John McLoughlin (1784-1857) was one of the Pacific Northwest's most colorful characters. The hard-driving Canadian served as chief factor (general manager) of Fort Vancouver for...

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John McLoughlin (1784-1857) was one of the Pacific Northwest’s most colorful characters.

The hard-driving Canadian served as chief factor (general manager) of Fort Vancouver for England’s Hudson’s Bay Co. from 1825 to 1845.

He ruled the frontier fort with a harsh hand while gaining a reputation for fairness with both whites and Indians. Native Americans called him “the White-headed Eagle” because of his piercing eyes and dramatic mane of snow-white hair.

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As Americans crossed the Oregon Trail and poured into the Northwest, McLoughlin realized that Britain’s dominance of the area was doomed. Defying company orders to discourage the American settlers, McLoughlin sold the newcomers food, seeds and farm tools.

Historians say he saved hundreds of pioneers’ lives.

But McLoughlin’s kindness cost him his position with the Hudson’s Bay Co. In 1845 he was forced to resign.

He moved across the Columbia River and established Oregon City, and soon after he became an American citizen.

McLoughlin House, his retirement home, was built in 1846, mostly with lumber from McLoughlin’s own Oregon City sawmill. Many of the furnishings on display now for visitors — including exquisite English china — were carted by McLoughlin from Fort Vancouver.

John McLoughlin was Canadian-born but moved to Oregon and became a U.S. citizen.

McLoughlin House was grievously neglected after the deaths of McLoughlin and his wife, Marguerite. It became a boarding house, a dormitory for laborers, and at one time was known as a “house of negotiable affection.”

There was little enthusiasm in Oregon City for rescuing the building from demolition until the McLoughlin Memorial Association moved it from Willamette Falls to the bluff on Singers Hill.

“Let’s just say the house had a reputation,” recalls Tracy Hill, the manager of McLoughlin House.

But now, restored and filled with McLoughlin memorabilia, McLoughlin House is an Oregon City gem.

The restless remains of John and Marguerite — moved three times since their passing — are interred beside the house.

Visitors have reported “sightings” of a towering, white-haired ghost resembling John McLoughlin striding through McLoughlin House.

A haunted house?

“I wouldn’t be surprised, but I haven’t met the gentleman yet,” says Tracy Hill.

— Stanton H. Patty