THE ORIGINAL INHABITANTS
Washington County Museum
Indigenous peoples have lived in the Willamette Valley for an estimated 10,000 years. The north end, which includes the Tualatin River, its tributaries, and the Tualatin Valley, was home to the Kalapuya. Also known as the Wapato Lake Indians, the hunter-gatherers were semi-nomadic, maintaining substantial permanent winter homes and temporary spring, summer, and fall camps. The homeland of the Atfalati (Tualatin) tribe of the Kalapuya stretched as far east as the Willamette River, encompassing about 24 villages. One of these settlements was called Chakeipi, “the place of the beaver.” Beaverton is its modern-day location.
Smallpox, influenza, and malaria epidemics in the 1780s and 1820s decimated the population. Numbers declined from several thousand to about 400 in the 1850s, and finally, 44 Atfalati in the 1910 Federal census.
By the 1850s, contacts between American settlers and Native peoples had become increasingly hostile. Superintendent of Indian Affairs Joel Palmer negotiated a treaty with the Kalapuyans and several other tribes in the Oregon Country. The U.S. Senate ratified it in 1855, establishing reservations and forcing the removal of the original inhabitants to non-tribal lands. Most of the Kalapuya were relocated to the Grand Ronde Reservation, near the foothills of the Coast Range. A few were sent to the Siletz Reservation on the Oregon coast.
Shortly after Meriwether Lewis and William Clark completed their epic 1804-1806 expedition, American and British interests entered the resource-rich Pacific Northwest. They were intent on building trading posts on the Columbia River and establishing a global fur trading empire.
Domestic and European demand for beaver pelts quickly led fur trappers and Mountain Men to the area. The fur was a valuable commodity readily traded for a wide variety of goods from Asia. Fur trading, however, began to decline in the 1840s. Fashions changed, the number of fur-bearing animals decreased because of over trapping, and settlers cleared the land for development. Trappers had to find new ways to support themselves and their families. Many remained in the Oregon Country, guiding Oregon Trail emigrants and settling the land on which they had once trapped. About the same time, missionaries from the East Coast and Canada arrived to tend to spiritual needs. Their favorable reports to the folks back home attracted further attention to this vast region.
The influx of Oregon Trail travelers began in 1843, drawn by mild climate, abundant rainfall, and productive terrain well-suited for agriculture. The newcomers had no use for the numerous large, beaver-engineered bodies of water in the Tualatin Valley and drained them to establish farms on fertile beaverdam land. This was the foundation of the City of Beaverton.
Anticipating rail service, a group of local businessmen platted Beaverton in 1868. Creating a city was delayed by friction between merchants who favored the change and farmers who didn’t. The town finally incorporated in 1893 with a population of about 250. It became famous for producing onions, horseradish, lettuce, and asparagus. Other major industries in the area’s early years were tile and brick factories and flour and lumber mills. Civic improvements during the 1910s added a high school, street lighting, municipal water system, volunteer fire department, and brick buildings.
THE FOREIGN BORN
The next influx of immigrants began in the 1870s. Agriculture continued to power the economy as Donation Land Claims were divided into smaller parcels and the following generation of settlers arrived from the mid-West, East Coast, and Europe. Swiss, Germans, Irish, and Italians cleared the land as they established dairy and vegetable farms and logging/lumbering operations.
The Chinese had arrived about twenty years earlier, drawn by the promise of gold mining. They expected to save enough money to support their families back home and return to their homeland. After gold played out, they found work in fish canneries, railroad construction, and farms, despite discrimination and hostility. Many eventually owned laundries, herbal pharmacies, and restaurants.
ARRIVAL OF THE RAILROAD
Rivals Joseph Gaston and Ben Holladay competed to bring their Oregon-California railroads to the west side of the Willamette River in the 1860s. Ultimately, Holladay’s lobbying and influence prevailed. Beaverton would be a major shipping point and terminal along the line if one commercial building were erected. An early settler built a log structure that met the requirement; the first train reached the community in 1871. In 1908, electrified rail service arrived, providing clean, fast commuter service.
COMING OF AGE
The city continued to grow. Population increased from 580 in 1920 to 863 by 1930. A “City of Homes”, it was evolving into a developed bedroom community with a new library, sidewalks, silent movie studio, and the beginnings of a very busy noncommercial air field. The Great Depression saw a slight drop in population and private construction projects.
A NEW ERA
Beaverton and Oregon changed significantly between 1945 and 1960. The years following World War II profoundly altered the economic and social order as military personnel, shipyard workers, and minorities arrived and stayed after the war. The completion of U.S 26 (Sunset Highway) on the city’s northern boundary fostered a shopping center and major residential expansion. Open farmlands began to give way to a built-up environment of industrial parks, private housing developments, and the start of the Silicon Forest. Its population zoomed from slightly more than 1,000 to about 6,000.
Technology, apparel companies, fresh food processors and distributors, electronics, and manufacturing are central to the area’s vitality. Agriculture, once the Tualatin Valley’s dominant industry, remains an essential component even as the economy diversifies. Its legacy endures in wineries, nurseries, smaller-scale farms, and farmers’ markets.
Beaverton’s 2012 population is slightly more than 90,000; it is the fifth-largest city in Oregon and the second-largest in Washington County.