Oregon City may have been the end of the Oregon Trail, but it was truly only the beginning. From there, emigrants spread out, to the north, west and south, in search of the perfect spot to call home. One of those emigrants was Elvin A Thorp.
He traveled south and staked a claim north of Ash Creek in June of 1845. He platted a small town site known as “Thorp’s Town of Independence” or the “Original Town of Independence”. By the mid 1850's, the town had services such as a sawmill, owned by the Sloper Brothers, brick kiln, blacksmith shop, livery stable, a ferry system which ran across the Willamette, a general merchandise store, warehouses and boat docks and a post office. The town prospered as a key shipping point of goods and supplies for the California gold rush and was situated in a strategic location for the transportation of goods and produce shipped up and down the Willamette Valley. The town’s success ended abruptly after a flood in 1861. A rainy fall and an unusually warm December melted the snow pack in the mountains causing a flood in December of that year, which left the town devastated. The residents wee apprehensive about rebuilding the town on the original location, so plans for a new town of Independence started to formulate. Ironically, Thorpe received a patent from the United States Government for the town in 1866.
Henry Hill arrived in the Independence area and claimed a one square mile Donation Land Claim south of Ash Creek on the west bank of the Willamette River and opened a log cabin store, November 14, 1847. After the 1861 flood, many residents of the area wanted Hill to plat a new town south of Thorp’s original plat which was on higher, flatter ground. So in 1867 Hill platted about 40 acres for a town site which became known as Henry Hill’s Town of Independence. Hill promoted the town by giving away two lots to people who wanted to build homes, two lots each to the Methodist and Presbyterian churches, and a lot to a livery stable. The town was laid out in a grid, Main Street connected with Thorp’s main thoroughfare, Indian Grave Street. From Main Street west, the blocks were laid out from 2nd to 9th streets. From north to south, the streets were lettered from “A” to “I” streets with Monmouth Street between “C” and “D” streets. In 1885 Thorp’s and Hill’s Town’s of Independence were incorporated.
The majority of the downtown buildings in Independence were built during a 20 year period, from 1880 to 1900, no longer wooden structures, but modern Brick buildings. Again Independence re-established itself as a central shipping point for goods brought up and down the Willamette River. The population grew from 700 at the beginning of 1880 to 1200 in 1890, this was due in part to the introduction of the railroad in the early 1880's. The Oregon and California Westside Railroad was now traveling clear to Corvallis and by 1886 a small independent railroad, called the Western Railroad completed a line down Second Street in Independence, connecting to the town of Monmouth.
A new ferry system was also completed across the Willamette River, in August of 1885, making farms on the East side of the Willamette more accessible. The city, like other cities, acquired “new” services, that made life more enjoyable and civilized. The city water works was completed in 1890, as running water was a must, in a modern city. The Telephone and Telegrams were introduced, electric lights illuminated the town. Other signs, that Independence had entered a new area, were the completion of the Opera House, the Cooper Building, the Independence Bank and City Hall. Independence, with it’s highly cultivated and beautiful surroundings, prospered due in part to the fact it was the center of one of the most productive agricultural districts in Oregon. The town grew as a central shipping point of the valley with various shipping companies locating their warehouses and wharves on the waterfront of Independence.
The population grew to a staggering 1,800 by the beginning of 1905. Technological advances and the prosperity of the hop industry, may very well have contributed to the growth. With the introduction of the automobile the emphasis on the railroad and river as means of transportation began to lessen.
The very first Automobile appeared in Independence in 1907, purchased by Dr. Otis Butler. People had heard of the automobile, but when Dr. Butler would drive by, what a spectacle it made. Men, women and children gathered, discussing the marvel, that made it’s way into their community.
With the introduction of the automobile came the need for a better road system. The first roads were made by wagons, pulling several logs abreast behind it, over and over again, to smooth out the road way. This process was still being done by many of the farmers in the rural areas. However, this was not to be the case for any growing city. The process of paving the main streets of Independence began after the turn of the century and by 1912 six streets were paved including Main Street.
Apparently the process of paving was more dangerous than one would think, as there were several accidents, including one near fatal while paving the city streets. (See Newspaper Clipping “Wm Ball Badly Burned”.) The bridge across Ash Creek, to the north of the downtown areas, had to be widened and a new steel bridge built to accommodate the automobile traffic. A new rail line, The Valley and Siletz Railroad was in operation by 1918. The railroad primarily carried timber, hops and passengers, increasing accessibility to and from other areas. The first Hospital was opened in Independence in 1921, before that, one would have to ferry across the Willamette River and go to the nearby town of Salem, and by 1925 the first Independence Elementary School was constructed, and the City Library opened in 1929. The City continued to grow, with its rich heritage through the years.
Independence Main Industry
Hop Capital of the World
The new prosperity of Independence was primarily due to the revenue of the hop industry, which was the major crop in the area. Independence was known as the “Hop Capital of the World” from the late 1890's to the 1940's.
The climate and soil of the rich river bottom land made the area surrounding Independence ideal for growing hops. Hops were planted in Polk County in the late 1860's. Hop production in the county increased in the 1880's and 1890's; by 1893 two thousand acres were planted in hops. Although the rich farmlands of Polk County produced wheat and other grain crops, by 1889 Polk County was producing more hops than any other county in Oregon.
At the turn of the century the farmers in Polk County had organized a Hop grower’s Fire Relief Association to help grower in the area. The total number of acres planted with hops in the United States was 43,653 acres in 1915. Oregon harvested approximately 20,000 acres of hops that year and the Independence area harvested about one fourth of the total Oregon harvest. By 1935 Oregon’s hop harvest had increased to 26,000 acres out of the total 39,000 acres of hops planted in the United States, and the Independence area became the largest hop growing area in Oregon.