Independence, Oregon, (population 9,375) was founded (twice) in the Willamette River Valley by settlers who had traveled the Oregon Trail, departing from Independence, Missouri. Elvin A. Thorp founded a town when he arrived in 1845 on the west bank of the Willamette River, just north of Ash Creek. Two years later Henry Hill arrived. He staked a claim (and opened a store) just south of Ash Creek through the Donation Land Claim Act (a forerunner of the Homestead Act), and then left for the gold fields of California. Upon his return in 1867, he found that “Thorp’s Town of Independence” had been mostly destroyed by a flood in 1861. He plotted out a town on the higher ground south of Ash Creek, which came to be known as “Henry Hill’s Town of Independence,” and the two towns were merged when they incorporated in 1885. The area that was once “Thorp’s Town of Independence” is now known as “Old Town.”
Due to its location on the Willamette River, Independence prospered as a port town, helped by its proximity to the rail lines that came through the area. It also had a thriving agricultural economy, which is still significant. The crop of the region, however, has changed: known as the “Hop Capital of the World” in the early 20th century, Independence’s agriculture today is mostly focused on the cultivation of grass seed. At the time of Independence’s peak hop cultivation in 1946, the population would swell to 40,000-50,000 people during the hop harvesting season. At one time Independence held a yearly Hop Festival, which was discontinued when the hop market dropped. It was recently re-instated, and is once again held yearly. The festival includes a “Ghost Walk” through the historic downtown area.
A number of vineyards are easily accessible from Independence, due to its location in the Willamette Valley. Independence is both part of and adjacent to many of the scenic trails and wildlife preserves in that area. Among these is the Willamette Valley Birding Trail. The Luckiamute Loop of the trail passes through Independence’s Riverview Park, the site of a former hop yard, and the location of the outdoor amphitheater that is the center of the Hop Festival. Other attractions in the vicinity include two National Wildlife Refuges, the Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway, and the Willamette River Water Trail.
One block south of Riverview Park is the Independence National Register Historic District. The Independence Downtown Association and the Heritage Museum Society provide a brochure of an “Independence Historic District Walking Tour.” The tour begins at the plaza at Riverview Park, and features 12 structures along two-and-a-half blocks of the 30-block historic district. Six of these structures were built in the 1880s; some before the incorporation of the town. While a few houses remain from before the 1880s, no business buildings do, as a result of fire, economic growth, and the previously mentioned flood. However, some photographs remain and may be found in and through contact with the Independence Heritage Museum.
Designated a Preserve America Community in May 2011.