Native American History of Oswego

The river terrace along the west bank of Willamette River downstream from the mouth of Oswego Creek was for thousands of years the home of Native Americans. Distinctive stone projectile points, identified as Cascadia-type, were a mark of their technology. The Cascadia points resemble the leaf of a willow and confirm Indian occupancy to more than 8,000 years before the present (BP). The site is one of the oldest documented in the lower Willamette Valley. Its attractions were several: good visibility of the river, drainage of rainfall, abundant salmon and lamprey, and access to the nearby camas meadows of the Tualatin Valley. Sucker Creek, today Oswego Creek, was an important lamprey fishery. In the nineteenth century the Multnomah and Clowewalla, speakers of an Upper Chinookan dialect, lived along the lower Willamette and shared the great salmon fishery at Willamette Falls with their Clackamas neighbors to the east and the Tualatin and Kalapuya to the south.

Prior to the negotiation and ratification of any treaties, Congress opened the Oregon Territory to settlers granting free land in 1850 through the Oregon Donation Land Act. Belatedly in January, 1855, Joel Palmer, Oregon Superintendent of Indian Affairs, entered into a treaty with the Kalapuya and other tribes and bands of the Willamette.  They ceded their lands to the United States and were compelled to remove to the small Grand Ronde Reservation at the headwaters of the South Yamhill River in western Polk and Yamhill Counties. Today, their descendants are the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde with more than 4,000 members. The tribe’s history and culture is preserved and shared in exhibits at Chachalu Museum and Cultural Center, Grand Ronde, Oregon.

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*Special thanks to Prof. Stephen Beckham for his contribution of these paragraphs on Native Americans in the Oswego area.

Next Came Iron…

Lake Oswego has a long and rich history.

Clackamas Indigenous People were here long before the first European explorers arrived. They were followed by an influx of settlers who arrived via the Oregon Trail. Among them was Albert Alonzo Durham who founded the town of Oswego in 1847. He named the town after his home of Oswego, New York and established a saw mill which was Lake Oswego’s first, albeit short-lived, industry.

The area known as Old Town in Lake Oswego is the where our community was born. Old Town was platted in 1851 by Durham, and although he never registered the plat, the townsite eventually grew under the guidance of John C. Trullinger, who purchased Durham’s land and sawmill in 1865.

Old Town also grew with the iron industry between 1865 and 1894. The Oregon Iron Company operated from 1865 until it failed in 1876. The company employed about 80 men when the furnace was in full operation, and it built several cottages in Old Town for its workers. In 1877 two investors formed the Oswego Iron Company and sporadically operated the furnace, which produced a total of 18,500 tons of iron until financial troubles closed it in 1881.

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The Oswego Iron Furnace can be seen today in George Rogers Park.

In 1882 the company was reorganized as the Oregon Iron and Steel Company. Under Simeon Reed, the company employed approximately 300 men at one time. Business boomed in the 1890, but it was short lived as ships began dumping imported iron on the docks in Portland. The iron had served as ballast and could be sold at a relatively low price. The depression of 1893 brought about the final closure of the plant in 1894.

With the decline of the iron industry and the increased popularity of the lake as a recreation area, the residential area grew mainly to the west. The distinct boundaries of the Willamette River, the iron foundry, and the main road and commercial avenue of Oswego prevented Old Town from expanding much beyond its original borders.

Oswego Heritage House

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heritage house

In 1928 Paul C. Murphy constructed the house as the office for Ladd Estate Company real estate business.  Murphy arrived in Portland in 1910 as the Vice-President and General Sales Manager of the Ladd Estate Company and later became the president of the Oregon Iron & Steel Company. Murphy’s vision was to convert the thousands of acres that remained after the cessation of Oregon Iron & Steel Company to residential use. 

Murphy used this house from 1928 until 1941 when he sold the property to Dr. William and Winifred Cane.  Dr. Cane used the house as both his office and a residence.  Many community members still remember coming to see Dr. Cane when they were younger.  Dr. Cane did make additions to the house but they did not hold up very well and were razed during the renovation by OHC. 

Upon the passing of Dr. Cane, Bill Headlee purchased the house with the intention of it being the home to Oswego Heritage Council.  Eventually the Council was able to raise the money to purchase it from Bill Headlee and pay the remaining debt.  Heavy renovations were needed as the dilapidated structure was covered by overgrown plants and trees.  Bill Oyalla was hired to do the renovations.  He restored the three original rooms and added on the exhibit space, meeting room and kitchen.  The landscape was designed by Bill Gerber.

In 1990 the building was placed on the City of Lake Oswego Landmark Designation List.  In 1999 it became the home of the Oswego Heritage Council. 

To learn more about the history of Lake Oswego visit the website of the Oswego Heritage Council or the Lake Oswego Preservation Society or the Lake Oswego Historical Resources Advisory Board.

Racism in Oregon: A Brief Overview

Click here for the December 10 program.

This presentation focused on Oregon history. It was coordinated by the Oswego Heritage Council and the LO Chamber of Commerce in partnership with the City of Lake Oswego, LO School District, LO Review, Respond to Racism, LO Sustainability Network, Arts Council of LO, LO Corporation, LO Library, LO Rotary, African American Women of LO, Lakewood Center for the Arts, Hope Community Church, LO United Methodist Church.

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