Posts tagged Vanport Flood
A painting to remembering the Vanport flood

Artist Sarah S.Shay shared with us this beautiful painting she created in remembrance of the Vanport flood. You can buy a print at this link.

Here Sarah's thoughtful reflections:

I have lived in Oregon for about 15 years. However, I embarrassingly did not know *anything* about Vanport until about two years ago, and then learned more when OPB aired the Vanport documentary. I couldn't believe I hadn't heard about this, and that it wasn't more publicized. I'm from rural Pennsylvania, and our little town was flooded on several occasions, the Allegany River jumping the banks and completely flooding everything not on a hill. So, I grew up looking at old photos of people and their boats, ruined stores and houses...but that town still exists.

Vanport is one of those events that's, well, not just an event. It left me wondering how many other people here--in-and-around Oregon and beyond---had no idea what "Vanport" was. It wasn't an event, it was a community and work and a home for so many people. The tragedy of the flood and everything associated with that loss and deception somehow got named "Vanport," too. I was left questioning what other tragedies were named by their "home," like Columbine. I'm hopeful that the stories of Vanport as a home come out of art and stories and photos....While the flood definitely was a defining event, I would like to remember Vanport as I remember anyone else I loved who has been injured or who has passed: they have name, a story, and a relationship to so many people, some of whom never officially knew them.

Vanport Mosaic Receives a Spirit of Portland Award!

On Tuesday, December 13, 2016, Portland’s City Council will recognize and celebrate the winners of the 32nd Annual Spirit of Portland Awards. Vanport Mosaic is so honored to be included among so many committed individuals and groups “who make outstanding contributions to our community.”

The Vanport Mosaic is a collective of artists, historians, educators, storytellers, activists, and media makers. We joined forces and contributed our individual projects and efforts to re-discover and properly honor an essential and often-forgotten chapter of Oregon’s past. It is one of the many that never made it into textbooks and official records, relegated to the margins of our collective memories. It is yet another causality of the dangerous tides of historical amnesia.

This award means so much to us, and we are grateful to Portland’s City Council, and particularly to Commissioner Nick Fish who chose this project. It is, first and foremost, an official validation that this history does matter.

For our community-driven, artists-led organization fueled by creativity and idealism, this prestigious award is an invitation to keep doing what we are doing. Together with a generous grant from the City Special Appropriation Fund and the support from more partners and funders that I can list here, it makes possible to dream bigger. It galvanizes our commitment to surface the silenced histories that make this place we call home what it is today. We will keep using the power of personal stories, arts, and dialogue, as an invitation to all of you to join us in envisioning and building the community we wish to become. The Vanport Mosaic Festival 2016 was a glimpse of that possibility. Over the course of the four days over 2000 Portlanders of any racial and gender identity, age, and socio-economic background gathered to explore the history of Vanport, the catalyst of the racial mosaic that now exists in Portland and the region.

This short doc produced by Natalie Smith/Blue Chalk captures the spirit of the Festival.

On May 27-30, 2016 we honored the experience of the diverse community that was formed in Vanport, and we shared the personal stories and different perspectives through oral histories screenings, theater and poetry performances, an exhibit, and tours of the historic sites. We invited historians as well as community experts who lived there to help us understand the legacy of what used to be Oregon’s second largest city, and how the past continues to influences city dynamics today.  We captured more memories with those generous enough to share them with us. We hosted a reunion for former Vanport residents, and had the privilege to witness their long-standing connections. Their friendships and ties born in a time of hardship and common hopes are unvaluable lessons in building a strong and resilient community. 

Former Vanport residents reunion at Vancouver Ave First Baptist Church. (Photos by Julie Keefe)

Former Vanport residents reunion at Vancouver Ave First Baptist Church. (Photos by Julie Keefe)

On May 30th, the 68th anniversary of the flood that wiped out their city, in a moving ceremony at City Hall, Portland’s Mayor Charles Hales read our Proclamation and officially declared a Vanport Day of Remembrance.

Representatives of the Vanport Mosaic with Mayor Charles Hales and Portland City Council declaring May 30th a Vanport Day of Remembrance.

Representatives of the Vanport Mosaic with Mayor Charles Hales and Portland City Council declaring May 30th a Vanport Day of Remembrance.

The driving force behind this truly grassroots on-going effort is our collective desire to honor our silenced local histories, celebrate resilience, and create opportunities to become the inclusive, diverse, and compassionate community we aspire to be.

In gratitude,
Story Midwife Laura Lo Forti, and the Vanport Mosaic Team

 Save the date for Vanport Mosaic Festival 2017, May 26-29, 2017!



Vanport Flood Aftermath: the chance for a new Portland

Published on June 7, 1948 - The Oregonian: Mr. and Mrs. Leonard C. Davis of 4608 N.E. 88th avenue didn't let race discrimination enter into their choice when the opened their home to victims of Vanport flood disaster. Here they chat over coffee with Mr. Bertha Freeman, who once lived at 2408 Cottonwood street. She was one of six displaced African Americans taken into Davis' home. January 14, 1963

Vanport Flood: the aftermath

Published on June 20, 1948 on the Oregonian: SCHOOL DAYS: The family of Albert Sheely is now living in a school room at Whitaker school. They lost their gas range, furniture and other effects in the flood. Sheely, who works for the Rose City cemetery, owns some acreage, but cannot build on it right now. He is hoping to get a tent so that his family may live on their land during emergency. The family has five small children and has lived in Portland for 14 years.

Scott Piper's memories: Vanport, City of The Future
Scott and his father in Vanport, around 1946.

Scott and his father in Vanport, around 1946.

We were in Ft. Leonard Wood Missouri at war's end, and dad said he saw a Vanport sign on a bus, City of the Future, and decided to take his last airplane ride in the Army with mom and me out to Oregon, and Vanport.  We were West Virginia people.

I was a toddler, but I remember driving out of the Vanport flood in 1948, and distinctly remember the shattered faces of the Vanport people working in the mud and debris, one of my earliest memories.  By 1948 and the Flood, we were a 4 person family, my younger brother David was born during our years at Vanport.  David lives today in north Clark county.

We settled in the Vancouver Heights across the Columbia in Vancouver after the Vanport flood, on the high ground above the old Kaiser shipyards, for 3 years, until dad was able to have a home built north of Vancouver in Hazel Dell, Clark County.

Phil Corson's memories of the Vanport Flood: "The dyke has broken, the dyke has broken!"

Dr. Phil Corson was ten years old and one of the first to discover the dike had broke. He sent his memories to the Vanport Mosaic, and we are thrilled to share them with you! We are continuing recording oral histories of those who lived in Vanport, but we are starting to gather and publish essays and written memories in an effort to honor everyone's story. If you need our support to record yours or your loved ones' memories, please drop us a line at

We were no different than hundreds of other families  who moved into Vanport so dad could work for Kaiser Shipyards. The war effort was humming at top speed with one Victory ship created every day.  I was little brother at age six in 1944 and the five of us moved into a tiny little two bedroom apartment and mom cooked on a two burner hotplate.  It was kinda funny, but we really didn't know that we were poor.

When I was nine, dad made ice carts for my big brother and me to carry 50 & 100 pound cakes of ice from the ice house to ice boxes in other apartments.  Once or twice I dumped one on the ground but I wasn't big enough to put it back in the cart.  Us kids played marbles, carved wooden rubber guns using strips of old tire tubes and when we played cowboys and indians we used sticky stripes of paper from Swifts Meat packing plant for our makeshift headdresses. 

 But my most vivid memory was of Memorial Day 1948 when Vanport, the second largest city in Oregon, disappeared under ten feet of water from the Columbia River.  It was flood season again and rumors were rampant that the dyke might not hold that year and the city would be flooded.   My adult uncle Tom was visiting from the east coast and we got on two bikes that beautiful Sunday afternoon to ride about a mile north to check on the condition of the dyke.  What I saw is with me today, imprinted on the mind of a ten year old.  The railroad track which was on top of the dyke was now hanging over a gaping hole in the dyke and water from the Columbia River was rushing in with great force.

 Uncle Tom and I sped back home yelling the dyke has broken, the dyke has broken!  I will never know how many believed a ten year old, but it gave my parents several minutes head start on the rush to drive out.  Mom made my older brother and me promise to take Spot, the dog of our out of town neighbors, and ride our bikes straight to our favorite gas station on Lombard Street.  When we rode up onto Interstate Road, we stood and looked back at the most enthralling scene two young boys could ever see.  The dozens of 14 unit apartment buildings were beginning to float around and crash into each other. Wow! What drama!  Finally, my brother said, let's go! I will never forget my frantic mother standing off the curb at the gas station on Lombard looking for her boys. 

Officials said only a couple dozen were killed by the flood that fateful day, but we know that there were many more than that.  Just in our unit alone, two wonderful older ladies were killed. Mrs. Wonderlin was invited by her neighbor upstairs to ride out the flood, but they were never seen alive again.  I have a VCR tape of footage taken from the air by a friend of our family.  The film was so good that Newsreel paid him to use it on national television.  If you would like to see it, let me know. After 68 years, the Vanport flood is still a vivid memory. 


Digging History: Oregon's First African Americans
Artwork by Jeremy Okai Davis/Portland Mercury

Artwork by Jeremy Okai Davis/Portland Mercury

From Portland Mercury, December 11, 2013 - Oregon's First African Americans , by Joe Streckert:

"Vanport's construction was of the cheap and temporary kind (the locals called the prefabricated dwellings "cracker-box houses"), and for much of the 1940s, Portland's first sizable black population was separated from the town proper by economics, administration, and the river. The town was destroyed by a flood in 1948, and many refugees from the disaster settled in the Albina neighborhood. More than 100 years after initial settlement, Portland finally had an African American population of appreciable size. The influx of that population didn't come about, though, because Portland had liberalized or become more open. Portland's first large black neighborhood materialized because a force of nature destroyed an industrial ghetto."