You might think you’re town is old, but it probably isn’t the oldest in the country.
That is unless you live in St. Augustine, FL.
Which looks pretty good for being 454 years old. That’s older than America for those playing at home.
So that got us thinking, what is the oldest city in Oregon? And how old is that when you put it into perspective of St. Augustine or American Independence in 1776?
Because even if you’re Oregon city or town is old, it isn’t really all that old in the grand scheme of things. For example, the Pyramids in Egypt were built around 2600 BC, a cool 4100 years before St. Augustine.
And now that we have you thinking about how the time line of your existence is really kind of unimpressive on the timeline of history, let’s drop right into the analysis.
These are the 10 oldest cities and towns in the Beaver State according to their ‘date of foundation’:
- Corvallis (Photos)
- Lake Oswego (Photos)
- Portland (Photos)
- Eugene (Photos)
- Hillsboro (Photos)
- Medford (Photos)
- Astoria (Photos)
- Florence (Photos)
- Eagle Point (Photos)
- Molalla (Photos)
For being 173 years old, Corvallis doesn’t look a day over 40. And the newest city in Oregon? That would be Bend — a brand spanking 13 years old.
How We Determined When A City Was Founded In Oregon… Or Is It Settled?
Surprisingly, there’s not a definitive data set that contains the dates of incorporation or settlement for cities in America. Put differently, there’s no official data set from the Census that contains when every place in America was founded.
So what did we do instead?
Use the internet’s version of official government data — Wikipedia of course!
For the majority of cities in Oregon, Wikipedia offers data on some kind of ‘date of foundation’ in the infobox. Unfortunately, because it’s Wikipedia and not a sprawling government bureaucracy, that can take the form of any of the following nomenclature (plus others):
And then even more stuff — for example Atlanta has a ‘Terminus’ date, whatever that is.
If no ‘date of foundation’ was found in the infobox, we looked to the general text in the History section of the city for ‘Founded in XXXX’.
All in all, we were able to collect data on 89 out of 99 in Oregon with over 5,000 people. That’s good for a 89.9% completion rate.
We then ranked them from oldest to newest with Corvallis turning out to be the matriarch of Oregon at the ripe old age of 173.
Here’s a look at the top ten and a snippet of their history from Wikipedia.
Population: 55,766Founded: 1845
In October 1845, Joseph C. Avery arrived in Oregon from the east. Avery took out a land claim at the mouth of Marys River where it flows into the Willamette River and in June 1846 took up residence there in a log cabin hastily constructed to hold what seemed a potentially lucrative claim. Avery’s primitive 1846 dwelling was the first home within the boundaries of today’s Corvallis and his land claim included the southern section of the contemporary city.
2. Lake Oswego
Population: 38,065Founded: 1847
The Clackamas Indians once occupied the land that later became Lake Oswego, but diseases transmitted by European explorers and traders killed most of the natives. Before the influx of non-native people via the Oregon Trail, the area between the Willamette River and Tualatin River had a scattering of early pioneer homesteads and farms.
Population: 620,589Founded: 1851
During the prehistoric period, the land that would become Portland was flooded after the collapse of glacial dams from Lake Missoula, located in what would later become Montana. These massive floods occurred during the last ice age and filled the Willamette Valley with 300 to 400 feet (91 to 122 m) of water.
Before American pioneers began arriving in the 1800s, the land that eventually became Portland and surrounding Multnomah County was inhabited for many centuries by two bands of indigenous Chinook people— the Multnomah and the Clackamas peoples. The Chinook people occupying the land which would become Portland were first documented by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark in 1805. Before its European settlement, the Portland Basin of the lower Columbia River and Willamette River valleys had been one of the most densely populated regions on the Pacific Coast.
Population: 161,649Founded: 1862
The first people to settle in the Eugene area were known as the Kalapuyans, also written Calapooia or Calapooya. They made ‘seasonal rounds,’ moving around the countryside as appropriate to collect and preserve local foods, including acorns, the bulbs of the wapato and camas plants, and berries. They stored these foods in their permanent winter village. When crop activities waned, they returned to their winter villages and took up hunting, fishing, and trading. They were known as the Chifin Kalapuyans and called the Eugene area where they lived ‘Chifin’, sometimes recorded as ‘Chafin’ or ‘Chiffin’.
Other Kalapuyan tribes occupied villages that are also now within Eugene city limits. Pee-you or Mohawk Calapooians, Winefelly or Pleasant Hill Calapooians, and the Lungtum or Long Tom. They were close-neighbors to the Chifin, intermarried, and were political allies. Some authorities suggest that the Brownsville Kalapuyans (Calapooia Kalapuyans) were related to the Pee-you. It is likely that since the Santiam had an alliance with the Brownsville Kalapuyans that the Santiam influence also went as far at Eugene.
Population: 100,462Founded: 1876
The first people of the Tualatin Valley were the Atfalati or Tualaty tribe of the Kalapuya, who inhabited the region for up to 10,000 years before white settlers arrived. The valley consisted of open grassland maintained through annual burning by the Atfalati, with scattered groves of trees along the streams. The Kalapuya moved from place to place in good weather to fish and hunt and to gather nuts, seeds, roots, and berries. Important foods included camas and wapato, and the Atfalati traded for salmon from Chinookan tribes near Willamette Falls on the Willamette River. During the winter, they lived in longhouses in settled villages, some near what became Hillsboro and Beaverton. Their population was greatly reduced after contact in the late 18th century with Europeans, who carried smallpox, syphilis, and malaria. Of the original population of 1,000 to 2,000 Atfalati reported in 1780, only 65 remained in 1851. In 1855, the U.S. government sent the survivors to the Grande Ronde reservation further west.
The European-American community was founded by David Hill, Isaiah Kelsey, and Richard Williams, who arrived in the Tualatin Valley in 1841, followed by six more pioneers in 1842. The locality went by two other names—East Tualatin Plains and Columbia—before it was named ‘Hillsborough’ in February 1850 in honor of Hill, when he sold part of his land claim to the county. On February 5, 1850, commissioners chosen by the territorial legislature selected the community to be the seat of the county government. Hill was to be paid $200 for his land after plots had been sold for the town site, but he died before this occurred, and his widow Lucinda received the funds. The town’s name was later simplified to Hillsboro. A log cabin was built in 1853 to serve as the community’s first school, which opened in October 1854. Riverboats provided transportation to Hillsboro as early as 1867 when the side-wheel steamer Yamhill worked on the Tualatin River.
Population: 78,856Founded: 1885
In 1883, a group of railroad surveyors headed by S. L. Dolson and David Loring arrived in Rock Point, near present-day Gold Hill. They were charged with finding the best route through the Rogue Valley for the Oregon and California Railroad. Citizens of neighboring Jacksonville hoped that it would pass between their town and Hanley Butte, near the present day Claire Hanley Arboretum. Such a move would have all but guaranteed prosperous growth for Jacksonville, but Dolson decided instead to stake the railroad closer to Bear Creek. The response from Jacksonville was mixed, but the decision was final. By November 1883, a depot site had been chosen and a surveying team led by Charles J. Howard was hard at work platting the new town. They completed their work in early December 1883, laying out 82 blocks for development.
James Sullivan Howard, a merchant and surveyor, claimed to have built the town’s first building in January 1884, though blacksmith Emil Piel was advertising for business at the ‘central depot’ in the middle of December 1883. Others point out the farms of town founders Iradell Judson Phipps and Charles Wesley Broback, which were present before the town was platted. Regardless, on February 6, 1884 (less than a month after it was built), J. S. Howard’s store became Medford’s first post office, with Howard serving as postmaster. The establishment of the post office led to the incorporation of Medford as a town by the Oregon Legislative Assembly on February 24, 1885, and again as a city in 1905. Howard held the position of postmaster for Medford’s first ten years, and again held the post upon his death on November 13, 1919.
Population: 9,595Founded: 1904
The Lewis and Clark Expedition spent the winter of 1805–06 at Fort Clatsop, a small log structure south and west of modern-day Astoria. The expedition had hoped a ship would come by to take them back east, but instead they endured a torturous winter of rain and cold, later returning the way they came. Today the fort has been recreated and is now a historical park.
Population: 8,597Founded: 1905
The Florence area was originally inhabited by the Siuslaw tribe of Native Americans. Some claim that the city was named after state senator A. B. Florence, who represented Lane County from 1858 to 1860; another claim is that Florence was named after a French vessel that was wrecked at the mouth of the Siuslaw River on February 17, 1875.
9. Eagle Point
Population: 8,790Founded: 1905
In the mid-19th century, a rocky cliff near the location of what later became Eagle Point was a favored nesting place for eagles. An area resident, John Mathews, is said to have suggested the name Eagle Point as the name for a proposed post office in the community. The post office was established in 1872; Andrew McNeil was the first postmaster.
Population: 8,867Founded: 1905
Molalla was named after the Molalla River, which in turn was named for the Molala, a Native American tribe that inhabited the area. William H. Vaughan took up a donation land claim in the area in 1844. Molalla post office was established in 1850, near the site of Liberal, and was discontinued in 1851. The post office was reestablished in 1868 and it ran until 1874, then was reestablished in 1876, which is when it was probably placed at the present location of Molalla.
Oh How Time Flies For The Oldest Towns And Cities In Oregon
So there you have it, a look at some of the oldest places to live in Oregon. If we missed your city’s ‘date of foundation’, let us know in the comments. Or feel free to take a look at the table of the oldest places in Oregon.
And now, let’s raise our glasses, to the next 100 years of existence for these cities and towns in the Beaver State.
And for those wondering, here are the newest additions to Oregon:
- Bend (Founded in 2005)
- Tillamook (Founded in 2005)
- Pendleton (Founded in 2005)
Detailed List Of The Oldest Cities In Oregon
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