So, I had an interesting experience coming home today. As I’m walking along the Oregon City Promenade, I notice immediately that the usual sounds of the paper factory just south of downtown… with its constant huffing and puffing and whirring and clanking, was silent. It was an eerie sensation, as I stood there on the bluff looking down on it, I had no idea that I was actually witnessing the end of an era.
Oregon City has long been a mill town. Heck, part of the reason my apartment building exists was to house workers at this very paper mill. Tonight, it sits quiet. A victim of globalization, if you read the story in the newspaper. It’s apparently cheaper to buy recycled paper from China than to recycle it locally.
Even though I’ve lived in Oregon City for less than a year, I can sense the loss. Not just of the around 200 jobs (probably all reasonably well-paying factory jobs, no less). But the loss of a small piece of this town’s legacy. Like so many manufacturing towns all across the country, the closing if this factory not only means the loss of a few jobs: it also represents the loss of a piece of this sleepy town’s soul.
With the closing of the Blue Heron Paper Company this town just becomes another Portland exurb, eventually absorbed into the fabric of the Big City just like Kenton was at this time 100 years ago, or like Beaverton has become in the past 30 years. Our city government is eyeing the property, on the south edge of downtown with some wonderful views of Willamette Falls, keen on redevelopment. They see Oregon City being the next “transit town” for Portland.. doubly so if through redevelopment they can lure either the yet-uncolored Milwaukie light rail line or the extant Green Line to our humble little Oregon City Transit Center. A revitalized and redeveloped downtown Oregon City would certainly be a tempting carrot to dangle in front of the TriMet board, that’s for sure.
But are we selling our town’s soul to save it? I don’t really know. I just know that tomorrow morning when I walk down the Promenade I’ll be hearing the traffic of 99E instead of a whirring Industrial Revolution relic. And it won’t seem like the same Oregon City anymore.