Oregon City includes dramatic changes in elevation and the city’s central business district is sandwiched between the Willamette River and a basalt cliff. At the top of the 90-foot (27 m) cliff lies another neighborhood.
This problem of having a split level town goes all the way back to the founding of the town in 1829, when Indian trails negotiating the cliff side were used to connect the two areas. While numerous stairways were built in the mid 1860s, a better transportation solution was still needed.
The Oregon City Municipal Elevator is a 130-foot elevator which connects two neighborhoods in Oregon City in the U.S. state of Oregon. It is the only outdoor municipal elevator in the US and one of only four in the world. The upper portion contains an observation deck which accounts for its flying saucer appearance. There have been two elevators at this location with the current elevator was built in 1954-55.
To build the elevator a bond measure to raise $12,000 for construction was put to voters in 1912. The referendum passed in December, and the elevator opened to the public in 1915, delayed by politics. The original elevator was water-powered and took three minutes for the ride. The elevator was so popular that most of the cliff side stairs were removed. The elevator was converted to electric drive in 1924, which reduced the time to 30 seconds.
The Oregon City Elevator is surrounded by murals of the history of the Oregon Territory. It is free to ride, and if you ask the operator they will give you a lifetime free pass which works as a nice little souvenir. Legend has it that the ghost of a little red-headed boy haunts the area.
Know Before You Go
Downtown Oregon City. Drive down McLoughlin Blvd along the Willamette River and the elevator is the greenish-gray structure along the cliff away from the river.