Welcome to the Center for Columbia River History's Columbia Slough Community History Exhibit. Follow the fish to read through this exhibit. Links at the bottom of many pages will take you to primary documents and oral history excerpts. Click on the Photo Archive and the Aerial Photo Archive if you want to see all of the exhibit's images. The Map Archive will take you to maps of the Columbia Slough, past and present.The Oral History Archive includes transcribed interviews and audio clips. The Documents Archive features a list of all the primary documents used in this exhibit. At the end of each section are "Questions to Consider." These questions will engage you with the primary sources, the very material of history. The Bibliography will provide further directions for research and reading. Enjoy your visit.
The Columbia Slough is part of a system of wetlands, sloughs and lakes, a sixty-mile watershed in the north part of Portland, Oregon. The eighteen-mile slough parallels the Columbia River, flowing west from Fairview Lake near Gresham, to its confluence with the Willamette River in Portland. Historically, the slough absorbed flood waters from the Columbia River, but human-induced changes in the waterway and lands near the slough have altered its function from a natural floodplain to a slow-moving "drainage ditch." Change came to the Columbia Slough by the early twentieth century as settlers filled in wetlands, cut the forests, and created diverse communities that later became dumping grounds for industry and city garbage.
Slough community residents, environmentalists, and the numerous Portlanders who recreate there feel an affinity for the Columbia Slough. Others are only subliminally aware of the Slough as they cross it daily in their cars. The Columbia Slough is among the most polluted waterways in Oregon, but at the same time it is the jewel of Portland. Where once Chinookan Indians hunted, gathered, and traded, shopping centers, golf courses, and fast food restaurants bring consumers from miles around. Just as explorers marveled at wildlife, kayakers row through the slow-moving water where numerous species of birds flock. Where early settlers used the waterway to tow logs to Portland, trucks rumble over concrete overpasses.
We invite you to explore the history of the Columbia Slough and its communities. View the images and read the documents that tell about slough's past. Listen to the voices and read the oral histories of those who witnessed a transformation from farm to city, and of those who created diverse social, environmental, and industrial communities.