Take a swig from any of Portland’s Benson Bubblers and you can’t help but be charmed. But maybe you’re also being inspired. How else to explain Portlanders’ deep connection to their surroundings? Consider that the water gurgling up from the famed, cast-bronze fountains commissioned by philanthropist Simon Benson in 1912 travels 26 miles from one of the—if not the—most pristine urban water sources in the world: the Bull Run Watershed.
The reservoirs there are arguably Portland’s first act of “building green.” Soon after President Benjamin Harrison declared the watershed a National Forest Reserve in 1892, the city began installing dams and pipes, instantly making Portland the envy of the West Coast for the purity of its water. Bull Run (including the Bull Run Lake, pictured above), became the city’s earliest green export as crews on Pacific ships often traveled out of their way to fill up, sometimes even selling its waters at a profit overseas.
Today the reservoirs lie in a 102-square-mile conservation zone where more than 250 species of wildlife, from blue herons to black bears, enjoy the waters as comfortably as the half million people living directly to the west. Here conservation and engineering are seamlessly and poetically entwined at what stands as the beginning of Portland’s tradition of sustainable urban living. What follows is our timeline of the city’s—and the state’s—many other major milestones. Write us at email@example.com to tell us about any we missed and we’ll add them.