Hidden Hydrology, a resource for exploring lost rivers, buried creeks and disappeared streams in urban areas and reconnecting historic ecology to the modern metropolis. This is the work of Pacific Northwest-based landscape architect and urbanist Jason King, author of Landscape Urbanism.
I’ve been wanting to write this one for a bit, as I often stumble upon interesting articles that veer widely away from the core subject matter but still have a resonance with the hidden hydrology project (or at least my expansive view of it). While cosmic in nature, are there clues to be gleaned from other worlds and applied to our planet that can inform our relationship with water? Even if not, if you’re interested in water, it’s pretty fun to explore the most distant and hidden hydrological processes, even in brief, from the Moon, Mars, and some of the interstellar stories around our solar system.
CLOSE TO HOME: MOON
Our Moon is unique is having been studied extensively, and due to proximity, having had humans visit and walk on the surface. There has been speculation on water on the Moon, and when viewed from afar, a long history of people seeing ‘rivers’ on the moon. These may be features like this depression, seen here via the Earth Science Picture of the Day, showing Rima Hadley, “…an ancient rille… [which] may be the remnant of a collapsed lava tube. Lava from an erupting fissure may assume drainage patterns similar to overland water flow.”
More recent work is augmenting these hydrological stories with data about the actual presence of water. Some of this, via Express: “NASA’S scientists have found proof to suggest surface waters on the Moon have been hidden in plain sight for decades, according to a shocking lunar meteor impact study.” The water vapor released by the impacts explains a bit of the mystery of water on the Moon, which accumulates at the polar caps, which had been posited to have come from other sources like solar winds. The water vapor lasted a short time, which is indicative of the relatively small amounts of lunar water, around 200-500 parts per million. Or, by another measure, per the article: “It is so dry that one would need to process more than a metric ton of regolith in order to collect 16 ounces of water.“
RED PLANET/BLUE PLANET: MARS
Similarly, the presence of subsurface water is also changing our perceptions of Mars. Most recently, a parade of articles discussed evidence of, water on the red planet, with some speculating on this a proof of alien life, others speculating about gushing rivers that were wider than the Mississippi. The consistent theme as mentioned in the Independent, is the presence of “…a vast and active system of water running underneath the surface of Mars.” While it is broadly a reference to our further our understanding of Mars as a planet, scientists say it could also yield some clues for Earth hydrology, as it is speculated that the water was coming from “a deep pressurized source from where water is pushed up.” This is a similar to desert systems here on our planet.
From the image above: “The bright top line represents the icy surface of Mars in this region. The south polar layered deposits – layers of ice and dust – are seen to a depth of about 1.5 km. Below is a base layer that in some areas is brighter than the surface reflections, highlighted in blue, while in other places is rather diffuse. The details of the reflected signals from the base layer yield properties that correspond to liquid water. “
Analysis of the specifics show the water ‘carving’ the landscape, and creating valleys, with additional topographic analysis revealing complex watershed on the surfaces.
” This colour-coded topographic view shows the relative heights of the terrain in and around the network of dried-up valleys on Mars. Lower parts of the surface are shown in blues and purples, while higher altitudes show up in whites, yellows, and reds, as indicated on the scale to the top right. ” via Independent
A similar story from Space.com explains the theories that “Mars Had Big Rivers for Billions of Years“, which discusses the persistence of flows after loss of atmosphere, up until a billion years ago. Scientists conducted: “a global survey of Mars’ ancient waterways, characterizing more than 200 such systems using imagery and other data captured from orbit. They derived age estimates for these rivers by counting craters in the surrounding terrain. The team’s work suggests that Martian rivers flowed intermittently but intensely over much of the planet’s 4.5-billion-year history, driven by precipitation-fed runoff. The rivers’ impressive width — in many cases, more than twice that of comparable Earth catchments — is a testament to that intensity. It’s unclear how much water Martian rivers carried, because their depth is hard to estimate. Determining depth generally requires up-close analysis of riverbed rocks and pebbles, Kite said, and such work has only been done in a few locations on Mars, such as Gale Crater, which NASA’s Curiosity rover has been exploring since 2012.”
“It is the first time that researchers have identified a stable body of liquid water on the red planet. The finding raises the likelihood that any microbial life that arose on Mars may continue to eke out a rather bleak existence deep beneath the surface. “
Speculation on the climate of Mars as potentially hotter and wetter, which may . The author posits that frozen ice sheets in the northern segments regularly thawed from heating events, and this liquid water would flow and create river systems. Strangely enough, these former rivers express themselves in inverted channels, which are described below:
“A river preserved as a ridge seems like a bit of a paradox, but inverted channels are fairly common on Mars. They occur when the river sediment within the channel becomes resistant to erosion (this can happen chemically, due to interaction with water, or by the deposition of large pebbles and boulders within the channel). Once the channel ceases to flow, the material adjacent to the channel—perhaps flood plain deposits—gets eroded at a faster rate than the channel, leaving the channel upstanding in the landscape. Inverted channels are also found in desert environments on the Earth, such as in Oman or Utah, where low rates of erosion can aid with their preservation. “
Inverted channel on Mars (Aram Dorsum) – via Planetary.org
Inverted channel on Earth (Green River, Utah) – via Planetary.org
EUROPA SPACE GEYSERS: JUPITER
The beauty of these flows are represented similarly on Europa, a moon of Jupiter that has had an icy surface that shows a varying mosaic on its surface. From CNET: “New analysis of measurements taken by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft over 20 years ago provides more evidence that water from an ocean beneath Europa’s icy shell is shooting out into space via at least one large geyser.” The story goes on to add:
“Europa’s hidden waters have become a prime target in the search for extraterrestrial life…”
The layering of imagery from Galileo from 1997, combined with more detailed analysis. Below, the striations and flows are highlighted, and in the second shown with “The blue-white terrains indicate relatively pure water ice, whereas the reddish areas contain water ice mixed with hydrated salts, potentially magnesium sulfate or sulfuric acid.”
The space geysers are also reinforced with more recent views from the Hubble Telescope, which has necessitated a future mission to gather more info. A recent fly-by by Cassini of Saturn, which has moons of similar type with a large under-ice ocean, has also led to even alien life. This combination of heated water under ice, in a interstellar ocean of Europa, and a similar Saturn moon, Enceladus, could, as posited here, also be the building blocks for life on other planets.
RAIN ON TITAN: SATURN
Beyond Mars and the Moon, more distant planets also have also liquid stories. A 2017 article in Universe Today, pointed out that Titan, the largest moon of Saturn “…is the only other world in our Solar System that has stable liquid on its surface.” This liquid surface is not water, but made up of methane and ethane, along with nitrogen, and the Cassini mission provided interesting info on the constantly fluctuating surface, including a disappearing and reappearing island, along with speculation of wave action. It’s also pretty interesting to note that there is precipitation as well:
On Titan, it rains. But the rain is composed of extremely cold methane. As that methane falls to the surface, it absorbs significant amounts of nitrogen from the atmosphere. The rain hits Titan’s surface and collects in the lakes on the moon’s polar regions.
This is most evident in polar lakes, referred to as ‘mare‘, from the latin for sea, which, like the moon, reference their being seen as water bodies similar to earth.
To take this idea to the logical extreme, a map of the Ligeia Mare with the adjacent drainage shows that hydrology (In this case not hidden, just very distance), whether it be Earth-based on a distant moon of Saturn, and consisting of water or a brew of methane, still follows those similar characteristics of gravity, topography, and flow.
A Map of Ligeia Mare by an amateur cartographer (Peter Minton) – via Wikipedia
HEADER: Image of Mars taken by the European Space Agency’s Mars Express satellite show the marks that an ancient network of rivers have left on the planet’s surface – via Independent
We take for granted much of the modern system of mapping and cartography. In the United States, this system is very much derived from our Jeffersonian grid, established in the late 1700s, and expanded along with US western expansion, this (mostly) unwavering net draped over the country as part of the Public Land Survey. I’ve written previously about the General Land Office (GLO) Cadastral Survey, in more general terms, but in that post, I mentioned a unique feature in Portland — the location of one of the few starting points — the 0,0 point which started the mapping for the entire Pacific Northwest on June 4, 1851.
In the most lovely case of serendipitous map-nerdiness, this point has been protected and celebrated, and is thus both visible and accessible by visiting Willamette Stone State Heritage Site in Northwest Portland. A quick drive from downtown Portland, for anyone remotely interested in maps and Portland history it’s a simple trip up Burnside and winding along the back side of Forest Park.
I’ve been staring at the GLO maps for years, and knew it existed but had yet to visit this spot, so the hint of a nice Spring day last weekend was a pretty good opportunity for a short walk and to check this off my list. A small pull-out off of SW Skyline Drive opens up to trailhead, with a informational board offering a brief introduction that outlines the purpose of the park, and some background on the survey, including a sketch by Roger Cooke showing an illustration of the surveyors at work.
From a short blurb on the sign:
“This short trail leads to the Willamette Stone, the surveyor’s monument that is the point of origin for all public land surveys in Oregon and Washington.”
The monument itself is simple. A short walk through forest, a few steps down and a square paved zone, measuring 20×29 feet, surrounded by benches and immersed in a remnant of northwest forest. From the Oregon Encyclopedia: “The surveyors selected a high point on a ridge along the Tualatin Mountains (known today as Portland’s West Hills) for the intersection of the meridian and base line and the location of the survey initial point established on June 4, 1851. Known later as the Willamette Stone, the first marker placed at the survey point was a cedar post. It was replaced in 1888 with an obelisk marker, but the stone marker and bronze plaques were vandalized in 1951, 1967, and 1987. A stainless-steel marker, set into the original obelisk, was rededicated in 1988. The Willamette Stone site is now enclosed in Willamette Stone State Park near Northwest Skyline Boulevard. “
A plaque provides more information, and the marker (a stainless steel version that was installed after other had been vandalized), with the words ‘Initial Point’ of the Willamette Meridian with the T1N/T1S marking townships above and below, and R1W/R1E marking their east/west counterparts. It was a sunny day but early afternoon was casting deep shadows on the spot, giving it an austere, and somewhat ominous feel. It felt, to me somewhat sacred.
The Willamette Stone Park monument captures some of element of the survey in subtle ways. Embedded metal strips highlight markings on the ground surface, representing the meridian and baseline, a typical township broken into it’s requisite allotment of 36 equally spaced, 640 acre sections, ready for development.
It’s interesting for something so innocuous to hold such power, a simple disc of metal that references something much larger, and more meaningful. The hours I’ve spent staring at the maps derived from this point and the rich history that unfolds. It includes both a snapshot of what existed in the mid-1800s, but by extrapolating back as well to Native settlement and use, shows also a network of pathways worn to common points – a boat launch, a ferry, a significant landmark. These hints of pre-colonial use were shaped for many years, and some have persisted in our urban development – a path turning from a trail now a road with some odd, informal alignment. Ecological mosaics now transformed, consisting of coniferous forests and deciduous lowlands, with marshy margins near meandering rivers whose shorelines continue to weave their way through the pull of northward flowing water. And, all of those now disappeared waterways – the buried creeks, the long forgotten lakes, the now filled wetlands.
Township 1 South, Range 1 E (the Willamette Stone would be the upper left hand corner of this map)
Sitting on one of the benches, I close my eyes and transport myself back to this spot in 1852. I remark on the integrity of some of the remaining verdant ecosystem in this unassuming spot. The verticality of Douglas Fir spires towering skyward, mixed with moss-draped Bigleaf Maple and understory Vine Maple pushing their bright green spring leaves. On the ground, dense clumps of Salal weave around in abundance, punctuated with the complementary textures of Sword Fern and Oregon Grape, lighter margins of Snowberry and Currant. And, to mark the season with a punctuation mark, the fleeting display of Trillium.
Then, slowly, as I peer around, at the edges, I spy a hint of invasive English Ivy and English Holly (both of which were absent from this ecosystem of 170 years ago), beginning to creep out to the margin of my vision. A witness to our human impacts. Panning right, the faint etchings of guy-wires intrude into the viewshed amidst the trees. I’d been so focused on the ground, and the stone, head down focusing on the monument, I’d been unaware of this neighbor. I slowly follow their paths in an about-face, craning my neck straight up to the apex of the radio tower close-by. Not looming, but its red and white paint, and geometry in sharp contrast to the lush greenery.
Thus the scene, as the origin point, took on a double meaning. Although lush and natural on the surface and very much of the place in the Oregon landscape, this survey point was also the origin of our rapidly changing environment. This is evident in the burgeoning city that exists today, and the irreparable impacts on ecology and hydrology that make it barely legible from where it all started. The origin point of our discovery, what we have now experientially only in maps as a record, also being the origin point of our changing landscape and humanity.
The bench I sat on had double meaning also. Surrounding the monument, these contained the names of significant surveyors relevant to this westward documentation. William Ives was responsible for running the Meridian northward towards the Puget Sound, and Eastward along the Baseline as well, according to the history of the Oregon Land SurveyJohn B Preston is also acknowledged, as the first Surveyor General of the Oregon Territory and Western US, his name is pervasive, affixed to many of the GLO maps. And finally, one dedicated to C. Albert White, who was at BLM surveyor with the General Land Office who started in the 1940s, and is know as an expert in cadastral surveying history, which is seem in his 1983 publication, ‘The History of the Rectangular Survey” which is the definitive tome on the Public Land Survey, and fitting for him to be celebrated here as well.
A map excerpt shows these ubiquitous gridlines – the work of Ives and Preston notably on, “A Diagram of a Portion of Oregon Territory,” from 1852. This map highlights this point where the Baseline runs east and west from ocean to the state borders, and the Willamette Meridian runs north-south from the southern border of Oregon up to the US/Canada border. The origin made manifest.
It’s amazing how this GLO survey left an amazing resource for hydrology of cities that were relatively undisturbed, as these surveys were done in a relatively youthful United States, and in the west the mapping in the 1850s was done concurrent with the establishment of many settlements. The resulting maps show small, nascent grids, which predate much of the late 19th and early 20th creative destruction that forever changed the landscape and led to hidden hydrology. It’s good to know your origin story. And in this case, the origin is close at hand.
HEADER: Willamette Meridian — this and all images in post, unless otherwise noted, also by Jason King
The story of Vanport is a critical narrative woven into Portland’s water history, and gives a hint at the dynamic nature of river/city interactions, along with formative context for race and class relations that shaped the community, both in positive and negative ways. This 2016 documentary from the Oregon Experience provides a compelling and well illustrated history of the Vanport community that’s worth a watch.
From the cover of the video: “During the early 1940s, Vanport, Oregon was the second largest city in the state and the single-largest federal housing project in the country. Built quickly to house men and women coming to work in the Portland/Vancouver shipyards during World War II, Vanport boasted some 42,000 residents at its peak and offered progressive services for its diverse population. But one afternoon in 1948, a catastrophic flood destroyed the entire city, leaving about 18,500 people still living there suddenly homeless. Vanport tells the story of a forgotten city: how it was created and once thrived; and how it changed the region forever. It features first hand, personal accounts of former residents and dramatic, rarely-seen archival film and images.”
The origin story here is around World War II, and the wartime shipbuilding, and Henry J. Kaiser, who operated 3 major shipyards that built over – two in Portland, in St. Johns and Swan Island, and another across the river in Vancouver, which built over 750 ships and employed around 100,000 people at their peak in the early 1940s.
In order to house the growing and diverse population of shipbuilders, who were coming for a mix of opportunity and patriotism, Kaiser proposed in 1942 to build what would become the largest wartime housing project in the United States, a new community of over 40,000 people in a 650 acre tract wedged between the Columbia River and Columbia Slough in North Portland. The plan of the community, completed in 1943, shows the general layout, including over 9,900 individual apartments, built cheaply and quickly. The size and diversity of the community, which included a diversity of White, Black, Asian, and Native American workers, as well as a large percentage of the workforce made up of women, who were recruited from all around the country to come to Portland to support the war effort.
From the documentary, the community also had a hospital, police station, library, fire station, transit, shopping, grocery, schools, recreation centers and even a move theater. While there was an effort to make the community livable, and improve ‘quality of life’, the goal was also production, with buses ferrying workers to and from shipyards, which operated 24 hours a day.
The relationship of the plan is woven around water, and the history of flooding of the wetlands and sloughs within which Vanport was built could be said to be both amenity and omen. Some images from the documentary show life around these waterways, including beaches on one of the two lakes, and some exploration around the Slough and it’s tributaries that wove throughout the community.
Vanport Location – via Vanport (Oregon Experience)
Vanport Location – via Vanport (Oregon Experience)
As mentioned in the documentary, the cafeteria was located adjacent to the beach on one of the lakes, with water-loving cottonwoods woven throughout. And beyond what was referred to as a “slightly ill-kempt public park”, kids found waters of the Slough the real playground, using make-shift rafts to find turtles, bullfrogs, and tadpoles.
Vanport Location – via Vanport (Oregon Experience)
Post World-War II the idea was for the temporary city to be demolished, and as people starting moving out, some structures were removed. A housing crisis kept Vanport a necessity, as a combination of post-internment Japanese, blacks who could not find housing due to red-lining in the greater Portland area, and lack of housing for post-war returning soldiers, all combining to provide affordable, if somewhat ramshackle, housing for a variety of residents. There was also a Vanport College, founded in some of the vacant buildings, which eventually became Portland State University. For the growing Portland area, “mud on the shoes” meant you were from Vanport, which was seen by the greater Portland community through the lenses of racism as a slum.
In the winter of 1947-48, conditions started to shift towards catastrophe. Heavy snowfall coupled with more intense spring rains swelled the Columbia Rise, which flowed in mid-May at a rate of 900,000 cubic feet per second (cfs), which was almost double the normal flow. This led to the need for reinforcing dikes and sandbagging, along with regular patrols by the Army Corps of Engineers to ensure the perimeter was solid. At this point, there was a question of whether to evacuate, and an emergency meeting was held, but the thinking was that the dikes would hold, and if not people would get plenty of warming. A few days later things changed dramatically.
River Stage levels in late spring 1948 – via Vanport (Oregon Experience)
The entire Vanport area, as former lowlands, was surrounding on all four sides with dikes in order to keep the adjacent waters at bay. The massive vulnerability of the perimeter meant a lot of potential failure points. The dike along the railroad lines to the northwest of Vanport separated Smith Lake from the lower-lying Vanport area was just that failure point, seen in the map below.
Vanport Location – via Vanport (Oregon Experience)
Vanport Location – via Vanport (Oregon Experience)
The 30′ berm was ostensibly about protection of the railroad, so the integrity to hold that massive amount of water back during a huge flood event was less a priority, so water levels from Smith Lake started spilling over the dike, the railroad berm started degrading with water boils appearing and seeping thorugh, and on 4:17pm on the May 30th, the breach happened, as mentioned, a “600 foot section melted away.”
Railroad embankment failure – via Vanport (Oregon Experience)
Sirens blared, and people grabbed anything they could get their hands on to evacuated to nearby Kenton. As people recounted stories of “a wall of water” and climbed to their roofs to be rescued, it was exacerbated by the housing, which was built cheaply and without solid foundations, which began to float around, knocking into each other, as seen in the images below.
Houses in the aftermath – via Vanport (Oregon Experience)
The sloughs filled up with the initial flows, so people had 30 minutes to escape. With only one route available, Denver Avenue, the road was quickly jammed, and people started fearing that this area would also fail, so continued to sandbag and reinforce this zone, and people started walking through water as vehicles and buses were stuck. By Monday morning, Denver Avenue was also breached, along with other perimeter dikes, inundating the entire community. The extent of flooding wasn’t localized to Vanport, as it impacted the entire city and it was estimated to have caused over $100 million in damages throughout the basin. The displacement of 1000s of people meant that the flooding of Vanport was some of the biggest impacts, and they were long-lasting well after the water subsided.
via Vanport (Oregon Experience)
There have been a number of stories that have covered the events around Vanport life and flooding, including loss of life, as well as its aftermath, such as investigating the absence of accountability for inaction on evacuation and the lack of dike maintenance that could have prevented the disaster. I’ve not seen critical analysis in general of the general wisdom of occupying the spaces and places like Vanport and its flood susceptibility, which were chosen hastily to fill a need, such as emergency housing in war-time, but are perhaps much less suitable for people to live long-term. Should the city have been demolished after ship-building slowed? It shows the impacts of larger social forces on disasters, and the brunt of that impact being felt by frontline communities.
Some of that aftermath is capture in this snippet from the Oregon Encyclopedia: “Refugees crowded into Portland, a city still recovering from the war. Part of the problem was race, for more than a thousand of the flooded families were African Americans who could find housing only in the growing ghetto in North Portland. The flood also sparked unfounded but persistent rumors in the African American community that the Housing Authority had deliberately withheld warnings about the flood and the city had concealed a much higher death toll.”
Iconic image of man holding boy – via Vanport (Oregon Experience)
The erasure of that history is part of this larger story, with little remnant or physical marking of the place and event as what was left of Vanport was demolished, burned, or auctioned., which is now occupied in parts with West Delta Park, Portland International Raceway, and Heron Lakes Golf Course. As summed up in the Oregon Experience, there is to this day:
“Little to remind anyone of a ‘once thriving city.'”
It an important piece of history around both race, building, and hydrology to investigate in Portland, so expect to hear more about this. The Vanport Mosaic site provides a great opportunity to learn more, and there are some other films on the topic, including a documentary ‘Vanport and the Columbia River Floods of 1948‘, produced by the National Weather Service, and ‘The Wake of Vanport‘, produced by local independent paper The Skanner in 2016.
Artistic depiction of the Thames in 30BC – the Fleet is the bottom right
Londinium, the walled Roman City, with a Roman ship docking at the entry to the Fleet
Painting of Hampstead Heath – the headwaters of the Fleet
Fleet flowing through Kentish Town
The legacy of hidden rivers lives on in names, as mentioned in the image caption:
“The river may have disappeared from view but evidence for its existence remains in the modern place names. Kentish Town is probably derived from Ken-ditch, meaning “bed of a waterway”, and for centuries it was a pleasant riverside village known for its clean air. Spring Walk, Anglers Lane, Brookfield Park and, further downriver, Turnmill Lane, sit on the path of the Fleet.”
The location near Bagnigge Wells – which was also a great Spa destination
Battle Bridge (now Kings Cross) in 1810, per the caption: “referred to an ancient bridge over the Fleet where Boudica’s army is said to have fought the Romans.”
Confluence of the Thames at the Fleet in the 17th Century
The caption to the above image alludes to the eventual demise of these rivers through constant fouling due to rapid development, “As London grew, the river became increasingly a sewer, filled with ‘the sweepings from butchers’ stalls, dung, guts and blood,” according to Jonathan Swift.” Adding to this, a passage from Alexander Pope:
“To where Fleet-ditch with disemboguing streams / Rolls the large tribute of dead dogs to Thames / The king of dykes! than whom no sluice of mud / with deeper sable blots of silver flood.”
The development beginning to cover the “Fleet Ditch” in 1812, covered by the mid 19th Century.
Great to see the evolution of one stream – and London, perhaps more than any city, seems to have extensive documentation that tells these visual stories with a richness that adds to the maps and words. Plenty more images on the original article, and load more history of the Fleet and it’s adjacent developments in the captions, as well as this previous article by Tom Bolton from last year.
HEADER: Fleet Market, between Holborn and Ludgate Circus, 1736 – image via Telegraph
“An 1821 water colour of the Ilissos River and the Temple of Olympian Zeus” – via Telegraph (image credit Alamy)
“Urban planners have suggested that rather than spending millions of euros on reinforcing the tunnel and repairing the track, the tram line should be diverted along a different route and the river opened up. They are proposing the creation of a park along a one mile stretch of the formerly forgotten river.”
Some context on the significance of this river, via the HYDRIA Project, “Ilissos river was considered in antiquity as the second main river of Athens, forming an horizontal landmark in its southern and eastern sides. Ancient writers mention various activities by its banks, varying from civic processes, cults -including a sanctuary dedicated to the river himself, by Ardittos hill- or social walks and philosophical endeavours in idyllic landscapes, as for Socrates and his disciples (Plato, Phaedrus 229-230, link). “
View of Athens from the River Ilissos – painting by Johann Michael Wittmer – via Greek City Times
Due to the dry climate, the Ilissos and the other river in Athens, the Kifissos, are often dry, as mentioned in the article. “Given Greece’s dry, hot climate, neither is huge – they are nothing like the Thames in London or the Tiber in Rome.” They do, however, act as places for floodwaters to run after winter rains, and the depths can reach up to six feet.
From the BBC “Athens to open up ancient river“, the plan by Nikos Belavilas from the Urban Environment Lab shows the route of the proposed daylighting, restoring it after it was paved over in post-WWII development. You can see the location of the current configuration in the context of the historical routing above, including the Stadium and the Temple of Olympian Zeus, built by Hadrian.
Beyond daylighting, the restoration also has bigger implications, as a strategy to avoid future issues. As mentioned in the BBC article:
“But it is not just a simple matter of reclaiming the city’s past, but also of saving its present.”If the Ilisos tunnel collapses, it will block the natural course of the river, and could flood the entire city centre,” Mr Belavilas warns – “That doesn’t bear thinking about.”
Currently, only a small section is now visible on its path from the mountains, as mentioned in the Telegraph: “It originates in the mountains on the edge of the city and eventually flows into the Saronic Gulf, after passing almost unseen beneath the streets of the capital. It does emerge briefly, in reed beds behind the Temple of Olympian Zeus, which was built over several centuries starting in the second century BC. “
The only uncanalised part of the bed of Ilissos river that once ran outside the old city of Athens. – via Wikipedia
HEADER: River Ilisos and Stadion Bridge, ca. 1900 – via Wikipedia
It was great to attend a talk by historian James V. Hillegas-Elting at Powells earlier in the week, where he gave the highlights of his recently released book “Speaking for the River: Confronting Pollution on the Willamette, 1920s-1970s“. You can read more about his work here at his blog, and I will definitely have some follow up as I dive into the book as it paints a history closely in alignment with hidden hydrology in Portland. The arc of degradation and restoration of the key waterway through Portland and the Willamette Valley is woven together with urbanization, industrialization, and our relationship to the river, as well as the evolution of an environmental ethos that shapes the way we continue to confront existing pollution today (and yes, there’s still lots of it).
” The Willamette River Pollution Film depicts various point sources of pollution in the Willamette River and its tributaries. The film begins near Springfield and progresses downstream to Portland and includes footage of various forms of industrial, agricultural, and municipal effluent being dumped into the Willamette River and its tributaries, including the Pudding and South Santiam Rivers. The footage includes tests of the length of time that small fish can survive in water from the Willamette River and chemical tests of the river water. The film includes footage of the river or its tributaries at Springfield, Eugene, Corvallis, Crabtree, Lebanon, Salem, Woodburn, and Portland.”
The production quality is rough at times but you get the gist, with visible pollution from multiple sources, floating dead fish, rats, and all the visual evidence to make the case of an unhealthy river, devoid of dissolved O2 and lifeless. From the OSU Special Collections listing, “The film was probably made by William Joy Smith, of Portland Oregon. Smith was State Manager of the National Life Insurance Company and President of the Oregon Wildlife Federation. It was made before establishment of the state Sanitary Authority and fostered much of the original interest in water quality in Oregon. The film may also have been known at the time of its creation by the title “The Polluted Willamette”. “
HEADER: Still image from video showing men fishing adjacent to an active outfall. (32:11)
I was really excited to see the post from Chicago’s Newberry Library yesterday on their Twitter feed, showing them rolling up a long map of the Mississippi River. This 1866 ‘Ribbon Map of the Father of Waters‘ created by Coloney, Fairchild & Co. and published by Gast, Moeller & Co. Lith., and was meant to provide steamship travelers with a way to ‘follow along’ on their journey by highlighting key elements and places along the route.
Ribbon Map of the Father of Waters, by Coloney & Fairchild (St. Louis, 1866). Mounted on original wooden scroll and lined on linen. Courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Massachusetts. – via Common Place
A quick search finds this writeup on Atlas Obscura, where they mention the unique quality of these maps and how they differ from larger atlases in their linearity of travel. “As Jim Akerman, the Curator of Maps at Chicago’s Newberry Library, points out, the Ribbon Map of the Father of Waters belongs to a class of map with a deep history: the “itinerary” or “strip” map. Unlike network maps, which are designed to show all journeying possibilities—think of a road atlas, or a big fold-out trail guide—strip maps “are organized around a specific route of travel,” he explains. “It’s meant to give you very close guidance.”
” It begins as a barely perceptible stream in the upper left of the image, eventually taking shape as a hand-colored blue line winding its way through ten different states (the boundaries of which are indicated by block letters that parallel the river on either side). Seeing the river in this way conveys the fluctuating nature of the river’s course, from the bulbous expansion of Lake Pepin between Minnesota and Wisconsin to the looping cutoffs below Natchez, Mississippi, and offers a visual contrast between the sparsely populated upper river and the more densely settled lower portion.”
The idea of this linear sequence seems fitting for water journey, but did require making linear a journey that was not uniquely north-south, as mentioned in Common Place: “In the uppermost 470 miles of the Ribbon Map of the Father of Waters—from St. Anthony Falls to the river’s headwaters—the Mississippi flows mostly west to east, though that is not made evident by the consistent linearity of the map (fig. 9). Despite the fact that others had shown this to be quite a watery area, only a few patches and lines of blue disrupt the relatively vacant space of the map. “
In the end, it was interest to hear that it was perhaps mostly as a, portable way to deal with annoying passengers, as mentioned in Atlas Obscura, quoting Luarca-Shoaf ““The river was a source of great awe,” she says. “That kind of length, that kind of spaciousness was incomprehensible to a lot of folks who were coming from the East Coast.” An advertisement for the ribbon map suggests that people needed an outlet for that awe: having your own chart to unroll, it promised, would stop you from “constant[ly] questioning… the officers of the boat,” and causing “an immensity of annoyance” to them.”
via Atlas Obscura
It’s interesting to think of similar scenarios today in which this would work, which riff off of a linear travel route (mass transit, trains, boats), both in terms of making new versions of analog maps, but also infusing things like GPS enabled digital technologies. We all like to follow-along on a route, and there’s probably a bevy of operators of transportation looking for ways to entertain travelers and stop them asking ‘where are we’?. However, it also gives opportunities to enrich the experience by highlighting key points, historical layers, moments in time. This is why it’s compelling.
The snapshot of the map below, showing the reel and cassette, gives a sense for the quirky portability of this. I was tempted to post the entirety of the map as it would be a long post. Perhaps scrolling on a phone is the new reeling? If you’re curious for that, download your own hi-res version here at the Library of Congress.
Detail of title and scroll, Ribbon Map of the Father of Waters by Coloney & Fairchild (1866). Courtesy of the David Rumsey Historic Map Collection. – via Common Place
As the title suggests, there were many incarnations of Chinatowns over the years in Portland focused around two zones. The first is the urban development zone of habitation that shifted shape running along the Willamette River to areas centered on Burnside and running to the north and south. These emerged first as a cohesive enclave, and later into a dispersed ‘non-clave’ that persists somewhat today in the small district of Old Town/Chinatown. The second is a zone of Chinese Vegetable Gardens further upland south of Burnside and west of 14th and provided more informal housing and opportunities for vegetable gardens. My focus here is on the latter, the farming zones inland along the banks of Tanner Creek, which Wong discusses and outlines their evolution over time, and how the fates of Chinese farmers and the creek were linked.
The three vicinities of Chinatown – From Wong, p.206
Much of the backstory here is found in the previous post, which focuses on a 2016 article by Putsata Reang in Oregon Humanities, entitled ‘The Farmers of Tanner Creek’ along with some additional information from Tracy Prince’s book “Portland’s Goose Hollow”. In this case, I was pretty fascinated by the dual narratives of the erasure of the Chinese Vegetable Gardens in tandem with the erasure of Tanner Creek, which is illustrated in the series of maps in Wong’s book, spanning 1879 to 1908.
Via “The Farmers of Tanner Creek” – Oregon Humanities “Tanner Creek runs between Chinese gardens and shanties, circa 1892. Providence Park, the Portland Timbers soccer stadium, now stands where these gardens once did. “
I took the liberty of adding a few items of color to these maps, focusing on the routing of Tanner Creek and the extents of the Portland Chinatown Vegetable Garden Community. As mentioned by Wong the roads “…were needed to serve an expanding population, but the flood-prone Tanner Creek and the gulch that meandered through this area were dominant nature features that controlled much of the building potential of the region.” (211) Thus improvements were required to tame this and create conditions better for development and expansion. Wong continues:
“In 1873, the old wooden bridge that spanned the creek connecting B Street to a small number of residences collapses in the rise water fed by winter rains, necessitating replacement and improvement. In July of that same year, the City of Portland contracted Chinese workers to construct a 115-foot cylindrical brick culvert sixty feet below the level of B Street. The culvert was to run along the bed of the creek, with some infill of the gulch to permit construction of a new bridge. At six feet in diameter, the culvert was large enough for a man to walk through and was intended to provide drainage for at least a hundred years. This improvement made it possible to control, if not totally prevent, flooding of the creek and associated erosion along the creek bed and the embankment up to street level.” (211)
The control of flooding by installation of the pipe of Tanner Creek allowed for the Chinese to occupy the site for gardening, as it no longer flooded. The first map from 1879 (p.210) shows a linear band of gardens along Tanner Creek parallel to B Street (current Burnside Street) which future road rights-of-way extending to connecting streets, but the creek had limited development of these roads, and the margins occupied with “Chinese Shanties”.
1890s – Trestle bridge, Chinese vegetable gardens, Portland High School Courtesy Oreg. Hist. Soc. Research Lib., bb007389
Between 1879 and 1889 the amount of area for Vegetable Gardens increased dramatically, from 3 acres to over 21 acres, as shown on the map below (page 214). The reduced flooding allowing for farming and Shanties to expand, filling the entire lowland zone. The new plank road to the east and a new wooden bridge spanned new developments towards Jefferson to the west. The Creek was still intact through this zone as well, however starting to get chopped up with development on the edges. The ability of the Chinese to extract maximum production from this space was notable, as Wong mentions: “The immigrant gardeners… acted collectively, sharing the labor and the profits as they continued to farm the low-lying ground and slopes of the Tanner Creek Gulch. The Chinese applied their extraordinary agricultural skills, shared by Cantonese immigrants of rural background, to successfully cultivate the land.” (212)
As seen above, at the time, there was some development, but more residents were moving near here and building larger houses, and for a short time the two lived in close proximity with little issue.. “Perhaps the year-round beauty of the gardens and the convenience of easily available low-cost produce enable two such economically disparate and cultural distinctive social groups to coexist for many years.” (215)
The 1901 map (below, from page 216) shows the impact of a new resident, The Multnomah Amateur Athletic Club (now the current The MAC ), which displaced some of these gardens by moving into 5 acres to the north of the creek, using the natural slope as a viewing amphitheater and building a clubhouse. They also constructed considerable raised plank infrastructure on Alder Street, which eliminated gardens below there (but did keep the creek free flowing for a while longer). Farmers expanded the Shanties in existing areas, and moved to the area west of Jefferson where they installed new gardens and Shanties. The creek it seems to also have started disappearing more in this period. The drawing doesn’t show a key to connote what dashed lines mean versus solid, but it’s probably not a stretch to imply much more culverting of flows, and the plank roads also serving to visually disconnect the creek from views of residents.
By 1908 the map (from page 217) expansion of the city was reducing (to around 11 acres) the area of gardens even more as land became more desirable. The Creek was removed through conversion of bridges and plank roads into surface streets, which filled up gulches. This was a product of one of the “… city’s long-range projects for controlling flooding, raising the grade to accommodate roads, and encouraging urban residential development.” (218) The area near the Multnomah Amateur Athletic Club purchased the land and “over the next few years, both Tanner Creek and the land adjacent to it were filled to permit final construction of the athletic club and nearby homes.” (219)
Together with a number of ordinances aimed at reducing the number of Chinese vendors selling products, and finally just outright banning street peddlers in certain areas. As Wong concludes:
“Portland’s urban growth and expansion into the Tanner Creek area, the filling in of the creek, and the city ordinance that prohibited the rural Chinese from earning a living did irreparable harm to the fragile gardening community. A reporter’s prescient statement in 1889, that the time would likely come when ‘the gulches [would be] filled up and used as building site,’ had come to pass, and the Chinese Vegetable Gardens community disappeared from the record after 1910.” (220)
It’s a wonder as well that it lasted as long as it did, within the rapid urban expansion and the racist undercurrents at the time. The map sequence is a great snapshot in time to see Tanner Creek in the midst of Portland’s urbanization towards the end of the 19th Century. While, it is not totally clear graphically which portions of Tanner Creek were still remaining and which were buried, it shows a valuable sequential picture of the development of this portion of the city and how land shifted from that which had little value to some (and immense value for growing food for others) to becoming more necessary for further development. Gardens and creeks presented barriers to this progress and were slowly eroded and ultimately erased. Wong’s ‘Sweet Cakes, Long Journey‘ is an essential picture for understanding Chinese life and contributions to the history in Portland, of which the above is just one story. However, it is a critical one in terms of hidden hydrology, showing the displacement of Chinatown Vegetable Gardens in tandem with development that slowly buried Tanner Creek, forever losing it’s productivity as a creek and its ability to support agriculture in the city.
HEADER: 1892 Image of Chinese Gardens and Homes in Tanner Creek Gulch, Photo courtesy of Gholston Collection – image via Oregon Humanities, “The Farmers of Tanner Creek”
A quick one to show a map that captures the essence of the story of Seattle – this 1996 “Map of landfills, regrades, and cuts” outlines significant changes to the landscape of the city over the formative decades from 1896 to 1930. The source is the Seattle Municipal Archives, with a note of a source Seattle Engineering Department Digest, Special Commemorative Edition. A few interesting ones that aren’t labelled, such as the northernmost ‘Regrade’ which aligns in the vicinity of Northgate Mall and the wetlands around North Seattle College in the Thornton Creek drainage, and what I assume is also filling of the wetlands in the middle of Magnolia (just below the letter H). Also, while I get that there was some manipulation of Green Lake, I don’t think it’d be technically correct to refer to that as a fill, at least in the traditional sense of ‘making land’. It’s interesting to see these all captured in one figure. The impacts, of course, are well known.
A favorite precedent of mapping around water was the DC Water Atlas by John Davis, which explored historical waterways and some of the hidden layers of the hydrology of Washington D.C. in an interactive way. A recent mapping effort, The D.C. Underground Atlas by Elliot Carter takes a slightly different stance and approach, both in content and delivery, augmenting this previous effort and expanding the breadth and the way it is communicated via a series of interactive Story Maps. The thrill of peeling away perceptual layers of history and infrastructure interests many, which is reinforced from Carter’s introductory text:
“Washington sits atop an interconnected layer cake of transportation, utility, and pedestrian tunnels extending three dimensionally beneath city streets. Given their importance to daily life in the nation’s capital, it’s surprising to find that the full picture of Washington’s various tunnels remains unpainted. This project aims to complete that picture.”
While the previous effort by Davis was focused specifically on water, the new effort focuses on ‘tunnels’, in the sense that they are accessible. As mentioned by Carter “In order to limit the scope of the project, “tunnels” are defined as fully walkable passageways – no sewer pipes, culverts, or crawlspaces. All the tunnels depicted can accommodate standing adults, assuming that they have proper access credentials.” What are included are maps of multiple transportation modes, water, steam and sewer infrastructure, as well as pedestrian tunnels and the specialize subterranean elements supporting the Capitol Mall.
With a short intro page, the interface gives you the option of Maps or Text, each taking your through a narrative with images, text, and maps that shift and zoom and layer additional information to tell a story of each of the particular types of tunnels. For instance, the Sewer story starts with historical mapping with some information on the early sewage system, and then moves along a timeline, showing early infrastructure and how it evolves into more contemporary systems.
The sequence expands to show, with historical imagery, such as this showing the building of the combined sewer system in 1882 along with the major lines that were built at that time, and more recently a larger scale modern tunneling for new treatment facilities.
Obviously the focus on tunnels gives it a specific scale, and it’s not necessarily capturing the total water story, but showing the amount of subsurface infrastructure that exists, under our feet. The Aqueduct mapping leads more through the path of movement of water from source, with stops at major point, showing how you can adapt the Story Map to fit the particular type of infrastructure, in this case following a path.
For selected categories, the essays are more expansive, such as the breakdown of Aqueduct Tunnels, which expands the spatial narrative with some more rich history. One of those points is the use, like many other cities, of wooden water pipes, in this case one from around 1810.
A wooden water pipe from Pennsylvania Avenue, installed circa 1810. Photo: Army Corps of Engineers/Public Domain
Another is the great historical images of the brick aqueducts, such as these 9 foot diameter pipes leading to the Dalecarlia Reservoir.
Photograph in Peale album, Washington Aqueduct. PG.66.25.41.
And more diagrams showing cool images of some of the documents, in this case coded to show the type and material of tunnels and their depths as the Tunnel traversed the landscape. (click to enlarge)
Cross-section of the Lydecker Tunnel topography. The tunnel was advanced via vertical drop shafts at Foundry Branch, Rock Creek Park, Champlain Avenue, and McMillan Reservoir. Illustration: Washington Aqueduct/Public Domain
The story has multiple parts, remnants of abandoned infrastructure as well has a unique quality, such as the Sand Filters near the McMillan reservoir, in which “The underground vaults created their own weather systems when the sand filters were still in use, with internal clouds and condensation”
Photo: NPS/Public Domain
Lots more to explore here for sure, and if your thing is other, non water- types of infrastructure, this has lots and lots of layers. While the DC Water Atlas, as I pointed out had an exploratory, video-game like quality, this D.C. Underground Atlas has more of a linear spatial narrative that is more direct. Both have merits in making something that may be less compelling in an essay more engaging an accessible in map format. As a form of storytelling it’s great, and perhaps the best story comes in the form of daring subsurface navigation, mentioned in the article in CityLab,
“…Carter says the “single most epic Washington tunnel story” might be the adventures of Don Bloch, a Washington Star reporter who wrote for the paper for about a year. In 1934, Bloch convinced the inspector of maintenance at the pumping station to let him cross the city through its sewers for a Sunday feature. Equipped with a flashlight, rubber boots, and a gasmask, he hopped down manholes from street to street, with “cloud watchers” who would warn him if a storm might pose a risk from rising waters. Bloch’s tour guide shoved him in a trunk lid for a ride on the waters leading into Rock Creek. Carter says it might be the “best thing in stunt tunnel journalism Washington has ever produced,” but Bloch’s story remains sort of an enigma to Carter. One of the few details he has been able to verify about him: He co-founded the Speleological Society of the District of Columbia in 1939. No mystery there, it’s not much of a leap from tunnels to caves.”
HEADER: Historical Sanitary System – via D.C. Underground Atlas (www.washingtontunnels.com); this and all images in this post via the site