The history of Orenco Oregon was tied to the history of the Oregon Nursery Company. The town arose as a company town to provide services for the companies workers and their families. But the down fall of the company eventually led to the downfall of the town itself.
Before 1908 the current location of Orenco were land claims cleared by Chinese laborers hired by local farmers. Depending on the source, the Oregon Nursery Company either bought 640 acres in 1896, or 170 acres in May 1906. My guess is that they actually did both as the company eventually had 1200 total acres in the area.
The Oregon Nursery Company had been founded in 1867 as the Capital City Nursery in Salem Oregon. Archibald McGill, and Malcolm McDonald, both Canadian Scottish immigrants, purchased the company in 1892. In 1896 it had changed it’s name to reflect it’s expanding business. This leads me to believe that the purchase of 640 acres in the same year is correct and probably provoked the name change.
The Oregon Nursery Company built a wooden building that covered two acres, the largest of it’s kind in the United States at the time. It’s use was to be a packing shed, but it saw use as the Washington County Fairgrounds due to it’s size. A fire that destroyed the packing plant at the Salem location in 1905 caused the entire company to be moved to the new location.
In 1908 the town of Orenco was platted and the name first created by a contraction of the company name. By this time the Oregon Nursery Company had acquired enough land to expand their holdings to 1200 acres. 1100 acres was used for nursery stock, the remaining acres was most likely dedicated to the new town. The town was built to house the Hungarian immigrant workers that the company sponsored. They worked for the Company, and lived in the town. In the same year the Oregon Electric Railway finished their Portland to Forest Grove line with one of the stops being in the newly created Orenco. The timing is a bit of a coincidence so plans for the town and the stop had to be in the works for some time before that.
1909 saw an official Post Office established to serve the Hungarian workers and their families. The first and only church, the Orenco Presbyterian Church was also founded in the same year. By 1910 the town’s population reached 500 people. The number of wooden structures in town made a fire department necessary and thus one staffed by volunteers was created on December 6th 1910.
On January 6, 1913 Orenco citizens voted to incorporate the town. This brought on the additional necessity of a City Hall which was completed in 1914, although some sources say it was completed as early as 1912. The town included 169 children enrolled in the local school, a blacksmith shop, ice cream parlor, hardware store and lumber yard, two grocery stores, and even a printing press where H. V. Meade started printing the Orenco Herald in 1914. The town even had all the “modern conveniences” such as water, sewer, telephone, electric lighting and the required 25 piece band.
1913 saw the Oregon Nursery Company’s peak year. The company started increasing production so that they could break into the European Market. The unfortunate start of World War I in 1916 put a permanent stop to these plans. The cost of keeping so much nursery stock bankrupted the company and it ended up dissolving completely in 1927.
The town itself managed to hang on until 1938 when the City Government was dissolved by vote of the town’s remaining citizens. But Orenco’s story was still far from complete. After the urbanization move of the Post World War II era, Orenco remained a planned community. Cul-De-Sacs and single family dwellings littered the former nursery lands.
This cycle still continues today, although with the re-introduction of rail service to the area in the 1998 expansion of Trimet’s light rail service Orenco is now more of a city then it was in 1913. The town has not reincorporated, but several of the old buildings still stand. Mixed in among them is a huge number of new homes integrated into what is being called a “Mixed Use Center.” These are buildings with stores on the ground floor and apartments or condominiums on the top floors.
Future Orenco continues to look bright as companies such as Intel continue to build there. Orenco’s current population and economic diversity is far greater then it’s founders could have imagined.