We have been staying this week in a historical park south of Portland, Oregon. The Champeog State Heritage Area, along the Willamette River, is best known for being the location of the first provincial government in the Oregon territory. Unfortunately because of a devastating flood in 1861 it is now a ghost town.
The early residents of this area where the Kalapuya Indians who lived in the Willamette River valley. It is thought that the word Champeog has its basis in the Kalapuya word for yampah, a food root (think peanuts?). Early non-Indian visitors were French-Canadian fur trappers and traders proceeding up the valley via the river.
The British Hudson’s Bay Company dominated the area by the 1820s. When more and more people left trapping and became farmers, the company shifted its emphasis as well. It owned the granary in Champeog.
Champeog saw a series of “wolf meetings” in the 1840s. Besides deciding on how to deal with predators in the valley, the residents discussed the growing tension between the Hudson’s Bay monopoly and the residents. On May 2, 1843 a group of over 100 men gathered at the granary in Champeog to vote to form a provisional government. The vote was 52 in favor with 50 in disagreement. At the end of the day, the first provisional government was formed in the Pacific Northwest.
In addition to being one of the first towns in the Oregon territory, the Champeog area also had the first gristmill. By the 1850s the town grew to have a hotel, two saloons, stagecoach office, steamboat landing, and was the crossroads to such towns as Salem, Oregon City, and St. Paul. Much of the town was located on the Robert Newell’s Donation Land Claim. This act of 1850 gave participants 320 or 640 acres (depending if you were married) of land. This encouraged many people to move to the Oregon territory (Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and some of Wyoming).
The power of the Willamette made itself known to the new residents of the Champeog town when, on December 2, 1861 the river rose violently and washed away almost every building. The panicked residents fled to the Robert Newell house, high on the hill. As he sought to care for the townspeople, his dreams for Champeog were lost. Even though the town itself would never recover, it became known as the “Plymouth Rock of the Pacific Coast.”
Champeog State Heritage Park has many activities and historical locations, including the oldest continually running store in Oregon, a barn that possibly is the oldest building in the state, and the above mentioned Newell house.
It also has a very popular Frisbee golf course. I did not realize the enthusasts had special disks, bags, and even pull carts to carry all their disks! They even had a tournament here this weekend. The Champeog campground is one of the best campgrounds where we have stayed. The sites are very nice on the B loop where we parked and everyone has been very friendly. We will definitely return to this campground when we find ourselves in the Portland area again.