by Mike Thomas
When towns become ghost towns, it’s usually because people lost jobs or moved away to find better work. Seldom do people abandon thriving, growing towns while at their height. The town of Linn City, Oregon was different.
A man named Robert Moore founded Linn City near the Willamette River in 1843. When it began, the town was about fifty acres in size. In 1845 the town had two log houses and a large number of tents. By 1846 the settlers had built fifteen houses. People who worked for Moore lived in the houses. Additionally, Linn City had a tavern, a chair manufacturer, a cabinet shop, a gunsmith shop, and a wagon shop.
During the next few years the town continued to grow. By 1849 there was a hotel and two general stores. That same year, James Moore, Robert’s son, built a lumber mill to saw logs and a gristmill, for grinding grain. The mills were large enough to employ at least twenty laborers. Docks that were nearly a mile long connected the mill buildings. The following year the town got a post office and Robert Moore started a town newspaper, the Spectator.
The men of Linn City lived very interesting lives. Around 1848 they began to leave the town in search of gold in California. Within two years, many of them returned home with fortunes. Once back in Linn City, they refused to work. They had plenty of gold dust and they knew where to find more, if that ran out. With this attitude, most of them just loafed around. They knew that if their money didn’t hold out they could just go back and make another haul, or get work in California. The men became very carefree. They spent their money wildly and lived recklessly. Gambling tables were active all over town and money changed hands quickly and constantly. For the next few years, Linn City was in its heyday.
But thirteen years later, a natural disaster spelled the end of Linn City. In October 1861, a heavy, constant rain began falling. This was not unusual for that time of year in Oregon; but the next month the rain continued to fall. It rained almost constantly. By the end of November the Willamette River was overflowing its banks. By December 2, water was rising over some of the town’s streets. Frightened citizens peered from the windows of their houses as the water rose at the rate of almost a foot per hour. Soon, the flood’s force became so great that walls of houses and stores began to cave in. Some businesses and houses were literally picked up and swept away. On December 14, the flood ended and the waters finally subsided. Only three houses remained in Linn City.
The flood was finally over, and no one was killed by it. The destruction it caused was too great for the town to recover. The people took what little possessions they had left and moved away. The town was completely abandoned. Its citizens began new lives elsewhere. Today you will find West Linn in about the same place as Linn City was.
No one knows how long the Oregon town would have survived, or how much it would have grown. But because of a rainstorm that started out harmlessly and refused to end, Linn City, Oregon lived and died within a brief 18-year period.