Wandering the streets of Independence, Oregon and marveling at its history can easily devour a day. Victorian-style homes with hybrid cars line Main Street. A stately bank built in 1859 is adorned with Queen Anne architecture. Brick storefronts with striped awnings and overhanging balconies shade newly installed wide sidewalks. History in Independence is nicely preserved against its modernity.
Across Main Street and on a bluff of the Willamette River lies the Riverview Park Amphitheater, a 1,000-seat open-air venue for movies on Thursdays and an active summer music series.
“I call downtown Independence, ‘quaint,’” says Betty Plude, 68, a resident who moved from Southern California to Independence nearly twenty years ago. For her part, Plude hasn’t seen a town quite like Independence. “That’s one reason I like it so much.”
Westward migrants led by John Thorp on the Oregon Trail found Independence in 1845. One of the wagon-train wives, Mrs. Burbank, named the town after the emigrants’ origin, Independence, Missouri.
With fertile farmland and proximity to the Willamette River, Independence soon became a shipping point for produce from surrounding areas. The town flourished until 1861 when a flood washed it out entirely, killing animals and destroying houses, barns and granaries. In one warehouse, 15,000 bushels of wheat were destroyed because “wheat mostly wet is not of much value,” one farmer told the local newspaper.
Henry Hill arrived to Independence in 1847 and claimed one square mile of land next to the original town under the Donation Land Claim Act, an edict that granted 320 acres of land to every unmarried, white male citizen over the age of 18 or 640 aces to every married couple who arrived to the Oregon Territory prior to December 1, 1850. In 1885, the original town of Independence and Hill’s adjacent town were incorporated. Today 9,510 people live in the small, picturesque town situated just twelve miles southwest of the state capital, one hour south of Portland, an hour east of the Oregon Coast, an hour west of the Cascade Range.
Plude and her husband, Emile, 85, moved to Independence not for its historical buildings and rich past, but for its airpark. After Plude retired from secretarial work at the City Hall and finished raising her four children in San Marcos, California, she and Emile moved to Independence where they could park
their airplane in a hangar next to their home. When Plude came to Independence twenty years ago, her home was the fifty-third of this ilk. Today, there are 220 homes with adjacent hangars and airplanes within.
The main airplane runway is owned by the state. Homeowners can then taxi off the main runway to residential taxiways and home to their hangars.
When the sun is shining down on Independence, private pilots fly in from all over Oregon to take breakfast or lunch at the popular restaurant, The Starduster.
Naturally, the Fourth of July is high time for Independence. Airplanes zip through the air, fireworks light up the sky, freshly picked produce fill the booths at the Saturday Market, and a beer garden flows during the annual Hop & Heritage Festival. The small town buzzes with hoards of visitors who know about Independence summers.
Craft beer has become an Oregon hallmark, and Independence was integral in that designation. Throughout the early nineteenth century, Independence was known as the Hop Capitol of the World. Between 1900 and 1940, growing, cultivating and harvesting hops was the town’s largest industry. Thousands of pickers came to Independence each July and, at the height of the hop craze in the 1920s, nearly 4,600 acres in the surrounding area were planted with hops. By the 1950s, however, falling prices and foreign competition brought a halt to the once flourishing industry.
Today, Independence still celebrates its heritage with the Hop & Heritage Festival each September. The celebration—much like the town—has its head in the clouds with hot air balloon and helicopter rides, but keeps its feet on the ground with lawn-mower races, a pie-eating contest and live music at the amphitheatre.
Population of Independence
Median household income
Median price of a single-family home
What To Do
Enjoy dinner at the Pink House, the Ragin’ River Steak Co. or the new upscale Royal Thai Restaurant.
Hit the Independence Farmer’s Market on Saturdays, April to November, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Visit the Heritage Museum and take a walk through the downtown historic district.
Catch a concert at the Riverview Park Amphitheater in its July-August music series, or a free movie on Thursdays.
Join the 4th of July Independence Days Celebration July 1-4