Jilliene McKinstry Books & Stuff

Portland's Great Fires

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Portland’s Great Fires

While writing The Lady Faith, I wanted to include a mystery subplot with an arsonist. Because much of 1870’s Astoria was built on wooden plankings which were likely treated with creosote, it seemed like a likely concern. Since Faith’s story happens at Christmastime, I was expecting to exercise creative license about the fires.

What I hadn’t realized was that one of the Portland, Oregon “great fires” occurred in that timeline. Once I stumbled upon the 1872 fire, I had to find a way to incorporate it into The Lady Faith. That led to Justin and Faith finally being able to properly begin courting, away from their too-helpful fathers!

The Portland Fire of 1872

In December, 1872 a fire roared through Downtown Portland, destroying several blocks of businesses. The fire started in the early morning hours behind a Chinese laundry. A second fire in 1873 (The Great Fire) was at the time believed to have been started in retaliation by Anti-Chinese arsonists.

After the two fires devastated much of the downtown business district (and the regular flooding issues from the Willamette River), businesses moved west and rebuilt using new building materials (less wood!).

The historic Yamhill District sits on the site of the two fires and is now on the National Register of Historic Places, thanks in part to the brick Italianate style buildings built from 1878 to 1887.

Fun links:
Portland Downtown Flooding: https://vintageportland.wordpress.com/2014/09/23/front-and-morrison-1894/

Multnomah Falls before the historic lodge and hiking bridge were built: http://sos.oregon.gov/archives/exhibits/columbia-river-highway/Pages/scenic-historic-multnomah.aspx


Portland Fire of 1872: https://www.portlandoregon.gov/fire/article/333882

Italianate Architecture in Portland: http://www.portlandlandmarks.org/italianate/