Date of visit: October 29, 2010
Population: 36,755 (2000 Census)
These days, Lake Oswego is known as a well-to-do suburb of Portland, full of expensive homes and manicured lawns. But many people don’t know about Lake Oswego’s humble beginnings. The town started out in 1850 as Oswego, named after a town of the same name in New York. In 1865 the Oregon Iron Company started producing pig iron with the ore mined from Oswego’s hills. The smelter they used is still standing in George Rogers Park today (see photo below). The pig iron produced in Oswego was used for railcar wheels, water pipes, and structural elements in Portland’s many cast-iron buildings (downtown Portland has the section largest collection of cast-iron-fronted buildings in the country; New York City’s Soho district has the largest).
The iron business went belly-up in the late 1800s, but in the early 1900s developers started promoting the town as a great place to raise a family, and the Lake Oswego we know today started to take form. The lake had strictly been used as a source of power during the iron days, but it started to become a site for swimming and recreation. As more and more homes popped up along the shoreline, the lake was eventually closed off to people without lakefront property. In 1960 when it merged with the nearby community of Lake Grove, the name of the town was changed to Lake Oswego (although, confusingly enough, the lake itself is called Oswego Lake).