in northwestern Oregon
, county seat of Clackamas County
. 1998 population 20,940. Oregon City was the original main settlement
in Oregon and the original capital of the Oregon Territory
when it was populated by the Oregon Trail
during the 1840s. In fact, it was the first major settlement on the entire west coast
—when San Francisco
was first platted
, the legal documents were registered and stored in the Clackamas County Courthouse
in Oregon City.
Oregon City's location was mainly due to the waterfall along the Willamette River there, which was used to power early mills and other industry. Oregon City eventually lost its importance as the capital was moved to Salem in 1855 (for a more central placement in the Willamette Valley) and as Portland to the near north gained importance (due to its easier access to the fertile soils of the Tualatin Valley).
Oregon City is now regaining some prominence as an outer suburb of the fast-growing Portland metropolitan area. The city has grown significantly in recent years: it grew approximately 40% from 1990 to 1998. However, the once-thriving downtown commercial district is now a sad-looking place of attorney's offices, jewelry stores, and the now much less significant Clackamas County Courthouse.
Oregon City, like Salvador-Bahia, Brazil, is divided by a bluff into a lower and upper town. The original settlement was on the lower town, and as it grew onto the overlooking bluff in the mid-1860s a sytem of stairways was built. In 1912, a public municipal elevator was built to connect the lower and upper towns. Powered by the waterfall, the elevator's ride took some three minutes. In 1924 the elevator was upgraded to a faster electrical mechanism. In 1952, a new, more modern elevator was built, with a quasi-futuristic, unadorned style. That elevator continues to be in service to this day, and is one of only four municipal elevators in the world, as well as the only one in the US.