Visitors to Oregon City hear about those who've made the trek before.
To pioneers crossing the country on the Oregon Trail, the words Oregon City would have been as enticing as, say, tropical beaches are to travelers today. Oregon City was the coveted end of the trail, the land of milk and honey, and the land of, well, land.
Oregon City, site of the only federal land office west of the Rockies, was where the settlers filed claims for the 320 acres (640 acres for couples) they had been promised in the 1850 Donation Land Act.
Visitors today are more likely to be drawn to Oregon City by its greatest asset—its history. The town boasts two comprehensive museums: the End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, a wagon train-shaped structure that chronicles the pioneers' journey, and the Museum of the Oregon Territory, which shines a spotlight on the region's history prior to statehood in 1859.
Heads or Tails
Portland got its name in 1845 at a social gathering in Oregon City when developers Asa Lovejoy and Francis Pettygrove tossed a coin, now known as the Portland Penny, to decide between Boston and Portland.
As John McLoughlin predicted when he founded the town along the Willamette River in 1829, Oregon City became an important place. The first incorporated U.S. city west of the Rockies, it served as the territorial capital of Oregon from 1849 to 1853. The town flourished, thanks to the thundering Willamette Falls, which once powered a variety of mills as well as a hydroelectric plant that first transmitted electricity 13 miles north to Portland in 1889.
Today, Oregon City is a quiet town. The Clackamas County Courthouse and several commercial buildings are near the river, but most of the homes lie above on the 90-foot bluff. One such residence is the 1845 John McLoughlin House. Known as "the Father of Oregon," McLoughlin offered aid to American settlers while serving as chief broker of the British Hudson's Bay Company. About a third of the home's furnishings are original, including the china and silver on the dining room table.
There are three ways to reach the city's upper level from downtown: Drive, climb the steps near Seventh Street, or ride the country's only outdoor municipal elevator. The free elevator, which looks like a flying saucer on a pole because of the observation deck at its top, has been carrying people up and down the bluff since 1954.
An earlier elevator began operating in 1915 and was powered by water. Old-timers still recall that if the water pressure suddenly dropped while townspeople were drawing a bath or washing dishes, it meant that somebody was taking the elevator.
Passengers step out onto McLoughlin Promenade, a pleasant walkway that offers a great view of the Willamette River and the falls. The adjacent McLoughlin Conservation District includes historic homes in Queen Anne, Italianate, and other architectural styles popular from the 1860s to the 1930s.
According to Thelma Haggenmiller, who operates Slow Poke Tours, one of those homes has a modern connection. It was the setting for an episode of Route 66, a TV show that aired in the early 1960s. For Oregon City, that's ever so contemporary.
The Doctor is Out
The 1850 Barclay House, part of the John McLoughlin House National Historic Site, was the home of McLoughlin's physician, Forbes Barclay.
Photography by Bruce Forster/Viewfinders
This article was first published in January 2004. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.
The local area code is 503. Pick up AAA's Portland city map and the Oregon & Washington TourBook. Contact the Clackamas County Regional Visitor Information Center at 657-9336 or (800) 424-3002, or visit www.mthoodterritory.com/visitors.jsp.
Carnegie Center The town's 1912 Carnegie Library is now home to a children's museum, an art gallery, and a coffee shop. 606 John Adams St., 557-9199, www.orcity.org/parksandrecreation/carnegie-center-public-input.
End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center 1726 Washington St., 657-9336, www.endoftheoregontrail.org. Museum of the Oregon Territory 211 Tumwater Dr., 655-5574, www.historicoregoncity.org/HOC.
THIS OLD HOUSE
Francis Ermatinger House The oldest frame house in Clackamas County, built in 1845. Open for tours. Living History Teas by reservation only. 619 Sixth St., 650-1851. Stevens-Crawford House Tour the 1907-08 foursquare style home. Combination admission includes the Museum of the Oregon Territory. 603 Sixth St., 655-2866, www.historicoregoncity.org/HOC.
OLDIES BUT GOODIES
Oregon City Antique Mall A collection of 75 second-hand dealers, including the Friends of the Oregon City Library Used Book Store. 502 Seventh St., 655-0393.
McLOUGHLIN SLEPT HERE
John McLoughlin House National Historic Site Home of Oregon City founder and the Father of Oregon, John McLoughlin. McLoughlin and his wife, Marguerite, are buried on-site between the home and the Barclay House. 713 Center St., 656-5146, www.mcloughlinhouse.org.
Haggart Astronomical Observatory Public viewing programs offered on select Saturday evenings. 657-6958 ext. 5665, depts.clackamas.edu/haggart. John Inskeep Environmental Learning Center A five-acre conservation site with an interpretive nature trail at Clackamas Community College. 657-6958 ext. 2351, depts.clackamas.cc.or.us/elc.
Mitzil Panadería Y Lonchería Mexican favorites for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as fresh-baked bread and pastries. 212 Molalla Ave., 655-7197.
OREGON ALE INTERPRETIVE CENTER
McMenamins Oregon City Eclectic pub fare menu and handcrafted microbrews. 102 Ninth St., 655-8032, www.mcmenamins.com.
Rivershore Hotel $74-$125. 1900 Clackamette Dr., 655-7141 or (800) 443-7777, or visit www.rivershorehotel.com. A full breakfast is free at the adjoining Rivershore Grill.