We are partners, stewards and advocates of the culture and heritage at Willamette Falls. Our mission is to preserve and promote awareness of the magnificence and history at Willamette Falls so that it will live in the minds and imaginations of people of all ages.
Please help to continue our mission and make a donation to the Willamette Falls Heritage Foundation:
The Willamette Falls is a natural waterfall on the Willamette River between Oregon City and West Linn. It is the largest waterfall in the Northwestern United States by volume, and the seventeenth widest in the world. (1) The falls are horseshoe in shape, 1,500 feet wide and 40 feet high with a flow of almost 31,000 cu ft/s, located 26 miles from the Columbia River confluence. There are a set of locks on the West Linn side (western side) of the river.
Native American legends taught that the falls were placed there by a great god so that their people would have fish to eat all winter. (2) Many local tribes built villages in the area because of the abundance of salmon that could only pass the falls at certain water levels. Native Americans still harvest Pacific Lamprey at the falls each year in the early summer. Willamette Falls is a traditional fishing site for the Warm Springs Indians as well as other tribes.
European fur traders became aware of the falls in 1810. John McLoughlin established a land claim at the falls in the name of the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1829. Oregon City was established in 1842 near the east end of the falls. The town of Linn City was founded on the western shore one year later in 1843. The two towns competed economically, vying for the lucrative steamboat traffic and the trade that it generated. With the falls representing the end of the line for boat traffic, river boat captains were forced to choose a side of the river on which they would dock to unload passengers and cargo; some of which would continue the journey up river on winding portage toll roads.
Navigating past the falls was not possible until the completion of the Willamette Falls Locks in 1873. During construction of the locks, channels were blasted from the rocks. The locks were sold by the Willamette Falls and Locks Company to the United States Army Corps of Engineers in 1915.