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Museum of the Oregon Territory. Photo by Ethan Rogers

Most of us aren’t oblivious to the history of the city in which our school resides. It’s the oldest city west of the Rockies, founded by John McLoughlin in 1829, and eventually the capital of the Oregon Territory. It would have been quite an adventure to see it in the beginning, and it still has plenty of adventure, entertainment and historical information to serve up to residents and visitors alike.

Let’s start the tour …

At the Museum of the Oregon Territory, located just south of downtown and overlooking the falls, you’ll find huge displays of artifacts and topical exhibits that change over time. It’s a fantastically curated glimpse into the past. Grade School to Graduation is the current exhibit and covers the last 100 years of education in Clackamas County. 

The next special event is coming later this month: Oregon Jewish History and Jews in Clackamas County. Don’t miss out on the presentation from Gail Mandel, Deputy Director of the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education. She will be sharing stories of Jewish individuals who lived here in Clackamas County. Be a mensch and attend, April 27 from 7-8 p.m. Admission is $5 for members, $10 for general admission.

After a short walk north on the trail along the basalt bluffs overlooking the city stands the Oregon City Elevator. At 130 feet, it is the only outdoor city elevator in the country, taking passengers from High Street to Railroad Avenue. It, and the powerful Willamette Falls, are two of the most iconic symbols of the city. The structure, in the current iteration of steel and concrete, has a 1950s Atomic Age design. Step into the observation deck at the top and survey your surroundings. 

To the south, you can see West Linn on the opposite bank of the river. In the mornings, watch the mist rise out of the second-largest waterfall (by volume) in the Lower 48. Looking north, the downtown buildings and Willamette River stretch out into the distance. On clear days, parts of Portland’s South Waterfront buildings are visible.

 The bottom of the elevator takes riders into a tunnel leading to one of the greatest main streets in our nation (Really! It won a Great American Main Street Award in 2018.) At this point, after your time at the museum and the walk to the elevator, you may have worked up an appetite. In downtown Oregon City, you’ll find a wide selection of restaurants: The Weinhard Grill for steaks, Nebbiolo Restaurant and Wine Bar for Mediterranean-inspired food, McMenamins’ Oregon City location (This doesn’t require a description, you know what they do), Ranee’s On Main for classic American fare, or try Ingrid’s Scandinavian Food for a taste of Norway. 

At the downtown center you’ll see the Old Clackamas County Courthouse, an art deco (an architectural style used in many of the public works projects during the Great Depression) building completed in 1937. It stood through the depression and the Civil Rights Movement. It saw justice and injustice alike over the last 86 years of American evolution.

Soon, the scales of justice will weigh the innocence and guilt of Oregonians at a different location. This February, construction began on a replacement courthouse, scheduled to be finished in two years. The old downtown building will need someone to bring new vision to the old site. While the building is old and has its share of issues, the bones are impeccable. 

“The Courthouse is a jewel, and we just need to dust it off,” said James Graham, economic development manager for Oregon City. “Oregon City is looking forward to working with Clackamas County to find a viable use for the building in the future.” 

 Oregon City is well-known for its thriving antique and collectibles scene. With so many historic buildings and sights, why not take home a piece of history as well? On the south end of Main Street, you’ll find The Vintage Nest, an antique mall that can keep you busy for hours. Across the street is Angel Ink Tattoo, if you’d like something to take with you forever. If their art isn’t to your liking, maybe Illuminati Tattoo, right up the street, will have a design that interests you.

Don’t want a tattoo? Maybe find that vintage copy of “Purple Rain” or “Exile on Main Street” at Oregon City Records, housed in the city’s oldest commercial building. Maizee Mae’s Antiques and Vintage, just at the base of the Old Bridge, is home to some of OC’s most eclectic vintage home goods. There’s something for everybody here: salons and massage therapists, restaurants and bars, vintage vinyl and the turntables on which to play them, and we’re not finished.

We haven’t addressed the elephant in the room, the river itself. It’s a force of nature, and those who grew up in the area have seen it at its wintery worst, but also at its leisurely, summertime best. Our final destination is eNRG Kayaking, located on the river just north of downtown. At eNRG, you can take a self-guided or guided tour of the river and the falls. Choose your craft: paddleboards, single and tandem kayaks, and canoes are all at your disposal. Rentals are by the hour or by the day. Paddle upstream to witness the power of the falls from a more humbling and awe-inspiring perspective. Is it a workout or sightseeing? You decide, we can’t make up our minds. 

Oregon City’s downtown hasn’t always been a destination (unless you count visits to the courthouse) but the locals have always known that wonderful old buildings, million-dollar views and wealth of history have given it the potential to become an amazing place for businesses and the public. It took decades for all the renovations to occur, and turn the formerly dismal downtown district back into the social hub it most certainly was a century or more ago. Today it is vibrant, with every type of goods, services and businesses available to the community. Watching it develop and change has been amazing, and there are certainly more amazing things to come.  

 

Museum of the Oregon Territory

211 Tumwater Drive, Oregon City

clackamashistory.org

10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday

 

Oregon City Municipal Elevator

6 Railroad Avenue, Oregon City

orcity.org

7 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday-Friday

11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday

7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday 

 

eNRG Kayaking

1701 Clackamette Drive, Oregon City

enrgkayaking.com

Reserve by appointment

 

Clackamas County Courthouse

807 Main St, Oregon City

Gabriel Lucich

1 Comments

  1. Marty on May 30, 2023 at 7:52 am

    That’s for a nice story. We eat in downtown OC quite often. My only visit to the court house was to get married and serve on Jury duty.



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