2 On The Road Blog

After 12 years of full-time rving, we've sold our truck and trailer but we're still traveling. Email us at wowpegasus@hotmail.com if you would like to contact us.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

McLoughlin House

John McLoughlin was considered the Father of Oregon and his house in Oregon City is now part of the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.

Next to the McLoughlin House is the Barclay House.  Dr. Barclay was a friend of Dr. McLoughlin.  We waited at the Barclay house for the tour to begin.  The next few photos are from the Barclay House.  We were not allowed to take photos in the McLoughlin House.

This is the McLoughlin House.  It was moved from down by the Willamette River to the bluff in 1909.  It was put on wheels and a system of ropes and pulleys was operated by one horse to bring the house up the very steep road.  Here's the story of John McLoughlin from the National Park Service brochure:  Born into a Quebec farming family in 1784, McLoughlin was 19 when he signed on as a physician for the North West Company, a British fur company.  He soon worked his way up to company partner.  After the merger in 1821 with the Hudson's Bay Company, also a British fur company, McLoughlin was sent to the Oregon country to preside over the vast lands on which the organization pinned its hopes for expansion.  As the chief factor (superintendent of the trade), McLoughlin oversaw construction of the new headquarters at Fort Vancouver, promoted agriculture, opened new trapping routes, and took in an impressive profit.  in doing business with the Indians, key players in the fur trade, he kept peace and won respect.

As successful as it was, the Hudson's Bay Company operated without a clear title to the land.  The Oregon Country was caught in a tug of war between Britain and the United States.  An 1818 treaty settled the dispute temporarily by establishing joint occupation.  Thereafter both sides maneuvered to be in a position of strength when the treaty was to be renegotiated.  McLoughlin foresaw that Britain's dominance of the region, based as it was on control of the fur trade, was doomed in the long run.  The fur supply was dwindling, as was demand.  In 1842 emigrant wagon trains began arriving in the Oregon Country.  The presence of thousands of American settlers would inevitably tip the balance of power.  Defying Company orders to discourage American settlement, McLoughlin extended credit for food, seeds, and farm tools to the newcomers, then steered them southward into the Willamette Valley.  Many emigrants regarded him as a paternalistic figure who would never turn away those in need; others thought him a tyrant.  But one transplanted Pennsylvanian expressed gratitude: "He is always on the lookout for an opportunity to bestow his charity, and bestows with no sparing hand."

Though kindhearted by many accounts, Mcloughlin had practical reasons for his generosity.  Ill treatment of weary, poor new arrivals would reflect badly on the Company.  Moreover, if the Oregon Country were divided along the course of the Columbia, as the English hoped, the land to the south would cede to the United State no matter what.  While the Hudson's Bay Company asserted its claim to the territory, reported one British observer, "It appears that their chief officer on the spot was doing all in his power to facilitate the operations of those whose whole object was to annihilate that claim altogether".  Gov. George Simpson, the top Hudson's Bay official in North America and an old rival of McLoughlin's, battled continually with the chief factor.  In 1845 McLoughlin was forced to retire.  The following year the Oregon Country was divided along the 49th parallel.  the Company continued to trap and trade south of the boundary for 14 years, but British notions of acquiring the land permanently were squelched.

  John McLoughlin retired to the home he built at the falls of the Willamette River.  This land had been claimed by the Hudson's Bay Company in 1829 and was part of the Hudson's Bay Company strategy to diversify as fur supplies dwindled.  McLoughlin envisioned a company town as the center for subsidiary industries.  The falls were ideal for powering mills and the river convenient for shipping manufactured goods and agricultural products.  McLoughlin retired from the Company before he could fully implement his plans.  He placed the land in his own name in 1845 by paying the Company $20,000 for the claim and built his family home on a piece of this property.

Simple in design, with two stories and a root cellar, the house was elegant for the Willamette Valley, where most emigrant families lived in crude log cabins.  It was built completely of finished lumber - local timber and prefabricated trim shipped from a Boston factory.  The first floor consisted of a large parlor, dining room, reception room, and McLoughlin's office.  Upstairs were three bedrooms, as well as a sitting room and a hallway that often doubled as a guest room.  The kitchens were separate buildings out back. 

The McLoughlin home was known locally as "the house of many beds," a reference to the hospitality the family extended to just about anyone passing through Oregon city.  The steady stream of house guests include relatives, friends, business associates, new emigrants, a traveling artist, and many retired Hudson's Bay Company employees to whom McLoughlin felt a special responsibility.  McLoughlin's wife Marguerite, of Cree-Swiss descent, opened her home to the needy and was thought of as "one of the kindest women in the world".  Other permanent residents were daughter Eloisa and her family, and the Indian servants who had been in McLoughlin's employ at Fort Vancouver.

Known throughout the valley as "the Doctor" because of the vocation that had started him out in the fur trade, McLoughlin built a new career promoting economic prosperity for the territory he had helped establish.  In part to smooth over a controversy arising from an American claim to his property at the falls, McLoughlin took US citizenship in 1851.  That year he served as mayor of Oregon City.  To help emigrants become established, McLoughlin loaned money for small commercial ventures.  His own businesses included two sawmills, a grist mill, granary, general store, and shipping concern.  He also donated land for schools and churches.

John McLoughlin died in 1857.  His house now occupies some of the sites he set aside for public use when he helped to plat the town in the 1840's.  The home is restored to honor the life and accomplishments of a man well deserving of the title "Father of Oregon".

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