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Willamette Falls, Rainbow
Annie Austin | 10/18/2021 | Heritage

Willamette Falls And Landings State Heritage Area

Know Now COVID-19

Please Note: Some museums may have reduced hours or be closed due to COVID-19 restrictions. Please check their websites and social channels before visiting to ensure the best possible experience.

Willamette Falls and Landings State Heritage Area is a place where visitors and locals alike can experience the places, stories and abundance of culture and history that provide an authentic account of the settlement of Oregon. The stories in the Willamette Valley include places where Indigenous tribes lived, fished and traded and where the first European settlers claimed lands and built communities.

Willamette Falls

Being the official end of the Oregon Trail and overlooking Willamette Falls, Oregon City is steeped in Indigenous, Oregon Trail immigrant and industrial heritage. While you may be familiar with the 2,000 mile Oregon Trail used by hundreds of thousands of immigrants in the mid-1800s to make their way out West, did you know that Willamette Falls was a major trading spot for Indigenous tribes? Throughout the late 1800s, it was also at the heart of thriving industries, providing energy to power lumber, flour, woolen and paper mills and a brick-making operation. It's also the site of the world's first long distance electrical power transmission line, which carried electricity to Portland a whopping 14 miles away.

The Canemah Riverboat Community

The Canemah Historic District is located at the southwesterly edge of the city limits of Oregon City, just above Willamette Falls. The community lies within a crescent-shaped hollow in the basalt cliffs that rise to the south above the river. Its name derives from an Indigenous word "kanim" for "canoe place."

The town grew as a river boat-building and trade destination from the 1850s through 1870s. Canemah is one of only a few remaining intact former riverboat towns. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977. You can explore the area interactively using Oregon City's maps of historic resources. Also make sure to walk the trails at Canemah Bluff Nature Park.

Across the River: West Linn

What had been the town of Willamette, now the Historic Willamette District and part of the City of West Linn, is located on an Indigenous trail that ran south from Willamette Falls. The Clowewalla tribe lived in a village on the West Linn side of the Falls, and while there is no evidence of Indigenous villages within the boundaries of Willamette, it is  speculated that Indigenous tribes camped here when they came to the Falls to fish and trade.

The first European Americans and French Canadians to view the Willamette area were trappers who traveled up the Willamette Valley in the early 1800s. Two of them were Ambrose Fields and his son Joseph Fields. Most of the two Fields’ land claims were sold in the 1880s to the Oregon Iron and Steel Company, which harvested timber to fuel its smelter operation in Lake Oswego. You can download the Historic Willamette Walking Tour brochure for a self-guided tour of the area.

Lake Oswego is Forged in Iron

In the 19th century, the discovery of iron ore in the hills surrounding Oswego transformed the small Oregon village into a bustling iron manufacturing center known today at the City of Lake Oswego. William S. Ladd organized the initial company in 1865 and in 1866 blast furnace construction began. One year later, the first iron was produced and the dream of freeing the West Coast from imported iron became a reality. Lake Oswego was known as "the Pittsburgh of the West."

Visit the Iron Worker's Museum, the last iron workers cottage remaining west of The Rockies. And pick up an Oswego Iron Heritage Trail map to visit the remaining stops on the trail.

Learn about the Lake Oswego's past by visiting the Iron Trail's best known stop at George Rogers Park along the Willamette River, which has the only 19th century blast furnace remaining west of the Rocky Mountains. Interpretive signs explain how iron ore was hauled down from the primary iron mine, smelted in the furnace and then shipped out on the Willamette River.

Oregon Trail Settlers Continue South to What is Now Canby

Bordered by the Willamette and Molalla rivers, Canby was once a seasonal meeting place for Indigenous tribes and was well known for its annual crop of wild strawberries. 

Along with a meager network of dirt roads and trails, the Willamette River served as the main transportation. Steamboats took produce into the markets of Oregon City and Portland from the little local communities of Baker Prairie, Barlow, New Era, Riverside, Macksburg, Mundorf, Lone Elder, Mark Prairie and others.

For years, three covered bridges crossed the Molalla River from Canby and in 1914, a local ferry service was established across the Willamette River. You can ride the ferry, one of only three remaining in Oregon, providing quick access to West Linn and Wilsonville.

You can also learn much more about Canby's history through multiple lenses by visiting the Canby Depot Museum, walking the Downtown Canby Heritage Trail, touring the self guided Canby Women's Heritage Trail and taking in an even at the Clackamas County Fairgrounds & Event Center.

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