GPS: 45.516198° -122.673238°
As the story goes most people who’ve heard of Mill Ends Park believe it has something to do with leprechauns and a wish granted to Oregon Journal columnist Dick Fagan for his very own park (and a cruel trick by the resident leprechaun Patrick O’Toole who gave him a park the size of a manhole cover). Sure that’s a cute story but that’s not really how this little park came to be.
At PDXccentric what we wanted to know was what was actually written by Fagan in this column that the park was named for. We had heard he wrote of the goings-on in the park often and about Patrick O’Toole and all his shenanigans. All resources we could find said the park was founded on St. Patrick’s Day in 1948 so that was where I would start.
After exhaustively looking through microfiche starting in March 1948 and spanning the years that Dick Fagan wrote his Mill Ends column I had very little luck ever finding a mention of this little park in his column. I had NO luck finding ANY mention of this little park (or any photos) in 1948-1954.
I got a clue from the Portland City Archives that Dick’s wife Katy Fagan had donated three boxes of memorabilia to The Oregon Historical Society. This box included scrapbooks filled with clippings from Dick’s days at the Journal as a labor writer as well as his Mill Ends column (according to the records). Unfortunately two of the three boxes have been lost or misplaced in the archives and after a number of tries to track them down I was finally told their status was “lost.”
Back to the microfiche, as much as I dreaded the notion, I knew this had to be settled once and for all. With a clue from this letter below, which had led to nothing but dead ends when I had followed up on it a year before, the story unraveled right before my eyes finally after a year of having this hanging over my head.
When I had followed up this lead after stumbling upon this letter at the City Archives in the summer of 2013 I went straight to the library and searched for any Mill Ends columns I could find during 1954’s Rose Planting week, and there were none! Dick Fagan wasn’t writing his column that month. I looked as far as June that year and as Mill Ends came back on the scene still no mention of a park.
Well, it turns out that this little park didn’t get its start in the Mill Ends column that Dick wrote but in the “features” section of the paper which had a random assortment of photos of the week’s goings on. I had been scanning through the pages looking for columns not pictures (regretfully) and completely missed finding the beginning of the Ends.
Below are the articles that have the VERY FIRST MENTION of this little lamp-post-hole becoming a park.
Enjoy! I sure did.
In the winter of 1954 Portland was battling with the city of Columbus Ohio for the title of the Rose City, a title that Portland had held for over 50 years at that point. Columbus had just built the largest Rose Garden in the country and wanted to steal away our title but the people of Portland stood up and fought with their gardening gloves on. Roses were planted everywhere! Even in a lonely, weedy, gravel filled hole at the intersection of SW 1st and Taylor st.
This was great, and most likely a stunt dreamed up by Fagan who looked down on the weedy hole from his Journal Building window. However, Dick seemed to think the official name of the park should be changed to Mill Ends after his column. Another publicity stunt was staged in the features column just weeks later where he battled Commissioner Bean who was in full support of keeping the title “Envoy Park” after that years celebrated rose.
Below is the first time the park was referred to as Mill Ends. By March 15th less than a month from the rose planting stunt Dick won and the park was named for his column.
So this was what was going on in Feb 1954… Dick Fagan had just been featured in People Today and national publication as a “young man of distinction,” lending him some weight around town to get this park named in his honor.
1954-2-24 People Today
By St. Patrick’s Day 1954 Dick Fagan was hosting snail races in the little park which still featured only the original rose plant.
Below are random photos, again from the “Features” section of the Journal about the goings-on in Portland’s new favorite little park.
Below is the first photo maybe ever of the empty hole on SW 1st and Taylor that would eventually become a world famous park.
More on our early effort to claim the title of “Rose City” starting in 1901, in attempt to take the title by the opening of the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition.