Franklin Roosevelt, Who Died 70 Years Ago,
by John Killen
When running for the presidency in 1932, Franklin Delano Roosevelt made a promise to the Pacific Northwest.
He said that if was elected, he would make sure that "the next hydroelectric development to be undertaken by the Federal Government must be on the Columbia River."
Well, Roosevelt was elected - for the first of four times -- and just a couple of years later, he made good on that promise. The president who died 70 years ago Sunday, saw to it that not one, but two giant hydroelectric projects were built on the Columbia River: Bonneville Dam, 40 miles east of Portland, and Grand Coulee Dam in northeastern Washington.
He even came to the region in 1934 to dedicate the sites of both projects.
When done, the dams had a huge impact. While it's important to acknowledge that they were devastating for the region's salmon runs, they also did tremendous good.
They helped put thousands of people back to work after years of fighting the Great Depression; they helped with flood control; and they churned out vast amounts of cheap electricity, which in turn played a major role in the development of Oregon's "Silicon Forest."
The dams weren't the only project in the region to benefit from the policies of the Roosevelt administration. Another was Timberline Lodge. It was undertaken in 1935 and nearly finished when the Bonneville - the first of the two dams to be finished -- went on line.
Because the two projects were both manifestations of New Deal programs, Roosevelt came to Oregon to dedicate both during his second term on Sept. 28, 1937. He arrived by train at Bonneville early that morning, spoke, climbed aboard a motorcade that took him to Timberline (which actually wasn't quite finished) and spoke there as well.
He then came down off the mountain and passed through Gresham and Portland for parades and more events before climbing back aboard his train and heading to Seattle.
Thousands of Oregonians attended at least one of the appearances and thousands more - even rangers in lookout stations -- listened to the president's words over AM and short-wave radios.
In 2012, on the 75th anniversary of his visit, The Oregonian's Katy Muldoon recalled the occasion with a thorough look back at the event. As she reported, it was one of the most exciting things to happen in the state in decades.
After describing some of the benchmark events of the day, Muldoon wrote the following:
"Star-struck scenes such as these unfolded all that day in communities circling Mount Hood. News stories and other accounts describe residents lining the streets of Portland by the thousands, celebrating a rare Northwest visit by a sitting U.S. president -- one, no less, who made a special trip to dedicate two of the region's distinctive and symbolic new structures, Bonneville Dam and Timberline Lodge."
Roosevelt, of course, went on to be re-elected twice more and helped lead the United States out of the Great Depression and through much of World War II.
When he died of a stroke on April 12, 1945, at his retreat in Georgia, Germany was just weeks away from surrendering on May 8 and four months later, on Aug. 15, Japan did the same, bringing to an end the largest global conflict in recorded history.
But the work of his administration survives. The dams continue to churn out electricity and Timberline Lodge continues to be one of Oregon's most enduring and best-loved icons.
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