For thousands of years, this region was home to native people who flourished on the bounty of forest and river. The Willamette River meets the Columbia near this spot. After running for 1,210 miles from Canada the Columbia River finally meets the Ocean in Astoria, about 125 miles down river.
The Jantzen Beach Amusement Park opened on May 26, 1928, promoted as the largest amusement park in the nation. The big flood of 1948 and the widening of I-5 to four lanes in 1958 didn’t help business at the amusement park. It closed in 1970 to make way for the Jantzen Beach Mall.
Here are some early historical events of the region:
- In May 1792 the American commercial sea captain Robert Gray sailed the Columbia Rediviva into the largest river in the Pacific Northwest. Gray named it after his ship.
- Commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson, the 1804 Lewis and Clark expedition started in Illinois and reached the mouth of the Columbia River in November 1805.
- Fort Vancouver, built in 1824 to serve as the western fur-trading headquarters of Great Britain’s Hudson’s Bay Company, was one of the first permanent European settlements in the Pacific Northwest.
- The Oregon Trail, in the 1840s, was a 2,170-mile east-west migration route for ox-drawn covered wagons. Use of the trail declined when the first transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869.
- In 1792, British naval officer William Robert Broughton, commander of the HMS Chatham named the island Menzies, after the botanist of his ship Archibald Menzies, and named what is present-Vancouver after his commander George Vancouver. The Vancouver Expedition (1791–1795) circumnavigated the globe and made contact with five continents.
- In 1805, Lewis and Clark named the island Image Canoe Island after a large canoe carved with images of men and animals emerged from the opposite side of the island.
- Hudson’s Bay Company called it Vancouver Island. And in the early 19th century it was called Shaw Island for Colonel W. Shaw who owned land on the island.
- In 1851, the island was renamed for the Oregon pioneer and early settler of the Pacific Northwest, Gay Hayden. He took ownership of the island upon hearing of the Donation Land Claim Act a year after it was passed. Hayden built a grand home and lived on the island for five years his with family.
- Lotus Isle was the largest amusement park in Portland with over 40 rides on 128 acres, when it opened on June 28, 1930, on Sand Island, near the site of the old Columbia Beach. Today, all that’s left is Lotus Isle City Park, which overlooks North Portland Harbor and the remains of the streetcar trestle that used to bring people to Columbia Beach and Lotus Isle.
- Sand Island’s name was later changed to Tomahawk Island when a Tomahawk was found.
- The two islands were merged with fill from the construction of the I-5 freeway in the early 1960s.
- Today Hayden Island is located within Portland city limits, and is recognized as one of its 95 neighborhoods.
Early maps indicate that Hayden Island probably originated as a sand bar that grew into a series of channelized islands. In 1792, the island was discovered by Lieutenant William Robert Broughton, commander of the Royal Navy survey brig HMS Chatham, who named it Menzies, after the botanist of his ship Archibald Menzies and naming Vancouver after his commander George Vancouver.
In 1805, Lewis and Clark named the island Image Canoe Island after a large canoe carved with images of men and animals emerged from the opposite side of the island.
Gay Hayden, who arrived in the Oregon Territory in 1850, owned all of or part of what is now Hayden Island and built a grand home and lived on the island for five years with his wife Mary Jane Hayden. He also owned a significant portion of what is now the city of Vancouver including properties previously owned by Esther Short. Here are the best gay bars near Hayden Island.
Astoria celebrated its bicentennial on April 5, 2011. John Jacob Astor’s Pacific Fur Trading party, established the city of Astoria as the first permanent U.S. settlement west of the Rocky Mountains in April, 1811.
In 1825, Dr. John McLoughlin moved their northwest headquarters of the Hudson’s Bay Company from Astoria, Oregon to a more favorable setting upriver. He named the site Fort Vancouver.
Fort Vancouver became the center of fur trading in the Pacific Northwest. In 1846, American control was extended north to the 49th parallel. The northwest became part of the United States and Captain Vancouver moved north to Canada, where a new city was born named Vancouver. The Canadian city was incorporated 29 years later.
- Headquarters of Hudson’s Bay Company (established 1825)
- Oldest permanent non-native settlement in Pacific Northwest (1825)
- Oldest living apple tree in Pacific Northwest (planted 1826)
- First sawmill in Pacific Northwest (1827)
- Oldest public square in Pacific Northwest (Esther Short Park, 1855)
- One of the oldest continuously operated airports in the country (Pearson Field, 1905-present)
- World’s largest spruce lumber mill for airplane construction during World War I
- Major shipbuilding center during World War II
Columbia Beach opened on August 5, 1916. It was developed by Portland Railway, Light & Power Company (now PGE), which ran a streetcar to the location, near the current I-5 bridge, but on the east side of the bridge near the current location of the Red Lion hotel.
The Columbia Beach Amusement Park operated from 1916 until 1926, when a fire wiped out the popular dance pavilion. Columbia Beach featured camping facilities and the dance pavilion was one of the largest in the country with dances every day of the week. Located on Sand Island, the name of the east side of Hayden Island was later changed to Tomahawk Island and finally incorporated into the overall Hayden Island with fill.
Tomahawk Island, once named Sand Island, was also the site of the Lotus Isle amusement park, a competitive amusement park in the early 30s, according to Vintage Portland.
When it opened on June 28, 1930, Lotus Isle was the largest amusement park in Portland with over 40 rides on 128 acres, says PdxHistory. It was located just east of Jantzen Beach, on the other side of the bridge, at the site of the old Columbia Beach.
The Grand Ballroom, which is thought to be the birthplace of the dance marathon circuit, was one of the first locations for the great walkathons where they would pack in 6,000 people. The Golden-Canopied Ballroom attracted big name bands, with world-class dance competitions.
The park was only open for three seasons. The ballroom caught fire the second season and burned to the ground. Dances were held the final season on the Blue Swan, a barge which was docked on the Columbia River. They hoped Jantzen Beach backers would buy them out.
In mid-1929, Jantzen Beach called their bluff, saying there was plenty of room for all and the competition was welcome.
This 1936 aerial view from Vintage Portland shows the Jantzen Beach Amusement Park, which opened in 1928. The Olympic-size pool was near North Portland Harbor while the roller coaster is near the top of this photo. The park closed in 1970.
Vanport, near the current Portland International Raceway, housed the workers at the wartime Kaiser Shipyards in Portland and Vancouver, Washington. Vanport was swept away at 4:05 p.m. on May 30, 1948, when a 200-foot section of the dike holding back the Columbia River collapsed during a flood, killing 15. The city was underwater by nightfall leaving its inhabitants homeless.
History From The Bottom Up | The Making of The Vanport Mosaic Festival from Vanport Mosaic on Vimeo. Vanport Mosaic has dozens of videos that tell the story from people who lived through it.
The Interstate bridge doubled in size in 1958, a landmark year for growth.
- Clark County — History Link Thumbnail History
- Historic Vancouver
- Fort Vancouver National Park
- Ft Vancouver Marshall House
- Pearson Air Museum
- Vancouver City Halls Audio Tour
- QR Codes & Guide by Cell
- Clark County Historical Museum
- Clark County Digital Collections
- North Clark Historical Museum
- Two Rivers Heritage Museum
- Center for Columbia River History
- Columbia Slough: Oral History Archive
- Columbia Slough historic photos
- Historic Columbia River Photos
- Lelooska Foundation
- Vanport Mosaic Festival
The Amusement Park closed in 1970, making way for the original mall (below). The Mall opened in 1972 with the carousel operating for 22 years inside the shopping center. The original enclosed mall in this 1987 photo (below) is looking south. All the shops faced the inside corridor. Note the full compliment of buildings that composed the Thunderbird Motel, next to the I-5 bridge.
On April 22, 2012, the Carousel was closed in anticipation of a $50-$60 million mall remodel by the new owners, EDENS, a South Carolina-based developer. They transformed the enclosed Mall into a mall composed of separate buildings where you parked in front. Most recently, Kimco Realty paid $131.8 million for the Jantzen Beach Center, in 2017. The company owned interests in 510 U.S. shopping centers totaling 84 million square feet across 32 states. The Mall draws some 10,000 people daily to Hayden Island.
This 1989 photo was taken shortly before the opening of the $18 million Jantzen Beach Red Lion, just east of the Interstate Bridge.
In September, 2012, the biggest local fire in more than a decade caused an estimated $5 million in damage, to the Thunderbird Motel, west of the Interstate bridge. The 352-room hotel had been vacant since 2005. The building had not been condemned and was for sale although the newly proposed bridge was expected to pass right through the area.