By Walter Munday
Before highways and railroads, the river served the great transportation needs of a young nation. Though smoother and faster than travel by foot, river travel was fraught with danger and delay. One such obstacle was located on the river near Portland and Louisville where travelers encountered the dangerous 28-foot drop at the Falls of the Ohio.
General William Lytle of Cincinnati owned the land next to the harbor below the Falls and in 1811 laid out the town of Portland. He planned to sell the lots to finance his plan to build a canal around the Falls. The town grew as travelers portaged around the Falls and later when steamboats made it possible to come up river.
Later, the port served as the terminus of the New Orleans run. Lytle never fulfilled his dream of building a canal but in 1829, an innovative three-tier lock system allowed the Louisville and Portland canal to by-pass the Falls. The reduced time and effort to pass the Falls improved river traffic and the Portland Wharf expanded into a bustling riverside town.
Today, Metro Parks serves to protect and share this rich maritime past of Portland Wharf Park through the support of partners in the Portland community. Plans for sharing important resources include interpretive exhibits and educational opportunities within and outside the park boundaries. Archaeological and Interpretive work is conducted in cooperation with the Portland Museum, the University of Kentucky and the Kentucky Archaeological Survey.
Portland Wharf Park preserves the remains of the original and oldest part of the town of Portland once a thriving and bustling nineteenth century river town. The park encompasses 55 acres (consisting of six city blocks) along the banks of the Ohio River, just below the Falls, and the entrance to the Portland Canal. It is primarily a forested environment with dense trees and undergrowth interrupted by symmetrical swaths of mowed grass and an open meadow.
The site is bound by a railroad bridge on the east, the Ohio River on the north, a golf course on the west, and an earthen levee and elevated interstate highway on the south. Portland Wharf Park is designated as a National Historic Landmark, and is maintained by Louisville Metro Parks and Recreation. The archaeological remains of the town (Portland Proper), including streets, sidewalks, building foundations, privies, cisterns, and thousands of artifacts dating from the early 1800s to the early 1900s are preserved in several areas of the site.
The largest threat to the preserving this site is the unstable riverbank as shown in photos like the one below:
To address this issue, the US Army Corp of Engineers has evaluated the streambank erosion problems along the Ohio River within the Portland Wharf Park boundary heading westward along the paved river walk (Louisville Loop) trail, and have located two erosion locations within River Mile 607.4 and 607.6.
In addition, similar erosion issues exist between River Mile 610.1 and 610.6. The Riverbank Stabilization Project at Portland Wharf Park is set to begin this spring.
Recent photos in this post were taken Tuesday, February 14, 2017, as part of a coordinated effort between the US Corp of Engineers and Louisville Metro Parks and Recreation to rescue historical stone materials from the original Portland Wharf.
The stones will be used for future interpretive elements at park.