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Large numbers of pioneer settlers began arriving in the Willamette Valley in the 1830s via the Oregon Trail, though life was originally centered in nearby Oregon City.

In the early 1840s a new settlement emerged ten miles from the mouth of the Willamette River, In 1845 Overton sold his remaining half of the claim to Francis W. Both Pettygrove and Lovejoy wished to rename "The Clearing" after their respective hometowns (Lovejoy's being Boston, and Pettygrove's, Portland).

At the turn of the 19th century, the city had a reputation as one of the most dangerous port cities in the world, a hub for organized crime and racketeering.

After the city's economy experienced an industrial boom during World War II, its hard-edged reputation began to dissipate.

Portland is approximately 100 miles (160 km) upriver from the Pacific Ocean on the Columbia. Three of downtown's most heavily used bridges are more than 100 years old and are designated historic landmarks: Hawthorne Bridge (1910), Steel Bridge (1912), and Broadway Bridge (1913).

Though much of downtown Portland is relatively flat, the foothills of the Tualatin Mountains, more commonly referred to locally as the "West Hills", pierce through the northwest and southwest reaches of the city. Portland's newest bridge in the downtown area, Tilikum Crossing, opened in 2015 and is the first new bridge to span the Willamette in Portland since the 1973 opening of the double-decker Fremont Bridge.

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.

By the 1970s, Portland had well established itself as a progressive city, and experienced an economic boom for the majority of the decade; however, the slowing of the housing market in 1979 caused demand for the city and state timber industries to drop significantly. Helens, a highly active volcano 50 miles (80 km) 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.

The city's increased presence within the cultural lexicon has established it as a popular city for young people, and it was second only to Louisville, Kentucky as one of the cities to attract and retain the highest number of college-educated people in the United States. According to a 2017 survey, several of these faults were characterized as "probably more of a hazard" than the Cascadia subduction zone due to their proximities to population centers, with the potential of producing magnitude 7 earthquakes.

It is a major port in the Willamette Valley region of the Pacific Northwest, at the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia rivers.

Roughly 60% of Oregon's population resides within the Portland metropolitan area.

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