We’re writing this month about Sullivan’s Gulch. Some readers have wondered what makes this geographic feature a gulch—which Webster’s defines as a deep or precipitous cleft, a ravine—and where exactly it is. Good questions.
A couple of maps of the area might help. Take a look first at 1897:
In this 1897 USGS quadrangle map (used here courtesy of City of Portland Archives) we see Sullivan Gulch called out specifically on Portland’s eastside, and you can follow the contour lines (each one represents about 25 feet in elevation change) showing the depression or ravine that begins on the east at about today’s NE 60th and runs west to the Willamette. We feel about 60th is probably the reasonable eastern edge of the gulch, which functioned as a sub-watershed funneling water downhill to the Willamette River.
By the way, while you’re looking at this neat old map (click to enlarge), have a good look around and see how many features and roads you can identify, and be sure to take a look at the extent of development in eastside neighborhoods: Woodlawn and part of Irvington are there. Concordia-Vernon-Sabin-Alameda and points east are not. Can you spot the Alameda Ridge? Don’t you wish you could explore the old Columbia Bayou along the top of the map?
Most early 20th Century Portland newspaper references identified the geographic boundary of Sullivan’s Gulch as the area between today’s MLK out to about today’s NE 33rd Avenue.
There used to be plenty of other gulches that opened up into the eastern banks of the Willamette, but most of them were filled in the early days. Read more about that here.
Here’s a look at a more recent shaded relief map from National Geographic that shows elevation change and the gully running along the bottom, supporting the case that NE 60th seems to be a reasonable eastern boundary.
It’s been a place of constant change, and as we’ve seen so far, has been used pretty hard over the years. But the biggest changes were still to come.
It’s hard to believe that people can’t see a gulch, given views from 33rd Avenue bridge or 28th Avenue bridge.