Steamboats of the Willamette River

Steamboats of the Willamette River

The Willamette River flows northwards down the Willamette Valley until it meets the Columbia River at a point 101 milesTimmen, Fritz, "Blow for the Landing", at 89-90, 228, Caxton Printers, Caldwell, ID 1972 ISBN 0-87004-221-1] from the Pacific Ocean, in the U.S. state of Oregon.

Route and Early Operations

In the natural condition of the river, Portland was the farthest point on the river where the water was deep enough to allow ocean-going ships. Rapids further upstream at Clackamas were a hazard to navigation, and all river traffic had to portage around Willamette Falls, where Oregon City had been established as the first major town inland from Astoria.

The first steamboat built and launched on the Willamette was "Lot Whitcomb", launched at Milwaukie, Oregon, in 1850. "Lot Whitcomb" was 160 feet long, had 24 foot beam, 5 feet of draft, and 600 gross tons).. Her engines were designed by Jacob Kamm, built in the eastern United States, then shipped in pieces to Oregon.. Her first captain was John C. Ainsworth, and her top speed was 12 miles per hour.Gulick, Bill, "Steamboats on Northwest Rivers", Caxton Press, at 23, Caldwell, Idaho (2004) ISBN 0-87004-438-9] "Lot Whitcomb" was able to run upriver 120 miles from Astoria to Oregon City in ten hours, compared to the "Columbia"'s two days. She served on the lower river routes until 1854, when she was transferred to the Sacramento River in California, and renamed the "Annie Abernathy".Affleck, Edward L., "A Century of Paddlewheelers in the Pacific Northwest, the Yukon, and Alaska", at 18, Alexander Nicholls Press, Vancouver, B.C. 2000 ISBN 0-920034-08-X]

The side-wheeler "Multnomah" made her first run in August 1851, above Willamette Falls. She had been built in New Jersey, taken apart into numbered pieces, shipped to Oregon, and reassembled at Canemah, just above Willamette Falls. She operated above the falls for a little less then a year, but her deep draft barred her from reaching points on the upper Willamette, so she was returned to the lower river in May 1852, where for the time she had a reputation as a fast boat, making for example the 18 mile run from Portland to Vancouver, Washington in one hour and twenty minutes.Corning, Howard McKinley, "Willamette Landings", (2nd Ed.), at 62, 117-119, and 171-78, Oregon Historical Society, Portland, OR 1973 ISBN 0-87595-042-6]

Another sidewheeler on the Willamette River at this time was the Mississippi-style "Wallamet", which did not prosper, and was sold to California interests.Mills, Randall V., "Sternwheelers up Columbia", at 21, 25-26, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE 1947 ISBN 0-8032-5874-7] In 1853, the side-wheeler "Belle of Oregon City", an iron-hulled boat built entirely in Oregon, was launched at Oregon City. "Belle" (as generally known) was notable because everything, including her machinery, was of iron that had been worked in Oregon at a foundry owned by Thomas V. Smith. "Belle" lasted until 1869, and was a good boat, but was not considered a substitute for the speed and comfort (as the standard was then) of the departed "Lot Whitcomb".

Also operating on the river at this time were
"James P. Flint", "Allen", "Washington", and the small steam vessels "Eagle", "Black Hawk", and "Hoosier", the first two being iron-hulled and driven by propellers.

Canal and Locks at Willamette Falls

Locks were completed at Willamette Falls in 1873. This eliminated the need for the portage at Willamette Falls and established an "open river" all the way south to Eugene, although the water was so shallow by that point that few boats ever made it so far.

Operations on Willamette River

The Willamette River was readily navigable by steamboats all the way up to Milwaukie. Above Milwaukie, there were two barriers to navigation, the Clackamas Rapids and Willamette Falls. The Clackamas Rapids were navigable, provided the steamboat was small and light. Willamette Falls was impassable. All traffic bound upriver had to portage around Willamette Falls at Oregon City.

Steam powered vessels did not operate on the Willamette River above Willamette Falls until 1851. Other than the small "Hoosier", a converted ship's long boat with a pile driver engine, the first boat on the Willamette above the falls was the "Canemah". "Canemah" was built at the town of the same name just above the falls, and launched towards the end of September, 1851. Her owner was Absalom F. Hedges, the founder of Canemah. "Canemah" proved to be a profitable boat, she got the contract for carrying mail upriver, and earned 20 cents a bushel hauling grain downriver from Corvallis to Canemah. A boat of her size could load 1,000 to 1,500 bushels a trip. "Multnomah", prefabricated back east and shipped out to Oregon, was apparently assembled at Canemah and launched about the same time as the steamer "Canemah". She operated on the Willamette and also on the Yamhill River as far up as Dayton. "Multnomah"'s draft was too deep for the upper stretches of the Willamette (where the real money could be made hauling cargo) and so in May 1852, she was portaged over the falls to operate in the lower Willamette and Columbia rivers.

Operations on tributaries

Oswego Lake and Tualatin River

Sucker Lake, later called Oswego Lake, is a large lake south of Portland, about half the distance to Oregon City. (The current Oswego Lake is a larger version of the original lake, formed by a dam on the east end.) The Tualatin River is a tributary of the Willamette River, which runs near to the west end of Oswego Lake, which itself is tributary to the Willamette, draining easterly through Sucker Creek, now known as Oswego Creek. In 1865, John Corse Trullinger established a sawmill driven by an overshot waterwheel on Sucker Creek. At that time, road and other access to the Tualatin Valley was very difficult. The mouth of the Tualatin River was unnavigable, so it was necessary to portage around the Tualatin's mouth to get to a place where steamboats could run.

Starting on May 29, 1865 a portage mule-hauled railroad on wooden tracks ran between the Tualatin River and Sucker Lake, a distance of about 1.75 miles. This was called the Sucker Lake and Tualatin River Railroad. The main traffic was logs for Trullinger's mill on the east end of Sucker Lake. The steam sidewheel scow "Yamhill", under Captain Edward Kellogg (brother of , and so, in the summer of 1866, they built the steamer "Minnehaha" at Oswego.

Through the 1870s, "Minnehaha" ran on the lake, connecting to Colfax Landing at the west end. Traffic would there be portaged over to the Tualatin, where, starting in 1869, the small sternwheeler "Onward", 100 tons, served points as far as 60 miles upstream to head of navigation at Emerick's Landing. "Onward" made one trip up and one trip down the Tualatin every week. A trip from Portland on this route would begin at the Ash Street dock on Wednesday evening by boarding the "Senator", bound for Oswego, where travelers would stay Wednesday night at Shade's Hotel. They would then board the "Onward", proceed west down Sucker Lake, to the portage railroad at Colfax Landing. Mules or horses would draw wagons carrying the passengers and freight over to the Tualatin, where the travelers would reembark, and the cargo be reloaded, for points upstream. The return journey to Portland would be the reverse, but would start on Sunday evening. There were many landings along the way, ones whose names survive into modern times include Taylor's Ferry (later, Taylor's Bridge), Scholl's, Scholl's Ferry, Farmington, Hillsboro and Forest Grove.

In 1871, work was begun on a canal to connect the Tualatin with Oswego Lake, which was becoming important because of the iron smelter located on the east end of the lake. The canal was finally finished in 1873, and "Onward" was able to move between the Tualatin River and Sucker Lake. Navigation of the Tualatin River had never been easy, as the river was full of snags and sinkers. After 1890, business fell off, particularly with the Panic of 1893. By 1895, when the Corps of Engineers declared the Tualatin unnavigable, there wasn't any river traffic on it anyway.

ee also

*Historic ferries in Oregon


External links

Oregon State University image collection

* [,A,1;title,A,1;subjec,A,0;descri,200,0;0,A,0;10&CISOBIB=title,A,1,N;subjec,A,0,N;descri,K,0,N;0,A,0,N;0,A,0,N;10&CISOTHUMB=4,5&CISOTITLE=10 "Pomona" at Corvallis]
* [,A,1;title,A,1;subjec,A,0;descri,200,0;0,A,0;10&CISOBIB=title,A,1,N;subjec,A,0,N;descri,K,0,N;0,A,0,N;0,A,0,N;10&CISOTHUMB=4,5&CISOTITLE=10 "Three Sisters" and "Wm. M. Hoag", on the Willamette River at Corvallis wharves.]

alem Public Library image collection

* [ Claude Skinner's steam launch, 1958]
* [ "Willamette Chief" and other vessels, at landing somewhere on Columbia River]
* [ "Three Sisters", 1890s]
* [ "Grahamona" being built at East Portland, 1912]
* [ "Gamecock", renamed "Gay Marie" and converted to floating apartment house, Nov 12, 1945, in a sinking condition]
* [ "Governor Grover" in Willamette Locks]
* [ Hall at Champoeg, with nameboards of steamboats]

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