Fun Fact #50 Nonsensical Concrete Pads

Fun Fact #50 Nonsensical Concrete Pads

Cropped image of Water Towers with Ivy Forestry Center in background on the left.  Image Courtesy Norman Gholston

Are the concrete rectangular pads on the NE corner of NW 28th and Thurman the footings of the 1905 Lewis & Clark Exposition water towers?

Image of Norman Gholston standing on top of one of the cement pads June 2019.

The past is in itself unobservable. After leading walking tours past the empty lot across from Cracker Jacks on the NE corner of the intersection of NW 28th and Thurman for years, we were motivated to attempt to corroborate the water tower narrative because we thought that the site was finally going to be developed because of arrival of a construction fence. As historians we have to use indicators (in this case a cluster of concrete pads) and postulate a causal relation between the observable facts. Typically, on tours the pads are not that exciting so they never made it onto the tour as a stopping point.

Cropped image of the Water Towers c. 1905 pre-ivy Curtesy Norman Gholston
Zoomed in scan of a 1905 Souvenir Map. Courtesy City of Portland Archives and Records Center.

Using the lens of the archeologist we explored the theory that the multiple concrete pads were the remainders of the footings of massive water towers. Neighbors, using the image of the 1905 exposition’s fairgrounds as shown in contemporary guidebooks, had asserted that this was the site of the water towers, so it seemed reasonable. However, the layout of the fair was on a different axis than the street grid iron, which can throw us off.

Zoom and cropped image from June 1905 Color Portland Sanborn Map

But when we opened up the June 1905 Sanborn map to the page for the site, we could see that in 1905 our location contained the western end of the Museum of Art (“Fine Art Building”), not the water towers, which were farther north, in the middle of what is now the intersection of NW 28th and Upshur. It is possible the concrete pads are related to that building—more research and measuring is needed. Unfortunately the artistic rendering map of the 1905 “Lewis and Clark Centennial and American Pacific Exposition and Oriental Fair” has created a false narrative. We reached out to the long time owners of the property based on a neighbor recalling witnessing the arrival of the pads 30 years ago.  They kindly responded “they were footings for a mixed use building (commercial and residential) that we were going to build in the mid 1990s…there is no interesting historical story behind the vacant lot.”  There may be no remains from the 1905 Fair but there is an interesting historical story.

Marketing Materials lead us astray, but it was a fun history hunt.

Fun Fact #47 Where was the first use of an Infant Incubator in Portland?

Fun Fact #47 Where was the first use of an Infant Incubator in Portland?

Hint:  It was not in a hospital.

” Side Show Baby” Image Courtesy: Norman Gholsten

The first use of incubators in the Pacific Northwest was as a carnival attraction on “The Trail” arcade at the 1905 Lewis & Clark Centennial Exhibition and Oriental Fair.  Admission was 25 cents for what proved one of the most popular exhibits at the Fair—premature babies benefiting from the latest technology.

Ticket sales covered the daily cost of $15 per child—the parents were not charged for the care.  Visitors to the exhibit viewed the babies and medical team through plate glass as the preemies were skillfully treated.  Half a dozen skilled nurses and two doctors cared for the babies, who averaged 2.5 pounds.  New arrivals were bathed in water and mustard and dosed with two drops of brandy.  Milk was provided by wet nurses. 

“Ten ingeniously constructed incubators hold the world’s little weaklings”, according to notices in local papers, which called the incubators “Rest and Assurance for the Tired Mothers”. 

The Morning Register of May 28, 1905—the month before the Fair opened—contained a glowing article about the “artificial mothers”.  “They are such delicate, frail tiny cherubs that they are not yet ready to begin their struggle for existence…the Infant Incubator forms one of the most interesting and thoroughly scientific features at the Lewis & Clark Centennial Exposition. “

Infant incubator exhibits operated for at least four decades and reunions of the children helped to market the lifesaving efforts and carnival attractions of Dr. Martin A. Couney, who created and ran incubator-baby exhibits on Coney Island from 1903 to the early 1940s.  Although he died in relative obscurity, he was one of the great champions of this lifesaving technology and is credited with saving the lives of thousands of the country’s premature babies.  The children were returned to their natural parents when they were healthy enough to live outside the miracle machines.

Fun Fact #26 The seedlings of Portland’s Heritage Monkey Puzzle Trees citywide can trace their origins to what Slabtown Event?

Fun Fact #26 The seedlings of Portland’s Heritage Monkey Puzzle Trees citywide can trace their origins to what Slabtown Event?

Context Monkey Puzzle Tree:

Tour Guide Dr. Tanya March pointing to the Monkey Tree at Kennedy School
(Photo Credit Jen Dawkins March 2016)

Monkey Puzzle trees look like a Dr. Seuss illustration of a tree come to life.  In 1993 there were at least 150 trees of this variety in Portland—at least a third of those had “roots” in Slabtown.  The Monkey Tree (Araucaria araucana) is native to Chile, and like our historic homes its numbers are dwindling.  The males have oblong cones and the females have round cones—all of our city’s heritage trees of this type are male.  In their native Chilean mountain habitat they can reach a height of 100 feet and can live for 2,000 years.

Chile’s national tree, which dates back to the dinosaur era, is listed as ‘endangered’ on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Global Red List of Conifers.  In their native habitats these trees have suffered from climate change and massive fires in 2001–02 and 2014 have reduced their numbers by 50%.  There are a number of active online groups mapping the locations of the trees in our city and a Facebook Group “Monkey Puzzle Trees of PDX“.


The seedlings of Portland’s Heritage Monkey Puzzle Trees citywide can trace their origins to what Slabtown Event?


The 1905 Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition, where seedlings were given away by a representative from Chile and planted by their recipients citywide.  Three Monkey Puzzle Trees from the Fair are protected heritage trees standing at 419 NE Hazelfern, 415 NE Laurelhurst, and 446 NE Fargo.  Link to map of these trees in Oregon created by Carol Studenman:


(The two best 1905 examples of Monkey Puzzle Trees are in Laurelhurst.)

Fun Facts are produced monthly by Tanya Lyn March PhD owner of Slabtown Tours to join our mailing list simply e-mail: