Celebrating a century of preservation along Terwilliger Parkway

SOUTHWEST - An urban oasis of lush, forested land lining a winding road, Southwest Terwilliger Parkway as it stands today provides scenic views for drivers and ample opportunities for walking, running and SUBMITTED PHOTO - A car drives through Terwilliger Parkway in 1914.

This summer, the nonprofit organization Friends of Terwilliger is celebrating the centennial of the linear park, acknowledging a century of stewardship and preservation with a weekend of fun.

Spanning nearly 100 acres, Terwilliger Parkway stretches from Southwest Sheridan Street near Duniway Park and Terwilliger Plaza to Southwest Slavin Road.

"There's a lot of people that know about Terwilliger Boulevard the road but have no idea that it's a linear park and what that means," Robin Vesey of Friends of Terwilliger said. "There's a reason we don't have huge developments along the way, generally speaking, and there are very few stop signs so runners, walkers and bikers are able to move through the area pretty easily."

The construction of Terwilliger Boulevard was first mentioned in nationally renowned landscape architect John C. Olmsted's 1903 report to the Portland Park Board.

Olmsted envisioned a comprehensive system of parks and parkways for all of Portland - with Terwilliger Boulevard, or South Hillside Parkway as he called it, becoming the principal pleasure drive leading south from the city. John and his stepbrother, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., felt that boulevards and parkways were important additions to cities and added a feeling of civility to movement in an urban area.

"They were all about connecting the beauty of nature to people and where they lived. They believed that parks shouldn't be islands but connected through roadways and boulevards,"

Vesey said. "That's what Terwilliger really features - that connectivity."

Of the four proposed parkway systems, Terwilliger is the only one that was completed for public use and used as its planners envisioned it.

The parkway got its name from the James Terwilliger family. James came to Oregon

in 1845, built a log cabin at what is now Southwest First Avenue and Southwest Morrison Street and opened a blacksmith shop. He traded an eastside land claim for a horse, then traded that horse for 640 acres in Portland's west hills. In 1854, he, his wife and some adjacent landholders donated a total of 10 acres that became the city cemetery. James died in 1892 and his heirs donated 19.24 acres in the form of a right-of-way through the Terwilliger property in 1909 as a part of the development of Terwilliger Boulevard.

Nothing was done to develop the parkway until Portland lawyer Joseph Simon became mayor. By the end of his two-year term, the city had a design for the parkway, received gifts

of land, purchased 2.84 acres and graded the portion between Southwest Hamilton and Slavin roads. The 200-foot right-of-way was designed to ensure that no buildings would be built to obstruct the views. The formal dedication was held on August 4, 1914, and more than 200 autos paraded along the boulevard. The road was illuminated by electric lights, making the road seem "as light as day." It was fully paved about four years later.

In 1959, the city created a special design zone for the parkway to retain its "heavily wooded character." In 1983 the Portland City Council enacted the Terwilliger Parkway Design Guidelines and the Terwilliger Parkway Corridor Plan to preserve and protect this urban treasure from growing development.

"It's hard to believe something that old is in Portland, pretty much as it was designed 100 years ago," Vesey said.

And Friends of Terwilliger and PP&R are working to ensure that this history and preservation are acknowledged through its centennial celebration, as well as through more permanent means.

Vesey, who frequently runs along the parkway, said she became involved with the nonprofit organization in the mid-1990s, volunteering as a member of its board of directors and organizing monthly ivy pulls.

"I thought 16 years ago I would run out of things to do," she said.

A decade and a half later, she has remained involved and has been a key player in the planning of "Terwilliger Parkway Centennial Celebration: 100 Years of Nature and History."

On the docket for the weekend-long celebration are rededication and ribbon-cutting ceremonies, outdoor concerts, guided hikes, food and vendors, a beer and wine garden, children's activities, free ice cream from Umpqua Bank and more.

On July 20, the group will host an unveiling of a monument gateway that has been constructed at the northern end of the parkway through funding from the city of Portland and PP&R.

Friends of Terwilliger are currently fundraising to build a gateway at the southern end of the parkway as well.

"This is a special place, and, whenever you think of entering a gateway of some sort, or any entryway, we just want to call attention to the special place," Vesey said.

Friends of Terwilliger will host a run on July 22 to help raise money for the gateway, as well as build and install an interpretive sign explaining the history of the area and help with its

ongoing preservation efforts.

"I think just the overarching message for the whole weekend is just about how special Terwilliger Parkway is. It's not only a regional but a national asset that is very unique," Vesey said. "It's a living example of Portland's commitment to stewardship."

For more information and celebration details, visit

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