In 1913, the Hawthorne Bridge was already 3 years old, the clock tower at Union Station was already ticking, and the Benson Hotel was in its first year of operation.
To celebrate a century of clean sheets and fluffy pillows, the hotel commissioned a gingerbread replica of the city. In past years, the Benson’s lobby has displayed models of St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague, Santa’s North Pole, and German castles. These models take about 300 hours to complete and use about 100 pounds of gingerbread and 25 pounds of white chocolate and marzipan.
We were so impressed, we decided to make our own cookie creation. We wanted to go back another hundred years, to 1813. So we went to the Oregon Historical Society for help reconstructing downtown Portland two centuries ago.
As it turns out, there’s very little record of what happened in those years. In 1805, we know that Lewis and Clark passed through on a canoe stolen from coastal people. Nothing else is recorded until 1843, when the Overton Cabin was erected in a clearing between Fort Vancouver and Oregon City. As best we can tell, in 1813 the land that’s now Portland was mostly used by Chinook, who rested their canoes here on paddles between villages on the Willamette and Columbia rivers. The city wouldn’t be named until 1845.
This is Portland in 1813—a clearing in the pines. A century later, there would be more to see.
GO: See the Benson Hotel’s gingerbread city in the hotel lobby, 309 SW Broadway, 228-2000. Open 24 hours a day. Free.