Dr. John McLoughlin, Chief Factor of the HBC, located at Ft. Vancouver, was the unquestioned founding father of the City of Oregon City. As Chief Factor, and fully aware since at least 1824 of water power at “The Falls,” he made claim of the site for HBC. By 1829, three structures were built at the site, supposedly by Etienne Lucier, and by 1833 McLoughlin built the small mill race, using the water from the falls. This work was south of about where Second Street would have been located and south of Main Street, where the HBC Store was located. Another advantage of the falls location was the ferry landing, located via a steep road down to the bottom of the falls, which connected across the Willamette River south to the Tuality Plains Road (18 miles to the southwest).

For an indication of where the first buildings were constructed for commercial purposes, the 1846 Warre and Vavasour map gives an indication. On the map, the saw and grist mills are noted, as well as the McLoughlin house, the first site of the Methodist Church, the Jail, and the “R.C. Chapel” (St. John’s Catholic church). In all about 50 structures are shown on the plateau above the falls (from the 120 ft. high scarp out in the east, west through Main Street and Water Street, and to the lower cliff edge above the falls).

Main Street soon became the village center of community life and commerce, as it connected both north to Ft. Vancouver and south to Chenemah and the Willamette Valley. In 1842, Capt. John C. Couch established a store here, as did Francis Pettygrove in 1843. In this year, Francis Ermatinger built his house (on Water at 6th St.) and the Methodist Church (moved north from a lot near the McLoughlin house) was completed (at 6th & Main). By 1844 a HBC store was opened by McLoughlin, near their riverside warehouse and the grist mills (on the west side of the street, between 2nd and 3rd Streets). The same year McLoughlin built his home on Main, near 2nd. The Catholic congregation built St. John’s Church in 1846 (at the southeastcorner of 10th and Water).

Hotels were established: Main Street Hotel (Main Street at 4th); The City Hotel (Main Street near 3rd); Oregon House Hotel (on Water, at top of bank); and the Cliff House Hotel (on Main, between 2nd & 3rd).

After 1845, and the famous Lovejoy/Pettygrove coin toss, Portland became a contending town, especially with its much better, more expansive level site, its deeper river access and its road to the Tuality Plains. Thus, many Oregon City merchants moved to Portland by the 1850s, slowing down the growth of Oregon City.

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