Tillamook History


The story of Tillamook County began on August 14, 1788 when Captain Robert Gray, an American sailing the sloop “Lady Washington,” anchored in Tillamook Bay thinking he had found the “great river of the West.” This was the first landing on the Oregon coast.

In its early years, the town of Tillamook, the first community to be settled in the county, bore the names Lincoln and Hoquarten, the latter believed to be an Indian name meaning “the landing.” Its name was eventually changed to Tillamook, an Indian word meaning “land of many waters.”

The first settler in the vicinity was Joseph Champion, who came in 1851 and made his home in a hollow spruce tree he called his “castle.” Within months other settlers came – all bachelors.

In 1852, the first two families arrived to make their homes. Each successive year brought more families. On Dec. 15, 1853, Tillamook County was created by an act of legislature.

In 1854, the first election was held, the first census taken, the first school started and the keel laid for a community ship: the “Morning Star.”

The “Morning Star” was built out of economic necessity because shipwrecks had destroyed all transportation that had carried local dairy products, fish and potatoes to market. The vessel was built by the combined efforts of Tillamook’s settlers. Most of the materials came from the forest, but iron work from a wrecked ship was laboriously packed on horseback from the Clatsop beaches by way of Neahkahnie Mountain. Sails were purchased from the Indians who had salvaged them from a ship wrecked near Netarts. Pitch was used to caulk the craft. Paint was not available. The ship was launched in the Kilchis River on Jan. 5, 1855, and for some years made possible the existence of the pioneers and development of Tillamook County.

In 1861 Thomas Stillwell, aged 70, arrived with his family from Yamhill and purchased land. The following year he laid out the town that would become Tillamook and opened the first store. In 1866 the first post office was opened and the town was permanently renamed Tillamook. An election in 1873 chose Tillamook as the county seat. The first public building was the jail built that same year.

Tillamook became an incorporated city in 1891. The first County Courthouse and City Hall were erected in the early 1890s.

Today, Tillamook’s City Hall is located at 210 Laurel and occupies the former Tillamook Post Office, which moved to a new facility on 1st Street in 1986. The building is listed on the National Register of Historical Places. It opened as a post office in 1925. In 1943, as part of a national public works program, the U.S. Treasury Department commissioned native Tillamooker Lucia Wiley to paint a mural on one inside wall of the building. It is entitled “The Landing of Captain Robert Gray in 1788.”

Tillamook City Hall

City Hall mural

Early Tillamook

Tillamook County Historical Society has published a seven-page document showing early photographs of Tillamooks and interesting facts about its pioneers. Click on the image to download a PDF of the document, or go to the Tillamook County Pioneer Museum Web site at http://www.tcpm.org/and click on TCHS.

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