If There’s a West Linn, Where Is East Linn?

If rebuilding after one disaster makes you look gutsy, rebuilding after two starts to make you look a little bit stupid. That’s the story of Linn City.

GO WEST: Arch Bridge between Oregon City and West Linn. (JPL Designs/Shutterstock)

I have been able to find West Linn fairly easily, but I’ve yet to find East Linn, South Linn, North Linn, or just Linn. Where are they? —Thomas S.

Like Mount Hood, Marion County and the James G. Blaine Society, West Linn is an Oregon institution named after someone who never set foot in Oregon. I’m talking, of course, about Adam West, TV’s Batman.

Sorry, typo—that should read “Sen. Lewis F. Linn, TV’s Batman.” Linn was a Missouri lawmaker (and not actually Batman) who sponsored numerous bills in the 1830s and ‘40s promoting settlement in the Oregon Country. This earned him the nickname “The Father of Oregon.” Of course, John McLoughlin is also known as “The Father of Oregon,” but oh well. (Sadly, Linn died before the two men could fight to unify the title.)

In 1845, two years after Linn’s passing, the Territorial Legislature renamed a sawmill town called Robin’s Nest as Linn City in his honor. (Linn County and Portland’s Linnton neighborhood are also named after him.) Unfortunately, a fire destroyed Linn City’s mill and much of its waterfront in early 1861, but its citizens were undeterred. They began the long, slow process of rebuilding—except, in this case, the process turned out to be not all that long since pretty much the entire town got washed away in a flood later that year.

If rebuilding after one disaster makes you look gutsy, rebuilding after two starts to make you look a little bit stupid. The city’s denizens took the hint, and the town was largely abandoned. Development would return to the area after the completion of the Willamette Falls Locks in 1873, but Linn City qua Linn City was no more.

Fast forward to 1913: telephones! Gibson girls! Napster! A chunk of land including what was then known as West Oregon City, along with Willamette Heights, Sunset and Bolton, decided to incorporate as its own town, partly to avoid being annexed by Oregon City proper.* The city fathers needed a name for the new town, and—after an extended process likely featuring some of the most boring arguments you can possibly imagine—they settled on West Linn, which tarts up the historic Linn City with some geographic flair borrowed from West Oregon City. I know, it’s hard to believe that was the best they could come up with, but there it is.

*”Portland creep” before it was cool!

Questions? Send them to dr.know@wweek.com.

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