West Linn vs Willamette (What’s the Difference?)

West Linn vs Willamette

Today, we are in West Linn, or is it Willamette?  West Linn. Willamette. What’s the difference?


We’ll let’s find out …


So, let’s go back in time and imagine when the Native American tribes used to occupy this area.  They most likely camped out along the Willamette River near the falls to hunt, fish, and to wash.


Then in the 1800’s settlers from the east started to lay claim to the lands.  Individual settlers used to own large areas in places like the Sunset neighborhood, and the Bolton neighborhood.


The area known as Historic Willamette, was primarily owned by 3 settlers, Marshall Perrin, Ambrose Fields, and later his son Joseph Fields.


Perrin’s claim eventually passed down through successive owners which was eventually bought by B.F Baker in 1885.  Then 8 years later Baker sold the land to the Willamette Falls Electric Company, which eventually became Portland General Electric.


Anyhow, the Willamette Falls Electric Company built the Willamette Falls Railway system to transport employees from this area over to the Willamette Falls.


I have a whole episode on the forgotten history of the Willamette Falls Railway system that I’ll leave a link below.


But in the process of building the Willamette Falls Railway, Nicholas Walden, working on behalf of the electric company, platted the first remnants of the Willamette Falls town.  It was one of the first neighborhoods to become a modern electric city.


The Capen Shoe Company Factory used to run along the street between 7th and 12th street.  Powered by the electricity supplied by the falls down the road. There was a lot of optimism that Willamette Falls would grow into a large city, but alas it did not, which is why the town never quite grew out of its small town feel.


Out of this optimism, Willamette Falls became the first incorporated city in this area in 1908.  They eventually shortened the name to Willamette. So, that’s how the town of Willamette came to be its own city.  It wasn’t until 2009 that Willamette officially became designated as a historic district.


And today, there is an effort to update the area to better work for visitors and local businesses, but keep the feel of its historic roots intact.  You can check out the design plans in the link below.


So, how does West Linn fit into this whole story?


As I mentioned earlier, in the early days of the Oregon being settled by homesteaders, there were large areas that were owned by individual families.  Eventually, the areas on the other side of the hill from Willamette, such as Sunset and Bolton incorporated to become West Linn after Willamette.


The newly formed city of West Linn had made arrangements with Oregon City’s pipeline access to the Clackamas River to supply clean water to their area.


Now, Willamette had only officially been a city for about 8 years when in 1910 typhoid fever infected the town.  Over 10% of the town became ill with the disease and 1 person died. It was determined that the source of the outbreak came from the polluted springs drawing water from the Willamette River.


I’m simplifying the story here, but Willamette approached the newly formed city of West Linn for help.  The community of West Linn at the time said sure, but only if Willamette would be absorbed into West Linn.


Remember, Willamette was only a few years into its official status of a city of their own.  Was West Linn playing hardball? There’s nothing of record of this happening, but who’s to know what went on off-the-record?


Willamette didn’t immediately agree, but then in 1911, another typhoid outbreak infected the city.


At this point the residents of the Willamette opted to give in and become part of West Linn.  It took another 5 years before West Linn could officially annex Willamette into their city. And they did so on Valentine’s Day, February 14th, 1916.


So, that’s how Willamette became a part of West Linn, and why some residents in Willamette still refer to where they live as Willamette and not West Linn.


Now, here’s something interesting … The first typhoid outbreak in 1910 was determined to come from the springs taken from the Willamette River.  The 2nd outbreak in 1911 … They couldn’t determine where the source came from.


Was there a case of sabotage to force the Willamette to join West Linn?  Who knows? But anything could have happened in the old pioneer days!




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