Where We Live: Portland Rose Festival

Multnomah County

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Thousands of visitors have flocked to Portland every summer for more than a century to experience one of the biggest — and oldest — civic celebrations in the United States. 

The Portland Rose Festival highlights the diverse interests and culture of the community through parades, boat races, live music, a waterfront fair and more. 

A photo of the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition. (Courtesy of the Oregon Historical Society)

City leaders planted the seed that would grow into the Rose Festival at the turn of the century in an effort to draw attention to Portland and give the city a national identity. They branded it “the summer capital of the world.” 

In 1905, the city held a world’s fair called the Lewis and Clark Exposition in the modern-day Northwest Industrial District. 

Portland Mayor Harry Lane called for an annual celebration featuring roses following the Lewis and Clark Exposition of 1905, eventually leading to the birth of the Portland Rose Festival. (Courtesy of the Oregon Historical Society)

While the fair was a huge undertaking for a city that was still relatively small, it was an equally-huge success. Nearly 2 million people from all over the world traveled to the fair that year. 

The fair ended in October 1905 but it marked the beginning of something that would grow and thrive for decades to come — thanks, in part, to the foresight of then-Portland Mayor Harry Lane. 

“He called for a carnival of roses; an annual celebration that would just a couple of years later become the Rose Festival,” said Marilyn Clint, the director of events and communications for the Portland Rose Festival. 

Portland is famous for its International Rose Test Garden. (KOIN)

The city’s first official Rose Festival was held in 1907. An emphasis was placed on roses after city officials encouraged local residents to grow roses ahead of the Lewis and Clark Exposition.

In doing so, the city’s identity became intertwined with the iconic blooms. 

“So Portland itself became just one big garden of roses,” said Clint. 

And that is how Portland became the “City of Roses.” 

This year’s Rose Festival kicked off with a fireworks show on May 24 at Tom McCall Waterfront Park. 

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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