Oregon: Northwest Passage still beckons


Oregon’s largest city was established in 1843 where the Willamette River joins the Columbia River in the northwest part of the state. Today this thriving city with a relaxed lifestyle is nicknamed the City of Roses because of its spectacular public gardens. In 1914, newspaper publisher Henry Pittock built a French Renaissance mansion on a hilltop with spectacular views of the city and mountain ranges. At the time he was 80 and his wife, Georgiana, was 68, so they were only able to enjoy their home for a few years. The 16,000-square-foot house remained in their family until it was offered for sale in 1958. The threat of demolition by land developers inspired citizens interested in historic preservation to raise enough money so the City of Portland could purchase and refurbish the home. Opened for public tours since 1965, the Pittock Mansion is filled with 17th and 18th century European and American antiques. Noted for its Native American collections, the Portland Art Museum also has outstanding displays of European art. The Oregon Historical Society Museum is a world-class facility that offers visitors a glimpse of the heritage of the Pacific Northwest. Its third floor is home to Oregon, My Oregon, an award-winning display with 12 sections covering all time periods. See a 9,000-year-old sagebrush sandal and a replica Hudson Bay Co. ship hull. Then sit down at a dime-store counter and push a jukebox button to hear civic leaders discussing modern Oregon issues. The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden, a special exhibit running until Sept. 17, shows historical and personal items from our nation’s leaders.

In 1811, five years after the departure of the Lewis & Clark Expedition, New York financier John Jacob Astor sent fur-handlers to this area to start a trading post. The site where they built Fort Astoria is now preserved with Astoria Column, a tower with historic murals and a 164-step spiral staircase. Climb to the top to get a spectacular view of mountains, the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean. Explore marine transportation from dugout canoe to the present at the Columbia River Maritime Museum. View a 12-minute film to get an overview of life and commerce on the Columbia River. Then take the helm at a tugboat wheelhouse, walk the bridge of a World War II warship or board the Lightship Columbia. Fort Clatsup National Memorial is the site where the 33-member Lewis & Clark Expedition wintered in 1805-1806. During summer months, buckskin-clad rangers perform historical reenactments. Known for its steep hills and streets of Victorian homes, Astoria has been nicknamed “Little San Francisco of the Pacific Northwest.” Tour one of the most prominent homes, the Flavel House Museum, built in 1885 by a sea captain. Admire the elegant Victorian furnishings and see the cupola where he surveyed his fleet. Housed in a vintage fire station, the Uppertown Firefighters Museum has an extensive collection of firefighting equipment and memorabilia dating from 1877 to 1965.

Once a thriving port on the Willamette River, Salem became the capital of the Oregon Territory in 1851. Learn more about the state’s history and geology by touring the Oregon State Capitol. The Mission Mill Museum preserves two distinct histories, missions and mills, which were woven together to form a major part of Oregon’s legacy from 1834 to 1962. This 5-acre site has three homes, a church and eight mill buildings. The 1841 home of Methodist missionary Jason Lee and a parsonage are believed to be the oldest frame structures in the Pacific Northwest. The Boon House was built in 1847 by an Oregon politician. Built in the 1850s, Pleasant Grove is the oldest Presbyterian church in the state. Founded at this spot in 1849, the Thomas Kay Mill was a forerunner to Pendleton Woolen Mills. Visitors can see original equipment used in early 19th century industrial wool processing and an 1890’s waterwheel that still works.

Eastern Oregon’s largest town was once home to rowdy cowboys and cattle rustlers. Pendleton Underground Tours takes visitors through hand-dug tunnels to see subterranean businesses and living quarters used by Chinese railroad workers in the late 19th century, including a laundry and meat market. Other portions show bordellos, bars, card games and a jail used by cowboys. Take a tour of the town’s largest employer, Pendleton Woolen Mills, to see all the processes involved in making woolen products.

Get an introduction to central Oregon history and ecology at the High Desert Museum. Stroll through elaborate dioramas depicting Native American dwellings. Take a hike on a nature trail leading to replicas of a pioneer cabin and sawmill plus exhibits of desert animals.

This lush agricultural area is home to Tillamook Cheese, which annually produces 78 million pounds for customers worldwide. Take a tour to see historical displays and the cheese-making process. Exhibits at the Tillamook County Pioneer Museum include dolls, logging tools, Indian artifacts and military memorabilia. The Latimer Quilt and Textile Center has exhibits, demonstrations and a research library in a converted school.