Lewis and Clark's Columbia River
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Lewis & Clark's Columbia River - "200 Years Later"
"Willamette Falls Locks, West Linn, Oregon"
Includes ... Willamette Falls ... Willamette Falls Locks ... Oregon City ... West Linn ... National Register of Historic Places ...
Image, 2006, Willamette Falls Locks, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Willamette Falls Locks, West Linn, Oregon, looking downstream. Image taken February 19, 2006.

Willamette Falls Locks ...
The locks at Willamette Falls were built in the early 1870s and have been in continuous use since January 1, 1873. The locks hold the distinction of being the first multi-lift navigation locks built in the United States. Total length of the locks is 3,565 feet and the usable width is 37 feet, with total lift being a little over 50 feet. The locks can handle a vessel up to 175 feet long. The lock chambers are made from locally-quarried stones ranging in size from 5 feet to 15 feet high. The lock walls have remained watertight for more than 130 years. The original lockmaster's office has been converted into a museum, and displays photographs of the historic locks.

After passing through the hands of several different owners, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers bought Willamette Falls Locks in 1915 and has operated them ever since. A renovation in 1916 included deepening the lock chamber from 3 feet to 6 feet. A renovation in the 1940s included installing a hydraulic system for opening and closing the gates (until that time the gates had been opened and closed manually). By the 1970s commerce traffic (mainly log rafts since the 1940s) had dwindled and today small pleasure boats are the main users of the locks.

Image, 2004, Sign, Oregon History, Willamette Falls Locks, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Sign, Oregon History, Willamette Falls. Image taken February 15, 2004.

Views of the Locks ...

Image, 2006, Willamette Falls Locks, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Willamette Falls Locks, West Linn, Oregon. Looking upstream. Image taken February 19, 2006.
Image, 2006, Willamette Falls Locks, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Gate, Willamette Falls Locks, West Linn, Oregon. Looking downstream. Image taken February 19, 2006.
Image, 2006, Willamette Falls Locks, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Willamette River looking at the downstream end of the Locks, West Linn, Oregon. Image taken February 19, 2006.

National Register of Historic Places ...
In 1974 the Willamette Falls Locks were placed on the National Register of Historic Places (Structure #74001680) for transportation, and in 1991 the locks were was designated as a State Historic Civil Engineering Landmark by the History and Heritage Committee of the American Society of Civil Engineers for being Oregon's first water resources development project.

Image, 2006, Willamette Falls Locks, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Willamette Falls Locks National Historic Site, West Linn, Oregon. Image taken February 19, 2006.

Willamette Falls ...
The Willamette Falls are located at Oregon City, Oregon, where the Willamette River spills about 40 feet over horseshoe-shaped basalt ridge. Lewis and Clark make many references to the "falls of the Multnomah" and the Indian tribe which lived there. The falls were a major salmon fishing location. Later the falls furnished the power for a lumber mill (1842), a flour mill (1844), a woolen mill (1864), and the first paper mill in the Pacific Northwest (1867). The first long-distance commercial electric power transmission in the United States went from Willamette Falls to the City of Portland in 1889. In 1873, the Willamette Falls Locks were opened when the steamer Maria Wilkins became the first vessel to navigate up the west end of the falls.

Image, 2006, Willamette Falls and Mount Hood, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Willamette Falls, Oregon City, Oregon, with Mount Hood. Image taken February 19, 2006.
Image, 2006, Rainbow, Willamette Falls, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Rainbows, Willamette Falls, Oregon. Image taken February 19, 2006.

From the Journals of Lewis and Clark ...

Clark, April 2, 1806 ...
This morning we came to a resolution to remain at our present encampment [Cottonwood Beach, Washougal, Washington] or Some where in this neighbourhood untill we had obtained as much dried meat as would be necessary for our voyage as far as the Chopunnish. ...     about this time Several Canoes of the nativs arived at our Camp [Cottonwood Beach] among others two from below with Eight men of the Shah-ha-la Nation those men informed us that they reside on the opposit Side of the Columbia near Some pine trees which they pointed to in the bottom South of the Dimond Island [Government Island], they Singled out two young men whome they informed us lited at the Falls of a large river [Willamette Falls] which discharges itself into the Columbia on it's South Side Some Miles below us. we readily provailed on them to give us a Sketch of this river [Willamette River] which they drew on a Mat with a coal, it appeared that this river which they Call Mult-no'-mah discharged itself behind the Island we call the image Canoe island [Hayden Island], and as we had left this Island to the South both in decending & assending the river we had never Seen it. they informed us that it was a large river and runs a Considerable distance to the South between the Mountains. I deturmined to take a Small party and return to this river and examine its Size and Collect as much information of the nativs on it or near its enterance into the Columbia of its extent, the Country which it waters and the nativs who inhabit its banks &c. I took with me Six Men. Thompson J. Potts, Peter Crusat, P. Wiser, T. P. Howard, Jos. Whitehouse & my man York in a large Canoe, with an Indian whome I hired for a Sun glass to accompany me as a pilot. at half past 11 A. M. I Set out ...     at 8 miles passed a village on the South side [Chinook Landing and Blue Lake area] at this place my Pilot informed me he resided and that the name of his tribe is Ne-cha-co-lee, this village is back or to the South of Dimond island [Government Island], and as we passed on the North Side of the island both decending & assending did not See or know of this Village. I proceeded on without landing at this village. at 3 P. M. I landed at a large double house of the Ne-er-cho-ki-oo tribe of the Shah-ha-la Nation. at this place we had Seen 24 aditional Straw Huts as we passed down last fall [November 4, 1805, in the vicinity of the Portland International Airport] and whome as I have before mentioned reside at the Great rapids of the Columbia [Celilo Falls].     on the bank at different places I observed Small Canoes which the women make use of to gather Wappato & roots in the Slashes. those Canoes are from 10 to 14 feet long and from 18 to 23 inches wide in the widest part tapering from the center to both ends in this form and about 9 inches deep and So light that a woman may with one hand haul them with ease, and they are Sufficient to Carry a woman on Some loading. I think 100 of those canoes were piled up and Scattered in different directions about in the Woods in the vecinity of this house, the pilot informed me that those Canoes were the property of the inhabitents of the Grand rapids who used them ocasionally to gather roots. ...

I left them [village near today's Portland International Airport] and proceeded on on the South Side [North Portland Harbor] of Image Canoe Island [Hayden Island] which I found to be two Islands hid from the opposit Side by one near the Center of the river. the lower point of the upper and the upper point of the lower cannot be Seen from the North Side of the Columbia on which we had passed both decending and ascending and had not observed the apperture between those islands. at the distance of 13 Miles below the last village [location of Portland International Airport] and at the place I had Supposed was the lower point of the image Canoe island [Hayden Island], I entered this river which the nativs had informed us of, Called Mult no mah River [Willamette River] so called by the nativs from a Nation who reside on Wappato Island [Sauvie Island] a little below the enterance of this river. Multnomah [Willamette River] discharges itself in the Columbia on the S. E. and may be justly Said to be ¼ the Size of that noble river. Multnomah had fallen 18 inches from it's greatest annual height. three Small Islands are situated in it's mouth [Belle Vue Point and Kelley Point, on opposite sides of the mouth of the Willamette, use to be islands] which hides the river from view from the Columbia.     from the enterance of this river [Willamette River] , I can plainly See Mt. Jefferson [Mount Jefferson, Oregon] which is high and Covered with snow S. E. Mt. Hood East [Mount Hood, Oregon], Mt St. Helians [Mount St. Helens, Washington] a high humped Mountain to the East of Mt St. Helians [Mount Adams, Washington, is east of Mount St. Helens]. I also Saw the Mt. Raneer [Mount Rainier, Washington] Nearly North. Soon after I arived at this river an old man passed down of the Clark a'mos Nation who are noumerous and reside on a branch of this river which receives it's waters from Mt. Jefferson [Mount Jefferson, Oregon] which is emensely high and discharges itself into this river one day and a half up, this distance I State at 40 Miles. This nation inhabits 11 Villages their Dress and language is very Similar to the Quath-lah-poh-tle and other tribes on Wappato Island [Sauvie Island].

The Current of the Multnomar [Willamette River] is as jentle as that of the Columbia glides Smoothly with an eavin surface, and appears to be Sufficiently deep for the largest Ship. I attempted fathom it with a Cord of 5 fathom which was the only Cord I had, could not find bottom ? of the distance across. I proceeded up this river 10 miles from it's enterance into the Columbia to a large house on the N E. Side and Encamped near the house [downstream of Cathedral Park and the St. Johns Bridge, Portland, Oregon, near Portland's Terminal 4.], the flees being So noumerous in the house that we could not Sleep in it.

this is the house of the Cush-hooks Nation who reside at the falls of this river which the pilot informs me they make use of when they Come down to the Vally to gather Wappato. he also informs me that a number of other Smaller houses are Situated on two Bayous which make out on the S. E. Side a little below the house. this house appears to have been laterly abandoned by its inhabitants ...     The course and distance assending the Molt no mar R [Willamette River] from it's enterance into the Columbia at the lower point of the 3rd Image Canoe island.

[This area has changed during the past 200 years. Lewis and Clark called today's Hayden Island "Image Canoe Island". Their "3rd Image Canoe Island" however maybe in reference to the "three Small Islands are situated in it's mouth" (see journal entry above), two of the islands possibly were islands which are today's Belle Vue Point on Sauvie Island, and Pearcy Island which eventually became Kelley Point. Lewis and Clark's route map (Map#79 and Map#80, Moulton, Vol.1) shows a long "Image Canoe Island" with two small islands on the north side of "Image Canoe Island", and three small islands at the mouth of the "Multnomah R.". ]

S. 30° W. 2 Miles to the upper point of a Small Island [???] in the Middle of Moltnomar river [Willamette River]. thence

S. 10° W. 3 miles to a Sluce 80 yards wide [Multnomah Channel] which devides Wappato Island [Sauvie Island] from the Main Stard. Side Shore passing a Willow point on the Lard. Side [???].

S. 60° E. 3 miles to a large Indian house on the Lard Side below Some high pine land.

[Lewis and Clark's map plotted against an 1888 map of the area shows this location to be closer to 2 miles from the Multnomah Channel, just upstream from Portland's Terminal 4, and across from the community of Linnton.]

high bold Shore on the Starboard Side [Tualatin Mountains]. thence

S. 30° E 2 miles to a bend under the high lands on the Stard Side [St. Johns Bridge area located at the base of the Tualatin Mountains]

miles 10 passing a Larborad point [???].

thence the river bends to the East of S East as far as I could See [the stretch through Portland, Oregon]. at this place I think the wedth of the river may be Stated at 500 yards and Sufficiently deep for a Man of War or Ship of any burthern.

Clark, April 3, 1806 ...
The water had fallen in the course of last night five inches. I Set out and proceeded up a Short distance [vicinity of the St. Johns Bridge] and attempted a Second time to fathom the river with my cord of 5 fathom but could find no bottom. the mist was So thick that I could See but a Short distance up this river. where I left it, it was binding to the East of S. E. being perfectly Satisfyed of the Size and magnitude of this great river which must Water that vast tract of Country betwen the Western range of mountains and those on the Sea coast and as far S. as the Waters of Callifornia about Latd. 37° North I deturmined to return. at 7 oClock A. M. Set out on my return. the men exirted themselves and we arived at the Ne er cho ki oo house [Portland International Airport] in which the nativs were So illy disposed yesterday at 11 A. M. I entered the house with a view to Smoke with those people ...     I detained but a fiew minits and returnd on board the canoe. ...     at 3 P M. we arived at the residence of our Pilot [near Chinook Landing and Blue Lake] ...     back of this house I observe the wreck of 5 houses remaining of a very large Village, the houses of which had been built in the form of those we first Saw at the long narrows of the E-lute Nation with whome those people are connected. ...     I provailed on an old man to draw me a Sketch of the Multnomar River [Willamette River] ang give me the names of the nations resideing on it which he readily done, ...   and gave me the names of 4 nations who reside on this river two of them very noumerous. The first is Clark a-mus nation reside on a Small river which takes its rise in Mount Jefferson and falls into the Moltnomar about 40 miles up [Clackamas River].   this nation is noumerous and inhabit 11 Towns.   the 2d is the Cush-hooks who reside on the N E. Side below the falls [Willamette Falls],   the 3rd is the Char-cowah who reside above the Falls on the S W. Side neether of those two are noumerous.   The fourth Nation is the Cal-lar-po-e-wah which is very noumerous & inhabit the Country on each Side of the Multnomar from its falls as far up as the knowledge of those people extend. they inform me also that a high mountain passes the Multnomar at the falls,   and above the Country is an open plain of great extent.    I purchased 5 dogs of those people for the use of their Oil in the Plains, and at 4 P M left the Village and proceeded on to Camp where I joind Capt. Lewis [at Cottonwood Beach]

The enterance of Multnomah river is 142 miles up the Columbia river from its enterance into the Pacific Ocean—.

Vancouver PlainsReturn to




*River Miles [RM] are approximate, in statute miles, and were determined from USGS topo maps, obtained from NOAA nautical charts, or obtained from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers website, 2003

  • End of the Oregon Trail website, 2004;
  • National Register of Historic Places website, 2005;
  • State of Oregon History Signs, 2004, Willamette Falls Overlook off of Interstate-205;
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers website, 2004;

All Lewis and Clark quotations from Gary Moulton editions of the Lewis and Clark Journals, University of Nebraska Press, all attempts have been made to type the quotations exactly as in the Moulton editions, however typing errors introduced by this web author cannot be ruled out; location interpretation from variety of sources, including this website author.
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September 2008