Portland’s Legacy: The Pittock Mansion

The light changes by the moment, filtered through quickly moving clouds that bring a fickle combination of rain and breaking sun. The grand stairway darkens as droplets patter at the windows. Through the hall just opposite, bright rays perfectly illuminate the gilded music room.

The majestic old home bathes in the changing light, as it has for 102 years. A true reflection of the history of Portland, the Pittock Mansion stands as a legacy of not just a family but an entire city.

Henry Pittock was nineteen years old when he and his brother traveled over the rugged Oregon Trail to Portland, which in 1853 was not much more than a clearing in the forest. Henry began working for The Oregonian as a typesetter and seven years later took ownership of the newspaper. So began his rise to prominence, which culminated five decades later with the construction of his mansion on the hill.

Henry had married Georgiana, daughter of a local businessman, when she was 15 years old (not so much a scandal then as it would be today). The two lived a long life together, raising six children and 18 grandchildren. They moved into their mansion late in life, in 1914 when he was 80-years-old and she, 68. Sadly, Georgiana passed away only four years after moving in and he followed six months later.

Pittock ancestors – including the two daughters, Kate and Lucy with their families – lived in the home until 1958, when grandson Peter finally decided it was time to sell. Lucky for us, the City of Portland stepped in to purchase the property in 1964, after years under the looming threat of demolition and destruction (including the Columbus Day storm of 1962, which badly damaged the estate).

IMG_1078Henry’s legacy has been preserved by passionate supporters who continue to treat the home with the respect and adoration it deserves. I’m proud to be among the dedicated group of volunteers who work to share the home’s stories with modern visitors. While I’ve only been a volunteer for a few months, I have met such wonderful people who devote their heart and soul to keeping this piece of Portland history alive. Nothing makes me happier than talking about history and I feel lucky for the opportunity to share the stories of the Pittocks, the caretaker’s family (a whole other blog in itself), and the city of Portland.

What’s most heartening is the enthusiasm encountered from the guests touring the mansion. They walk through the rooms enchanted by this glimpse into time gone by – the library welcoming guests with a game of cards, the dining table set for a feast, the butler’s pantry stocked with goods of the day, and the small office ready to tackle the day’s business. There’s a 19th-century Steinway in the music room framed by a picture window showing a panoramic view of the city that’s often enshrouded in rainbows (a magical sight to behold).

IMG_3264The intercom system (a technical rarity of its day) still has the old labels for the rooms in the house: Mr. Pittock, Writing Room, Childs Room… generations of voices, decades of news, chapters of change. Henry may have known he was leaving his legacy with the building of this mansion. However, he could hardly have realized the connection it would provide to visitors a century later and beyond. The Pittock Mansion has become a place of gathering, enlightenment and inspiration. There’s no doubt Henry would have been proud.

> Please visit pittockmansion.org for more information.

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