Swan Island (Oregon)

Swan Island is located on the Willamette River about 4.5 miles (7.2 km) downriver from downtown Portland, Oregon, United States. Although presently connected to the Willamette's east bank, it existed as a river island under natural conditions.[a]

Swan Island
Aerial view of Swan Island in Portland, Oregon, from west in June 2018.jpg
Swan Island from the west in 2018
Swan Island is located in Oregon
Swan Island
Swan Island
Swan Island is located in Portland, Oregon
Swan Island
Swan Island
LocationWillamette River
Coordinates45°33′38″N 122°42′32″W / 45.5606730°N 122.7089862°W / 45.5606730; -122.7089862Coordinates: 45°33′38″N 122°42′32″W / 45.5606730°N 122.7089862°W / 45.5606730; -122.7089862

Swan Island and a nearby bar posed an obstacle to river traffic during the 19th and early 20th centuries, with vessels being restricted to a narrow channel on the island's east side. Proposals on how to improve navigation around the island included widening one of its channels or removing the island completely.

Swan Island was acquired by the Port of Portland in 1921. The Port undertook dredging to expand the channel on the island's west side, using some of the dredged material to connect the island to the Willamette's east bank. Swan Island was the site of the Swan Island Municipal Airport from 1927 until the early 1940s, and was the site of a Kaiser shipyard during the Second World War. The area is presently an industrial park.


The island was first noted as "Willow Island" by the United States Exploring Expedition in 1844.[2][3] River traffic on the Willamette was impeded by a bar near the island, and annual dredging by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was required to maintain a navigable channel.[4] A 1914 Oregonian article reported that the Portland Commission of Public Docks was unanimously in favor of removing the island, instead of developing it for commerce.[5][6][7]

Swan Island viewed from the south in 1920

The purchase of Swan Island was proposed to Portland's city council in March 1920 as part of a $10,000,000 harbor development plan.[8] Other features of this "Swan Island project" included the development of Mock's Bottom, a swampy area directly east of Swan Island, and the draining of Guild's Lake, located west of the island.[9][10]

Swan Island AirportEdit

The island was purchased by the Port of Portland in December 1921 at a cost of $120,577.[11] The Port of Portland initially intended to develop Swan Island as a freight terminal site, but decided to construct an airport on the island to speed up the distribution of air mail to the city. Portland did not have an airport at the time, and air mail to the city was instead flown to Pearson Field in Vancouver, Washington, about 10 miles (16 km) distant.[12] A causeway connecting Swan Island to the Willamette's east bank was constructed in conjunction with the airport.[13][14] Approximately 65 percent of the material dredged from the river—more than 20 million cubic yards (15 million cubic metres)—was deposited in Guild's Lake, and much of the rest was used to connect Swan Island to the Willamette's east bank.[15]

Swan Island Municipal Airport was dedicated in 1927. Passenger service ceased in 1940, after completion of the Portland–Columbia Airport, but limited operations continued at the Swan Island airport until 1942.[16] The Port of Portland leased the Swan Island airport to the federal government in March 1942.[17][18] Tenants of the Swan Island airport were ordered to leave the facilities in late February 1942 to make way for a U.S. Maritime Commission shipyard. At the time of the order, 150 privately owned aircraft were being stored at the airport.[19]

Swan Island ShipyardEdit

The Swan Island Shipyard was one of seven constructed by industrialist Henry J. Kaiser on the U.S. west coast—three in the Portland–Vancouver area and four in Richmond, California—to help meet the production demands of the U.S. Maritime Commission in World War II. Swan Island became the site of Kaiser's third Northwest shipyard (the others being the Oregon Shipbuilding Corporation in North Portland, and the Vancouver Shipyard in Vancouver, Washington).[20][21] The completed Swan Island Shipyard had a total of 8 shipways and began production in July 1942.[22] The shipyard was one of four in the U.S. specifically designed to produce T2 tankers, producing 153 by the end of the war.[23][24]

Post-war developmentEdit

Kaiser's dry dock and ship repair facilities were acquired by the Port of Portland in 1948.[25] There had been some dispute about whether Swan Island should continue to be used as an industrial area or re-appropriated for aviation purposes.[26][27] Oregon voters approved an $84 million bond to expand the shipyard in the late 1970s.[28] The Port of Portland sold the facilities to shipbuilder Cascade General in 2000 at a cost of $30.8 million.[29][30]

Industrial parkEdit

Swan Island is currently the location of a 430-acre (170 ha) industrial park managed by the Port of Portland.[31] There is also industrial development in the adjacent Mock's Bottom area, a natural wetland that was filled in the 1960s.[32][33] Shipbuilder Vigor Industrial is headquartered at Swan Island, where it operates a 60-acre (24 ha) shipyard with three dry docks.[34] Swan Island is also the headquarters of Daimler Trucks North America.[35][36] FedEx and UPS have packaging and distribution centers at the site.[37][38] As of 2008, more than 10,000 people were employed at the industrial park.[39]


  1. ^ The compilers of Oregon Geographic Names note: "Despite the fact that the land is no longer an island, the name Swan Island is firmly and affectionately fixed in the public mind."[1]


  1. ^ McArthur & McArthur 2003, pp. 927–928.
  2. ^ McArthur & McArthur 2003, p. 927.
  3. ^ William F. Willingham. "Swan Island". Oregon Encyclopedia. Oregon Historical Society. Retrieved January 7, 2019.
  4. ^ Willingham 1983, pp. 22–23.
  5. ^ "River Obstacle May Be Removed". Morning Oregonian. Portland, Ore. October 4, 1914. p. 18.
  6. ^ "Removal of Swan Island Advocated". Sunday Oregonian. April 3, 1910. Sec. 3, p. 10.
  7. ^ "Swan Island Purchase by Port of Portland Is Urged". Sunday Oregonian. August 22, 1915. Sec. 1, p. 10.
  8. ^ "$10,000,000 Asked to Develop Port: Plan Includes Purchasing of Swan Island". Morning Oregonian. March 25, 1920. p. 1.
  9. ^ "New Port Project to be Viewed Today". Morning Oregonian. March 26, 1920. p. 6.
  10. ^ "Swan Island Development Project is for Greater Port". Sunday Oregonian. April 4, 1920. sec. 4, p. 6.
  11. ^ "Port of Portland Buys Swan Island". Morning Oregonian. December 9, 1921. p. 1.
  12. ^ "Building an Airport With Dredges". Scientific American. Vol. 137, no. 3. September 1927. p. 233.
  13. ^ "Dredges to Work on West Channel: Swan Island Causeway Fill to Be Completed". Morning Oregonian. November 11, 1927. p. 4.
  14. ^ "Portland Leading in Aviation Work". Sunday Oregonian. January 1, 1928. Sec. 1, p. 10.
  15. ^ Karin Dibling; Julie Kay Martin; et al. (Spring 2006). "Guild's Lake Industrial District: The Process of Change Over Time". Oregon Historical Quarterly. 107 (1): 102. JSTOR 20615612.
  16. ^ MacColl 1979, pp. 249–251.
  17. ^ "Swan Isle Airport Leased to U.S. for Shipbuilding". Oregonian. March 10, 1942. Sec. 3, p. 3.
  18. ^ "Once Scenic Swan Island Yields Its Beauty to the Need for Tankers". Oregonian. April 13, 1942. Sec. 3, p. 4.
  19. ^ Gerry Weaver (March 6, 1942). "Swan Island Plane Owners Don't Know Where to Fly". Oregonian. p. 16.
  20. ^ Tom Vogt (August 18, 2013). "Working on the war effort at Vancouver's Kaiser Shipyard". The Columbian. Vancouver, Wash. Retrieved January 14, 2019.
  21. ^ Allan Brettman (February 1, 2019). "Shipbuilder Vigor picks Vancouver for Army landing craft manufacturing". The Columbian. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  22. ^ "Swan Island Industrial Project for War Takes Form; 5000 Workers There Now; 40,000 Due Later This Year". Sunday Oregonian. July 26, 1942. Sec. 1, p. 21.
  23. ^ Sawyer & Mitchell 1974, pp. 129–143.
  24. ^ "Kaiser Swan Island, Portland OR". ShipbuildingHistory.com. Retrieved January 25, 2019.
  25. ^ "Portland Shipyard Chronology". Oregonian. April 15, 2001. p. D02.
  26. ^ "Swan Island Faults Cited: Report Questions Airport Quality". Oregonian. December 11, 1946. p. 31.
  27. ^ "Compromise Swan Island Plan Offered". Sunday Oregonian. December 22, 1946. Sec. 1, p. 18.
  28. ^ "Swan Island Dock: High and Dry?". Oregonian. April 14, 2001. p. A01.
  29. ^ Gail Kinsey Hill (June 13, 2000). "Cascade Gets Cash to Buy Shipyard". Oregonian. p. D01.
  30. ^ Gail Kinsey Hill (June 30, 2000). "Big Things in Shipyard's Future". Oregonian. p. B01.
  31. ^ "Swan Island Industrial Park". Port of Portland. Retrieved January 7, 2019.
  32. ^ Glen D. Carter (Summer 2006). "Oregon Voices: Pioneering Water Pollution Control in Oregon". Oregon Historical Quarterly. 107 (2): 269. JSTOR 20615637.
  33. ^ "The Cut: Part III" (PDF). St. Johns Review. Portland, Ore. April 22, 2016. p. 4, col. 5.
  34. ^ "Portland, OR Facilities". Vigor Industrial. Retrieved January 11, 2019.
  35. ^ "Corporate Headquarters". Daimler Trucks North America. Retrieved January 11, 2019.
  36. ^ Mike Rogoway (April 20, 2016). "Daimler new HQ ready for next 40 years". Oregonian. p. B09.
  37. ^ Anna Marum (April 6, 2016). "FedEx opens Portland facility as Amazon eyes shipping industry". OregonLive. Retrieved January 11, 2019.
  38. ^ Kristian Foden-Vencil (July 30, 2010). "UPS Opens Expanded Swan Island Facility". Oregon Public Broadcasting. Retrieved January 11, 2019.
  39. ^ Ted Sickinger (October 19, 2008). "Swan Island buzzes despite departures". Oregonian. p. C1.


  • MacColl, E. Kimbark (1979). The Growth of a City: Power and Politics in Portland, Oregon 1915 to 1950. Portland, Ore.: Georgian Press. ISBN 0-9603408-1-5.
  • McArthur, Lewis A.; McArthur, Lewis L. (2003). Oregon Geographic Names (7th ed.). Portland: Oregon Historical Society Press. ISBN 0-87595-278-X.
  • Sawyer, L. A.; Mitchell, W. H. (1974). Victory Ships and Tankers: The History of the Victory Type Cargo Ships and of the Tankers Built in the United States of America During World War II. Newton Abbot, England: David & Charles. ISBN 0-7153-6036-1.
  • Willingham, William F. (1983). Army Engineers and the Development of Oregon: A History of the Portland District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office. OCLC 11317858.

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