Tillamook County History

The story of Tillamook County begins on August 14, 1788 when Captain Robert Gray, an American sailing the American sloop “Lady Washington”, anchored in Tillamook Bay thinking he had found the “great river of the West”.  This was the first landing on the Oregon coast and it was not until four years later that Gray found the mouth of the Columbia.  Captain Gray’s stay was short; one of his crew had some difficulty with the natives and they were forced to leave.  The next visitor to our shores was Clark of the Lewis  and Clark expedition.  Clark came to purchase whale blubber from the Indians at Nehalem to replenish the meat supply at his winter quarters in Clatsop County.

There were three Indian tribes in Tillamook County: the Tillamooks, Nehalems and Nestuccas.  They lived in the area which now bear their names.  These were a peaceful, friendly people, faithful to their tribal rituals.  Like most coastal Indians, they were flatheads, a mark of distinction among the tribes.  (The flat head was achieved by binding a bag of feathers on the top of the baby’s head.  The baby was nursed to sleep and the bag removed when he awoke.  This was done from birth to about one year of age.)   The houses in which they lived were constructed of wood; the sides tight and well built with cracks in the roof for the release of smoke from the fires.  The Northwest  Indians were the only tribes in North America to build homes of wood.  Because of their skill in building and handling canoes, they were called the “Canoe Indians”.  The canoes ranged in size from the tiny duck hunting canoe to the large dugouts that were sailed to Astoria and California.  The Indian population of the county was estimated at 2,200 in 1806 and by 1849 had dwindled to 200.

The town of Tillamook, the first community to be settled in the county, is situated on the east shore of Tillamook Bay.  It first bore the name Hoquarten, believed to be an Indian name meaning “the landing”; later the name was changed to Tillamook, meaning “land of many waters”.  The first settler in the vicinity was Joseph Champion, who came in 1851 and made his home in a hollow spruce tree he called his “Castle”.  Within months other settlers came, all bachelors.  In 1852, the first two families arrived to make their homes.  Each successive year brought more families and on December 15, 1853, Tillamook County was created by an act of legislature.  The new county was made up of parts of Yamhill and Clatsop counties.  1854 was an eventful year for the pioneers.  The first election was held, the first census taken, the first school started and the keel laid for the “Morning Star”.

The “Morning Star” was built out of economic necessity because shipwrecks had destroyed all transportation which had carried the dairy products, fish and potatoes to market.  The vessel was built by the combined efforts and ingenuity of the settlers.  Most of the materials came from the forest but iron work from a wrecked ship was laboriously packed on horseback from the Clatsop beaches by way of Neahkahnie Mountain.  Sails were purchased from the Indians who had salvaged them from a ship wrecked near Netarts.  Pitch was used to caulk the craft but paint was not available.  Nevertheless, this pioneer ship was launched in the Kilchis River on January 5, 1855 and for some years made possible the existence of the pioneers and development of Tillamook County.

In 1861 Thomas Stillwell, aged 70, arrived with his family from Yamhill and purchased land.  The following year he laid out the town of Tillamook and opened the first store.  The first public building was the jail built in 1873; the courthouse and city hall in the early 1890′s.

As more and more settler came to the area, claims were taken north and south of Tillamook, where in late 1800′s and early 1900′s other communities were established.  The county’s early occupations were shipping, lumbering, fishing and dairying.

In the early days of Tillamook County the only source of cash was the sale of fish caught in the many bays and rivers.  Numerous canneries sprang up from Uppertown in the north to Oretown in the south.  Peddlers bought the fish and made the trek to the Willamette valley to sell for cash or trade for produce; return to the county with their profits and repeat the whole process again.  The cash received from the fishing industry helped develop other businesses and enabled the settlers to build a stable economy.

The rich grasslands and mild climate were ideal for dairy herds.  The pioneers produced the finest butter in the country and had a ready market in Portland.  However, with transportation so uncertain, it became necessary to find a dairy product which could be stored long periods of time without losing its quality.  In 1894, Peter McIntosh arrived from Canada, with knowledge of the art of cheesemaking.  The dairymen banded together and built small cheese factories around the county.  Through the years the name Tillamook Cheese has become world famous because of the high standards of quality set by these early pioneers.

Lumbering was not thought of as an industry in the early days of Tillamook County.  The settlers looked at the forest and saw only a stumbling block to the development of their farms and dairies.  Some of the great trees were felled and burned or hauled to the low tidelands and left for the tides to carry them to sea.  The first use of lumber for manufacturing was a copper shop, which made containers for butter, fish, and other products of the settlers.  The first mills were built at Idaville and on Killam Creek.  Logging and milling operations were slow in starting but in 1890 the rapid development of the lumber industry began and has been one of the main supports of the county’s economy.

The years of gradual growth brought the telegraph in 1893; the first automobile in 1904 and a library in 1901.  With the coming of the railroad in 1911, the first paved streets were laid.  By 1925 Tillamook County had entered the modern commercial age, a county of the present and future.

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