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Terwilliger Parkway Celebrates Centennial

The parkway “upfolds” before the driver. Part of the parkway’s beauty is that it was built before the existence of large excavation equipment that could obliterate entire hillsides. William Haycraft notes in Yellow Steel: The Story of the Earthmoving Equipment Industry that huge breakthroughs in earthmoving equipment weren’t made until the early 1930s, and by 1941 was coming close to “filling the need.”

On the July 28-29 weekend, Portland Parks & Recreation had a centennial celebration for Terwilliger Parkway, a five-mile stretch of road that runs through southwest Portland. The idea for the parkway dates to 1903 when the city hired landscape architect John Charles Olmsted to create a citywide park plan. Note: John Charles was the nephew and adopted son of Frederick Law Olmsted (Frederick married the widow of his brother, John, and adopted her three sons). John Charles teamed with Frederick’s son, Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. (born to Mary Perkins Olmsted) to form Olmsted Brothers, a landscape design firm in Brookline, Mass.

The Olmsted Brothers’ park plan was not to dot the landscape here and there with a number of isolated parks, but to build a series of parks connected via four parkways. The Olmsted Brothers plan was based on the huge growth of automobile ownership in the U.S. Henry Ford introduced his Model T in October 1908, followed by his 1913 innovations of moving assembly belts in his plants and production of interchangeable parts, both which greatly increase auto production and lowered costs. In 1914, Ford’s Model T sold for $490, one quarter the cost of the previous decade. By 1920, there were over eight million registered drivers.

Terwilliger Parkway, however, was the only parkway of the proposed four that was ever built, and that did not begin until 1909 when the Terwilliger family, heirs of blacksmith James Terwilliger, an early settler of Oregon, donated 20 acres of right-of-way land. The parkway’s first major segment was completed in 1912, with a parkway dedication in 1914 highlighted by a 200-car parade with the roadway illuminated by electric lights.

Terwilliger Parkway is a scenic route that offers panoramic views of the Willamette River and Mount Hood. The Olmsted Brothers’s philosophy was that a rich man could afford a nice hilltop top of the river and mountains, but that average folk couldn’t. The parkway views were everyman’s to enjoy. The Olmsted Brothers also appreciated the wildness of these Oregon lands, less tamed than those back East.

The parkway today is not just for cars. Bicycle enthusiasts also enjoy riding there and taking in the views.

In 1959, Portland created a special design zone for the parkway to retain its "heavily wooded character." In 1983, the city council enacted the Terwilliger Parkway Design Guidelines and the Terwilliger Parkway Corridor Plan to preserve and protect the parkway from development.

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August 25, 2019, 5:35 am PDT

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