WHAT IS IT? The final home of Hudson Bay Company fur trader John McLoughlin who the 1957 Oregon Legislature honored officially, 100 years after his death, as the “Father of Oregon”.
BEAUTY (3/10) The McLoughlin’s two-story, Georgian-style retirement house is not a looker. Its drab gray exterior and stifling rectangular shape marks an architectural period that has thankfully been passed over. The House’s interior displays many original furnishings, which includes a beaded purse, made by a local Indian tribe for the Doctor, for his Naturalization Ceremony, adorned with a bald eagle and the title, “Greatest American”.
The McLoughlin House’s current neighbor, the 1849, Classic Revival style Barclay House, is much more visually appealing with its steep roof, subtle white pillars and beckoning entryway. The quaint old houses across the street, painted in bright colors and bursting with elaborate gardens, slightly overshadow both NPS properties.
Remarkably, the two houses first became neighbors in the early 20th century, 50 years after their construction and long after their original owners had died. In 1909, the larger McLoughlin House was moved to its current location from a precarious bluff overlooking the Willamette River. A single horse pulled the house, in its entirety, up a hill and through the streets of town dispensing it at its current location.
HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (3/10) Dr. McLoughlin and his wife are both buried next to the house. They, like their retirement home, were moved from what they probably believed to be their final resting place. Hopefully the current gravesite will be their last. So, you see, nothing really ever happened at the House’s current location.
In his time, Dr. McLoughlin was an important and benevolent man whose kindness towards Americans saw to an early retirement. From 1821 to 1845, the Doctor was the chief factor (he was the man in charge) of the Hudson Bay Company’s fur trading center at Fort Vancouver, the most important trading outpost in the Pacific Coast.
McLoughlin was born in Quebec in 1784 and was a British subject. His employer, a British mega-company, controlled the western fur trade and, by proxy, claimed the Oregon Territory for the British. There were no territorial problems until the 1840’s, when American pioneers, traveling across the Oregon Trail, began to show up. The British had few settlers in Oregon and the sheer number of American travels threatened to wrest control of the land from Hudson Bay.
The Doctor was generous and good towards the incoming Americans, despite his business and national loyalties. So, in 1845, he was forced to resign. In 1851, the Doctor became both a U.S. Citizen and mayor of Oregon City. He helped to design the town and establish its many businesses. From Quebec through the Hudson Bay Company via British Territory, he became the undisputed “Father of Oregon”.
CROWDS (8/10) On a late Sunday afternoon, the McLoughlin House was filled to near capacity with us and ten other tourists. We were the youngest of the lot by at least 20 years. Everyone is very interested in wild-haired Mr. McLoughlin. Our fellow tourists help to explain Oregon history and ask our Tour Guide many good questions. One couple is even from Philadelphia and we share our PA solidarity.
EASE OF USE/ACCESS (4/5) The McLoughlin House NHS is located at the corner of 7th and Center Streets in downtown Oregon City a/k/a Oregon’s First City. Take Exit 8 of Interstate 205 and travel south on Oregon Route 43 a/k/a Willamette Drive. Once you cross the Willamette River, turn left on McLoughlin Drive. In three blocks, turn right onto 10th Street. 10th Street winds up a hill and makes a sweeping left turn. You are now on 7th Street and the McLoughlin House is to your left.
Oregon City, once the territory’s most important American town, has become a part of the sprawl of its ambition neighbor, Portland. The town is easily accessible via the Interstate system and is home to two Oregon trail-themed museums: The Museum of the Oregon Trail and the End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center.
The McLoughlin House NHS is administratively a part of the Fort Vancouver NHS. Geographically, though, the Sites are a 25 miles and an entire State apart. Do not be confused, the two are located far away from each other.
The McLoughlin House NHS is open Wednesday through Saturday 10-4. It is open on Sundays from 1-4 and is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (5/5) There may be more tomes here dedicated to the Whitman Massacre than the actual Whitman Site. Dr. McLoughlin wisely advised the Whitmans against settling among the less than receptive Cayuse. They did not heed his advice.
If you would rather not dwell on the macabre, feast your eyes on the dozens of other books, handcrafted Oregon chocolates, trinkets or milk glasses. The McLoughlin Memorial Association (MMA) does a top-notch job at keeping this bookstore fully stocked, site specific and interesting.
COSTS (5/5) The Site is completely free. Guided and self-guided tours leave from the adjacent Barclay House whenever necessary.
RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (5/5) NPS recently acquired the McLoughlin House and added it to the Fort Vancouver NHS. They have yet to add staff. The MMA continues to manage the bookstore and tour guide duties. They do a fine job.
TOURS/CLASSES (8/10) Our tour of the McLoughlin House was labeled, self-guided, but was anything but. We were free to roam from room to room but were accompanied by an extremely knowledgeable MMA employee/NPS volunteer. He gave us a 15-minute introduction to the Doctor’s life and pointed out interesting tidbits about the rooms’ furnishings. We entered the House knowing little about McLoughlin or Oregon History. We left with a historical understanding of where we were.
The darling town of Oregon City offers more, non NPS-related, learning opportunities if you wish to continue your learning quest. These sites include the End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, the Museum of the Oregon Territory and the Municipal Elevator and observation deck.
FUN (7/10) During our first few days in Oregon we wondered, “Why does this place feel so much like Pennsylvania?” Why do we feel eerily at home? The question rang around in our heads over our two-day long speculation. At the McLoughlin House, our Guide offered some answers. Many of Oregon’s setters were from Pennsylvania and even more were Methodists. They traveled on Conestoga Wagons, named after Lancaster PA’s Conestoga River. We should have remembered that fact. The settlers were mostly farmers and the rolling green hilly scenery is remarkably similar.
WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (4/10) Oregon City was the State’s first town. Only recently has it become caught up in Portland’s sprawl. Portland has the Rose Garden, the Japanese Garden, the Zoo, Powell’s Books, lively nightlife and the Science and Industry Museum but Oregon City is where you will get your history lessons. Gauge your Portland priorities and go from there. The McLoughlin House does a good teaching job but is not such a blockbuster attraction to pull you away from Portland’s more famous destinations.
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