Dispelling Eight Lake Oswego Myths

Trestle approaching Lake OswegoOn occasion at the PropertyBlotter, we will lapse into the nostalgic and the historic.

Today, we share a handful of myths concerning the lake, the town, founders, its early industry, and famous headstones.

(Full disclosure: I got this from the very interesting Oswego Heritage Council site).

  1. Oswego Lake is not an artificial lake. The natural lake was enlarged by successive dams that raised the water level and by a canal that connected it to the Tualatin River in 1873. Lakewood Bay, on the other hand, is largely man-made. It was originally a marsh, known as the Duck Pond. Developers flooded this swampy area in 1928 by digging a channel that linked it to the main lake.
  2. It is frequently said that Albert Alonzo Durham named Oswego after his birthplace in New York. However, Durham was born in Chenango County, not in Oswego, New York.
  3. The iron furnace in George Rogers Park is not a “chimney” or a “chimneystack.” This misconception probably stems from the fact that the stone tower containing the smelting chamber is called a “stack.” When it was operating, the furnace was a roaring inferno filled with burning charcoal and iron ore. A 33-foot-tall brick chimney once topped the furnace, but it was dismantled in the late 19th century. The furnace is also sometimes mistakenly called a foundry. An iron foundry re-melts pig iron and casts metal products.
  4. “Smelter” or “furnace” — what’s the right term? Oswego residents said “furnace” in the 19th century, which explains how Furnace Street got its name. Sometime in the early 20th century, residents began calling it a “smelter.” While this is technically correct, the term used by most historians is “furnace.” In the National Register of Historic Places the Oswego Iron Furnace is listed as the “Oregon Iron Company Furnace” after the company that built it in 1866.
  5. Oswego was not the first town to produce pig iron west of the Rocky Mountains. The Mormons built a small furnace at Cedar City, Utah in the 1850s. However, the 1866 Oswego Furnace was the first iron furnace on the West Coast. It was also the longest running and most productive of four furnaces built west of the Rockies in the 19th century.
  6. Oswego’s dream of becoming the “Pittsburgh of the West” was hardly unique. No less than eleven towns with mining or industrial ambitions aspired to this title. Among them were Kirkland, Washington; Richmond, California; Pueblo, Colorado; Eureka, Nevada; Llano, Texas; East Saint Louis, Illinois; and Terre Haute, Indiana.
  7. The city of Lake Oswego is not named after Oswego Lake. On the contrary, the lake is named after the town. Until 1913 the lake was called Sucker Lake. At the beginning of the 20th century developers searched for a more marketable name, at one time considering “Lake Tualatin.” In 1913 they successfully petitioned the U.S. Geographic Board to change the name to Oswego Lake. In 1960 when the city incorporated much of Lake Grove, the names of both communities were combined and the city was renamed Lake Oswego.
  8. Linus Pauling is not buried in the Oswego Pioneer Cemetery although there is a headstone there with his name on it. Pauling died in 1994 at his ranch in California. The family placed the headstone in the cemetery to honor his memory in the town where his relatives are buried and where he spent part of his childhood. Pauling’s grandfather was a German immigrant who came to Oregon to work in the Oswego Iron Furnace. Linus Pauling is the only winner of two unshared Nobel prizes: the prize for chemistry in 1954 and the Peace Prize in 1963.

Now, you know the rest of the story.

Source: Oswego Heritage Council. Photo courtesy of City of Lake Oswego.

Lake Oswego: A History

Lake Oswego SmelterThe Clackamas Indians originally inhabited the area now known as Lake Oswego. The Indians called the lake Waluga, meaning wild swan.

Lake Oswego is only about 15 miles North of Abernathy Green, the historic end of The Oregon Trail. Being so close to the destination of those traveling West, the earliest settlers brought a scattering of homesteads and farms.

The town of Oswego was founded in 1847 by Albert Durham who named it after his hometown of Oswego, New York. In the early days of the town the lake was known as Sucker Lake and the creek from the Tualatin River that fed into the lake was known as Sucker Creek. Albert Durham built a sawmill along Sucker Creek.

Waterways were the main means of transportation and commerce and Lake Oswego was very much a part of that. Goods could be transported down Sucker Creek, across the lake, and down to the Willamette River. This allowed river traffic to circumvent the falls along the Willamette River that are next to Oregon City. Today you can see evidence of this river traffic in the ferry crossings and ferry launches. One of the old ferry launches is still visible in downtown Lake Oswego at George Rogers Park, and there is still an active ferry crossing South of Lake Oswego between West Linn and Canby.

The first blast furnace on the West coast for the smelting of iron ore was built in Lake Oswego in 1865. At the time, the early industrialists hoped to turn Lake Oswego into “The Pittsburg of the West”. This may very well have happened if not for the advent of railway.

The coming of reliable trains had two huge impacts on Lake Oswego. First, better quality and less expensive iron ore could be manufactured elsewhere and quickly transported where needed, which pretty much doomed the iron ore industry in Lake Oswego. And second, the railroad made travel between Portland and Oswego easy and affordable. At the height of the rail service between Portland and Lake Oswego, in 1920, there were 64 trains daily. This same rail line is still in use today and known as the Willamette Shore Trolley. It remains a lovely way to see the river and enjoy a leisurely ride into Portland.

With transportation convenient between Lake Oswego and Portland, the town of Oswego blossomed. The lake drew people down for the weekend. To this day you will see a mix of small cottages that were built in the 1920’s and likely used as summer recreation homes for people who lived in Portland. Again, as transportation continued to improve with good roads and the ownership of cars, people were able to not just vacation in Lake Oswego, but also to live in Oswego and work in Portland.

The “City of Oswego” became the “City of Lake Oswego” in 1960 when the city annexed the town to the West, Lake Grove. The two names were combined to create Lake Oswego. And for clarity, the city is “Lake Oswego” and the lake is “Oswego Lake”.

The draw that has always made people want to live here is the same now as it was when the city was founded in 1847. It is next to the Willamette River and has a huge lake in the middle. The scenery is gorgeous and opportunities for recreation are plentiful. The close proximity to a major city with a major port allows people who live here to be near good jobs. And the town has always been a well-loved and well-cared for by the community. New residents are nearly always overheard mentioning how wonderful it is to live in a community where people really care, and where participation in everything from schools to local government is so full and vibrant.