The Pittock Mansion was home to Portland pioneers Henry and Georgiana Pittock from 1914 to 1919. During the late 1800s and the early 1900s, their lives and work paralleled the growth of Portland from a small Northwest town site to a thriving city with a quarter million population. With its eclectic architectural design and richly decorated interior, including family artifacts, the Pittock Mansion stands today as a living memorial of this family’s contributions to the blossoming of Portland and its people.
English-born Henry Lewis Pittock journeyed on a wagon train from Pennsylvania to Oregon in 1853 where, at the young age of 19, and in his own words, “barefoot and penniless,” he began working for Thomas Jefferson Dryer’s Weekly Oregonian newspaper. In 1860, at the age of 26, he married 15-year-old Georgiana Martin Burton of Missouri. Six years prior, Georgiana had crossed the plains from Keokuk, Iowa to Oregon Territory with her parents. Georgiana’s father E.M. Burton was a flour mill owner and one of early Portland’s well known building contractors.
Together, Henry and Georgiana began a long life of work, community service, and devotion to family, which would last 58 years and celebrate six children and eighteen grandchildren.
A consummate businessman, Henry Pittock took ownership of the Weekly Oregonian in 1860, changing its format to the daily paper we read today. He went on to build an empire incorporating real estate, banking, railroads, steamboats, sheep ranching, silver mining, and the pulp and paper industry.
Georgiana dedicated herself to improving the lives of the community’s women and children. She helped found the Ladies Relief Society in 1867, whose Children’s Home provided care, food, and shelter for needy children. Georgiana also worked with the Woman’s Union, and played a key role in building the Martha Washington Home for single, working women.
The couple was known for their quiet reserve, helpful demeanor, and love for the outdoors. Georgiana cherished gardening, and kept a terraced flower garden at the mansion covered with every kind of flower imaginable. She frequently adorned her house with cut flowers, and is recognized for originating the tradition of Portland’s annual Rose Festival.
A vigorous outdoorsman, Henry rode horses in the Rose Festival parades, and was a member of the first party to climb Mt. Hood, one of the spectacular peaks visible from the mansion. On one of his climbing expeditions, someone suggested that the group sit down and rest, at which point Henry responded, “The man who sits down never reaches the top.”
Henry and Georgiana were at the pinnacle of their successful lives when they commissioned architect Edward Foulkes to design and build their new home overlooking Portland, the city they loved.
They began planning and designing their new home in 1909. The mansion was completed in 1914, replete with stunningly progressive features including a central vacuum system, intercoms, and indirect lighting. The house also creatively incorporated Turkish, English, and French designs. In keeping with their loyalty to their home state, the Pittocks hired Oregon craftsmen and artisans, and used Northwest materials to build the house. The final estate included the mansion, a three-car garage, a greenhouse, and the Italianate gate lodge servants’ residence, all situated on 46 acres of land almost 1,000 feet above downtown Portland.
At 80 and 68 respectively, Henry and Georgiana moved to their new home. The hard-working couple who had lived in the heart of Portland as it developed from a forest clearing to a bustling business center, now resided high in the hills, with a breathtaking vista of their beloved Portland. It was a warm and gracious house for both the adults and children of the family.
Georgiana died in 1918 at the age of 72, and Henry in 1919 at 84. The Pittock family remained in residence at the mansion until 1958, when Peter Gantenbein, a Pittock grandson who had been born in the house, put the estate on the market.
The threat of demolition at the hands of land developers, and the extensive damage caused by a storm in 1962, brought concerned citizens together to raise funds to preserve the site. Seeing this popular support, and agreeing that the house had tremendous value as a unique historic resource, the City of Portland purchased the estate in 1964 for $225,000. Fifteen months were spent restoring it. The mansion opened to the public in 1965, and has been a community landmark ever since.
A house of historical significance and visual magnificence, the Pittock Mansion today offers us a uniquely personal opportunity to peek into the past, and study our world as it was – from the viewpoint of one Portland family.
I was up for a little change one morning when I set out to check out the Pittock Mansion in Portland. Who doesn’t like getting immersed in an old home which was tricked out decades before ‘Cribs’ became a popular show on MTV?
I was in.
I got off the Trimet bus and walked a long and windy uphill trek to the Pittock Mansion. Hmmm, I’m in pretty decent shape but that trek up made me question myself. There was some minor huffing and puffing happening.
The trees that looped up towards the property were glorious. I could feel the elevation wearing my legs down but I was determined. The sights, the smells and the views put a spell on me to continue on up the hill.
When I got up to the hill, even though it was a tad soupy (or misty) the views from Pittock Mansion to downtown Portland below were indeed spectacular. I waved to Mount Hood and the pretty trees that embraced Portland below. That in itself was worth the hike up to Pittock Mansion.
The rooms at Pittock Mansion were hardly your grandma’s front room. Instead they were filled with lovingly maintained hard and soft furnishings. Brimming with stories of mischief at the hands of the Pittock children.
You could spend hours in the space just looking up at the ceilings and the craftsmanship of the furniture.
My favourite room in the house was the kitchen. From the ornately tiled floors, to the fantastic vintage (before it was cool to call it vintage) stove, beautifully displayed kitchen utensils, a pantry closet that if you looked close enough could see cooks clamoring over each other to pull ingredients for the day’s meal together.
It was such a pleasure to walk the grounds and to indeed hear about how Portland’s first families lived. I wonder what the Pittocks would think of the downtown Portland folk and their ‘granola’, eat local and enviro living?
I encourage you to check out Pittock Mansion for your snapshot into Portland’s past.
3229 NW Pittock Drive, Portland, OR 97210