Mayor Alice Norris is issuing a travelers' advisory: Amtrak has added Oregon's first city as a stop on the Amtrak Cascades passenger-train route between Eugene, Ore., and Vancouver, B. C...
OREGON CITY, Ore. Mayor Alice Norris is issuing a travelers’ advisory:
Amtrak has added Oregon’s first city as a stop on the Amtrak Cascades passenger-train route between Eugene, Ore., and Vancouver, B.C.
Service began April 16, with two stops a day here in each direction.
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And Oregon City’s 158-year-old McLoughlin House, a jewel of Northwest history, is being attached by the National Park Service to the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site in neighboring Vancouver, Wash.
“We’re a city awakening we have a story to tell,” the mayor says.
Oregon City (pop. 28,100), is only 15 miles or so southeast of Portland, but hasn’t been on many tourist maps since the 1840s, when Oregon Trail pioneers circled their wagons here at the end of the 2,000-mile trail.
The inventory of attractions:
McLoughlin House, the last residence of Dr. John McLoughlin, who established Fort Vancouver for the Hudson’s Bay Company during the prime years of fur trading that stretched from Oregon country east to the Rockies and from California to Russian-held Alaska. The fiery doctor quit the British company to found Oregon City more than 160 years ago. He is remembered now as the “Father of Oregon.”
Willamette Falls, where the Willamette River thunders over a horseshoe-shaped reef of basaltic rock. The scenic cascade provided power for the some of the region’s first industrial mills in the 1840s and then in 1889 for America’s first long-distance power-transmission line Oregon City to Portland. Remnants of the original turbines still are visible.
The Oregon City Municipal Elevator, a 90-foot-high “vertical street” linking the two upper levels of the three-tiered city. Passengers ride free to an observation dome with a smashing view of Willamette Falls.
The End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, on the spot where Oregon Trail families ended their harrowing trek from Missouri to the Willamette Valley’s “Promised Land.” It is here, beside a meadow known as Abernethy Green, where Oregon City has built a new $1.5 million platform for Amtrak passengers.
The Museum of the Oregon Territory, a lively history museum for Clackamas County. Exhibits include the original 1850 plat for the city of San Francisco filed here because back then Oregon City had the only federal courthouse and land-claims office west of the Rockies. There’s a closeup view of Willamette Falls from the museum.
The Oregon City Carnegie Center. The handsome building, downtown at 606 John Adams St., began as a public library in 1912. Now it is operated by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, with a gallery displaying the works of leading Northwest artists, a children’s museum and a cozy coffee shop.
Amtrak was searching for a suburban station site in hopes of increasing Amtrak Cascades boardings in the Portland area. Downtown Portland’s Union Station is handicapped by traffic congestion and a lack of easy parking for passengers. Oregon City is able to provide ample free parking for Amtrak riders on the grounds of the End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center.
Getting around town
Oregon City’s main attractions are scattered over several neighborhoods that are not connected by convenient public transportation. Taxi service also is limited. Bottom line: It could be difficult for visitors arriving by rail to get around the city.
Mayor Norris says that problem will be solved with a city-owned, rubber-tire trolley that has been used for special occasions. The trolley will meet trains for historical tours.
Kathy Franco, general manager of the Rivershore Hotel, says a hotel van also will be dispatched to the Amtrak station. The 120-room Rivershore, considered Oregon City’s leading hotel, is adjacent to the Oregon City Shopping Center.
It is McLoughlin House that ties together the elements of Oregon City’s rich history the stories of the Oregon Trail, how Oregon City became the first incorporated city west of the Rockies, then Oregon’s first territorial capital, publication of the West’s first newspaper and the 11,000-year presence of the region’s Native Americans. Willamette Falls provided a long-time salmon-fishing bonanza for the Indians.
Now the Georgian-style McLoughlin House at 713 Center St., on a bluff overlooking downtown Oregon City and the Willamette is a unit of the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.
Although the fort and McLoughlin House are 30 miles apart and in different states, “they are bookends of one story John McLoughlin’s life,” says Tracy Fortmann, Fort Vancouver’s superintendent.
Fortmann describes Oregon City’s McLoughlin House as “a jewel of national and international significance,” and says the house soon will be staffed by National Park Service cultural-resource specialists.
For most of the 95 years since McLoughlin House was moved from its original site on the city’s riverfront, the building has been in the care of the local McLoughlin Memorial Association. But the association’s volunteers have been hard pressed to find funds for critical repairs and maintenance.
“We are excited about the relationship with Fort Vancouver,” says John Salisbury, president of the memorial association. “This means that the house surely will be preserved and protected.”
Stanton H. Patty, a Vancouver, Wash. writer, is the retired assistant travel editor of The Seattle Times.