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These massive floods occurred during the last ice age and filled the Willamette Valley with 300 to 400 feet (91 to 122 m) of water.Before American pioneers began arriving in the 1800s, the land that eventually became Portland and surrounding Multnomah County was inhabited for many centuries by two bands of indigenous Chinook people— the Multnomah and the Clackamas peoples.
Downtown Portland straddles the banks of the Willamette River, which flows north through the city center and consequently separates the east and west neighborhoods of the city.
Less than 10 miles from downtown, the Willamette River flows into the Columbia River, the fourth-largest river in the United States, which divides Oregon from Washington state. According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 145.09 square miles (375.78 km and its center lies in southeast Portland. Helens, a highly active volcano 50 miles northeast of the city in Washington State, is easily visible on clear days and is close enough to have dusted the city with volcanic ash after its eruption on May 18, 1980.
Portland is about 100 miles upriver from the Pacific Ocean on the Columbia. Portland's cityscape derives much of its character from the numerous bridges that span the Willamette River downtown, several of which are historic landmarks, and Portland has been nicknamed "Bridgetown" for many decades as a result.
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At the time of its incorporation on February 8, 1851, Portland had over 800 inhabitants, a steam sawmill, a log cabin hotel, and a newspaper, the Weekly Oregonian.