The Town’s Beginnings
The high bluff overlooking the river, a short distance from their sawmill on Sucker Creek, was where the Durhams chose to build a home and lay out the original town site in 1850. Five years later they started selling their Donation Land Claim. Over the next thirteen years they received a total of $20,900 for the 640 acres. Reverend Thomas F. Scott, the Missionary Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church, and John Corse Trullinger purchased the bulk of the land. In 1867 the iron furnace went into production and Trullinger filed the official plat of Oswego with many street names honoring iron industry investors. Land was designated for a public park, but residents had to wait nearly seventy-five years for the city’s first public park, George Rogers Park. Trullinger and his wife Hannah built a splendid house on the corner of Ladd Street and Durham Place. An article in an 1867 edition of the Oregonian noted, “Mrs. J. C. Trullinger has a fine and costly dwelling nearly completed.” This house was moved and eventually demolished.
With the construction of the furnace beginning in the 1866, the settlement began to look like a company town. As the industry grew so did the population. By 1880 there were 97 people in the town, not counting 33 Chinese laborers. Homes, boarding houses, and hotels owned by the Oregon Iron Company dotted the town.
Community meetings were held under the shelter of the Douglas fir nicknamed the “Peg Tree” for the peg on which a lantern was hung. Social life in the 1880s centered on the Grange Hall on the northwest corner of Leonard and Furnace streets. Maude Lehman Grimm recalled: “In the early days there was no place to go. And this Grange took the place for the sociability that they were after more than anything else. They had many dances. Oh, that was fun!” The Odd Fellows Hall, built in 1888 on Durham Place, was another center of community life. Townspeople came to the hall for lectures, meetings, dances, and to cast their ballots on Election Day.
After 1888, when the second iron furnace went into blast, the population center started to shift. By 1894 many of the houses in the “Old Town” were vacated and the last business moved to First Addition or “New Town” in 1896.
The worker’s cottage at 40 Wilbur Street is on the National Register of Historic Places. Built circa 1882, it is one of the last residential vestiges of the era. The worker’s cottage next door was demolished in 2005. A 1975 zoning change designating all of Old Town multi-family doomed many of the remaining historic properties by making the houses worth less than the land they occupied. The long-term effect of this zoning, coupled with density requirements, continues to threaten our heritage.