near the river level. Indeed the atmosphere of the Portland hills is remarkably delicate and pure, having come for the most part from the west as a sea breeze, bearing the salty and tonic properties of its native region, which are destructive to the land-born germs of microbes and bacteria. It is rendered moreover perceptibly odoriferous and balsamic by its passage over the forests of fir trees.

For a great shipping point or harbor, one might think the Willamette too narrow. But as the need of more room is felt it will be entirely practicable, as has been suggested by government engineers, to cut slips into the alluvium and lagoons at the lower end of the city for dock room and ship accommodations of any desired dimensions.

By many it will be strenuously denied that Portland can be the emporium for this region. Some other point it is contended, as upon Puget Sound, will most readily command the trade. But Portland’s strength is assured by the following considerations: The trade of the Columbia Basin will flow westward to the Pacific Ocean. It will seek the most direct and easy route thither, since thereby its producers will pay less rates for transportation of their products. The tributaries of the Columbia, from the borders of Utah, to the borders of British Columbia and from the eastern flanks of the Cascade Mountains spread out like the ribs of a fan; all converge upon the main Columbia, and thus unitedly pass through the gap of the Cascade Mountains on to Portland. It is simply a principle of physics that any body, whether a ball or a train of cars, will roll most readily down an inclined plane, and that friction or traction is increased by the attempt to go up hill. But from the head of Snake river to the head of the Columbia, or of any tributary of either river, to Portland, is an inclined plane hither. To be sure the canyons of both these rivers and of many of their tributaries, are rugged, but once let a road be laid alongside their banks or down the general valley, and there is a perceptibly down grade the entire distance, adding the force of gravity to the wheels of the engines to help them with their loaded trains. The gap of the Columbia is the only pass through the chain of the Cascade Mountains at the level of tide water. All other passes lead over the main axis of the range at an elevation of three to four thousand feet. It is manifestly more expensive of time and force to draw a train over the back of the Cascade Mountains to Puget Sound than to bring it through the gap of the Columbia on a downgrade. It is the inland farmer and merchant who must pay the difference, and however slow they may be in recognizing this, they will, with the certainty of water finding its level, choose the route which makes their bill the least. It is true that the roads to Portland may not always charge their minimum, but if they are able, by reason of natural advantages, to carry at a less rate than is possible for the roads across the mountains, they will at the scratch come down to it, and make that advantage the make-weight in their struggle. Any road which can persistently carry merchandise at one cent per hundred or even per ton, less than its rivals, will beat them in the long run. The natural grade to Portland from all parts of the inland country gives her thus much advantage. But, to complete the circle of exchange, if the wheat, live stock and ores of the upper country come down to Portland, this will be the most advantageous point at which to procure merchandise and necessaries for that entire region. Port-land can thereby most readily receive the products of the Columbia basin, and supply the mercantile wants of her people.

The above reasoning not presented as a special plea in favor of Portland, but simply as a statement of the facts in the case, is absolutely conclusive of the natural pre-eminence of the city at the entrance to the gateway of the upper Columbia.

But this only half states the case. While the waters of the Columbia and its tributaries have made passes to all parts of the river basin for the railroad, they are themselves a means of transportation of the most gigantic power. To be sure, this river, and the rivers which feed it, are wild and violent streams. They flow with great force, often break into rapids, and are at many places obstructed by rocks. The Columbia has four impassable rapids, or cataracts, and half a dozen others of such strength as to strain a strong steamer in passing. The Snake river is swift and turbulent through a large part of its course and boasts the highest water fall of any great river in North America. Such streams as the Deschutes, John Day, Klickitat, Yakima, Spokane, Palouse, Pend d’Oreille, Okanagon and Kootenai, or the tributaries of the Snake, for the larger portions of their way are fierce torrents cutting their canyons hundreds and in places thousands of feet deep into solid rock. But it is by no means impossible to bring most of these rivers into use for the purposes of commerce. By canals, locks, boat railways, wing dams and removal of obstructions, the Columbia may be made navigable for all sorts of river craft, for one thousand miles. It will thereby become an artery of commerce bearing a fleet of steamers and barges loaded with grain and ores. Any product might thus be brought even from the British line at prices which literally “defy competition.” The opening of the Snake river to its head waters would be a matter of more difficulty, but to the Salmon Falls the river may be improved so as to accommodate steamboats of all kinds. Every one of the hundred minor streams might likewise be made fit for bearing off the abundant products of the soil. The time may come when a network of canals, both for irrigation and for the uses of commerce will cover the surface of the Columbia Basin. Such commerce will necessarily flow to the Columbia, and to Portland. The value of water will be better understood. The railroad as an agent for transportation has been exaggerated somewhat out of its natural proportions. Its great speed will always commend it to travelers, but in the movement of such heavy articles as grain and minerals, rocks and wood, the slower but less expensive water will play a very important part. As population increases in the continental areas, there will spring up a class of hydraulic engineers and inland navigators bringing our numberless rivers to their highest use as generators of power, as means of irrigation and of transportation.

As was noticed in reference to the waters of the Willamette Valley these streams of the Columbia Basin will have a high value in restraining railroads from extortionate charges. This will make the people of the upper country independent, and they will naturally look to the city which they reach at minimum expenditure for supplies and make it their commercial center.

It is clear beyond all contradiction that, with the Columbia river and its tributaries open to navigation, Portland commands the interior as no other city on tide water. By no possibility can any port on Puget Sound have two thousand miles of river navigation, laying open the continent as far as Idaho, Montana and British Columbia. By choice of rail or river, and, by the judicious use of each, Portland and her inland customers will be brought into communication at the greatest possible economy of both time and money, and the business between them will therefore flourish at the least possible expense.

It is sound policy, therefore, for the people of Portland to push vigorously for the opening of the upper Columbia. The work at the Cascades, however, is progressing, and no doubt within ten years the two thousand miles of inland navigation will no longer be locked up by rocks and shoals.

By the foregoing examination it appears that while Portland sits at the cross roads of the great North, South, East and West tracks of commerce, her avenues of approach from every quarter are perfect, or certainly capable of being made so. If this does not enable her to do a wider, more expeditious, more direct and comprehensive business than any other place on the North Pacific Coast, there is nothing in position. Such are her commercial advantages.

While noting these advantages as pre-eminent, it will not be contended that there is no room for other great cities on the Coast. Puget Sound will certainly have three or four; the Inland Empire, half a dozen. At the mouth of the Columbia there will be a large lumbering, coaling, and shipping city. At Yaquina, at Coos nay, and in Southern Oregon there will be large towns. But the larger and more active these surrounding places, the more populous and energetic will be the center, for through it can they all most readily reach each other, and the business which is common to the whole section must be transacted here.

Next in line comes consideration of Portland’s advantages as a manufacturing point. First, as to raw material. It scarcely need be said that if Portland can reach every part of the Northwest by natural channels and roadways, she can readily obtain all raw materials produced in the section. Logs for manufacturing lumber may be brought up the Columbia or floated down it, or floated down the Willamette, or brought on rail cars from the forests to left or right. Materials for the manufacture of paper are found near. Woods for excelsior, furniture and ship-building are no less at hand. Wheat, oats, rye, barley, for bread stuffs and meals; wool, flax, hemp, for cloths, twines and ropes; broom corn; manilla (from abroad) for ropes; tar and turpentine; ores of lead, silver, gold, copper and quick-silver, nickel and manganese from the whole circle of mountains; limestone; cement rock, marble, all may be obtained from places comparatively near. Iron, the sine qua non of modern civilization, lies in hills of limonite six miles north, and also eight miles south, and exists to even a greater extent in portions of Columbia County distant twenty to forty miles. Other iron beds are accessible from all parts of the Northwest. Such a list of materials for manufactures at her very doors, which must in truth pass by her to go else where for working up, shows that Portland has no lack of stuff to begin on.

While material is thus abundant-inexhaustible-power equal to it may be found as near. Coal exists in vast deposits in the mountains forty miles northwest, and may be obtained also in ships or by car-loads from a dozen other points. But the great source of power is the Fall of the Willamette at Oregon City, twelve miles south. This is one half greater in energy than the fall of St. Anthony, in the Mississippi, at Minneapolis. It is forty feet high at low water of the Columbia, and is six hundred feet across and never ice bound. Streams might be led out from above this fall and conducted in flumes along the hillsides to Portland, and there be made to energize machinery. But it is now a more popular method to reduce this power by means of dynamos, to electricity, and convey it upon wires direct to the machine rooms in the factories at Portland. The loss is found to be but eighteen per cent.

As if this fall of the Willamette were not enough-sufficient to drive the looms of Manchester-there are sixty miles distant the Cascades of the Columbia, of one hundred times greater strength-practically unlimited and infinite. At this point the Columbia falls thirty feet in less than three miles, with a volume varying according to the season from ten million to seventy million cubic feet per minute -quite equal to that of the Mississippi at its mouth. There is no place in the world were there is such an aggregate of water power on tide water, as at Portland, obtaining its supply from these two cataracts. Power for manufacturing, like raw material, is found here existing to an extent beyond all calculation. It only remains to put the two together to do the manufacturing of the world. Of course means of exit and transport of the manufactured articles are as good as the means of bringing in the raw materials.

It only remains to consider the supply of labor to close the circle of manufacturing. Laborers by the thousands may be gotten in a few weeks from all parts of the world. The question is whether the conditions are such that once here they can work as cheap and efficiently as elsewhere. It seems likely that in a region where food and fuel are unusually plentiful and cheap, and where from the mildness of the climate fuel is not used to so great an extent as in colder regions, the cost of living would be so much reduced that a laborer could afford to work for at least as small wages here as elsewhere. Nor, with power. sanitary regulations does any reason appear why they should not work as efficiently. Particularly, as seems likely if the laborers made homes on the cheaper lands of the hills northwest of the city, or on the highlands northeast, the greater salubrity of these elevations should impart unusual force and vigor both of body and mind. The healthfulness of Portland is equal to that of Philadelphia, the great manufacturing city of America.

With command of unlimited material, power and labor, Portland has advantages for manufacturing in excess of any city on the Pacific Coast, if not in the world. Indeed, it is unique and remarkable in this regard.

The subject of salubrity and advantages of scenery, education and society-partly natural, partly artificial-will appear farther on in this volume, and may be omitted here.

As to the advantages to be derived from topography, the description of the city’s site, with reference to the hills and river as given above, exhibits its abundance of water front ; its low lands easy for the use of wholesale houses and heavy business, for elevators, manufactories and mills ; its easy slopes, well adapted to the use of hotels, retail houses, offices and shops ; and the circle of highlands, whose eminences, knolls and peaks lift the residence portion some hundreds of feet above the smoke, surcharged air, mist and malaria to be met more or less at or near the river level. Indeed the atmosphere of the Portland hills is remarkably delicate and pure, having come for the most part from the west as a sea breeze, bearing the salty and tonic properties of its native region, which are destructive to the land-born germs of microbes and bacteria. It is rendered moreover perceptibly odoriferous and balsamic by its passage over the forests of fir trees.

For a great shipping point or harbor, one might think the Willamette too narrow. But as the need of more room is felt it will be entirely practicable, as has been suggested by government engineers, to cut slips into the alluvium and lagoons at the lower end of the city for dock room and ship accommodations of any desired dimensions.


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