Where We Ride: You’ve probably ridden in Vanport, the former city wiped out by a flood 71 years ago today

Ever raced cyclocross, mountain, or road bikes at Portland International Raceway? Ever biked on the Columbia River Slough northwest of Kenton? Or maybe you’ve enjoyed the annual Winter Wonderland Light Show?

If you answered yes to any of those, you’ve ridden on the streets, across the yards, and around the borders of Vanport.

This bustling, working-class town was once Oregon’s second largest city. It was also a place where 40% of the residents were black. Tragically, Vanport was obliterated 71 years ago today when dikes that surrounded it gave way. 15 people died.


What happened at Vanport is a painful part of Oregon’s racist history — and it remains relevant today as we continue to struggle with complicated web of race, housing, and sweeping demographic shifts. I still have a lot to learn about Vanport; but I can no longer ride there without thinking about its history. That land is so much more than just a cool place to ride bikes.

Here’s that map again:

(Oregon Historical Society)

Those two yellow dots mark where the images below were taken:

(Photos: J. Maus/BikePortland)

And here’s a shot of the flood damage, with the yellow dots showing where I snapped those photos:

(Oregon Historical Society)

If you want to learn more Vanport, just Google it and start your journey. Also, check out the Vanport Mosaic Festival, going on now through June 5th.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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