Portland, Oregon’s largest city, sits on the Columbia and Willamette rivers, in the shadow of snow-capped Mount Hood. It’s known for its parks, bridges and bicycle paths, as well as for its eco-friendliness and its microbreweries and coffeehouses. Iconic Washington Park encompasses sites from the formal Japanese Garden to Oregon Zoo and its railway. The city hosts thriving art, theater and music scenes.
One of the most important historical facts relating to Portland is also one of the least-commonly known: in 1842, the city was just a coin flip away from becoming Boston, Oregon. The game of chance, according to an early account, was between the city’s founders, Misters Lovejoy and Pettygrove (names Portlanders will likely recognize from streets and buildings across the city), who proposed Boston and Portland respectively. Unable to settle on a name, they decided to flip a coin, and the rest is history. Too wild to believe? Today, visitors can see the actual Portland Penny on display at the Oregon Historical Society in downtown Portland.
Water fountains aren’t typically a city landmark, but the Benson Bubblers of Portland – part public art and part public service – are some of Portland’s rarest and most historic attractions. In 1912, local businessman Simon Benson donated $10,000 to the city to begin installing four-bowled bronze drinking fountains in downtown Portland, reportedly in an effort to redirect loggers heading to bars for a drink during lunch. Currently, 52 four-font fountains are in place, all doubling as useful landmarks in the heart of the city. In an effort to keep them unique, the Benson family has prevented new bubblers from being built anywhere but downtown Portland.
It doesn’t take much for Portlanders to get on board with something quirky, and Mill Ends Park is a perfect example. The Downtown Portland “park” is a 24in (61cm) ring of flora that was transformed from an unused lamppost cavity into the world’s smallest city park, a record bestowed upon it in 1971 and which it still holds today. A local journalist began drawing attention to the patch of dirt in 1946, writing about in his whimsical column in the Oregon Journal that it was the “only group of leprechauns to establish a colony west of Ireland”. The column’s popularity led to city recognition not long after, and the spot received park status officially in 1976.