A site near present-day Eugene was settled in 1846 by Eugene F. Skinner at the base of a mountain peak called Yapo-ah by the Calapooya tribe. The settlement was named Skinner's, and in 1852 a townsite was laid out by Skinner and Judge D. M. Risdon, who erected the first house within the corporate limits. Attempts to establish the town were foiled by heavy rains, however, and it was given the nickname "Skinner's Mudhole." The settlers moved to higher ground, construction succeeded, and in 1853 the town, taking its founder's given name, was chosen as the seat of newly created Lane County. The first post office in the region was built there the same year; Eugene was incorporated in 1864. The University of Oregon was established in Eugene in 1876.
Agriculture, milling, and transportation were the principal industries during Eugene's early years. A steady steamship trade was conducted between the town and Portland from the late 1850s until 1871, when construction of the Oregon & California Railroad brought an end to water transportation. By the end of the Civil War Eugene's population had reached 1,200 residents and the city was becoming highly industrialized. With lumbering as a principal industry, the city was the site of sawmills, shingle mills, planing mills, and box factories. Cottonwood and balm trees indigenous to the area were used to produce excelsior. Mining was also an important part of the economy. Agriculture continued to expand; wheat had been the major crop, and many farmers soon turned to fruit growing and dairy farming as well. Creameries, canneries, and flour mills were built for the processing of agricultural products. A major influence on the city as a cultural and education center began in 1872, when the University of Oregon was founded.
Along with industrial development, however, Eugene maintained a livable environment for its residents. By the 1940s the city was noted for its parklike appearance: comfortable, well-kept homes were set in landscaped lawns and shade trees lined the streets. Business districts occupied impressive brick and concrete buildings. With a major university, the city had also become the cultural center for the region. Eugene's population expanded steadily throughout the first half of the twentieth century, reaching nearly 51,000 people in 1967. By 1980, the population had nearly doubled. A slowdown in the timber industry during the early 1980s halted expansion.
Eugene is thriving in the mid 2000s. The city continues to be a lumber and wood-products center, where a high percentage of the nation's plywood is produced. A growing vineyard and wine industry is flourishing. It is also an increasingly important hub for Oregon high tech businesses and industries. With retail, industrial, educational, and professional institutions and enterprises serving a metropolitan population of more than 300,000 people, Eugene is the fourth largest market in the Pacific Northwest.
Historical Information: Lane County Museum Library Archives, 740 West Thirteenth Avenue, Eugene, OR 97402; telephone (541)687-4239
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