West Linn, Oregon, (population 24,000) had its beginnings when settlers first occupied this location in the early 1840s, after Robert Moore purchased 1,000 acres from the “Wallamut” (Willamette) Indians. The town was situated on property now occupied by the West Linn Paper Company. Moore built flour and lumber mills and operated many other enterprises. In 1845, Moore named the tiny town “Linn City” in honor of his friend Dr. Lewis F. Linn, a U. S. Senator from Missouri and sponsor of the Donation Land Claim Bill. Not long after Moore’s death in 1857, a fire destroyed the saw mill, gristmill, wharves, and a docked steamer ship. Local businessmen began to rebuild, only to see their hard work washed away by floods later that same year.
Linn City was revived in 1868 when the Willamette Transportation Locks Company began providing passage to shipping over the Willamette Falls. The locks remain in continuous operation to this day. In 1913, the city of West Linn was incorporated, encompassing West Oregon City, Bolton, Sunset, and Willamette. The incorporation allowed the settlements to obtain needed services, utilities, and improvements without annexing to Oregon City. After considerable debate on a name, the city founders decided to honor the pioneer town that Moore had established.
The city is home to the National Register of Historic Places-listed Willamette Falls Neighborhood Historic District and the individually listed Willamette River Bridge. The bridge, designed by noted engineer Conde McCullough, was built over the Willamette River in 1922 to connect West Linn and Oregon City. West Linn is a Certified Local Government and is also a Main Street Community.
Lock Fest is a heritage event conceived in 2003 as a strategy for sharing and preserving West Linn’s historic industrial and transportation resources at Willamette Falls, the earliest still operating canal west of the Rocky Mountains. The Willamette Falls Heritage Foundation coordinates hundreds of volunteers and dozens of heritage and river-focused organizations to run this non-profit educational festival. The City sponsors this one-day living classroom event in partnership with a very broad range of partners, including the US Army Corps of Engineers, West Linn Paper Company, The Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde, West Linn neighborhood associations, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Clackamas County’s Tourism Development Council, Portland General Electric, the West Linn Wilsonville School District, The West Linn Tidings newspaper, Willamette Jet Boats, Hollywood Lighting Services, Accurate Installation, the Lion’s Club, the Sternwheeler Rose, American Medical Response, and the Oregon Solutions “One Willamette River Coalition”, which is itself a vast public/private partnership.
Lock Fest has raised regional awareness of the importance of the canal and the fascinating history of papermaking and power generation that flanks it. The centerpiece for the event is the canal itself and its four tandem locks, which lift boats nearly 50 feet around the magnificent Willamette Falls. Local school bus shuttles move festival visitors between the Willamette Falls Historic Neighborhood, the mill’s dedicated parking areas, the upriver dock, and the Lock Fest.
The day is enlivened by tours through the historic paper mill and hydropower plant, boat rides, exhibits, and a flotilla of boats locking through the canal. Events are planned to appeal to all ages. Volkswalking clubs plan routes through the festival, and kayaking groups organize group paddles as part of the flotilla. Through Lock Fest, the city of West Linn embraces its river-centered history with pride and involves the children who will be the preservation supporters of the future.
An annual “Willamette Living History Tour” involves more than 70 volunteers, mostly neighborhood residents, who lead groups and participate in scenes at 10 different sites in the neighborhood. The tour pays close attention to historical accuracy, with darkened streets, cars removed from the neighborhood, period décor and costumes. In addition, both the Willamette and Bolton neighborhoods have developed walking tour maps and guides.
Designated a Preserve America Community in January 2011.