As the spring runoff rises to its peak, the Willamette Falls in Oregon City seems to thunder, bellow and shout for your attention.
Flanked by industrial landmarks of a bygone past, the falls remains a site worth admiring — just like the town that surrounds it.
Some of Oregon’s greatest stories come from Oregon City, where larger than life characters offer colorful and compelling settings.
Above all, Oregon stories endure, thanks to a passion for history that’s as strong as ever.
Start your history hike the McLoughlin House, a National Historic Site located in the heart of historic Oregon City. If you time your visit just right, you’ve a good chance to meet Tracy Hill from the McLoughlin Memorial Association.
Hill leads tours of the property, and with imagination she can take you back to a time before statehood in 1845. She believes no single person was more influential in the state’s development than Dr John McLoughlin.
“He is often called ‘Father of the Oregon Country’ and for good reason,” said Hill, a longtime docent. “The significant role that he played in our early history cannot be overstated. He was a courageous man, a man of principles and he lived by his principles.”
McLoughlin was the superintendent of the Hudson’s Bay Company and helped new emigrants settle in with food, tools and seeds to start a new life — despite orders to the contrary from his British bosses.
Hill added, “He couldn’t in good conscience turn Americans away to die.”
Park Ranger Heidi Pierson added, “I really admire his humanity — even though he was ordered not to help American settlers, he thought it was the right thing to do. He facilitated American settlement by giving people goods and services that they really needed at a time when there wasn’t another place to get it.”
Built in 1845, the McLoughlin House offers compelling tours, made more so by the original furnishings and details — more than one third of the furniture in the home belonged to the family.
Another distinct historic site is reached via the McLoughlin Promenade. It is little more than 2-mile-long trail from McLoughlin House to the Museum of the Oregon Territory.
Inside the museum you will find an incredibly wide array of artifacts that reflect heritage of the region, from Native American items to the Oregon pioneering past — even an array of bridal gowns from the last century.
Director Claire Blaylock said, “We may be small but offer big museum experiences!”
“So many people think of history as just dates and names and that’s it, but that couldn’t be further from the truth,” added Blaylock. “History is about people and it’s about stories.”
The museum’s newest exhibit proves that. The Kaegi Pharmacy exhibit was recently donated intact with contents that date to 1910 and displays all the items used in the former family-owned pharmacy.
The real gem is a virtual reality tour of the pharmacy, created by students from the WSU Vancouver campus. Using VR goggles, visitors can interact with old pharmaceutical items in real time.
Afterwards, allow yourself to be drawn back outdoors to the awesome power of the nearby Willamette Falls, viewable from the doorstep of the Museum of the Oregon Territory.
“It is such a beautiful walk,” noted Blaylock. “It is a wonderful this time of year when the falls are running so high and there’s a lot of water.”