The park was built by the Oregon Water Power and Railway Company and opened on May 30, 1905, during a period when trolley parks were often constructed along streetcar lines. By 1985, the park was donated to a not-for-profit corporation. The park celebrated 100 years of continuous operation in 2005 making it among the oldest in the U.S.
The large wooden roller skating rink is open year-round and is considered by many to be the best part of the park. The centerpiece of the skating rink is the largest remaining pipe organ installed in a skating rink in the world. As of December 2005, Keith Fortune is at the organ's console providing music for skaters on Thursdays and Sundays. Many Portlanders enjoy the park's nostalgic feel and history. It was featured in the movie Untraceable.
The park may be seen in a long sequence toward the end of the 1989 motion picture "Breaking In" (Burt Reynolds), including interior of roller rink, and in the 1999 PBS special, Great Old Amusement Parks, by WQED Pittsburgh.
The park, being at a very low elevation and adjacent to the Willamette River, is prone to flooding. In the past, flooding was so frequent that the floor of the roller skating rink was put on floating pontoons which keep it safely above the water. When a flood is imminent, the floor is separated from the foundation of the building which houses it; when the danger of flooding is past, it is then reattached to the building. This last occurred in 1996. The proximity to the river and woods (including the Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge) make it a popular walking and cycling destination.
The park was home of Southern Pacific's 4449, the only surviving example of Southern Pacific Railroad's (SP) GS-4 class of steam locomotives, from 1958 until its removal from the park and restoration in 1974. Spokane, Portland and Seattle 700 was also stored at the park. It was removed and restored in 1990.