As the spring runoff rises to its peak, Willamette Falls at Oregon City seems to thunder and bellow and shout for your attention.
Flanked by industrial landmarks of a bygone past, the falls remains a site worth admiring – just like the town that surrounds it.
For when it comes to the history of Oregon, there’s no more important place than Oregon City, where Oregon’s greatest stories offer larger than life characters, plus colorful and compelling settings.
Above all, Oregon stories endure and connect with a passion that’s strong as ever.
Photos: A History Hike
Start your history hike at a U.S. National Park in Oregon City called the “McLoughlin House.” If you time your visit just right, you’ve a good chance to meet Tracy Hill from the McLoughlin Memorial Association.
She leads tours of the home and the property.
With imagination, Hill can take you back to a time before statehood in 1845. She said that no single person was more influential in the state’s development than Dr John McLoughlin.
“He is often called ‘Father of the Oregon Country’ and for good reason,” said the longtime docent who is fascinated by the McLoughlin story. “The significant role that he played in our early history cannot be overstated. He was a courageous man, a man of principles and he lived by his principles.”
McLoughlin was the Superintendent of the Hudson’s Bay Company and helped new immigrants settle in with food, tools and seeds to start a new life – despite orders to the contrary from his British bosses.
Hill added, “He couldn’t in good conscience turn Americans away to die.”
Park Ranger, Heidi Pierson, added, “I really admire his humanity - even though he was ordered not to help American settlers, he thought it was the right thing to do. He facilitated American settlement by giving people goods and services that they really needed at a time when there wasn’t another place to get it.”
The tour of the McLoughlin home – built in 1845 – is compelling and made more so by the original furnishings and details – more than one third of the furniture in the home belonged to the family.
Inside the museum you will find an incredibly wide array of artifacts that reflect heritage of the region – from Native American items to the Oregon pioneering past – even an array of bridal gowns from the past century.
Director Claire Blaylock said, “We may be small but offer big museum experiences!”
“So many people think of history as just dates and names and that’s it but that couldn’t be further from the truth," added Blaylock. “History is about people and it’s about stories.”
She’s right! Their newest exhibit proves it – it’s called the Kaegi Pharmacy and it was recently donated - intact – with contents that date to 1910.
The exhibit displays all the items used in the pharmacy that was operated by the Kaegi family.
The real gem is a modern leap into the past via a virtual reality tour of the pharmacy.
The VR experience was created by students from the Vancouver, Washington campus of Washington State University. The VR goggles allow visitors to interact with old pharmaceutical items in real time.
Soon, you are drawn back outdoors to the awesome power of the nearby Willamette Falls – just off the doorstep of the Museum of the Oregon Territory.
“It is such a beautiful walk,” noted Blaylock. “It is a wonderful this time of year when the falls are running so high and there’s a lot of water.”