1948 Flood

1948 was a very wet year, even by Oregon’s standards.  A warm, rainy May caused the heavy snowfall in the mountains to melt quickly, leading to rapidly rising river conditions on the Columbia, which ultimately peaked at 36.1 feet.  Known as the Vanport Flood, the breech of the dike north of Portland innundated the city of Vanport.  Around 4 p.m. on May 30th, Memorial Day, the railroad embankment on the western end of the levee system, collapsed under the pressure from the river, sending waves of water into the city.  In less than a day, the nation’s largest housing project – and Oregon’s second largest city – was destroyed.  At least 15 people died, 18,000 residents were left without homes, and scores were injured. 

Other riverside communities had to deal with the rising waters as well.  The collection of images on this page provides visual evidence of the effects in the St. Helens vicinity. 

Read the personal recollections of Sauvie Island residents.

Most of the following photos of the flood in downtown St. Helens from the CCMA Japs Family Collection

Captions accompanying the images are an interpretation of the scene, not from the photographer or donor.

Photo taken near Cowlitz Street looking south on 1st Street.  Flood waters have covered the Pope and Talbot sawmill docks and extend up South 1st street well past Tualatin Street. 

End of Strand Street in 1948.  Taken from the intersection of Strand and Cowlitz Streets  The Muckle Building is on the right hand corner.

Strand Steet looking south with Pope and Talbot mill at end of street and flood waters behind barricade.

These seven pictures show the flood waters around the St. Helens City Dock, which was located at the foot of St. Helens Street.  The dock served the Columbia River Packers Association fish transfer station, Watters Sand operation, and a hardware store operated by Bob McKie.  Large rocks were placed on top of the deck  to keep it from floating above the pilings.  Eventually, they were covered by flood waters, but survived.  For many years the high water mark on the  hadwarde building could be seen as reminder of the magnitude of the event.

In this picture of the City Dock, one lineman is on the power pole and another is in the boat below.  The arched ramp that led to the water from the dock is seen floating while still tethered to the dock.

Tom Watters in boat next to sand barge with City Dock in background

The following seven pictures are of the Pope and Talbot Mill buildings and docks.

Picture taken from parking lot next to the Jail overlooking the bluff in front of the original courthouse.  Stacks of lumber are on the Pope and Talbot dock.

Pope and Talbot dock covered by several feet of flood water.

The following six pictures were taken in the Frogmore Slough area.

Frogmore Slough.  Former rock quarry now St. Helens Sewage Lagoon

Wooden structure at right likely remnants of rock quarry crusher and bunkers.

These two houses once stood on the river side of River Street east of the foot of Columbia Blvd.  Both were restored and used as residences for decades after the flood.

The following pictures show the relocation of the boats, boathouses and floating homes that were relocated to minimize loss or damage.  In several views you  can see the floating walk-ways, but not the top of the piling.

Taken from River Street bluff (above today's Grey Cliffs Waterfront Park) with Sand Island in background

Possibly Railroad Avenue

Von Smith Collection

St. Helens Pulp and Paper Company

Fir-Tex Plant  (later Armstrong)

Fir-Tex Plant

Fir-Tex Plant

Fir-Tex Plant

Fir-Tex plant upper left.  Creosote plant lower right.

Bayport Marina

Pages from the L. D. (Pat) Cody album 

Paper Mill

 Dillard Family Collection