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From Our Vault: Construction of Oswego Canal linked lake to Tualatin River

SUBMITTED PHOTO - Oswego Canal was built in 1872 to connect what was then known as Sucker Lake to the Tualatin River.Tualatin River Navigation & Manufacturing Company (TRNM) was organized in 1864 for the purpose of creating a continuous waterway between the Tualatin Valley and Portland, making Oswego a major shipping center for transporting Tualatin Valley crops and lumber.

To create a continuous waterway, TRVM believed it needed two canals. One would replace the horse-drawn railroad between the Tualatin River and the west end of Sucker Lake. After passing through that canal, a steamer would transport logs and produce over Sucker Lake. The cargo would then travel through a second canal and on to Portland.

The second canal, to be dug at the east end of Sucker Lake where it spilled into the Willamette River, would have replaced the portage on Sucker Creek’s north side and would have required locks because of the difference in water levels. Albert Durham and John Trullinger used to carry lumber an eighth of a mile from their sawmill to Oswego Landing, which is where the original portage was located.

But in 1873, the completion of the Willamette Falls Locks made traffic past Willamette Falls possible without portage; since the Tualatin was more difficult to navigate anyway, the idea of a second canal was abandoned.

Here are some key dates in Oswego Canal’s history:

1869: TRNM stockholder and riverboat captain John Kellogg builds a steamer to run on Sucker Lake. The plan was to connect this vessel with the sternwheeler Onward — also built by Kellogg — that ran on the Tualatin.

1871: George Low Curry, president of TRNM, digs the first shovel of dirt for the Oswego Canal. Chinese laborers from TRNM hewed solid rock to construct the canal. The company also built a dam to raise the level of the water to make it more navigable. The dam created the first expansion of the lake from 2.75

miles to 3.5 miles long. The canal re-established the connection between the Tualatin River and Sucker Lake that ancient volcanic activity destroyed.

1872: Oswego Canal is completed, but no ships pass through until January 1873, due to low water levels.

1873: Sternwheeler Onward makes the first passage down Oswego Canal.

1880: Oregon Iron and Steel takes possession of Oswego Canal from Tualatin River Navigation & Manufacturing Company.

1881: Oswego Canal is widened to increase water pressure.

1913: Sucker Lake officially becomes Oswego Lake.

1928: A canal is dug to connect Oswego Lake to the Duck Pond. The Duck Pond was originally a marshy area adjacent to the main lake to the east, which flooded. The canal allowed the Duck Pond to become part of Oswego Lake. It eventually became Lakewood Bay and allowed for more real estate development around the lake.

Resources: Lake Oswego Library; Lake Oswego Corporation; “Willamette Landings,” by Howard Corning; “Lake Oswego,” by Laura Foster; Stuart Dunis, former Lake Corp operations manager; “Iron Wood and Water,” by Ann Fulton.

“From Our Vault” is written by Nancy Dunis for the Oswego Heritage Council, using materials she’s found in the council’s archives; look for it on the third Thursday of every month. Have something you’d like to add to the vault? Leave a message for Dunis at 503-635-6373 or email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..