When you’re gazing out from under the pergola at Town Center Park in Wilsonville, listening to the flowing sound of the water feature, you’re not just standing in the geographical center of everything – wine country, the Oregon Coast, the Cascade Mountains, shopping experiences, Farmlandia and more – you’re in the historical center as well. True, you’re just a short walk away from a piece of more recent history – the somber elegance of the Oregon Korean War Memorial located in the same park – but also just a short drive from attractions that guide you back through modern history, the pioneer days, and into pre-history.
The History & Heritage Trip is a good place to start a deep dive into the history in and around Wilsonville. As you choose among attractions that draw you in, you’ll wind your way through a “best-of” display of significant spots.
One of just three remaining ferries on the Willamette River, the historic Canby Ferry (located in the nearby city of Canby) has been in operation since 1914, with the current quaint vessel servicing the route named after M.J. Lee II, the first child born in the city of Canby in 1872. Fun fact: with a maximum capacity of 30 (standing), a large vehicle can purchase an entire crossing for only $30.
Among the top attractions on the pre-planned History & Heritage itinerary is Newell Pioneer Village in St. Paul, which opens for the season in March. If you like history brought to life with living history interpretations and reenactments, you’re in luck. Between Newell Pioneer Village, and the Old Aurora Colony – Oregon’s first communal society – you’ve got of history to live.
Those who prefer quieter places to reflect on the region’s history and forebears will enjoy the historical cemeteries of the region. Starting in Portland at one of the most treasured historic places in the state, the “residents” of Lone Fir Cemetery represent a sort of cross-section of society during the mid-to-late 19th Century, including asylum patients, business leaders, Chinese laborers, firefighters, politicians and public servants. Guided tours of the cemetery are available. Just down I-5 in Wilsonville, the acres of serene marble monuments of Pleasant View Cemetery mark the final resting places of some residents who moved in as early as the 1850s, as well as both the namesake and first mayor of the city. Just a 10-minute drive away in Canby, the peaceful, tree-lined meadows of the Baker Prairie Cemetery started as a $1, one-acre sale of land in the pioneer days of 1863. Finally, the tiny town of St. Paul has had an outsized impact on Oregon history. In addition to its cemetery, with the only authenticated Revolutionary War veteran buried in Oregon alongside 535 early settlers and Native Americans, the town has several distinctions. In 1839, it was the location of the first Catholic mass celebrated in Oregon, and is also home to the oldest brick building still standing in the Pacific Northwest: the St. Paul Roman Catholic Church, built in 1846.
The trifecta of history, nature and recreation come together at Champoeg State Heritage Area, which was the site of a historic vote in 1843 that formed Oregon’s first provisional government. Thereafter in short succession, a town called Champoeg was formed, a flood washed away the town (except for two saloons), and taken all together, made the area an ideal candidate for the National Register of Historic Places. It’s pioneer history you can enjoy on hiking or biking trails, on a disc golf course, or while fishing in the area.
Finishing off the pioneer portion of the tour, you’ll want to visit the Historic Butteville General Store, also dating back to 1863, where you can almost hear the spurs on the boots of antiquity in the oldest continuously operating retail establishment in Oregon. Stay for dinner and a live-music show to round out the experience!
Prior to pioneer settlement, lands of the North Willamette Valley region were home to the indigenous Wallamut and Kalapuya Native peoples, now known as the Confederated Tribes of the Grande Ronde. Visitors who wish to learn more about the stories and contributions of these groups to visit Portland Art Museum’s Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde Center for Native American Art, the museum’s Center for Contemporary Native Arts, or the Maryhill Museum of Art for their permanent display of art made by Indigenous peoples of North America. Visitors can start their learning journey at Oregon Historical Society Museum’s online exhibit titled The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde.
When thinking historically, you’re not going to find many attractions that pre-date the Ice Age, which is exactly what you’ll be exploring at the Tualatin Ice Age Trail. The full tour encompasses a dozen self-guided stops that span 18,000 years of history, geography and archeology, including a look at mastodon teeth, ground sloth bones, erratic boulders and ice-age floodwater deposits. Other self-guided tours include The Big Hairy Beasts Tour, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Tour, The Kids’ View of the Ice Age Tour, and even the Tour for a Rainy Day.
The best way to experience these trip ideas is by basing yourself in a Wilsonville hotel for a couple nights and taking the time to explore back in time. After all, this history was tens of thousands of years in the making. It wouldn’t hurt to give it a few days to fully appreciate.
And if you’re ready for a respite from the ravenous relations, let the professionals handle the cooking while you do the chatting and connecting. A whole itinerary dedicated to delectable bites includes 26 stops of international flavors, craft beers and spirits and farm-fresh fare before a sweet finish. Without ever needing a travel visa, you’ll experience a culinary tour of Italy (Abella Italian Kitchen), Morocco (Dar Essalam), Japan (Kirin Ramen), Mexico (Juan Colorado Mexican Restaurant), China (New Hunan Kitchen) and more. Bring an empty stomach, and don’t miss the Foodie Trip itinerary.
Experiences at a Trail’s Pace
Winter’s slower pace lends itself perfectly to relaxed strolls through some of the forested areas just a stone’s throw from Wilsonville proper. So bundle up and buckle up, and then start off at one of Wilsonville’s 15 public parks. We recommend Coffee Lake Wetlands’ fish and wildlife habitat and the Graham Oaks Nature Park’s three miles of trails, and five natural resting points to watch native birds and squirrels. These are just the beginning, and you’ll find more seasonally scenic spots on the Outdoorsy Trip.