Those who grew up in Bend have fond memories of spending the 4th of July at Mirror Pond, watching colorful floats parade down the river. The first Bend Water Pageant was held in 1933, an effort by the Bend Chamber of Commerce. By the peak of the event’s popularity in 1940, Bend’s population exploded to over 18,000 people for July 4, according to the historical marker in Pageant Park. That nearly doubled the town’s regular population of 10,000 residents. The two-hour event featured elaborate floats adorned with colorful lights, originally pulled by small boats and men swimming in the river. In addition to the fabricated family of swans that floated the river each year, local organizations created around 18 floats each year to participate in the parade.
Sue Fountain, of the Deschutes Historical Museum, is in the process of curating a timeline of archival stories and photos featuring the Bend Water Pageant. Now 73 years old, Fountain grew up in Bend and saw the pageant grow over the years. “Every year they’d worry if it’d be too cold, or one year, there was a big wind storm as the arch blew over and they had to real quick patch it back up,” said Fountain, laughing. “But it always went on.”
The Water Pageant was an event held at Mirror Pond every Fourth of July from 1933 to 1965. It was sponsored by the Bend Chamber of Commerce and supported by button (ticket) sales by the Water Pageant Court. The pageant began in the early evening with a band concert held in the bandstand near Mirror Pond. People would arrive with their blankets to find a good viewing spot, listen to the band conducted by Don Pence, and wait for the sun to go down. Darkness would be anxiously awaited in anticipation of the first fireworks signaling the beginning of the pageant. Moments later, the arch would light up and applause would ripple through the crowd. Ever so slowly, the first float would begin to appear. It would be the large 18′ swan with the Queen of the Water Pageant, followed by two cygnets, each bearing two princesses. It was every girl’s dream growing up in Bend to one day become the Queen of the Water Pageant.
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -– The Deschutes County Historical Society announces the release of Let There Be Light: The History of Bend’s Water Pageant, a short film by Future Filmworks. Using the archives of the Deschutes Historical Museum and interviews with former pageant royalty and organizers, the film details the unique night-time parade of floats on Mirror Pond that married theater and historical pageantry. The film was funded through a generous gift from Cascade Heritage Foundation. The film runs approximately 25 minutes and is available to stream online now through BendFilm’s Tin Pan Theater (www.tinpantheater.com). DVDs are available for sale through the museum’s website store (www.deschuteshistory.org); curbside pick-up is available. Here’s a link to details about the film of the Water Pageant, Let There Be Light: The History of Bend’s Water Pageant, a short film by Future Filmworks.
The Water Pageant court consisted of five high school senior girls selected for their beauty and academic achievement.
Lois Maker was the Queen of the second Bend Water Pageant in 1934. She married Ray Gumpert and had three children: Sharon Gumpert Lum ’58, Donna Gumpert ’56, and Ray Gumpert ’62. She was the Queen of the Deschutes County Historical Association in 1995 and lived in Bend to the age of 94.
The two to four day celebration, which included many events, took over 200 volunteers to organize. With the Cascade Mountains as the backdrop and the tranquil Deschutes River as the stage, the Water Pageant was one of the most unique events in the Pacific Northwest. Each year a floating arch of a new design was built just downstream from the footbridge. Constructed from wood planks, and covered with 400 yards of muslin, the arch was built by local volunteer labor. Over the years the arch grew to the height of a four-story building and was over ninety feet long. As dusk fell and darkness overcame the river, the anxious crowd sitting on the banks anticipated the event. Fireworks then lit up the night sky and a rainbow of colors illuminated the grand arch. Inside the arch, a panel of 32 switches controlled 300 lights that changed colors each time a float passed through.
The two-hour Water Pageant featured an average of 18 floats, which traveled from the arch to some 200 yards down river. The elaborate floats, designed and built by both locals and professionals, were initially pushed down the river by swimmers or oarsmen in boats. Later, a long wooden boom designed by Shevlin-Hixon engineer William Cone, was installed in the river and allowed the floats to be pulled by volunteers. As they moved down the river, each float was lit from within and had its own special music and narration. Some floats, like the 40-foot scale model of the USS Missouri in 1953, had moving parts. Shevlin-Hixon’s scale replica of Mill A had logs which were set on a continuous chain that fed the logs from the river and into the mill.
There was a VALIANT attempt in 2000 to revive the Water Pageant. Kudos to them, even though it didn’t continue!!! Revival of the Water Pageant. In December 1965, the Bend Chamber of Commerce voted to discontinue the pageant. The costs were too high and there weren’t as many volunteers as in the past making the event more difficult to produce every year.
Photos on original Mirror Pond and details on its origin.
Link to the story of the historical marker for the Water Pageant. Be sure to read the text of the marker and submit photos of yourself with the marker to that site. Submit your own photos or memories of the pageant to this website.
The first city park in Bend, Drake Park is named after Alexander Drake, a developer who platted a neighborhood in 1910 around the area where the park is located and not the ducks! In 1920, the land for the park was purchased and the local people developed it into a beautiful park. The neighborhood on Riverside is now a historic district, filled with beautiful residential homes and businesses.
History and Future of Mirror Pond
There is an ongoing debate about the silt in the river and about removing the Newport Dam.
At the Bend Parks & Recreation District, questions remain about the future of Newport Dam because it is at the end of its life cycle. Everyone knows it—even PacifiCorp, the utility company that owns the 102-year-old dam, which creates Mirror Pond at Drake Park near downtown Bend. What many don’t know, however, is that the dam cannot remain if it ceases to function as a hydroelectric facility. It currently provides power for only about 200 homes.
Over the past decade in and near Bend, Oregon, fish passage was added to dams and one dam was removed entirely. But there’s one exception: PacifiCorp’s Bend hydro dam (Newport Dam) near downtown Bend. From Wickiup dam near the headwaters to reservoir Lake Billy Chinook 90 miles away, the Bend hydro project is the only dam lacking fish passage. Historically, the dam had a fish ladder, but PacifiCorp removed it. This leaves the Newport Dam as an obstacle to the fish passage, a serious environmental problem.
As it stands today, any upgrades to the Newport Dam would likely include the requirement for a fish passage—but for now, there are no legal or regulatory triggers that compel Pacific Power to make any changes at the dam. Its permits from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission are in place. The dam’s sale is no longer imminent, and no Endangered Species Act threats appear on the horizon, either.
Mr. Craig Lacy submitted a letter to the Parks & Recreation Board about fish passage at the dam at Mirror Pond. He shared the background on the original fish passage that was built at the site. He stated that the passage was repaired over the years and ultimately removed in 1960’s with claim that it would be rebuilt. Mr. Lacy shared the need for the fish passage to preserve the fish wildlife in the river and estimated (by OFDW) that over 2,800 fish die every year in the turbines at the dam during migration. He said that PacifiCorp is aware of the damage and does nothing about it. He urged the board not to spend any further public money until the benefits from the Drake Park project and city stormwater
improvements can be analyzed. He further recommended that if district money is spent on the dredging of Mirror Pond, that the board should insist that PacifiCorp provide the fish passage and make the necessary structural improvements to guarantee the dam’s integrity for the next 20 years. Mr. Robin Vora sent a letter to the board stating that he supports fish passage but urges Bend Parks and Recreation Board not to enter into an agreement with the city or anybody else to dredge Mirror Pond. Mr. Vora said it would be best to remove the dam; he added that if dam removal is not likely at the present time, then the dam needs a fish ladder, screen, and tailrace barrier. He stated that this is the last remaining barrier to fish passage on the Deschutes River between Big Falls (west of Terrebonne) and Wickiup Reservoir. Mr. Vora said any fix from dredging is temporary and is a poor use of taxpayer money and he urged the board to look at longer-term solutions.
Were Pacific Power to sell the dam or to change it in some way, that could trigger required changes—and that, of course, would be expensive. Removing the dam and letting the river flow free—as has been the preferred solution of this editorial board for years—would come with badly needed riverbank restoration, and a shift in public perception about the visage of the river from downtown. In short, it would mean the end to Mirror Pond, which was created solely by the dam and not by nature.
Read about the debate over dredging the river. If you haven’t seen Mirror Pond lately, you would be shocked because it is full of silt.
Here are some pictures of Bend I have run across.
I paid $2 for this drawing with plans to make it the background of all the pages, but it was too busy. Can you find where you lived? Hold Control and Shift keys down and tap the + sign repeatedly to enlarge the picture and do the same with the minus key to make the picture smaller.