The World's Largest Log Cabin

 At the turn of the 20th century, the city of Portland in Oregon, United States, was a major economic center, with a flourishing wheat and flour industry, a unique lumber industry, and a rapidly growing shipping port. Portland claimed the largest flour mill on the Pacific Coast. Its lumber industry was important because of Oregon's vast forest of Douglas fir, western hemlock, red cedar, and large-leaf maple trees. Portland's location at the Willamette's confluence with the Columbia River gives it a deep port accessible to large ships.

The Forestry Building in Portland, 1956.

Despite the many positives, Oregon remained unaffected by a prolonged nationwide recession until the end of the 19th century. Jobs were lost across the country as railroads grew too quickly and agricultural prices fell on a weak banking system. In an effort to boost the economy, some of Portland's wealthiest and most powerful business leaders decided to create a fair of unmatched grandeur and power. This resulted in the Lewis and Clark Centenary Exhibition in 1905. Held over a period of four months, the exhibition attracted over 1.6 million visitors and saw participation from 21 countries. The exhibition grounds had dozens of buildings adorned with architectural works such as domes, domes, vaulted doors and red roofs. It was the largest pavilion in Italy with a large collection of marble sculptures. Germany and France also spent huge sums on their exhibits, the latter providing a replica of King Louis XIV's drawing room.

Most of the buildings on the fairgrounds were temporary, built of plaster on wooden planks. The Forestry Building was an exception. It was a massive structure, which was 206 feet long and 102 feet wide and 72 feet high. The organizers of the exhibition claimed that the forestry building was the largest log cabin in the world, and was in fact being constructed from whole logs, with bark still present. Most of the giant logs included in the building came from old-growth trees in Columbia County, Oregon. Some of these logs were six feet across. The interior of the forestry building contained 54 massive, colonnades of unpeeled Douglas fir logs. Logs supported a 2-story center aisle, cruciform in plan, and lit by skylights.

The forestry building housed exhibits highlighting the timber industry, local flora and fauna, and Native American photographs and artifacts. There were exhibits showing Oregon's abundant natural resources and taxidermy displays of animals native to the region.

After the exhibition ended, the Forestry Building was purchased by the City of Portland, and for many years the building stood without care and in disrepair. The building caught fire in 1914, when a fire broke out in the California Building and burning embers fell on the roof of the forestry building, but the fire department's quick response stopped the fire from spreading.

In the 1920s, talks began about demolishing the building and saving valuable logs, but the proposal was rejected. However, the state also refused to pay for the repairs. By then, the building had turned into a security hazard and was closed to the public. In the late 1940s, another fire was caused by a spark from a caretaker's stove. Due to this a hole of about 15 feet in diameter was burnt in the roof.

Finally, in the 1950s the Chamber of Commerce raised enough money to begin repairs to the old structure. An old logging train and other equipment used in the forests were added to the field. Very soon, the Forestry Building became a favorite field trip destination for local school children. It was also a favorite place to bring in out-of-town guests.

On 17 August 1964, a fire broke out in the forestry building due to faulty electrical wiring and was reduced to ashes.

"The flames were about ten storeys high," said an eyewitness. “The fire illuminated the sky for miles, the neighborhood was an orange glow. The windows on the entire south side of the Montgomery Park building were blown away. It was so hot that the window panes were coming out. The glass was falling down the street. Large snowflake-sized ash fell to the ground within a mile of the structure. It was surreal, a wonderful sight. "

After the fire, a group of citizens teamed up with wood-industry leaders to form the Western Forestry Institute to fill the void. A new, more fire-resistant forestry building designed by Oregon architect John Stores was built in Washington Park. It was opened to the public in 1971. Its name was changed to "World Forestry Center" in 1986 to reflect the center's revised focus on forestry on a global scale.

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