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Oregon City-Pioneering the Past

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Updated June 12, 2016

Oregon City, once the focal point of America’s Manifest Destiny, sits in the shadow of Oregon’s largest metropolitan area, the City of Portland.  

Located in the Pacific Northwest at the confluence of the Willamette and Clackamas Rivers, this suburb is renowned for its pioneer roots and remains at the forefront of early American culture, making it a noteworthy travel destination.

About Oregon City

Located near the confluence of the Willamette and Clackamas Rivers, Oregon City was founded in 1829 by Dr. John McLoughlin, Chief Factor at the Hudson’s Bay Company located at Fort Vancouver on the shores of the mighty Columbia River.  His purpose was to harness the energy of Willamette Falls to power a lumber mill.

The small settlement resulting became the first European-American Settlement in the Willamette valley, known as Willamette Falls.

This highly prized Native American fishing grounds, called "Tumwater" by the local tribes, was under constant dispute.

Soon a small fur trading post was established and in time, other milling industries flourished here. The settlement developed into a thriving village, eventually becoming the seat of the provisional government for the Oregon Territory and a commerce hub for the west, with river trade from as far as Astoria on the Oregon Coast.

USS Oregon City


Did you know a World War II heavy cruiser was named in honor of Oregon City?

Commissioned in 1946, Bing Crosby attended the launching ceremony. After serving 18 months at sea, the ship was decommissioned.  Her bell is on display at the Museum of the Oregon Territory.

During this time, courageous emigrants from the east, who’d crossed the Great Basin, made their homes here at the end of the Oregon Trail, and the village grew.

With many “firsts”, Oregon City’s impact on United States history is notable.  

A city charter was approved in 1844, and the village was re-named "Oregon City", making it the first incorporated city west of the Rocky Mountains and the first capital of the Oregon Territory, until 1852, when it was moved to Salem and statehood was declared in 1858.

The city was the home of the first American newspaper published west of the Rockies, the “Oregon Spectator”.

The first Roman Catholic archdiocese in the west was established here.  So were the first paper mill and rail transportation in Oregon.

Of historical significance, the city was the first in the nation to conduct electricity over long distance lines; the recipient was Portland.  

This milestone paved the way for the East Side Railway, the first interurban electric railroad in the United States, no small achievement for a progressive city founded as a small frontier settlement only a short time prior.

Though Oregon City later lost its substantial influence in governance and commerce to Salem and Portland, respectively, today, the city proudly stands and preserves its testament of the American ingenuity and raw courage it was founded upon.



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How to Get There

Getting to Oregon City, Oregon is easy.  

From Portland, Oregon, travel on I-205 South.  Take Exit 9, 99-E/Downtown Oregon City/Gladstone. Go left onto 99-E/McLoughlin Blvd.  Travel under the I-205 over pass.  

The Willamette River will be on the right with Oregon City on left left.



Arch Bridge

The gunite encased steel Arch Bridge spans the Willamette River between Oregon City and West Linn, Oregon.  Conde McCullough, world renowned bridge designer, stamped this icon with his signature details typical of the Art Deco era, sconce light fixtures, obelisk pylons, ornate railings and piers.  



Carnegie Center Library Park

"By 1911, several libraries in Oregon had been built using funds from steel king, Andrew Carnegie, . . . The lot at 7th and John Adams, set aside by Dr. john McLoughlin as a public space, was selected as the site of the new library. The application was approved on the condition that Mr. Carnegie authorize final building plans.

In 1912 work began on the new Carnegie Library in the Seventh Street Park using a design by E. E. McClaran of Portland, which was approved by Mr. Carnegie. . . . On June 21, 1913, the library was officially opened for business."

--OregonCity.org



End of the Oregon Trail Historic Site & Interpretive Center

When you tour the End of the Oregon Trail Historic Site and Interpretive Center, you feel like you're part of the journey.  This incredible place is a must see destination, one of the best we've ever visited! HistoricOregonCity.org

“While wagons specifically built for overland trails were known as Prairie Schooners, this name soon became a generic expression for wagons on the Oregon and California Trails.  Early on, many emigrants were struck by the vast open spaces of the Great Plains, and when the wind blew the tall prairie grasses undulated like waves on an ocean.  The overlanders took this metaphor to its natural conclusion, comparing the white bonnets of their wagons to the sails that powered the ships of that era, and the phrase 'Prairie Schooners' came into common use."

--Quote from nearby signage at End of the Oregon Trail Historic Site

"Crosscut saws, rather than axes, were the most common means of bringing down trees for both lumberjacks and farmers.  Their large blades needed to be sharpened periodically and this device was used to hold the blade firmly in place during the sharpening process.”

--Quote from nearby signage at End of the Oregon Trail Historic Site

"This statue represents an elk (cervus elaphus) similar to those common to the Pacific Northwest in the Nineteenth Century.  Elk can still be found in the mountains, but most of their habitat in the valleys and flatlands has been destroyed by urban development or fenced off to create ranches and farms."

--Quote from nearby signage at End of the Oregon Trail Historic Site



Historical Landmarks


Barclay House

“Dr. Forbes Barclay left Scotland in 1839 for Fort Vancouver (Washington), where he became Chief Physician for Hudson’s Bay Company.  He moved to Oregon City in 1850 where he practiced medicine for many years.  He was one of Oregon City’s early mayors, councilman for 9 years, coroner for 18 years, and superintendent of the first public school for 15 years.”  Susan Lee Barlow Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution

--quote from signage at Barclay House


McLoughlin House National Historic Site

“In the city he founded in this house he built, lived Dr. John McLoughlin, 1846-57.  He won enduring fame for his generous and human aid to early American settlers in the Oregon country, as Chief Factor and Superintendent of the Hudson’s Bay Company in this territory, 1824-45.  In 1850 Dr. McLoughlin presented this park to Oregon City.  In 1851 He became a citizen of the United States.  His house, which originally stood closer to the river, was removed to this location in 1909.” National Park Service, United States Department of the Interior

--quote from signage


Stevens-Crawford Heritage House

"Enjoy a guided tour of this charming 1908 craftsman style house built for Oregon City pioneers Harley Stevens Sr. and his wife Mary Elizabeth Crawford Stevens. The three-story home contains fifteen furnished rooms. . . "

--ClackamasHistory.org



McLoughlin Conservation District

“In 1844, Dr. John McLoughlin established a claim for himself on land east of Willamette Falls and named it Oregon City.  The city was granted a charter on December 24, and became the oldest incorporated city west of the Missouri River.

This district, created in 1982, encompasses all the original 121 blocks of the plat. Many of the homes of these pioneers and civic leaders still stand in the neighborhood.” Old Home Forum

--quote from signage



McLoughlin Promenade

”In 1851, Dr. John McLoughlin dedicated a 7.8-acre park along the bluff now known as the McLoughlin Promenade for the use of the citizens of Oregon City.  In 1938, a concrete pathway lined by stone walls and an adjoining grand staircase were constructed as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project to provide economic relief during the Great Depression.  The concrete railing along much of the Promenade south of the [Municipal] elevator was designed to mimic a wooden split rail fence.  To make the Promenade once again safe to use and to restore its structural integrity, in 2010, the City used American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding to restore the Promenade.”

--From local signage.


Grand Staircase

With a stunning view from the tunnel under the scenic roadway, it's no wonder this passage is named, "The Grand Staircase". 

This beautiful waterfall cascades down the cliff and the Grand Staircase follows along side.  The area is a wonderful place of respite.


Promenade Trail

A view of the Masonic Temple, one of the oldest commercial buildings in Oregon, as seen from the McLoughlin Promenade Trail.



Municipal Elevator

“Erected by the citizens of this pioneer Oregon community, this elevator tower replaces an original wood and steel structure, which was first advocated in 1899, and eventually constructed in 1913 on the west side of the railroad tracks.  The original tower had a high level unprotected footbridge crossing above the railroad tracks.  Its first elevator was powered by water and consumed 200,000 gallons per day.  In 1924 electric power was utilized.  The present tower has a total height of 130 feet and travel between levels is 90 feet.”

--From original signage



Murals



Museum of the Oregon Territory

Life in the Oregon territory is depicted from prehistoric times through the American settlement to the 20th centuries.  Exhibits include Native American and early settler’s artifacts.  Historic and genealogical research resources are available to the public. ClackamasHistory.org



Overlook at Waterboard Park

High on a bluff located on Promontory Avenue at the cross street Brighton Avenue is a skyline viewpoint.

A trail leads along the crest of the bluff allowing for many views of this historic city and surrounding areas.  

That's me looking for a great photo venue. Cold April showers kept us diving for shelter between shots.

On clear days, the sight distance is astounding. We saw downtown Portland, Oregon.  Snow crested Mt. Hood was enshrouded in clouds.



Singer Hill

Upper town, known today as Singer Hill, is part of the McLoughlin Historic District. Thriving businesses on the fringes of historic neighborhoods add to the unique character of this area.  Within walking distance of downtown, no visit is complete without time spent here.

Commemorative tiles embedded in the sidewalk highlight the historical buildings of the area.

"The I.O.O.F. Hall is the finest commercial building left in the upper town [Singer Hill]. It is a two-story, brick building erected by the Odd Fellows in 1922. The hall is upstairs, while the downstairs is two rentable store fronts - a typical arrangement in Oregon towns to provide income to the lodge. . . On the parapet is the marquee "1853 - Oregon Lodge No 3 - 1922. Centered at the second floor is a plaque with the I.O.O.F.'s three rings."

--OregonCity.org

Today, the I.O.O.F. hall is known as the Grand Ballroom, while the downstairs is currently the home of The Highcliffe Pub & Eatery.



Sportcraft Landing Overlook

Interesting views of the Willamette River, both upstream and down, can be had from the Sportcraft Landing Overlook.  Moored here are the Sternwheeler Rose, a dredge barge, and houseboats.  Fishing is a popular sport on the river.



Train Depot

The Amtrak Station features the restored old Southern Pacific depot mounted on a platform. This picturesque train stop is located across the street from the End of the Oregon Trail Historic Site  and is serviced by Amtrak Cascades Talgo trains.



Willamette Falls Locks

A fantastic view of Willamette Falls and the Willamette Falls Locks, the oldest navigational locks in the United States can be had from the crest of the bridge.



Willamette Falls Overlook

“Oregon City-once known as Willamette Falls-was early the site of an Indian salmon fishing village. The falls furnished the power for a lumber mill which began operation in 1842, a flour mill in 1844, a woolen mill in 1864 and the first paper mill in the Pacific Northwest in 1867.  The first long distance commercial electric power transmission in the United States was from Oregon City to Portland in 1889."

--quote from signage

Did you know Willamette Falls has the largest volume of water spilling over a falls in the United States, second only to Niagara Falls in New York State?  It's true!


Restaurants

Mia Famiglia Wood Oven Pizzeria

Located in historic downtown Oregon City, Mi Famiglia Wood Oven Pizzeria dishes up the most delicious authentic Italian style pizza we've ever tasted.  I'm delighted because they provide a gluten-free crust option, making their rustic menu choices available to many who might otherwise miss out. My personal favorite is the Molta Carna; the flavors blend into a mouthwatering must have.

An essential part of Oregon City nightlife, with guest musicians and lively good cheer, staff and patrons alike enjoy the pleasant camaraderie in a warm, welcoming atmosphere reminiscent of old-Italy.  Lunch and dinner $$


The Highcliffe Pub & Eatery

If you're looking for a family friendly neighborhood pub that dishes up great food, this is the one to visit in Oregon City.  The historic building has been lovingly restored, as has the ballroom upstairs. TheHighcliffe.com


The Highland Stillhouse

"The Portland Area’s Largest Selection of Single Malt Scotch!

The Highland Stillhouse features Portland’s best music and unbeatable drink selection. The unique decor is inspired by Scotland itself. We have combined the look of many of our favorite places, from different regions, to create a unique place that would look like no other. The Stillhouse offers a variety of live bands ."

HighlandStillhouse.com

Shopping

You Can Leave Your Hat On

Located at the base of the Municipal Elevator at 212 7th Street, is the best little hat shop I've ever visited in the USA, to date. Proprietor, Sandra Gillman, does more than display men's and women's hats, she shows them how to wear them with flare!

HatShopinOregonCity.com




More Oregon Road Trips You Might Enjoy . . . 

An Off Road Trip Secret--Olallie Scenic Area, Oregon USA

Clackamas River Recreation Area

Elkhorn Drive Scenic Byway--A Wild West Gold Rush!

Exploring Like Christopher Columbus

Molalla River Corridor & Table Rock Wilderness

Oregon Central Coast

Oregon City--Pioneering the Past

The Columbia River Gorge--Historic Columbia River Highway, Eastern Section

The Historic Columbia River Highway--Historic Columbia River Highway, Western Section

The Snake River Oregon--Road Tripping Up-streme!


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