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Willamette Falls Locks

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Willamette Falls Locks, West Linn

Statistics

  • Location: Mill Street, West Linn
  • Built: 1873
  • Architect: Peoples Transportation Company
  • Designation: National Register of Historic Places
  • Significance: The Willamette Falls Locks was the first significant navigational improvement on the Willamette and in the greater Columbia River drainage. Today it is unique in Oregon and a rare example of an intact piece of America’s canal building era.

News and Updates

March 31, 2016:

Willamette Falls Locks Receives $500K from Oregon Legislature

June 17, 2015:

Willamette Falls Locks featured in June 17th Town Hall at Milwaukie HS

December 2014:

Memorandum of Understanding being prepared to outline options for future operations

April 10, 2013:

Advocates developing framework for much-needed economic impact study

January 9, 2013:

Locks temporarily reopened to allow passage to stranded boats.

June 26, 2012:

A Long History Of Industry Ends At Willamette Falls, And The Future?

June 8, 2012:

In Praise of Willamette Falls Canals and Locks
Outlet: Country Traveler Online

June, 2012:

Willamette Falls Heritage Foundation Newsletter

May 23, 2012:

Preserving a National Treasure
Outlet: Portland Tribune

May 22, 2012:

The National Trust for Historic Preservation announced the Willamette Falls Locks as a National Treasure

History

The Willamette Falls Navigation Canal and Locks opened on New Year’s Day, 1873, allowing river traffic to bypass Willamette Falls, a 40 foot high ridge of basalt that formerly impeded boats from traveling upstream of Oregon City. The four lock chambers were excavated and walled in locally-sourced basalt block.

Originally built by the Peoples Transportation Company, the lock system was managed by a number of owners before the US Army Corps of Engineers took responsibility for the locks in 1915. In 1916 and again in 1941, the Corps altered the lock system to allow for deeper-draft vessels to pass through the lock system, leading to the current patchwork of basalt, concrete, wood, and metal that make up the physical infrastructure of the site.

Why is it Endangered?

In recent years the Lock system has fallen victim to mounting deferred maintenance. As with other navigation systems maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers, the Locks receive funding based on the commercial tonnage that pass through the system, a metric that does not account for the recreational and historical value of the system.

Due to concerns over the condition of the gudgeon arms (the mechanisms that operate the gates), in November 2011 the Corps closed the Locks to all traffic, placing the system in “caretaker—not operational” status. With the help of local, state and federal partners, it is hoped that the locks can be reopened and maintained for public and commercial uses.

The Locks have also been designated as a National Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Restore Oregon is working with the National Trust, the Willamette Falls Heritage Area Coalition, and the One Willamette River Coalition to repair and reopen the locks. We are also supporting plans to re-imagine the Blue Herron Paper Mill site and a regional effort to designate a National Heritage Area running along the Willamette between the Clackamas and Tualatin Rivers.

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Statewide Partner of the National Trust for Historic Preservation