Image Canoe, Menzies, and Shaw are a few of the names Hayden Island had before its current moniker stuck. The island, located in the Columbia River–just before its confluence with the Willamette River–was originally discovered in 1792 by the Royal Navy. The ship’s lieutenant named the island after the expedition’s botanist, and then Lewis and Clark floated along nearly a decade later and called it something else entirely. And so it went for Hayden Island until the arrival of an early Vancouver, Washington settler by the name of Gay Hayden. He settled on the island in 1851 when he heard about the Donation Land Claims Act. Hayden built a home on the island and lived there for about five years with his wife and two children.
Originally, all transport to the island was by boat. A ferry service ran between Vancouver and Hayden Island before construction of the first Interstate Bridge in 1917. Once the bridge was built, streetcar service ran from Hayden Island largely to service the booming amusement park developments that took over the eastern part of the island.
The island was home to the Jantzen Beach Amusement Park, the largest amusement park in the nation at its opening in 1928. Three-quarters of a million people visited the park each year during its heyday to enjoy the roller coaster, train rides, swimming pool, and carousel. Tomahawk Island, just east of Hayden Island, was the site of an amusement park competitor, Lotus Isle.
Lotus Isle was short lived and rife with tragedies. The park opened in June of 1930 with over 40 attractions on its beachfront acreage. A couple of months after it opened, a young boy drowned and died. The park owner committed suicide the next day. The park’s new manager hosted a successful Dance-A-Thon event in the massive ballroom (could hold 6600 dancers!). The following season, a frightened elephant stampeded through the grounds destroying several pavilions and a devastating fire burned the ballroom to the ground. The park operated one final season in 1932 before declaring bankruptcy and liquidation.
Jantzen Beach Amusement continued to thrive until the 1960s when attendance started to decline. The park closed permanently in 1970 and construction on the Jantzen Beach Mall began the following year. Mall developers decided to honor the history of the location by incorporating the carousel into the design of the property. In 2012, developers redesigned the mall for the second time and their updated strip mall layout did not include a home for the carousel. Local preservationists fought for Portland to keep and restore the carousel for its craftsmanship and historical significance. The carousel has been restored but its advocates are still seeking a home for it in Portland.
In the late 1950s, the Interstate Bridge was upgraded and incorporated into the I-5 freeway. The only thing that physically connects Hayden Island to Oregon is the state’s northernmost I-5 exit. Tomahawk Island was connected to Hayden Island using materials excavated during the I-5 construction. The joined landmasses are now commonly referred to as Hayden Island and the eastern area (formerly Tomahawk) is where most of the island’s residential developments are, including the floating home communities.
The Jantzen Beach Shopping Center is just west of I-5 as are the island’s mobile home parks. Just beyond the shopping mall is the railway bridge connecting commercial and passenger rail service between Oregon and Washington. Beyond the railway bridge is approximately 800 acres of land that the Port of Portland purchased from Portland General Electric with plans to construct additional Marine terminals. Local environmentalists and residents successfully lobbied to maintain the 800 acres as a preserve. The land is not accessible to the public, except by boat.
Residents of Hayden Island are close to both downtown Portland and Vancouver via the I-5 corridor. There is also unrivaled access to the riverfront and Columbia River Gorge Recreation areas.
There is one small park, Lotus Isle Park on the eastern part of the island. Here you will find a play structure and a paved pathway offering views of the water and the streetcar trestle that used to connect Hayden and Tomahawk Islands.
Hayden Island is known to most Portlanders as the location of the Jantzen Beach Shopping Center. Those with boats may also know it as their point of departure for river adventures. This is a relatively quiet and tight-knit residential community rather than a raucous waterfront hangout. Residents can boat, kayak and canoe easily- often from their backyards.
The island is home to two yacht clubs, the Corinthian and Columbia River Yacht Club, and multiple marinas. If you’ve always wanted to sail, but don’t know how, Island Sailing School & Club might be the perfect place to learn.
Shopping and dining options are concentrated at the Jantzen Beach Center and largely national chains. There are some exceptions like the taco truck just off the northbound I-5 exit, and the seasonal Island Cafe which is open from April through September.