Few houses in 1914 were being built with central vacuum systems, intercoms and indirect lighting. But only the best was a must for Henry and Georgiana Pittock who, at the ripe ages of 79 and 70 respectively, moved into their new mansion on a hill with a breathtaking view of their beloved city of Portland, Oregon.
The hardworking couple had seen Portland develop from a forest clearing into a bustling business center and Henry’s business acumen and Georgiana’s community spirit had contributed considerably to the development.
English-born Henry Lewis Pittock had originally journeyed west on a wagon train from Pennsylvania in 1853. He was just 17 years of age and in his own words “barefoot and penniless.” He immediately went to work for Thomas Jefferson Dryer’s Weekly Oregonian newspaper. Seven years later he bought the paper, changing its format to the daily paper still being published today. He also married the 15-year-old Georgiana Martin Burton.
Pittock proceeded to build a business 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.
The couple were known for their quiet reserve, community spirit and love for the outdoors. Georgiana loved gardening and kept a terraced flower garden at the mansion replete with many varieties. She adorned her house with cut flowers and originated Portland’s annual Rose Festival.
A vigorous outdoorsman, Henry rode horses in the Rose Festival parades and was a member of the first party credited with climbing Mt. Hood, whose spectacular peak can be viewed from the mansion’s drawing room. On one of his climbing expeditions someone suggested that the group sit down and rest. Henry thundered, “The man who sits down never reaches the top.”
In 1909 Henry and Georgiana commissioned a young architect named Edward T. Foulkes to design and build their mansion on a hill. It was completed five years later, but sadly the loving old couple was to enjoy only four years together in the home of their dreams before Georgiana passed away in 1918 at the age of 73. Henry died one year later.
In keeping with their community spirit, the Pittocks had hired Oregon craftsmen and artisans and used only 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 on 18.6 hectares (46 acres), 300 meters (985 feet) above downtown Portland.
Members of the Pittock family remained in residence at the mansion until 1958 when Peter Gantenbein, a grandson who had been born in the house, put the estate on the market.
The threat of demolition by land developers caused concerned citizens to raise the funds necessary for preservation. Recognizing this popular support and agreeing that the mansion had value as an historic resource, the city of Portland purchased the estate in 1964 for $225,000. Fifteen months were spent restoring it and the Pittock mansion was opened to the public in 1965.
The eclectic architectural design and lavishly decorated interior, including many family artifacts, make the Pittock mansion today a living memorial to the Pittock family and their contribution to the blossoming of Portland and the Pacific Northwest.
Portland Parks and Recreation administer the Pittock Mansion. The address is: 3229 N.W. Pittock Drive, Portland, Oregon 97210.