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Looking back at the Lewis and Clark Exposition

Portland’s first and only world’s fair drew more than a million visitors

Old time crowds walk along a lakeside boardwalk with palatial buildings in the background

We vote that Portland’s street lamps go back to this design.

Photo via Portland City Archives

The year was 1905 and the eyes of the world were on Portland. Local civic and business leaders had grand dreams of attracting better enterprise and investment to the Pacific Northwest; from June 1 through October 15, they organized the city’s first and only world’s fair — the Lewis and Clark Exposition.

Portland’s population at the time was ~120,000 people. An incredible 1,588,000 paying visitors (more than 400,000 from outside the region) toured the opulent gardens on the pristine shores of Guild’s Lake — a marshy slough that had been tamed for the spectacle.

Inside palatial buildings supported by immense columns, guests marveled at moving picture shows and electric lighting as motorized blimps hovered in the sky. Taking in the pavilions set against the green hills, Mayor George H. Williams described the scene as “a diamond set in a coronet of emeralds.”

A map show the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition of 1905

The fair took place on the northwest edge of today’s Alphabet District.

Photo via Portland City Archives

Sadly, the site’s last major building (and the world’s largest log cabin) burned to the ground in 1964, but the fair’s record lives on in archival photos and informational signs around Northwest Portland.

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