Willamette Falls has been an important economic and social gathering place for Native Americans to fish and gather lamprey eels off the rocks. The falls are deeply rooted in their culture.
Early white settlers soon realized the economic opportunities of harnessing the power of the falling water.
The earliest attempts to harness the power of Willamette Falls reportedly occurred in the 1830s at the direction of John McLoughlin, the Father of Oregon.
As the U.S. entered the electric age, the 30 to 40 feet of water height, or “head,” at the falls was a natural for power generation, and the location was promoted as the “Niagara Falls of the West.”
Using generators originally employed in a Portland sawmill, the Willamette Falls Electric Company, a precursor of Portland General Electric, produced the nation’s first long-distance transmission of electricity on June 3, 1889. Power traveled from Station A in Oregon City to the streetlights in Portland 14 miles away.
Station B opened on the West Linn side of Willamette Falls in 1895. PGE closed Station A in 1897, but B continued operation, taking the name in 1953 of the PGE hydraulic engineer who designed the station, Thomas W. Sullivan. The entire development was called the Willamette Falls Hydroelectric Project.
By that year, the plant was generating 16,000 kilowatts, which it still does today.
Daily counts of winter and summer steelhead passing Willamette Falls are available online from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.