Nestled along the Columbia River Gorge about 60 miles east of Portland sits the city of Hood River, occupying the transition zone between temperate, wet western Oregon and the dry, high plateau of eastern Oregon. For eons, the Columbia River Gorge served as a sea-level passage through the Cascade Mountains, marking where the Hood River plummets 25 miles north from Mount Hood through the Hood River Valley all the way to the Columbia River. Salmon passed through to reach their spawning grounds for thousands of years, attracting the Wasco, Warms Springs, and Watlalas people to the area to settle and enjoy the feast of fish.
When the Lewis and Clark expedition came through the area on October 29, 1805, Hood River found a place on William Clark’s map as Labeasche River, named after a fellow expedition member Francois Labiche. However, this name did not stick, and the area came to be referred to as Dog River for the next 50 years.
In 1854, Nathaniel Coe and his wife Mary moved into the region after receiving a 319-acre government land grant that bordered on the east by what is now known as Front Street, on the north by the Columbia River, on the west by 13th Street, and the south by May Street. They were soon followed by the William Jenkins family and the Bensons, both families with strong historical ties to the city.
It was Mary who quickly decided that Dog River was a less than adequate name for the site of her future home. As a result, she rechristened the stream Hood River, and a small but prosperous settlement began to develop under the new name, formally incorporated in 1895 into Oregon.
The Coe family settled in nicely, building a house on their new land and planting their first orchard. These apple orchards would flourish in the rich valley from 1890 until 1920, causing the Hood River to become famous for its apples. The downfall would come in 1919 when a killing freeze struck many apple trees. Early farmers replaced the apple trees with pear trees afterward, and it would prove to be a prosperous move as today, Hood River County leads the world in Anjou Pear production.
Steamboats, the arrival of the Oregon Railroad and Navigation Company’s first train in 1882, and the completion of the Columbia River Highway in 1915 enabled the development of this market-oriented agriculture. It made it easy to package and ship first the apples and then the pears, later on, providing the foundation of commercial horticulture in the area. It gave the region the independence it needed and on June 23, 1908, the City of Hood River and the surrounding areas formally separated from Wasco County to form its own Hood River County.
Hood River fell on hard times as the years wore on. World War II proved to be disastrous for the area thanks to Presidential Executive Order 9066, which allowed Japanese and Japanese Americans to be imprisoned in camps throughout the West during the heat of the war.
The late 20th century proved to be just as challenging as Hood River began to experience profound changes. The horticulture industry grappled with altering consumer tastes, and logging companies faced a weak housing market. By 1990, the high costs of retooling sawmills to cut smaller logs, the export of un-milled logs, and the list of the Northern Spotted Owl as an endangered species put smaller sawmills in the area at a competitive disadvantage. These mills either sold out or folded as a result, such as Hood River’s Hanel Lumber.
There was still hope for the area, though, despite the challenges thrown it’s way. In the early 1980s, sailboarders arrived to take advantage of the Gorge winds and the depressed local economy. Suddenly service jobs in tourism were replacing lost jobs in extractive industries. Abruptly hotels, like Cloud Cap Inn, which had been open since 1889 and the Columbia Gorge Hotel, which had opened in 1920, dominated the local economy as more tourists came in. By 1999, Hood River had over 30 windsurfing equipment suppliers, and the population grew by almost a quarter between 1980 and 2000.
Today, tourism is the dominant force in the county’s success and is reflected in many art galleries, wineries, breweries, festivals, and events. Being so close to Portland has proven to be prosperous, helping to augment tourism jobs with employment in technology and telecommunications. Through all the changes, it has now become the ultimate vacation spot for those looking to do some outdoor exploration within the Gorge, especially for those with a love of windsurfing and kitesurfing. As a result, industrial opportunities continue to grow, and the future years of Hood River County will bring on even more new developments for both tourists and locals to enjoy alike!