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Where We Live: The Willamette Stone

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PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — One of Oregon’s most important historical landmarks is also one of its least known.

Surrounded by forest, down a tree-lined path in Portland’s West Hills, you’ll find the Willamette Stone.

A map of the Willamette Meridian and baseline. (Courtesy to KOIN)

It’s the exact spot where the first official government surveys were done, establishing the basis for land claims in Oregon and Washington as settlers flocked to the Oregon territory in the 1850s after the Donation Land Act.

“And they could say, ‘This is the block of land that goes to this family,’ and ‘This is the block of land that we’re going to give to that family for them to start settlement on,’ so it made a clear grid-like system that made the whole process easier,” Oregon Park Ranger Deb Hill said.

John B. Preston, Oregon's first government surveyor. (Courtesy to KOIN)

The project was led by John B. Preston, Oregon’s first surveyor general. His crew used solar compasses, from the initial point to establish the Willamette Meridian and the Willamette Baseline.

The surveyed lines run all the way from Puget Sound to California, from the Pacific Ocean to Idaho — avoiding the Columbia River and Vancouver Lake.

Many of the original surveys are still used today.

Hill told KOIN 6 News, “So it’s pretty amazing how accurate they were, given the time and the tools that they had.”

An old survey map. (Courtesy to KOIN)

From a wooden stake in 1851, a stone obelisk was installed as the marker in 1885 — the Willamette Stone. But after constant vandalism, the federal government replaced it with another marker in the 1980s. 

The Willamette Stone State Park was established in 1945, which is where the Willamette Stone marker can be found. It’s located just off Skyline Boulevard in the West Hills. It’s one of 37 initial survey points throughout the U.S.

So, when you take a look at the skylines and neighborhoods for towns in Oregon and Washington, know that it all started with the Willamette Stone.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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