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Oregon Territorial Legislature forms Pacific County on February 4, 1851.

HistoryLink.org Essay 7865 : Printer-Friendly Format

On February 4, 1851, the Oregon Territorial Legislature forms the new Pacific County. The county starts quite small but will soon increase in size. The county seat begins in Pacific City, near what is now Ilwaco, and moves several times, ending up in South Bend. In March 1853, the county will become part of the newly formed Washington Territory.

In Oregon Country

The first political entity created by non-Indians in what is now Pacific County was Vancouver County (later renamed Clark County). The Oregon Provisional Government (formed on July 5, 1843) established Vancouver County in June 1844. In December 1845, the area of Vancouver County west of the Cascades was partitioned off and it became Lewis County.

Oregon was admitted as a U.S. territory on August 14, 1848, and the Oregon Territorial Legislature renamed Vancouver County to Clark County in 1849.

The Founding

In December 1850, 35 citizens requested that the Oregon Territorial Legislature create Pacific County out of the southwest corner of Lewis County. Pacific City, near present-day Ilwaco, became the county seat with a population of about 75 people. Pacific City ceased to exist as it was incorporated into the new military reservation at Cape Disappointment.

Pacific County was the third county organized north of the Columbia River. (These counties would become part of Washington Territory in 1853.) The county initially ran from Cape Disappointment north 25 miles and east 30 miles. A few months later, Lewis County was split and more territory added to Pacific County. Several more boundary changes took place until 1892 when Pacific County, now part of Washington state, assumed its final boundaries.

Shifting Boundaries and Seats

Sixteen frontiersmen turned out on Baker's Bay, the present site of Ilwaco, in 1851 to elect the first public officers in Pacific County. The first sheriff was Job Lamley, a Mexican War veteran, who arrived in Pacific City when he ran out of money on his way to the California gold rush. He was barely 21 years of age when elected sheriff, taking on the job to supplement his fishing employment. Other county officials included Judge John Meldrum; Commissioners Cornelius White, Washington Hall, and James Holman; and Clerk Henry Fiester.

In 1854, the county seat moved to Chinookville. In 1855, Baker's Bay residents voted to move the county seat to Oysterville, where it stayed until February 5, 1893. On that day raiders took the records, and moved the county seat to South Bend.

Changing boundaries and courthouse locations occurred frequently in the early days of Pacific County due to broad economic changes. Commercial salmon fishing and real-estate schemes along the Columbia River, some real and some imagined, contributed to the county seat moving to various locations in the south beginning in 1851.

Later the forest-products industry and increased population in the north caused the county offices to move to South Bend in 1892 and stay there. Folklore tells of renegades and piracy around the whole courthouse removal story, but it was more about economics and population.

Sources:
Lucile McDonald, Coast Country: A History of Southwest Washington (Portland, Oregon: Binfords & Mort, Publishers, 1966), 65-68; Bob Bailey, "Notes on Early Pacific County," The Sou'wester, Pacific County Historical Society and Museum website accessed July 3, 2006, (http://www.pacificcohistory.org/); Bill Long, "Oysterville, Uncovering a Forgotten Past," Dr. William Long's website, accessed July 4, 2006 (http://www.drbilllong.com/index.html); "Individual County Histories/Clark County," Oregon State Archives, Provisional and Territorial Records Guide website accessed on July 27, 2006 (http://arcweb.sos.state.or.us/provisionalguide/ClarkCounty.html).


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Pacific County Courthouse, South Bend, 1940s
Postcard


Southwest Washington counties



Map of Oregon Territory (including the future Washington Territory), with counties, 1849
Courtesy Oregon State Archives


Piles of oyster shells, South Bend, 1940s
Postcard


 
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