A brief history of our city...
The river terrace along the west bank of Willamette River downstream from the mouth of Oswego Creek was for thousands of years the home of Native Americans. Distinctive stone projectile points, identified as Cascadia-type, were a mark of their technology. The Cascadia points resemble the leaf of a willow and confirm Indian occupancy to more than 8,000 years before the present (BP). The site is one of the oldest documented in the lower Willamette Valley. Its attractions were several: good visibility of the river, drainage of rainfall, abundant salmon and lamprey, and access to the nearby camas meadows of the Tualatin Valley. Sucker Creek, today Oswego Creek, was an important lamprey fishery. In the nineteenth century the Multnomah and Clowewalla, speakers of an Upper Chinookan dialect, lived along the lower Willamette and shared the great salmon fishery at Willamette Falls with their Clackamas neighbors to the east and the Tualatin and Kalapuya to the south.
Prior to the negotiation and ratification of any treaties, Congress opened the Oregon Territory to settlers granting free land in 1850 through the Oregon Donation Land Act. Belatedly in January, 1855, Joel Palmer, Oregon Superintendent of Indian Affairs, entered into a treaty with the Kalapuya and other tribes and bands of the Willamette. They ceded their lands to the United States and were compelled to remove to the small Grand Ronde Reservation at the headwaters of the South Yamhill River in western Polk and Yamhill Counties. Today, their descendants are the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde with more than 4,000 members. The tribe's history and culture is preserved and shared in exhibits at Chachalu Museum and Cultural Center, Grand Ronde, Oregon.
*Special thanks to Prof. Stephen Beckham for his contribution of these paragraphs on Native Americans in the Oswego area.
The town of "Oswego" was founded in 1847 by Albert Alonzo Durham. He secured the first Donation Land Claim and named the town after his birthplace in New York. He built the town's first industry--a sawmill on Sucker Creek (now Oswego Creek).
In 1841, iron ore was discovered in the Tualatin Valley, but it was not until 1861 that its existence was an accepted fact. In 1865, the Oregon Iron Company was incorporated. It was the first of three companies that hoped to make Oswego an industrial center, the "Pittsburgh of the West."
The first iron smelter, in modern-day George Rogers Park, went into production in 1867 and continued to operate intermittently under a second corporation, the Oswego Iron Company, until 1881. It was succeeded by the Oregon Iron & Steel Company, which operated at the old plant until 1885. In 1888, its operators built a new smelter on the current Oswego Pointe site. The new smelter had five times the capacity of the old plant.
At its peak, the iron industry employed some 300 men. In 1890, production reached 12,305 tons of pig iron. Oswego was booming. It boasted a growing population, four general stores, a bank, two barber shops, two hotels, three churches, nine saloons, and Davidson's drugstore. An opera house proved to be a profitable investment.
Until 1886, when a narrow gauge railroad between Portland and Oswego was built, Oswego was a remote place. It could be reached only by river boats and narrow dirt roads. The Southern Pacific Railroad acquired the line before the end of the century and widened it to standard gauge. In 1914, it was electrified. The rapid, clean, and quiet trains stimulated residential development in Oswego in the 1920s and 1930s.
With the demise of the iron industry, Oregon Iron & Steel turned its attention to land development. It built a power plant on Oswego Creek from 1905 to 1909, and following the incorporation of the City of Oswego in 1910, sought permission to erect power poles to provide electricity to the community. It sold large tracts of the 24,000 acres it owned to land developers such as Paul Murphy and the Ladd Estate Company, and undertook residential development. In 1926, the first City Hall was built on A Avenue between State and First Streets.
Paul Murphy developed the Oswego Lake Country Club to promote Oswego as a place to "live where you play." By the 1930s, its growth as a year-round living environment was well underway. Murphy built the first water system to serve the west end of the city, and encouraged noted architects to design fine homes during the 1930s and 1940s. This gave rise to Oswego's reputation as a community of fine homes for people with taste.