City life offers many advantages: being in the hub of activity, being close to everything, close proximity to plentiful dining and entertainment options, easy commutes to and from work; certainly city living is an option many Portlanders choose. Still, the Northwest is beautiful and charming and green. Flowers and trees dot the landscape pleasing the eyes, the lungs, and the nostrils. This is the importance of urban parks—including Elizabeth Caruthers Park.
Elizabeth Caruthers Park opened in 2010 in the center of a newly developing district of Portland (South Waterfront) along the banks of the Willamette River. Located at 3508 SW Moody Ave, near the clinic campus of OHSU and the Portland Tram, Caruthers’s Park is 2.12 acres of urban enjoyment and relaxation. Complete with a bocce ball court, walking paths, statues, public art, and a splash pad; Caruthers’s Park is a quiet gem in the heart of a busy, medium-sized city. “As a unique piece of green landscape set in high density surroundings, the park is designed to be flexible, and responds to the desire that it serve as respite from the urban environment as well as a place for community gatherings and urban festivals and events.”
Elizabeth Caruthers was one of the first female settlers in the southern part of the young city of Portland. Born in Tennessee in 1816, Caruthers married and had a son. In 1847, she and the son (sans husband, who’s name she rejected), Finice Caruthers, came to Oregon, settling on the banks of the Willamette River. Under the Donation Land Claim Act of 1850, they claimed a 640-acre section of land. When Elizabeth died in 1857 and Finice in 1860 leaving behind no wills, their deaths led to fraudulent claims and lawsuits, culminating in the case being heard by the United States Supreme Court in 1868. This hearing resulted in a landmark ruling that, under the 1850 Donation Act, a woman – regardless of her marital status – had the same property rights as a man. SE Caruthers Street, SW Caruthers Street, and Caruthers Creek in Marquam Gulch demonstrate the prominence of the Caruthers family in the early history of Portland and, indeed, in the United States.
The site of the park not only pays tribute to this history—it is also a nod to the early Native Americans whom resided here (some 50,000) prior to European contact and eventual conquest. Many Native Americans were largely removed from other parts of the city, however, when the early land agreements and negotiations with local tribes were transpiring, the South Waterfront area became a relocation camp for these displaced peoples.
The dead center of the park contains a large sloping lawn which provides stunning views of the Willamette River and Mt. Hood. On this grand tract of land, Portlanders picnic, play Frisbee, and just relax; enjoying the great city of Portland. During the summer, this is also the site of a number of urban festivals and outdoor concerts.
The downtown side of the park houses an urban garden with shrub beds and flowers, a garden retreat, community gathering area, environmental play area and an interactive fountain. The western and southern portions of the park are home to naturalized woodlands which provide a place for quiet exploration on the boardwalks which enhance the landscape.
The next time you’re looking for a new piece of land to explore, follow in Elizabeth Caruthers’s steps; explore the land which became her park. Wander around, take it all in and enjoy the sites and sounds of nature in an urban setting.