The stretch of the Willamette River adjacent to the trail connecting West Linn’s River Road with Lake Oswego’s George Rogers Park fills me with calm no matter what is happening in my life or the world around me. It is a stretch that set off my tears for months while riding to work after my dad died. And now, it is another spot where I add my prayers of love for friends I know in need.
Lengthening daylight and the slow mending of my foot urgently invite me back to this daily commute. And while I did cover it a time or two on a knee scooter, I have rejoiced in recent travels on my own two feet while allowing my eyes to follow the Willamette on its journey towards Portland. After years and miles back and over this trail, it is only now that I recognize it by name – part of the William Stafford Pathway: named by Lake Oswego City Council in recognition of Lake Oswego resident William Stafford’s literary contributions. And we are reminded:
You and I can turn and look at the silent river and wait. We know the current is there, hidden; and there are comings and goings from miles away that hold the stillness exactly before us. What the river says, that is what I say.
In an earlier blog about Mary Young, the namesake for our West Linn jewel of a park, I wrote that Mary was an active volunteer at George Rogers Park. Beginning in 1960, she was active in planting and work parties. George Rogers Park was named in 1952 after a well-liked Lake Oswego Councilman. Today, the park’s most obvious historical remnant is the Oswego Iron Furnace, built in 1866, nearly one hundred years prior to the park’s beginning. Imagine – this was the first iron furnace on the Pacific Coast. Today, thanks to the Oregon Encyclopedia, we can learn all kinds of facts about this earliest venture, including that it produced 42,000 tons of pig iron for Portland and San Francisco foundries during it’s first 20 or so years of operation. No fear my animal loving friends, “pig” iron was crude iron shaped in bars by smelting iron ore into an ingot in a blast furnace, creating lumps that someone thought looked like pigs reclining. Prior to 1867, all iron on the Pacific Coast was brought by ship around Cape Horn, the same path that my own 3rd great grandparents traveled to the Oregon Country a few decades earlier.
The founders of the Oregon Iron Company used the iron deposits in the hills around today’s Oswego Lake (or Sucker Lake, then) to help build what they imagined to be their iron empire in the Pacific Northwest. Most of Portland’s water pipes and early iron-structured buildings were made of Oswego iron. The furnace that we today pass from the trail in the lower part of the park was once Oregon’s largest manufacturing enterprise using ore from two nearby mines and charcoal from local timber. The furnace was modeled on furnaces from Lime Rock, Connecticut, operating until 1885 when the company built a new furnace less than a mile north of this original location. Eventually, cheaper iron from the Great Lakes region and abroad, economic depression or “panic” of 1893, and poor quality ore prevented the company from becoming the empire they hoped to be. Today, this structure is the only remaining iron furnace west of the Rocky Mountains.
This iron company (Oswego Iron Company and its successor, the Oregon Iron and Steel Company) operated a “company town” much like other smelting and mining organizations of the day with company stores and housing with its workforce reaching as many as 325 people. Lake Oswego Park and Recreation Department offers a lot of history relating to this time period, this industry, how the furnace operated and what the company town may have looked like. And while I applaud Lake Oswego for capturing and sharing this early Oregon history – it is truly the river walk stretch that transports me to the places I need to be.