Saturday, November 03, 2012

Butteville Riverboat Landing

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Some photos of Butteville Riverboat Landing, at historic Butteville on the south bank of the Willamette between Champoeg and Wilsonville. Butteville is best known for the Butteville Store, which is supposedly the oldest continuously operating business in the state. It probably doesn't hurt that the store sits at one end of the Champoeg State Park trail system and (I assume) sells water and snacks. It turns out, though, that Butteville was once a small but thriving river port, and a few remnants of those days survive to the present time. About a block directly downhill from the store, toward the river, a sign says "PUBLIC ACCESS" and names the spot as "Butteville Riverboat Landing Marion County Historic Site". Beyond it is a narrow parcel of land sandwiched between two houses, with a short trail leading to the river and some concrete remnants that may have been a dock at one point. I assume this means the county owns the land in some capacity, although Marion County Parks doesn't say a word about it. Possibly it still falls under the Ferries department, but I'm really not sure. In any event, the key thing is that it's a public river access point, whoever technically owns it.

Butteville Riverboat Landing

An excerpt from the fascinating book Willamette Landings describes Butteville thusly:

Butteville (aka LaButte). On the south side or east shore of the river. Established in the 1840s by George Abernethy and Alanson Beers, it was little more than a river landing, with a warehouse and a few dwellings. During the flood of 1861 it incurred extensive damage. By the 1870s, most of the local agriculture was being shipped via the Oregon & California Railroad which had been constructed several miles to the east.

Which is more or less the story we see all along the Willamette River: A locality along the river sorta-thrived briefly, only to be killed off by some combination of floods and railroads. In Butteville's case it wasn't completely the end though; after commercial traffic up and down the river petered out, the town was still home to ferry traffic across the river for a while. a 1905 photo shows a town that appears larger than today's sleepy Butteville. The caption reads:

This is Butteville in 1905. The town site is located on the Willamette River about sixteen miles south of Oregon City. The road leads downhill to the former Butteville Ferry dock.

To this day, there's a street named "Butteville Ferry Road" directly on the far side of the river. That's usually a good clue.

Butteville Riverboat Landing

A 1910 photo shows a different but similar waterfront, with the caption:

This photograph is of a picture of the waterfront at Butteville, Oregon on the Willamette River in northern Marion County. The town is mentioned in journals as early as 1845 and was variously known as Butes and La Butte in the mid-1800's when it was a busy shipping point for wheat and other valley crops. Its business district encompassed several blocks and its events were reported up and down the valley. When the Oregon & California Railroad was routed several miles to the east in 1871, the agricultural products which had previously gone by river were shipped by rail and the town gradually began to decline. This picture, taken in 1910, shows pilings at the waterfront and few frame buildings on the road into town. The original photograph is from the collection of Captain Eckhart.
Butteville Riverboat Landing

Finally, a 1954 photo from the Butteville side of the river shows a quiet scene, with a few decayed pilings that look like those in the earlier photos. The photo caption:

Butteville is located about nine miles south of Oregon City and was staked out about 1845 by George Abernethy & Alanson Beers. In 1895 it had 4 stores, 4 warehouses, blacksmiths, 3 saloons, and a ferry across the Willamette River. Two steamboats called daily; it was an important trade center & shipping point until near the turn of the century. In October 1954, the ferry landing was no longer in use and the town was nearly a ghost town.

Butteville Riverboat Landing

The book A History of Oregon Ferries since 1826 indicates ferry service existed intermittently at Butteville into the early 20th century, and includes the 1905 photo as documentation. It seems the first recorded Butteville Ferry sailed in 1851. In 1857 it became known as Hibbard's Ferry when a gentleman by that name was licensed to operate for one year. In 1860, the Vaughn Ferry plied its trade here, as did the Curtis Ferry circa 1870-72, the Schwartz Ferry in 1913, and the Scheurer Ferry in 1915-16. The last citation refers to Butteville city council minutes, meaning this little burg was an actual incorporated city at that time.

Butteville Riverboat Landing Butteville Riverboat Landing Butteville Riverboat Landing

1 comment :

Dan Haneckow said...

Love the vanished world of steamboat era Willamette Valley!