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Regional vision needed now for areas historic resources

by: submitted photo,

Willamette Falls Heritage Foundation was pulled into activism for Willamette Falls Locks funding because of the impending closure of that wonderful historic resource. Now that another Willamette Falls-area historic property, the 90-year-old Hawley Powerhouse (perched on Black Point, overlooking the falls) is threatened with demolition, we again find ourselves leading the falls community that believes in saving our oldest and most representative historic sites and buildings for the enjoyment and education of future generations.

There's great potential for future partnerships that could bring Hawley Powerhouse back to life as some sort of visitor destination. Unfortunately, the jurisdictions and heritage organizations surrounding the falls have not seized on the information contained in the Portland General Electric Relicensing inventory: information that between the two mills, two power plants, the locks and the historic bridge we have the makings, at the very least, of a significant national industrial and transportation-focused heritage district.

Our foundation believes that master planning should begin immediately for the entire area around Willamette Falls, possibly including Lake Oswego and Milwaukie but definitely including the county and the cities of Oregon City, Gladstone and West Linn, and all of their heritage and tourism organizations. Plans should expand on PGE's inventory and include Historic Oregon City, with its mid-level and Canemah Historic Districts, and Willamette, Bolton and Sunset's historic neighborhoods.

We've lost the Oregon City theatre and first County Courthouse. We lost the West Linn Inn. And we lost the Fields Land Claim House. Let's not lose any more old treasures until we've at least seriously considered the role they could play - the important stories they could tell our visitors and descendants. Without our historical moorings we will drift into a future with no reference points about the incredible birth of Oregon as a state and of the character of West Linn as a city.

Without a regional vision for the future of our area's historic resources - without community and publicly supported master planning and businesses' commitment to play ball or even lead the effort - without constant communication between cities and more collaboration between heritage groups, we will continue to face the loss of our beloved historic structures. They will fall quietly, one at a time, until only reproductions of history are left for our children and grandchildren - commercial villages with fake atmosphere, hollowly echoing the treasure we allowed to be knocked down when we were just too busy to plan.

Sandy Carter is the executive director of the Willamette Falls Heritage Foundation and a West Linn resident.