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Vanport Placemarking Project

On May 30, 1948 at 4:05 p.m. a 200-foot section of the dike holding back the Columbia River collapsed during a flood. By nightfall the second largest city in Oregon was underwater and the 40,000 residents homeless.

Vanport men laying wooden walks through the mud to rescue families from the 1948 Vanport flood
Vanport men laying wooden walks through the mud to help carry children and families out.

The Vanport Placemarking Project will create historic markers and an interpretive center to honor the significant structural, natural resources and cultural history of the former Vanport. This project will identify key sites of Vanport, along a publicly accessible route, so visitors can become aware of the unique history of Vanport.

Archaeology is the study of what we leave behind.  No structures of  Vanport were left behind and the intent is to  identify important sites and bring awareness to the once forgotten history of Vanport.  It will recognize the impact Vanport had in city and state history, along with the lessons we can learn from its unique qualities.

This project will utilize the historical document collections, memories and oral histories of former Vanport residents, and knowledge of historians to provide context to what once existed in the form of structures, environmental features of water, wildlife, and natural habitat.

The evolution of the geography of Vanport from 1948 to the present day is noteworthy. Where a city of 40,000 people once lived, there is now open space, a golf course, racetrack, and industrial development. Current day challenges are climate change, flood control, and levee protection.

It is of great importance and benefit to construct permanent awareness of this history to protect and support the cultural and environmental assets of the community for future generations.

Join Our Effort

Donate to the Vanport Placemarking Project. All donations are tax deductible.


Phase I

Permanent public awareness: murals, structure locations and identification, and interactive on-line and augmented reality experiences.

Circa 1943 Vanport apartment, Mrs. Harriet Curry's dining room
Circa 1943 Vanport apartment, Mrs. Harriet Curry’s dining room.

Design and install permanent markers to bring public awareness of the structural, natural resources, and cultural history of Vanport. An historic map and information will be placed on  the PIR office building.

Other sites will be identified in publicly accessible areas for placement of a variety of types of informational signage relating to significant buildings, waterways, and streets of Vanport.

Interactive online applications, such as Augmented Reality, will be developed to help enhance the experience.

Phase II

Expand City Historic Resource Inventory data to include structure descriptions and explore options for formal heritage designation.

Children playing in a Vanport childcare center
Children playing in a Vanport childcare center.

Archaeology is the study of things we leave behind and there is nothing left of Vanport except a small piece of asphalt where the theater once stood.

We will work to expand the City Historic Resource Inventory data to include structure descriptions and explore options for formal heritage designation.We hope to develop special recognition based on research and historic mapping opportunities.

The natural areas and waterways have changed drastically since the Vanport flood and we will identify watershed resources, history of the lakes, waterways, and wetlands to document their evolution into current day use and possible impacts of future flooding.

Phase III

Permanent ghost structure representing a Vanport apartment building. Interpretive educational stations identifying life in Vanport for individual and group education.

The breach in the dike that is flooding Vanport
The breach in the railroad dike that flooded Vanport.

Design and construct a permanent ghost structure representing a life size replica of a Vanport apartment building.

It will have art installations, interpretive educational stations, historic photos, and be utilized as a resource for individual and group education and presentations.