Oregon City (Images Of America), by Jim Tompkins
Oregon City is a small city where I have spent considerably more time than its small size and contemporary obscurity would tend to demand. Yet there is a sense of missed opportunity when it comes to Oregon City. With a location chosen because it was as far upstream along the Willamette River that one could go before reaching the fall line, the location of Oregon City had long been a popular spot for fishing and trade long before Euro-American settlement. Not surprisingly, it was a British factor, one Dr. John McLoughlin, who first saw the potential of the place for the British fur trading industry, and it was his presence that helped lead to a group of people from Salem to swipe the capital from Oregon City in the territorial days, and the greater size allowable to expand in Portland, to the north of Oregon City, that kept Oregon City small to this day despite the fact that a great many Oregon firsts happened there. Even Oregon City’s attempts at education ended up benefiting other areas when Oregon City University was moved to McMinnville and became Linfield College. Such has been a frequent aspect of life in Oregon City, to nurture institutions that end up growing elsewhere.
This book of a bit more than 100 pages is divided into 7 chapters that look at different aspects of Oregon City’s existence since it was incorporated in 1845 as the oldest American city west of the Rockies. After acknowledgements and an introduction the book begins with a discussion of Dr. McLoughlin’s land claim (1). After this there is a look at some of the business and industry like paper mills and lumber mills that has flourished throughout Oregon City’s history at the falls (2) as well as a discussion of the various ships that were involved in Willamette River navigation at the area (3). There is a discussion of railroads, trolleys, and streetcars (4) as well as the way that Oregon City has long served as a land transportation hub (5). Finally, the book concludes with some discussion of various entertainment and recreation options that took place in Oregon City, including a long-running chautauqua as well as early precursor to a theme park (6) as well as some historical photographs taken from the Clackamas County Cultural Center. For all of the ways in which Oregon City has struggled to keep up many of its historical elements, at least a few remain to be appreciated by contemporary residents and visitors.
Among the more curious aspects of Oregon City’s history is that the city contains one of three vertical streets in the world, which is something worth appreciating even if it is something that many people are not familiar with. The book is full of a lot of gorgeous photos and some hints at some very poignant stories, including a woman who was not content on being a wife and mother and spent her time with preachers trying to be an accomplished writer. The book shows a great deal of interest in showing the business and cultural and educational institutions that were once connected to Oregon City, although one cannot help but note that many of these are long gone and that even the business of the city has moved from the riverside to the bluff area of the city, and Oregon City’s expansion beyond its core is not something that the book chooses to emphasize. It is also of great interest that Oregon City was once surrounded by suburbs called West Oregon City and North Oregon City, but which have been more creatively named as West Linn and Gladstone, respectively. I wonder if Canby was once South Oregon City but that is perhaps too much to hope for.