Some Local History

  • The Calapooia Indians lived in the area along the Willamette River both where West Linn and Wilsonville now are. There is some evidence that these people made contact with the Wasco Indians along the Columbia River, the Clackamas, and the Tualatin Indians. The Willamette Falls historically were major fishing areas for salmon.

    Early nineteenth century explorers Lewis and Clark (1803-05) came through the area on their way to their final destination, the Pacific Ocean. They were commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson to explore this mysterious land out west and the travels of Lewis, Clark, and their party are well documented.

    Less than forty years after Lewis and Clark, the flood of travelers along the Oregon Trail (1843-80s) began to arrive in Oregon City, immediately adjacent to current-day West Linn. The Oregon Territory was recognized as what is now Oregon, Washington, Idaho, part of Montana, part of Wyoming, part of British Columbia, and part of Alberta. The land at the beginning of the 19th century was claimed by the indigenous populations, the United States, Spain, Russia, and Great Britain. The year 1843 saw what was to become one of the largest mass migrations of people in history--the Oregon Trail--a 2000-mile journey from several "jump-off" points in Missouri and Iowa that took five or six months to complete. People left their farms and extended families in the East and Midwest to head out to the West with the promise that land was plentiful and the climate was mild. Prior to that time, the Hudson's Bay Company, a fur-trapping company from Eastern Canada, had established roots in the Pacific Northwest at what are now Vancouver, Washington, and Oregon City.

    In 1846 a treaty was signed between the United States and Great Britain that established the Oregon boundary at the 49th parallel (now the border between Washington and British Columbia). John McLoughlin, chief proctor of the Hudson's Bay Company, built a home overlooking Willamette Falls at Oregon City, and he witnessed the beginnings of the Americans arriving in great numbers at the end of the Oregon Trail. Before he died, McLoughlin became an American citizen. Statehood was established by Congress in 1859, just before the Civil War--Oregon was the last state to be admitted before the war. (There was some controversy in Congress about whether Oregon would be admitted as a free state or a slave state; it was admitted as a free state. The only other state out west at that time was California, which came into the Union in 1850.)

    As people began to claim parcels of land under the Homestead Act, communities up and down the Willamette River were being organized, including Milwaukie, Portland, Salem, and others--many named for towns and cities in the East and Midwest. Across the Willamette River from Oregon City, the city of West Linn was named originally Robin's Next and later was renamed Linn City after Sen. Lewis Linn of Missouri who helped to establish the Homestead Act in Congress. Although Senator Linn never made it to Oregon, he has places named after him--West Linn, Linnton, and Linn County. Linn City was wiped out by a flood and fire in the 1860s but was later rebuilt. At one point it was known as West Oregon City since it sat on the west side of the Willamette River across from Oregon City. It wasn't until 1913 that the city was actually incorporated, and the name West Linn was formed by combining West Oregon City and Linn City.

    Among the first white settlers in what is now the Wilsonville area was Col. Alphonso Boone, grandson of the legendary Daniel Boone of Virginia and Kentucky fame. In 1847 Jesse V. Boone, great-grandson of Daniel Boone, began to operate a ferry across the Willamette River; a major road in the area is Boones Ferry Road and the city holds an annual Boones Ferry Days. Now, a bridge across the river (Boone Bridge) allows traffic on Interstate-5 to travel north and south. The area officially was named Wilsonville on June 3, 1880 after the local postmaster, Charles Wilson. Residents in the area voted to incorporate the city in 1968.

    The origin of the name "Oregon" is not clear. Some refer to a 1765 proposal for an exploratory journey by Maj. Robert Rogers, an English army officer, who wrote, "the rout [sic]...is from the Great Lakes towards the Head of the Mississippi, and thence to the River called by the Indians Ouragon...." Some think that it may have been a misspelling of the word "Wisconsin." The American poet William Cullen Bryant referred to the Columbia River in his poem Thanatopsis when he wrote "...to lose myself in the continuous woods where flows the Oregon...." It is often felt that Bryant probably established the definitive spelling of the word, although in some early printings of Thanatopsis the word is spelled "Oregan."