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The Oregon Institute was a school located in the Willamette Valley of the Oregon Country during the 19th century. Begun in 1842, it was the first school built for European-Americans west of Missouri. Founded by members of the Methodist Mission, it was located in what is now Salem, Oregon, United States. The school began as a pre-college institution, but later became Willamette University. The school's three story building was a prominent feature in the early days of Oregon and served as meeting place for the Oregon Territorial Legislature when it first moved to Salem.



Missionary Jason Lee came to Oregon Country in 1834 with Nathaniel Jarvis Wyeth to begin missionary work amongst the natives.[1] First Lee and his men built Mission Bottom north of present Salem, Oregon, but that was flooded in 1841.[1] The Methodist Mission was then relocated to Mission Mill in what would later become Salem.[1] After moving the mission they began constructing a new building for the Indian Manual Labor Training School.[2] However, before the building was completed, the Methodist Mission at Mission Mill was dissolved and the assets sold off.[3]

On February 1, 1842, several missionaries including Jason Lee met at Lee's house to discuss forming a school for the White settler's children.[4] The group decided to create a school, naming it the Oregon Institute.[4] A building was begun on Wallace Prairie to the east of the Methodist Mission, but abandoned and sold before completion.[4] Instead, the three story building originally under construction for the Indian Manual Labor School was sold for $4,000 to the Oregon Institute along with the land in June 1844.[3]

The original building of the Oregon Institute. Completed in 1844, the building was destroyed by fire in 1872.

The original building of the institute was built under the supervision of Hamilton Campbell at a cost of $8,000 for the mission.[2] Construction began in 1841 and finished in 1844.[2] This building was 71 feet (22 m) long, 24 feet (7.3 m) wide, and three stories high.[2] It was built of fir milled on site, except for the windows that came from New York.[2] As one of the more dominating buildings of the landscape of early Oregon, it towered over the school.[2]


The first building of the school, a three story wood building, was occupied in 1844.[5] This building was used by the school and community, including the state legislature and court.[5] Oregon Institute began with one teacher, who taught the white children of the area.[5] In 1853 the school changed names to Wallamet University, later changed to the current Willamette.[5]

On February 1, 1843, the first “Wolf Meeting” was held at the Oregon Institute.[6] This meeting was presided over by Dr. Ira L. Babcock, who had been elected as supreme judge in 1841 to probate Ewing Young’s estate.[6] The meeting was designed to discuss issues with predatory animals attacking livestock in the Willamette Valley.[6] This meeting was one of the precursors to subsequent meetings that led to the formation of a provisional government in May at Champoeg.[6]


  1. ^ a b c "Jason Lee's Mission to Oregon". Road To Oregon. End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center. Retrieved 2007-01-31.  
  2. ^ a b c d e f Walton, Elisabeth (October 1973). "A Note on William W. Piper and Academy Architecture in Oregon in the Nineteenth Century". The Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 32 (3): 231–238. doi:10.2307/988795.  
  3. ^ a b Hines, Gustavus (1852). Life on the Plains of the Pacific. Oregon: Its History, Condition and Prospects. G. H. Derby and co..  
  4. ^ a b c "1840-1990 Keepsake Edition: Willamette University". Statesman Journal. October 26, 1990.  
  5. ^ a b c d "History of Willamette". About Willamette. Willamette University. Retrieved 2007-01-31.  
  6. ^ a b c d Clarke, S.A. (1905). Pioneer Days of Oregon History. J.K. Gill Company.  

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