Willamette Mission State Park

Park History

The rise and fall of Willamette Mission

The park commemorates the site of Willamette Mission, which served as the first Methodist mission on the west coast and as a boarding school for Native American youth from 1834 until 1841. Established by Québec-born Rev. Jason Lee, the mission marked one of the first Euro-American communities in the Willamette Valley.

Lee and his team of four men arrived Oct. 6, 1834. Racing the coming winter, they built a log Mission House to serve as a school, chapel, kitchen and living quarters. It became the center of missionary life. From 1835-1841, the mission grew to include a chapel, hospital, log cabin homes, blacksmith shop, granary and 30-acre farm. The complex became known across the U.S. as “Wilamet” Station at Mission Bottom and served for a time as the headquarters for satellite missions across the Pacific Northwest. 

The Methodist Missionary Society in New York sent several reinforcements to expand the community. These newcomers included a doctor, blacksmith, and teachers -- including the woman who would become Lee’s wife, Anna Maria Pittman.

But from the outset, Lee faced logistical and cultural challenges in establishing his boarding school and converting the Native people. While some Native Americans did convert to Christianity, others struggled to fit this new religion into their existing worldviews. Additionally, foreign illnesses were decimating native populations.

Frequent floods at Mission Bottom pushed Lee to move the headquarters in 1841 to Chemeketa Plain. He reopened the boarding school and named it the Indian Manual Training School, which would become Willamette University.

Families traveling the Applegate and Oregon Trail continued to use the abandoned mission buildings until a catastrophic flood in 1861 washed them away. The state acquired the property through donation in 1979 and opened it to the public as a state park in honor of Lee’s contribution to Oregon’s history.

 

Though the mission itself was transient, Lee’s legacy endured — both as a catalyst that helped to put Salem on the map as the state’s political capital, and as a reminder of the upheaval in the lives of the Native Americans who first called this area home.

Acreage: 1,329.17

Annual overnight attendance: 1,589

Annual day-use attendance: 279,578


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