After walking in a light rain around the Leach Botanical Garden, we were hungry. Dairy Queen to the rescue! The restorative powers of ice cream and french fries always amazes me.
We visited the Cedar Crossing covered bridge (who knew there were covered bridges in Portland?) which crosses Johnson Creek. It feels more like the Connecticut countryside than suburban Portland, and is lovely. It was built in 1982 and feels wonderfully historic.
Then Grandpa Nelson had another surprise up his sleeve, and we drove north about 4 miles to Gateway Discovery Park, which the city of Portland calls the “newest urban park”, as it just opened in August of this year.
This four acre park and plaza has newly planted trees, a fountain, a covered meeting and arts and crafts area, an open, grassy play area, creative sand play area, climby toys, adult exercise equipment, and a skate park, all laid out in a shared space.
We wandered from bit to bit, chatting and watching families enjoy their favorite spots. I loved how involved and happy everyone was in their own activities. There was plenty of room for everyone.
The park is on the corner of NE Halsey and 106th, and there is lots of street parking. The main area is marked by a piece of steel and stained glass art called The Fifth Wind.
I wonder if I will ever run out of new things to see. I hope not!
On Saturday, Grandpa Nelson had a surprise for me. He took me to see a garden in the city that I had never even heard of, the Leach Botanical garden in the far southeast, just off of Foster Road and 122nd Avenue.
When a park has someone’s name on it, you think: Who was this person? Why is there a park in their honor? In the case of Leach Botanical Garden, there’s an easy, delightful answer. This 16 acre garden was their garden, and the house on the property was their house! The garden was their gift to the city.
But of course it’s never that easy.
John and Lila Leach were married in 1913 and were an unusual couple for their time. He was a pharmacist and businessman, and she was a scientist, studying botany and teaching science at Eugene High School. They belonged to a group called the Mazamas who hiked, camped, and skied in the Oregon wilderness. On their trips, Lila discovered two new genera of plants that had never been seen before!
In the 1930s they bought 16 acres of land on Johnson Creek and built a small stone cabin. They hired a landscape architect to help lay out the steeply sloping property, and began putting in plants. They named the property Sleepy Hollow.
When World War II started, Lila volunteered with the Red Cross, and after the war, the two were active in supporting the YMCA and the Boy Scouts. They worked in the garden and lived in the larger house they built later until John passed away in 1972. Lila moved to a care facility in Lake Oswego and passed in 1982. Their ashes were spread in the Oregon wilderness they loved so much.
In their wills, they both had stated that the house and property was to be given to the City of Portland. But after ten years of typical civic squabbling, the city was ready to let the property go to developers when Parks Commissioner Jordan went to visit the garden and decided it was too precious. It was developed and is maintained by a combination of public and private funding.
It hosts weddings, parties, composting classes, children’s activities, and seedling sales. You can learn more at Leachgarden.org.
And that is your Portland history lesson for today!
In our neighborhood there is a park I haven’t told you about yet. It is called Colonel Summers Park.
When it was developed as a park in 1921, it was called Belmont Park, because it was on Belmont Street. But in 1938 the name was changed to honor Colonel Owen Summers.
Colonel Summers was a Civil War veteran who, in 1883, combined all the local militias in Oregon (volunteer soldiers) into one group that was The Oregon National Guard. At the beginning of the Spanish American war in 1898, Colonel Summers organized this group into the 2nd Oregon Volunteer Infantry Regiment, with himself in command. They were the first American soldiers to sail to the Philippines in that war. After many engagements, Colonel Summers and his men accepted the surrender of 15,000 Spanish soldiers.
The soldiers who fought under Colonel Summers’s command remained loyal to him even after the war. In 1903, General Beebe, another famous military man, was chosen to be the Grand Marshall of a parade honoring President Teddy Roosevelt to Portland.
The Spanish American War veterans saw this as an insult to their beloved commander and at first refused to be in the parade if Colonel Summers wasn’t the Grand Marshall. But Colonel Summers refused the post, asking General Beebe to remain. The veterans, following their commander’s order, marched in the parade without him.
The park named after Colonel Summers had been getting a little worn in recent years. The huge boulder from Kelly Butte with a plaque of himself had been spray painted. The grassy area had been flooded and was muddy or dusty, depending on the season. But a new makeover has made it lovely again. The boulder has been cleaned, and the flood-prone grassy area has been outfitted with a bioswale to collect rain and a paved bike and skateboard area. There is a basketball court and a fenced community garden where people can grow flowers, fruits, or vegetables. There is even a public toilet that cleans itself after every use!
I am happy to see that the city is working to make sure all the parks in Portland are safe and welcoming places to play, read, work, and just enjoy this wonderful area.
As I have told you, Laurelhurst Park is my favorite place in Portland. It is 26 acres of grassy slopes, majestic maple trees, picnic areas, a lake, paths for walking and biking, and even places to hang out with dogs.
In our short year here we have seen old trees fall or lose branches, and new ones get planted. We have gotten quite attached to some of them. Auntie Bridgett has a favorite, a young fir tree she calls Oliver. She gives him a “high five” whenever we go past. He recently got his lower branches trimmed, so she has to reach higher for the five!
There is a new tree, a Dawn Redwood we have named Willie because he has a snake-like wiggle near the top. He is still young and we look forward to watching him grow.
And Laurelhurst Park is now getting even better! The wonderful brick steps that lead from the deepest part of the ravine up to Ankeny Street are getting hand rails.
Last January, when I chatted with a fellow working on the plants near the steps, he mentioned that handrails were in the plans, but that I shouldn’t hold my breath. Now they are becoming a reality.
A few weeks ago we noticed holes cut in the edges of the steps. Tuesday, Grandpa Nelson noticed the caution tape as we walked home from the movies. Wednesday, I met some of the men installing the beautiful rails. It is quite a complicated process.
Inside each hole is a steel sleeve, so the rails won’t put stress on the old bricks. Then the rails are set 4 feet into the sleeve with concrete and pea gravel and leveled in all directions. The concrete is smoothed and then painted with sealant so it won’t crack.
When I asked when the rails would be ready to use, the man answered, “Depends how hot it gets. We can’t pour if it’s over 100 degrees.” I will drop by the park later today to see what’s up, so I can show you!
Rain has become the “normal weather” here, so when there is some sun, we make the most of it! Sunday was a sunny day so Grandpa Nelson and I went out for a driving “park tour” of this City of Roses. Auntie Bridgett had a lot of art work to do, so we kissed her good-bye and promised to bring back good pictures.
First, we drove to Peninsula Park. which was built in 1909 as the city Rose Garden. There are a few thousand rose bushes, with a very few blooms still in sight. Most were pruned down for the winter, of course, and the garden was laid out in a wonderfully formal arrangement, looking like they belong in Le Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris. There is also a gazebo-style bandstand and old fashioned pavings. These are surrounded by tall and beautiful elm, birch, maple and ginko trees, all shedding their leaves most colorfully. There is even a soccer field and play area.
We left Peninsula Park knowing that we would return in the summer to see the roses at their peak, and headed off to find lunch. In the historic suburb of Kenton we found lunch and Paul Bunyon. This 31 foot tall statue of the legendary lumberjack was built in 1959 (when I was three years old!) as a tribute to the lumber industry in Portland. It got a new coat of paint last year. The statue is very big for the little bit of land it is on, but people come from all over to see it.
We enjoyed lunch at Swift and Union, a beef-themed cafe where we had no beef: french fries, squash soup, and salmon cakes filled us up and made us happy.
We drove west to Columbia Park, which was built in 1891, when this area was still a separate city called Albina. The park has climbing and water toys for summer, basketball courts, but also a large forested area for walking through. It was nearly empty and very beautiful. The fallen leaves made an almost uniform carpet over sidewalks, walls and lawns, looking like a coloring book filled in by someone with only a yellow crayon.
Westward and northward, we passed the University of Portland Campus and drove along the Willamette to Cathedral Park, so called because it runs along the river under the cathedral-like columns of St. John’s Bridge. The bridge was built in 1931 and is acknowledged to be the most beautiful bridge in the city, and possibly in the country. This park has no formal plantings, but some large public sculpture, trees, and the river and bridge itself make for a memorable spot.
When we were cold and a little damp (the sun had hidden itself behind some clouds) we got back in Miles the Volkswagen and drove across this lovely bridge. It is so high above the river ( 205 feet) it doesn’t need to be a drawbridge like the others in town, and soars like a rainbow.
On the west shore, we found Forest Park, a 5,157 acre park with almost no development. It is, as it promises, a forest. We found a narrow residential road that ended at Lief Erickson Drive, which looks like it used to be for cars but is now only for bikes and people. It was getting damper and colder, but we walked a quarter mile up and found a Jurassic Park-like rain forest and fairy sized waterfalls. We will come back here again.
Driving back to town, I noticed that the #15 bus runs almost to the park entrance! I could walk to Belmont, get on the bus, and be here in about an hour. Or in the car, 20 minutes. Not bad for proximity to a huge, bustling city.
We got home and warmed up, and when Auntie Bridgett had finished her work, she and I went for a walk through Lone Fir Cemetery. But I will tell you about that tomorrow.