Champoeg, Oregon (pronounced sham-POO-ee) is an abandoned town located on the southern bank of the Willamette River in Marion County at 45.25° north and 122.88° west. Champoeg was the site of the organization of the first territorial government for the Oregon Country, becoming the informal capitol of a stretch of land from Alaska to the California border. The remains of the settlement are now part of the larger Champoeg State Heritage Area.
The area around Champoeg was originally used by the native Kalapuya as a meeting place and trading point. The first settlement was founded by French fur trappers, and was used in dealings with the natives. The area around the settlement is called the French Prairie, due to the prominence of these traders.
As settlers began arriving in the Willamette valley through the Oregon Trail, a debate began over who should have rightful sovereignty to the area. Both the British, through the auspices of the Hudson's Bay Company, and the United States signed a treaty in 1818 sharing control of the territory. With the death of Ewing Young, an early pioneer and de facto leader of the Willamette settlers, a series of meetings were held in Champoeg to set up a governmental framework for the area.
The first of the Champoeg meetings took place in 1841. Initially, representative from both Hudson's Bay Company and the US Military suggested that the group wait to form a government, but the need to resolve disputes resulted in the formation of a court system based on the probate laws of New York state. During meetings in 1842, debates about forming an independent nation were rejected in favor of becoming a territory of the United States. The 1843 debates focused on protecting domestic animals from packs of wolves, but eventually evolved into the formation of a territorial government. The vote for formation of a government was very close, with a small majority of 52-50 in favor.
With the signing of the Oregon Treaty of 1846, the United States gave up it's territorial claims north of the 49th parallel, and created the Oregon Territory out of the remaining lands. A new territorial government was set up by the United States with the capitol placed in Oregon City, and the old government in Champoeg was dissolved into this new entity.
Despite not being the capitol, Champoeg continued to grow for more than a decade. By the time Oregon achieved statehood in 1859, the town had become a center of commerce in the valley, with a ferry across the Willamette, a granary and a warehouse.
However, a catastrophic flood in the Willamette valley in 1861 sealed the fate of the town. Flood waters along the river reached 55 feet above the normal bank, inundating Champoeg with seven feet of water in the streets. The flood destroyed the town, leaving only two saloons and a scattering of structures standing once the waters receded. The town was not rebuilt after the disaster.
Today, the site of Champoeg is part of the Champoeg State Heritage Area, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. The park contains the restored Manson Barn, the Robert Newell house, and 100 campsites. the park is also a nature preserve, providing a home for western bluebirds and ospreys. An extensive set of bike and hiking paths winds through the park as well.