Book Review: "Early Portland: Stump-town Triumphant" by Eugene Snyder

May 20, 2008

A foundational book for those interested in the history of Portland, Ore., and its surroundings. “Early Portland: Stump-Town Triumphant” is a comfortable, conversational look at the first goings-on in “The Clearing” on the Willamette that slowly became Portland.

The chapters are a mix of biographical and economic history, with a strong thematic focus on the unfolding of local townsites’ navigational potential. Ultimately the winning town has to prove its mettle in terms of shipping, and a lot of the book is spent detailing the argument about just where the “head of navigation” is located. Snyder is, after all, educated as an economist.

My interests run more towards the individual stories of pioneers and the shape of the land they settled, so I found the waterway competition less fascinating. However, Snyder is an easygoing writer and steers clear of dry or overly-academic analysis, so even the sections less tailored to my passions were easy reads. Plus, he does not tell the shipping stories in isolation: there are pepperings of back-stories and interpersonal rivalries that keep things lively.

Local history buffs will come out of this book with some great anecdotes and facts. Snatch it up soon–I believe it may be out of print (originally published: 1970)