Oregon Portland Cements contributions - good and bad are remembered
Not to throw anybody's chi out of balance about the location of the Iron Smelter, but where the north dolphin piers and the new Foundry Wedding Chapel sits, was the former Oregon Portland Cement Plant, from 1817 until the mid-80s.
Right where the dolphin piers are and looking west toward State Street was the cement plant. If you stand in front of the new Foundry Building and look straight into the ground,that is fill material from OPC. From 1919 until about 1965, OPC dumped Cottrell dust, used kiln brick and steel balls used in the ball mills.
Then in the 1960s, OPC expanded their operations over the fill. Cement was nufactured and sold to companies such as Ross Island Sand and Gravel, who add sand, gravel and water to make concrete.
OPC was the only manufacturer of cement in Oregon. It's not as romantic as an iron foundry, but it did so much more to build this area. The Lake Oswego library has posted pictures and a video about OPC from its beginnings until its end in the 1980s. If you take a look at some of the pictures you can see how big the operation really was. In its heyday, we shipped out over half a million tons of cement in a year.
I can still remember walking north from the number one packing house along the lower railroad tracks towards Foothills Road to pick up paperwork from the lime department, which took me through the old, abandoned part of the cement plant. On my left at night in the pouring rain would be the number one kiln, shut down for years and rusting in the damp.
On my right side would be the old finish grind. Old ball mills covered in moss had been silenced for years. Above the old ball mills were two giant steel hoppers, two stories tall. When they shut them down for the last time they left them full of clinker and gypsum. Long stalactites hung down, formed by dripping water, giving it a very spooky look at night. I could almost feel the spirits of the men who were killed or injured there. I raise my whiskey glass and give those old guys a toast. They got the job done.
OPC helped build the Oregon City elevator, the locks at the Oregon City Falls, the old West Linn/Oregon City bridge, the Abernethy Bridge, most of the bridges in downtown Portland and over 60 percent of the buildings in downtown Portland.
The Federal Building on Second and Madison was featured in our 1977 company calendar. Also on the list - a good part of the dams on the Columbia River, countless homes in Portland and Vancouver, the number two powerhouse at Bonneville and the Glenn Jackson Bridge. That is just a small sample of what was done at OPC.
You can still see bits of the old plant today at the north dolphin piers on the Willamette. Parts of an old elevator used to lower a 988 Caterpillar front-end loader are still there, as well as part of the old crusher building, now the base of a deck at Oswego Pointe.
A lot of men worked there and some were killed or severely injured and there is not even a plaque to recognize this. As a city official told me, it is more romantic to talk about the Iron Foundry now that there is no one left alive to tell the history.
There are some people still alive to tell the story of Oswego and Oregon Portland Cement.
Patrick Bloedorn is a former packinghouse lead man at Oregon Portland Cement. He is a Lake Oswego resident.