Brief History of Oregon City

Oregon City, the county seat of Clackamas County, is located southeast of Portland on the east side of the Willamette River, just below the falls. Its unique topography includes three terraces, which rise above the river, creating an elevation range from about 50 feet above sea level at the riverbank to more than 250 feet above sea level on the upper terrace. The lowest terrace, on which the earliest development occurred, is only two blocks or three streets wide but stretches northward from the falls for several blocks.

Originally, the industry was located primarily at the south end of Main Street nearest the falls, which provided power. Commercial, governmental, and social/fraternal entities developed along Main Street north of the industrial area. Religious and educational structures also appeared along Main Street but tended to be grouped north of the commercial core. Residential structures filled in along Main Street, as well as along the side and cross streets. As the city grew, the commercial, governmental, and social/fraternal structures expanded northward first, and with time eastward and westward to the side and cross streets. Before the turn of the century, residential neighborhoods and schools were developing on the bluff. Some commercial development also occurred on this middle terrace, but the business center of the city continued to be situated on the lower terrace. Between the 1930s and 1950s, many of the downtown churches relocated to the bluff as well. The industrial area remained at the south end of the downtown area throughout the 20th century. As the city continued to grow, development eventually expanded to the upper terrace and spread eastward.

The small community of Canemah, located just south of Oregon City (and now included within its city limits) developed just above the falls on the river. Canemah is a National Register historic district.


  • Barry, J. Neilson. "The Indians of Oregon-Geographic Distribution of Linguistic Families," Oregon Historica Quarterly. Volume 28, 1927:57-60.
  • Bowen, William A., The Willamette Valley, Migration and Settlement on the Oregon Frontier. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1978: 7-8.
  • Koler/Morrison Planning Consultants, Oregon City, Oregon: Historic Context Statement for the Park Place Vicinity. August 1990, 3.
  • Miller, C.G., Oregon City Enterprise article for Anniversary Edition, October 27, 1926.
  • Miller, Tom, Oregon City Enterprise article for Anniversary Edition, October 27, 1926. Oregon City Enterprise, January 1, 1937.
  • Webber, Bert, and Margie Oregon City (By Way of the Barlow Road) at the end of the National Historic Oregon Trail. Medford, Oregon: Webb Research Group, 1993: 37-38.

Dennis, Historic Context Statement, City of Oregon City, 2000 ©