Multnomah County was created on December 22, 1854. It was the thirteenth county created in Oregon Territory. The land was taken from the eastern portion of Washington County and the northern part of Clackamas County. The borders have remained relatively unchanged to the present.
Multnomah County was created when the people living in Portland found it difficult to travel to Hillsboro to conduct business at the county seat of Washington County. They also thought that they were paying too much in taxes to support the farmers in the rural areas surrounding Portland. In 1854, Portland businessmen petitioned the Territorial Legislature for a new county and Multnomah County was created at the subsequent session. The county was named after the Multnomah Indians who were part of the Chinookan tribe that lived on the eastern tip of what is now Sauvie Island in the Columbia River. The City of Portland was chartered in 1851 and made the county seat in 1854. The Multnomah County Commissioners met for the first time on January 17, 1855.
Multnomah County is the smallest county in Oregon, with only 465 square miles. It is bounded by Columbia County and the Columbia River on the north, Washington County on the west, Clackamas County on the south, and Hood River County on the east. Multnomah County is very diverse with Portland in the west and the Columbia Gorge and Mt. Hood in the east. Most of the eastern portion of the county is covered with timber and is sparsely populated.
The first courthouse was built in 1866. Expanding county business required the addition of a north wing in 1885 and a south wing in 1889. In 1914 a new courthouse was completed at the same location.
The voters of Multnomah County approved a home rule charter on May 24, 1966, which became effective January 1, 1967. The primary organizational change was a governing body consisting of a board of five full-time county commissioners, which is the policy determining body of the county. The county commissioners and the auditor became the only elected officials. In 1968 the board of commissioners established administrative departments to operate county services and administer county affairs. The commissioners change the organization and duties of departments to meet changing needs.
The principle industries of Multnomah County are manufacturing, transportation, wholesale and retail trade, and tourism. Tourism attractions in Multnomah County include the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, Washington Park and Zoo, Oregon Historical Center, Portland Art Museum, Rose Test Gardens, and Japanese Gardens in Portland, and Multnomah Falls in the Columbia River Gorge. The Port of Portland, established in 1891, ranks third in total waterborne commerce on the West Coast. Portland is one of the five largest auto import ports in the nation and is the West Coast's leading exporter of grain and lumber. Portland International Airport is one of the fastest growing airports on the West Coast, serving as a Northwest regional hub and gateway to the Pacific Rim.
The population of Multnomah County has steadily increased since 1860. The 2000 county population of 660,486 represented an increase of 13.12% over 1990. Portland is the county's largest city with a population of well over 500,000.
Did You Know?
The dawn of the automobile age saw the construction of the spectacular Columbia River Highway running east from Troutdale in Multnomah County. The highway, built between 1913 and 1922, blended engineering and art with a vivid appreciation for the magnificent Columbia River Gorge landscape.
Engineer Sam Lancaster applied lessons from some of the great European highways but drew his biggest inspiration from the idyllic surroundings. His goal was to build a modern transportation route that would take full advantage of every natural aspect, scenic feature, waterfall, viewpoint, and panorama. Contemporaries described the results of his work as a "poem in stone" and called the highway the "king of roads." It was designated a national historic landmark in 2000.