skip navigation and jump to page content The Library of CongressThe American Folklife Center 
Community Roots: Selections from the Local Legacies Project
Collage of Local Legacies
 Home >> OREGON
End of Oregon Trail Interpretive Center
End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, 1996 Photo: Gary Poush

End of the Oregon Trail

Long before pioneers crossed the continent in their covered wagons and challenged the British claim to the Pacific Northwest, the area in the Willamette Valley now known as Oregon City was the center of commerce and culture for the Native American tribes of the region. The Indians had been attracted by the Falls of the Willamette River, one of the biggest salmon fishing holes in the American West. In the early 1800s Americans made sporadic efforts to set up competing trading posts, but did not seriously challenge British sovereignty until the 1840s. By then Chief Factor John McLoughlin of the Hudson Bay Company, a loyal British subject, but now recognized by his adopted country as the "Father of Oregon," had been in control of the area for about 20 years. His goal was the colonization of the area, which he began at Willamette Falls (called Oregon City by the Americans) to take advantage of the falling water which would supply power for mills. McLoughlin's claims to mill sites at Willamette Falls were wrested from him in a conspiracy by a handful of prominent early American pioneer settlers.

For, in 1843 several hundred Americans from the Midwest had sold their farms, closed their businesses, packed up their families and possessions, to journey 2,000 miles to the Oregon country. These pioneers were the beginning of the single largest land migration in history. Over the next three decades, 300,000 people would cross the vast plains, travel over the Rocky Mountains and the Continental Divide, and struggle through Oregon's diverse terrain to reach Oregon City at the End of the Oregon Trail. At Oregon City, the pioneers filed land claims and reprovisioned their supplies to start their new lives in the Pacific Northwest. Oregon City became the commercial and cultural center of the new territory, site of the largest mills in area, and home to the first opera house, bootleg moonshine still, and newspaper published in English west of the Continental Divide. In 1859, Oregon became the 33rd state.

By the 1860s, Oregon City had lost its position of prominence, following the establishment of Oregon's new capital at Salem and the growth of the downriver town of Portland. It still remained a literal crossroads, as the Willamette Falls marked the division between steamboat traffic on the upper and lower river until construction of the locks in the 1870s. It was also a favored site for the railroads, and the Southern Pacific placed its water-level route along the coast.

Upon the sesquicentennial of the Great Migration of 1843, there began an organized effort to develop an appropriate commemoration of the history surrounding Willamette Falls. In 1987 the Oregon Trail Foundation was incorporated as a nonprofit entity to oversee the development and operation of the End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center. The End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center tells the compelling story of the early pioneers by combining live history presentations, a mixed media show about the trail journey and exhibits of artifacts and heirlooms from the Trail. It is located at Abernethy Green, once the main arrival area of the immigrants in Oregon City. Three 50-foot-tall covered-wagon-shaped buildings dominate the 8.5 acre site. Through a number of annual events, the Interpretive Center fosters the preservation of vanishing skills, music, and languages. Living history interpreters guide visitors through the Center explaining why early pioneers risked the journey and giving a sense of life on the Trail. The exhibit gallery houses both fixed and rotating exhibits and focuses on topics such as religion, agriculture, and issues of race and gender on the frontier. There is a "hands-on" area primarily for children where they can play with old-fashioned toys, smell medicinal herbs, practice penmanship on slates, and learn about foodstuffs of the period. In a typical year, there are 70,000 to 80,000 visitors to the Center from as far away as Germany, Japan, Australia, and South Africa.

The project is documented with six pages of text, 11 color slides with descriptions, and a promotional brochure.

Originally submitted by: Darlene Hooley, Representative (5th District).

link to www.loc.govMore Local Legacies...

The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

disclaimer for external linksLearn More About It...
 Home >> OREGON
  The Library of Congress 
The American Folklife Center
Contact Us
AFC Icon