Oregon City / by Chris Bonner

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Oregon City has long been a focal point of industry and commerce. Native Americans (Clowwewalla, Cashhooks, and Molalla Indians) had a robust fishing trade in the area we now call Oregon City. When settlers arrived in the early 1800s they brought diseases with them that decimated indigenous populations. The first settlers were two fur trading companies who came together to establish the Hudson Bay Company and made John McLoughlin (often called “the Father of the Oregon Country”) the head of operations in the area. 

McLoughlin staked a claim on the small swath of land overlooking the impressive Willamette Falls (which would provide a source of power) and built housing for himself and his employees. The settlement was known as Willamette Falls. Responding to the call of a mission for the Methodist Church, additional American settlers migrated overland to the area including Alvin F. Waller who established a sawmill and expressed plans for a flour mill too. Shortly after Waller's developments, McLoughlin platted and named the area Oregon City in 1844. 

Oregon City marked the end point of the Oregon Trail and in 1845 it also became the seat of the provisional government. In 1848 the Oregon Territory was officially created and Oregon City was its capital. Four years later, the capital was moved to Salem and in 1859 Oregon was granted statehood. The movement of the capital to Salem and the increase in population in Portland both eroded Oregon City’s stature as the central hub of Oregon but it remained the center of trade in the region with the opening of the state’s first paper mill.

Manufacturing supported growth in the area, but it was the success of the Willamette Falls Electric Company in transmitting electricity over long distance power lines that spurred the construction of the Interurban Railway, making it possible for people to live in Oregon City and commute to work in Portland. This led to the expansion of residential developments which continued through the 1900s.

Oregon City persisted as a center of industry and remains a city firmly connected to that history even though the last paper mill by the falls shut down in 2011. The city has been actively working to expand Oregon City’s reputation with programs like the Blue Collar Creative campaign (2010) intended to bring new small businesses to its downtown, and the Riverwalk Legacy Project (2011) which will honor the city’s history, provide public access to one of the areas most valuable natural areas–and resources–while protecting precious habitats and creating new economic development opportunities.


Oregon City School District encompasses seven elementary schools, two middle schools, one high school, and four public charter schools.

There are 22 parks in Oregon City and an extensive trails system designed to provide residents and visitors access to natural and recreational areas. The parks offer a range of amenities including a skate park, BBQ areas, dog parks, baseball diamonds, soccer fields, horseshoes, a boat launch, and basketball and tennis courts.


Given Oregon City’s history, there are many sites and landmarks to visit including The End of the Oregon Trail, the McLoughlin House, and the Museum of the Oregon Territory. Get a sneak peek here with this Travel Oregon video.

Another unique attraction in Oregon City is the Municipal Elevator–one of only four municipal elevators in the country–which will carry you 130 feet up (for free) from downtown to the bluff that is level with the top of Willamette Falls, offering incredible views of both downtown and Willamette Falls. The elevator has a wild history of its own including tales of the days when some “passengers had to wiggle out of a trap door and down a narrow ladder”.

Willamette Falls are the largest falls in the state and the sixth largest in the country by volume. It’s a little tricky to get up close to the falls which is why the Riverwalk Legacy Project is so exciting. If you want to explore the falls in depth from the comfort of your couch, check out this segment by OPB about a group who kayaked to the base of the falls and dove to photograph the unique wildlife of the turbulent waters.


There is no shortage of places to eat and drink in Oregon City. Both Willamette Week and Eater have done thorough roundups of Oregon City in the last few months- proving that there is an increasing interest in the area for both customers and restaurateurs and brewers!

Check out Willamette Week’s 36 hours in Oregon City and Eater’s roundup of best places to eat and drink in Oregon City that they compiled in honor of 175th anniversary of the Oregon Trail in 2018.