Eugene Millrace History
"In a role that continues to the present day, Eugene was an early center for commerce, industry, education, and government. State, county, and city governments, as well as early industry and agriculture, were established in the city in the 1850s and 1860s. Eugene was designated the Lane County seat in 1853. Today, many of the streets and landmarks in the city bear the names of early settlers. Eugene’s early economy was agrarian-based and wheat was the first commercial crop. copyright Ukraine
"The digging of the millrace in 1851 diverted water from the Willamette River to power flour and lumber mills, and, later, woolen mills. The millrace, thought to be the oldest man-made structure in the city, served as the nucleus of industrial development in Eugene well into the twenti- eth century. Other early industries included furniture making, a brewery, quarries, brickyards, iron foundries, planing mills, and the cannery (later known as Agripac). " — City of Eugene - A Profile of the Eugene Community, LCOG Region 2050 Project
Millrace History TImeline
Millrace Played Important Role in Eugene's History
Byline: Bill Bishop, The Register-Guard
The Eugene Millrace was the platform for the city's industrial birth and later became one of its playgrounds when electricity eroded the channel's value as a power source. While it remains a historic water feature along two-thirds of its length, the tailrace has long been neglected, polluted, buried - but not forgotten.
With the coming transformation of the old millrace district into a downtown neighborhood anchored by a new federal courthouse, the end of the millrace may yet surface to link the downtown with its past.
Historic highlights show how the millrace flows through
1852: Hilyard Shaw and Avery Smith dig a canal connecting two muddy sloughs, creating a millrace to power Shaw's sawmill in an area east of the present-day Ferry Street Bridge.
1855: First gristmill built on the millrace.
1856: Eugene City Distilling Co. becomes the major industry, paying more taxes than any other while producing 70 gallons of whiskey per day at a time when the city's population numbered about 200.
1870s: Industries along the millrace include a furniture factory, tannery, cider and vinegar factory, woolen mill, gristmills, lumber mill, sash and door factory. Railroad development further spurs
1887: Eugene Electric Co. builds a 100-horsepower generator on the millrace.
1890: Boat rentals begin on the millrace. A flood destroys millrace intake on the Willamette River at Judkins Point near present-day Interstate 5 bridge. Flood also changes the course of the Willamette River to run in the current channel south of its former riverbed.
By 1900: University of Oregon students adopt the millrace for romantic rowboat and comical canoe excursions. Homeowners along its banks install landscapes to capitalize on the waterway. City's population is 3,236.
1910: Millrace owners Frank Chambers and George Midgley expand millrace capacity and clash with homeowners who claim the work is flooding their basements and destroying their yards. Some homeowners confront millrace workers at gunpoint. Years of legal battles commence.
1913: The Anchorage, a popular campus hangout across from UO's Villard Hall, begins renting canoes on the millrace. Citizens form the Millrace Protective Association with 100 members.
1915: UO holds its first Canoe Fete, a night parade on the millrace, as part of Junior Weekend.
1916: Oregon Supreme Court rules on disputes over millrace property easements, deciding maximum canal width could be 50 feet and allowing retaining walls to be built on residential properties.
1920s: As electricity becomes more available, mills convert. The millrace diminishes in importance as a power source. Simultaneously, its role as an aquatic park for UO students and city residents expands.
1922: Canoe rental business grows to have 50 canoes on the millrace. Property owners have an estimated 50 more.
1925: To preserve millrace's idyllic character, citizens and students rally to stop plans for a dance hall on the shore.
1928: All mills have stopped using millrace water power. Flood again destroys millrace's intake.
1938: UO buys land north of the millrace to build a park and amphitheater.
1941: Canoe Fete is so popular, plans are drawn for 5,000-seat bleacher and stage. Larger development plans call for moving the Pacific Highway (now Franklin Boulevard) and the railroad tracks. But projects are halted by World War II. A series of floods again destroy millrace intake.
1943: Highway and rail work completed. Millrace work is neglected.
1945: The millrace becomes a dry channel.
1946: Eugene voters buy the millrace for $50,000, but sale is disputed. Court rules in 1951 that the city bought only the right to move water in the millrace to generate power; property owners retain right to install culverts and bury the millrace.
1947: Millrace Protective Association reactivates to lobby at city budget hearings. City OKs $20,000 for millrace restoration; UO students raise matching funds.
1949: To accommodate highway expansion in the Ferry Street Bridge area, the lower millrace is confined to a 30-inch pipe buried 6 feet between Broadway and the Eugene Water & Electric Board complex on the river. The Anchorage closes down.
1950: UO demolishes the Anchorage and builds a new physical plant on the north bank of the millrace. City's population is 35,879.
1952: Millrace is described as "a half-filled muddy slough, clogged with debris." The 30-inch pipe at its end limits flow to 25 cubic feet per minute, a fraction of its estimated 350 cubic feet per second capacity half a century earlier. A portion of the flow is diverted back to the river through an outlet at the end of the UO's duck pond on Franklin Boulevard, helping water quality on the upper half of the millrace.
1955: Pumps proposed to increase flow in millrace. UO's Canoe Fete comes back to the millrace.
1957: Pumps installed. First proposal made to connect lower millrace to Amazon Slough to increase water flow, a proposal that would resurface periodically for 40 years.
1962: A volunteer group of Eugene architects draws up a plan to remove the lower millrace from its 30-inch pipe, recreate the channel, install native landscape and walking paths. The millrace is described as "stagnant and smelly" because of limited flow through the piped lower section.
1965: Cost of proposal to reconstruct the millrace as a pedestrian walkway from downtown to UO is estimated at $359,000. City Council balks at the expense. Little has been done to the sluggish channel for 20 years despite nearly continuous interest among citizen and student groups. Lack of water flow and lack of money to take action are perennial problems.
1967: City Council approves tying millrace to the city storm sewer system.
1971: UO's Canoe Fete abolished because of student apathy. The fetes begin again in 1973 and continue off and on. Students voice concerns about capsizing in the stagnant water, polluted by stormwater runoff and trash.
1974: Millrace is identified as the most unsanitary place to swim in Lane County. Redevelopment of UO duck pond begins.
1988: Last remnant of original millrace mills is torn down.
1990: Citywide observance of National Historic Preservation Week focuses on millrace history and restoration proposals. Stalemate over the millrace is described as conflict between nostalgic-minded citizens and pragmatic-minded ones. Canoe rentals at the UO's EMU topped 2,500 in 1989.
1996: Millrace boosters again propose connecting lower millrace from 10th Avenue and Mill Street to Amazon Creek near 17th Avenue to create "The Emerald Canal." Project also would boost quality of Amazon channel water in summertime. As envisioned, the canal would feature waterfront shops, restaurants and apartments. Cost was estimated at $35 million.
2001: Chiquita Brands International sells its 8.7-acre property to the city for $4.1 million, making original millrace industrial area available for new $70 million federal courthouse. Stage is set for redeveloping the area as a part of downtown with pedestrian links to the river. Designers consider possibility of resurrecting the lower millrace channel as a link to the city's history and to foster awareness of water quality and river ecology.
Formal Priority for Eugene Millrace in Upper Willamette River Restoration
SEC. 3138. UPPER WILLAMETTE RIVER WATERSHED ECOSYSTEM RESTORATION, OREGON.
(a) INGENERAL.—The Secretary shall conduct studies and eco- system restoration projects for the upper Willamette River water- shed from Albany, Oregon, to the headwaters of the Willamette River and tributaries.
(b) CONSULTATION.—The Secretary shall carry out ecosystem restoration projects under this section for the Upper Willamette River watershed in consultation with the Governor of the State of Oregon, the heads of appropriate Indian tribes, the Environ- mental Protection Agency, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service, and local entities.
(c) AUTHORIZED ACTIVITIES.—In carrying out ecosystem restora- tion projects under this section, the Secretary shall undertake activi- ties necessary to protect, monitor, and restore fish and wildlife habitat.
(d) PRIORITY.—In carrying out this section, the Secretary shall give priority to a project to restore the millrace in Eugene, Oregon, and shall include noneconomic benefits associated with the histor- ical significance of the millrace and associated with preservation and enhancement of resources in evaluating the benefits of the project.
(e) AUTHORIZATIONOF APPROPRIATIONS.—There is authorized to be appropriated to carry out this section $15,000,000.
- "Eugene's Millrace Neglect Is Subject of Concern to Other Parts of State," 1954 editorial in RG
- An Archaeological Assessment of the Eugene Millrace Diversion Dam and Intake for the I-5 Willamette River Bridge (#08329) Project, Lane County, Oregon
- "Millrace Industrial Site History" Waymark
- A Watershed Time For the Eugene Millrace, by Jerry Diethelm
- 1892 Historical Map of Eugene Millrace with Annotations and comments on same map
- Public Waterfront - graphic finding of the AIA 150 Franklin Corridor community design project
- Workshop Summary, AIA 150 Franklin Corridor community design project
- Eugene Millrace: A History, In Honor of National Historic Preservation Week, May 6-12, 1979
- Eugene to explore options for 'daylighting' buried millrace, Register-Guard (Eugene, OR), November, 2003
- Eugene Modernism 1935-65: Government, June 2003. p3.3 has a fascinating 1948 aerial view of the western Millrace portion.
- Legal citation of landmark easement case involving the Eugene Millrace
- Eugene's "Return to the River" runs through its Millrace District, 2001 viewpoint in the Eugene Weekly by Jerry Diethelm