100 years ago, a striking proposal at locks

This article is part of a continuing series on the history of West Linn written by Sandy Carter, a Bolton freelance writer and editor.

December brought some very bad news to lovers of West Linn's historic 1873 canal and locks, which have been a productive part of the U.S. Army's Corps of Engineers inland navigation system since 1915 but are now closed due to pending repairs, tight money and an antiquated funding formula.

But it also brought me an amazing insight, buried in a stack of old Corps maps delivered to the Willamette Falls Heritage Foundation by Alan Lewis, a long-time lock volunteer.

Lurking amidst the 21 long-rolled-up copies of maps and documents with dates from 1869 through 1938, some traced by T. W. Sullivan himself, is a diagram dated to 1911 and showing a striking proposal by the Corps to build another canal and locks, right through what is now the silent Blue Heron mill site.

At first I couldn't grasp what was before my eyes. Then the date gave me a clue and realization dawned that the Corps seriously planned to build its own transit of Willamette Falls before deciding to purchase the existing canal and remodel it.

The diagram seems to show two alternate routes, both originating in the boat basin in Oregon City and both of which would have bridged the dam and taken out the historic power generation sites - then mill buildings - that still mark our deep Willamette Falls hydropower heritage, dating back to at least 1888, when the river powered Oregon City streetlights.

Long-time businesses in its path included the Oregon City Woolen Mils, Crown Columbia Pulp and Paper Company and the Hawley Pulp and Paper Company, which left a powerful historic and architectural stamp that remains on the property today.

So I'm very grateful that the plans never came to fruition. But I'm even more grateful to Al, who brought us this wonderful gift of knowledge, a full 100 years after the fact.

And a final, personal gift to me was the thrill of discovering my grandfather's signature on a 1935 diagram. Thank you, universe.

Carter may be reached with comments and ideas for future columns by sending email to [email protected]

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