But for a coin toss, the second largest city in the U.S. Pacific Northwest and Oregon's largest would be known as Boston. In 1845, Asa Lovejoy from Boston, Massachusetts and Francis Pettygrove from Portland, Maine flipped a coin, and a city was born on the banks of the Willamette River. From its humble two miles-square beginnings, Portland has grown into a leader in culture and lifestyle. The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area now separates the states of Washington and Oregon along 85 miles of the Columbia River, its aggressive water swells reined in by the Bonneville and Dalles dams.
What started with the Lewis and Clark expedition to reach the Pacific spawned Portland's growth as a market bridge to the Pacific Rim countries. When President Thomas Jefferson galvanized the nation with the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, he commissioned the Lewis and Clark expedition to, among other assignments, find a water route across the Continental U.S. to the Pacific Ocean, naming the Columbia River as one of the vital waterways to explore. Although they did not achieve this stated mission, their reports added momentum to the U.S. claim to Oregon Country.
Pacific Northwest settlements began with the establishment of the fur trade by both the British and the fledgling United States. The British had staked their claim with the settlement of Fort Vancouver on the north side of the Columbia River (present-day Vancouver, Washington). Among the first American settlers to arrive were missionaries bringing the Christian gospel to Native Americans. News back east of the fertile soil in Oregon Country and resulting agricultural opportunities spurred the Northwest emigration and what became the Oregon Trail.
As the land ownership dispute continued, American emigrants established settlements. In 1846, the British and American governments finally reached an agreement and the U.S. Congress established the Oregon Territory, placing its legislative center in Oregon City, Oregon. Caravans of emigrants eagerly left from the most common jumping off point, Independence, Missouri, a 2000-mile grueling trek across the continent via the Oregon Trail. Trailblazing pioneers continued this westward migration between 1840 and 1860.
Reaching Oregon Territory, wagon trains were forced to stop about 90 miles from Oregon City without a road around Mount Hood. The only way to complete their journey was by way of the Columbia River, a swirling and perilous option, to Fort Vancouver. Local resident and entrepreneur Sam Barlow stepped up to forge a path. With completion of the Barlow Road around Mount Hood in 1846, a wagon trail from Missouri to the Oregon Territory now existed.
The Barlow Road begins at the present-day city of The Dalles, Oregon and ends in Oregon City, a distance of 90 miles. Although the road has now been largely replaced by U.S. Highways 26 and 35, portions of it are still visible and accessible to tourists as a dirt road. `
In the burgeoning Oregon Territory, agriculture, fish, and timber were the primary commercial products. With only Fort Vancouver on the Columbia and Oregon City on the Willamette, the territory needed better access for connecting their goods with the growing market. Enter Portland. With access to the Pacific Ocean over the Columbia River, Portland developed as a primary transportation outlet for Oregon Territory commerce.
As the 1850s began, Portland was evolving into more than just a stop for travelers between Oregon City and Fort Vancouver; it was a city coming into its own. Incorporated in 1851, Portland became a destination in its own right and not just a stop-over in the westward migration. With the prospect of continued growth and the rich Willamette Valley farmland, the local Provisional Legislature of Oregon asked the U.S. Congress to entice more families to settle the Oregon Territory. Congress responded with the Oregon Donation Land Claim Act leading to Oregon's entrance into the Union as the 33rd state in 1859.
During the Civil War years, Oregon provided food and wool for uniforms to the military. After the war, Portland became a transportation hub for road, river, and railroad transport. With its ocean access from the Columbia, Portland could export lumber, fish, wheat and produce to San Francisco and the rest of the world. Portland had the second busiest port on the west coast, and the short-lived distinction as the largest city in the Northwest, until the Alaska Gold Rush stimulated the growth of Seattle. With the growth of the railroads in the west, Chinese immigrants came to Portland and San Francisco as laborers.
Portland entered the 20th century leading the country politically and has been at the forefront, if not the leader, in political and cultural progress ever since. Portland was the first locality to practice the initiative process, referendums, direct primary elections, and direct election of U.S. senators between 1904 and 1908, all of which became known as the Oregon Plan.
In the latter 20th century, Oregon led the way in protecting the region's natural beauty and in developing environmentally friendly green living space. The state has been at the vanguard of efforts to protect ocean beaches from private development, enacting mandatory recycling and a convenient and eco-friendly light-rail system. The Death with Dignity Act of 1990, a state law, is the first of its kind in the country.
Known for its ubiquitous bridges and its policies to preserve a natural and pristine environment, Portland stands tall as second in population in the northwestern United States. Nicknamed the Rose City in the early 20th century, Portland hosts the second largest rose-themed parade in the nation during its annual week long Rose Festival.