Benton County was established by the Provisional Legislature in 1847. It was named in honor of Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri, who was instrumental in promoting the development of Oregon Country. Carved from Polk County, Benton County stretched from the Polk County boundary south to the California border and from the Pacific Ocean east to the Willamette River. Umpqua, Lane, Douglas, Jackson, Lincoln, Josephine, Curry, and Coos Counties were created from portions of the original Benton County. Today Benton County occupies 679 square miles of the central Willamette Valley and is bordered on the east by the Willamette River and Linn County, on the west by the summit of the Coast Range and Lincoln County, on the north by Polk County, and on the south by Lane County.
The city of Marysville, later renamed Corvallis, became the county seat in 1851. The first county courthouse was erected in 1854. The second courthouse, built in 1889, is the oldest in Oregon that is still used for its original purpose. It was extensively renovated in 1976 to restore and preserve the historic character of the building. Nearby buildings house those offices not located in the courthouse.
At the time of its creation, Benton County government consisted of two or more justices of the peace acting as county commissioners; a judicial system including circuit, probate, and justice courts; clerks for each court; law enforcement offices of sheriff and coroner; and the tax and finance offices of the assessor, tax collector, and treasurer. In 1972 a home rule charter was passed in Benton County and the governing body of the county became a three-member board of commissioners.
Benton County was created out of land originally inhabited by the Klickitat Indians. All Indian claims to land within Benton County were ceded in the Treaty of Dayton in 1855. In 1862 Corvallis became the site of the Oregon State Agricultural College, known today as Oregon State University. Along with the university, agriculture, lumber, and wood products form the economic base of the county. The 2000 population of 78,153 marked an 10.37% increase over the 1990 population.
Did You Know?
The William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge in southern Benton County honors the work of the pioneering Oregon naturalist who lived from 1876 to 1953. Finley worked tirelessly for decades beginning in the late-1800s to protect the wildlife of Oregon, the nation, and the world. He used photographs and movie film to graphically display the beauty of wildlife and to campaign for conservation efforts. Over the years Finley produced over 50,000 photographs and 200,000 feet of film to support his efforts.
His work did not go unnoticed. President Theodore Roosevelt created the first bird refuge on the west coast in 1907 after seeing photographs by Finley and his partner. During this period Finley was also elected president of the Audubon Society and saw many of his articles published nationally. Finley's long career in public service included serving as state game warden.