WHAT'S "WILLAMETTE"??

November 20, 2012  by Peggy Sigler, Project Manager

2011.8.2 Willamette Falls from Blue Heron.   Photo by Peggy SiglerAs former Congresswoman Hooley used to remind folks, "It's Willamette, damn it."   The name "Willamette" is of indigenous origin, deriving from the French pronunciation of the name of a Clackamas Native American village. Today we have HUNDREDS of places, businesses and things that bear the Willamette moniker. To name a few (with the help of Wikipedia and Google):

WILLAMETTE RIVER: The Willamette River is a major tributary of the Columbia River and drains a region of 11,478 square miles. The Willamette's main stem is 187 miles long, lying entirely in northwestern Oregon. The free-flowing river was named one of 14 American Heritage Rivers in 1998, and a National Water Trail in 2012. The 50 or so bridges crossing the Willamette River include many historic structures, in addition to three ferries which continue to provide transit. 

WILLAMETTE VALLEY: Flowing northward between the Oregon Coast Range and the Cascade Range, the river and its tributaries form the Willamette Valley, a basin 180 miles long and 100 miles wide that contains two-thirds of Oregon's population, including the state capital, Salem, and the state's largest city, Portland. Portland is bisected by the Willamette and surrounds the river's mouth where it enters the Columbia.  Major highways I-5 and Hwy 99 follow the river for its entire length. The Oregon State Legislature established the Willamette Greenway program in 1967. Through it, state and local governments cooperate in creating or improving a system of parks, trails, and wildlife refuges along the river. 

WILLAMETTE FLOODPLAIN:  In 1987, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior designated 713 acres of the watershed in Benton County as a National Natural Landmark. This area is the Willamette Floodplain, the largest remaining unplowed native grassland in the North Pacific geologic province, which encompasses most of the Pacific Northwest coast. 

WILLAMETTE FALLS:  The Willamette Falls is a natural waterfall on the Willamette River between Oregon City and West Linn. It is the largest waterfall in the Pacific Northwest by water volume, second largest in the United States behind Niagara Falls, and the eighteenth largest in the world. Horseshoe in shape, it is 1,500 feet wide and 40 feet high with a flow of 30,849 cu ft/s, located 27 miles upriver from the Willamette's mouth. Starting in the 1820s, Oregon City developed near Willamette Falls and was incorporated in 1844, becoming the first city west of the Rocky Mountains. Oregon City prospered because of the lumber, woolen, and paper mills that were run by the water power of Willamette Falls, but the falls formed an impassable barrier to river navigation. 

WILLAMETTE FALLS NAVIGATION CANAL & LOCKS: Beginning in the 1850s, steamboats began to ply the Willamette, despite the fact that they could not pass Willamette Falls. As a result, navigation on the Willamette River was divided into two stretches: the 27-mile lower stretch from Portland to Oregon City — which allowed connection with the rest of the Columbia River system — and the upper reach, which encompassed most of the Willamette's length. Any boats whose owners found it absolutely necessary to get past the falls had to be portaged. In 1873, the construction of the Willamette Falls Locks bypassed the falls and allowed easy navigation between the upper and lower river. Each lock chamber measures 210 feet long and 40 feet wide. The locks were sold by the Willamette Falls Canal and Locks Company to the United States Army Corps of Engineers in 1915. Closed by the Corps in 2011, the river is again divided in two. 

WILLAMETTE FALLS DAM: The only dam on the Willamette's main stem is the Willamette Falls Dam, a low weir-type structure at Willamette Falls that is part of the Locks system and diverts water into the headraces of the adjacent mills and power plant. 

WILLAMETTE FALLS ELECTRIC COMPANY (later renamed Portland General Electric) was formed in 1888 to build a hydro-electric generation facility at the falls. Four turbine-driven dynamos were built on the east end of the falls. A 14-mile long transmission line to Portland was built, becoming the United States' first long distance transmission of electrical energy. 

WILLAMETTE, a turn-of-the-century town overlooking Willamette Falls, a National Register District and Main Street community, is now incorporated into the City of West Linn as a distinct neighborhood. 

WILLAMETTE UNIVERSITY: Willamette University is an American private institution of higher learning located in Salem, Oregon. Founded in 1842, it is the oldest university in the Western United States. 

WILLAMETTE FALLS HERITAGE FOUNDATION is the lead organization preserving and promoting the magnificence and history of Willamette Falls and working to protect the Navigation Canal and Locks. 

WILLAMETTE FALLS HERITAGE AREA COALITION includes a wide range of organizations and jurisdictions who are working together in partnership toward the shared vision of creating a Willamette Falls State and National Heritage Area in order to protect, enhance, share, and enjoy the region defined by the Willamette River between the mouths of the Tualatin River and Clackamas River. 

WILLAMETTE HERITAGE CENTER showcases the history of the Willamette Valley on a five-acre campus in Salem, home to fourteen historic structures that present the stories and richness of Oregon's past. 

WILLAMETTE STONE was a small stone obelisk originally located in the western hills of Portland. It marked the intersection and origin of the WILLAMETTE MERIDIAN and WILLAMETTE BASELINE, which defined the grid system of sections and townships from which all real property in the states of Oregon and Washington has been measured following the Donation Land Claim Act of 1850. The Willamette meridian runs north-south from the marker, and the Willamette baseline runs east to west through the marker. It is now surrounded by WILLAMETTE STONE STATE PARK. 

WILLAMETTE MISSION is an Oregon State Park near Salem and one of the most significant and beautiful historic sites in the Willamette Valley. The park occupies land where the first mission for American Indians was founded in 1834 by the Reverend Jason Lee. 

WILLAMETTE RIVERKEEPER is a non-profit organization dedicated to the protection and restoration of the Willamette River. 

AND MANY MORE:  Willamette Meteorite, Willamette National Forest, Willamette Primary School, Willamette Week Newspaper, Willamette Valley Vineyards, Willamette Gardens of Corvallis, Willamette Noodle Company, Willamette Valley Country Club, Willamette Burger Company, Willamette Farm & Food Coalition, Willamette Valley Meat, Willamette Valley Hops, Willamette Valley Development Officers, Willamette.Net, Willamette National Cemetery, Willamette Speedway, Willamette Industries, Willamette Park, Willamette Falls Medical Center, Willamette View Retirement Living, Willamette Country Music Festival, Willamette Queen, Willamette Valley Cheese Company, USS Willamette US Navy ship, Willamette Kayak and Canoe Club, Willamette Valley Multiple Listing Service, Willamette Valley Hospice, Willamette Cattle Company, Willamette Print & Blueprint, Willamette Shore Trolley, Willamette Shakespeare, Willamette Landscape Services, Willamette Motor Club, Willamette Aviation, Willamette Valley Bank, Willamette Veterinary Hospital, Willamette Valley Genealogical Society, Willamette Partnership, Willamette Humane Society, and STILL MANY MORE! 

Please check back often for additional updates.  Also, please consider making a donation to support our ongoing work at the Willamette Falls Navigation Canal and Locks. Thank you!