25 Magnificent Facts About Oregon
By Anna Green
Founded in 1859, Oregon is known for its wild west past, its quirky present-day traditions, and its many natural marvels (including the world’s largest living organism). Here are 25 fascinating facts about America’s 33rd state.
1. Portland is home to the only leprechaun colony west of Ireland. Built in 1948 by World War II veteran Dick Fagan, Mills End Park is allegedly home to a group of invisible leprechauns, led by head leprechaun Patrick O’Toole. The park, which measures just two square feet, started out as little more than an empty hole created for a light post that was never placed. But Fagan, who worked across the street from the spot, was determined to turn it into something magical, and began planting flowers and spinning stories about the tiny leprechauns who called it home.
2. Crater Lake in south-central Oregon is the deepest lake in the United States (and one of the top 10 deepest in the world). Formed by the collapse of a volcano around 7700 years ago, the lake is close to 2000 feet deep, and is home to two islands: Wizard Island and Phantom Ship.
Oregon is home to the biggest mushroom on earth. Spanning approximately 2.4 miles in Oregon’s Blue Mountains, the enormous honey fungus is believed to be somewhere between 1900 and 8650 years old.
4. Mushroom hunting is such a popular (and lucrative) activity in Oregon, the state even has its own mushroom festival. Held annually in Estacada, the Estacada Festival of the Fungus features a mushroom hunt, tastings, fungus-themed artwork, and mushroom identification classes. Oregon’s culture of mushroom hunting was even featured in the 2014 documentary The Last Season, which follows two professional mushroom hunters as they track down rare delicacies.
5. According to one 2012 report, Portland has the most bicyclists per capita of any city in the United States. The famously bike-friendly city isn’t just home to tons of bike commuters, however. An entire bike culture has cropped up in the city, including a popular weekly “Zoobombing” event, in which participants race tiny bikes downhill in the West Hills, and CHUNK bike construction, in which bike parts are combined creatively to make oversized, tall, or strangely shaped bicycles.
Simon Zirkunow, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0
Numerous movies and TV shows have been filmed throughout Oregon. In addition to the popular IFC comedy Portlandia, classic movies like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), and The Goonies (1985) were set, and filmed, in Oregon. Plus, there’s always the ever-popular Twilight franchise, which was set in Forks, Washington, but filmed throughout both Washington and Oregon.
7. Forest Grove is home to the world’s tallest barber pole. Built in 1973, the red, white, and blue striped pole is 72 feet high—nearly twice as tall as the previous pole to hold that title, a 40-foot-tall pole in San Antonio.
Casey Bisson, Flickr // CC BY-NC-NA 2.0
Legend has it that there’s buried pirate treasure somewhere on Neahkahnie Mountain on the Oregon coast. The story, which dates back hundreds of years, has been passed down for generations, and inspired hoards of treasure hunters, some of whom claimed to have discovered clues—but never any treasure.
9. Oregon is one of only five states with no sales tax (the others are Delaware, New Hampshire, Montana, and Alaska). Though the state does have an income tax, residents and tourists can enjoy tax-free shopping, with one exception: On January 1, 2016, the state enacted a 25 percent sales tax on recreational marijuana until the Oregon Liquor Control Commission takes over the regulation of cannabis sales later this year.
10. Albany in northern Oregon is home to The Historic Carousel Museum, which not only displays historic carousel animals and artwork, but is currently in the process of building its own hand-crafted working carousel featuring a "menagerie" of 52 animals.
Pat Kight, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
During the Great Depression, North Bend used wooden coins as currency. To this day, the coins are considered legal tender, though they’re coveted by coin collectors and rarely spent.
12. Oregon’s flag is the only state flag in the United States with a different design on each side. While the front features the escutcheon from the state seal in blue and gold, the reverse pictures a golden beaver.
The University of Oregon's mascot, the Oregon Duck, is based on Donald Duck. Created in 1947, it’s the only college team mascot based on a Disney character.
14. No one knows exactly how Oregon got its name. Some believe the name is derived from the French word for hurricane (ouregan), others from the Spanish orejon, meaning "big ears."
15. There is evidence of humans living in Oregon as far back as 14,300 years ago. In 2012, Oregon’s Paisley Caves were placed on the National Register of Historic Places after human DNA was discovered on artifacts in the caves. To this date, it’s some of the earliest evidence of human habitation of North America.
16. The Oregon Trail, which stretched 2200 miles, was the longest of the land routes used in the Western expansion of the United States.
17. Now the fourth largest city in Oregon, Gresham wasn’t officially recognized as a city until 1905. Known as Powell Valley throughout the 19th century—though sometimes referred to simply as “Camp Ground”—the area didn’t have a post office, and so, couldn’t officially establish itself as a city. One local business owner, Benjamin Rollins, petitioned then-postmaster Walter Q. Gresham in the 1890s, promising to name the city after him if he’d grant them a post office. Gresham did—and the rest is history.
18. Southern Oregon has been trying to secede from the rest of Oregon since 1941. Disgruntled with a lack of representation, a group of southern Oregonians and northern Californians started campaigning for statehood back in the 1940s, proclaiming their independence, and renaming the area “The State of Jefferson.” On November 27, 1941, Jeffersonians stopped highway traffic, and announced their intention to “secede each Thursday until further notice.” Though the southern Oregon secession movement has lost some steam in recent years, there are still folks who proudly display the State of Jefferson flag.
19. The capitol building in Salem burned down twice. First in 1855, before Oregon was even officially a state, the building constructed to be the territorial capital was destroyed by fire. Then, in 1935, the official state capitol building was engulfed in flame, destroying all but its metal frame. To this day, the cause of the fire is unknown, though reports in later years attributed the fire to “spontaneous combustion” in the building’s basement.
Oregon was attacked during World War II. Starting in 1944, the Japanese military began launching unmanned balloon bombs toward the west coast of the United States in the hopes that some would explode over inhabited areas. Around 350 bombs made it to the United States (some as far east as Iowa), but the U.S. military managed to intercept most of them. The only casualties suffered occurred in Gearhart Mountain, Oregon, where six people (five of them children) on a picnic accidentally triggered one of the balloons. Their deaths are believed to be the only combat casualties on continental U.S. soil during World War II.
21. Hells Canyon in eastern Oregon is the deepest river-cut canyon in the United States. It’s 7993 feet deep, and stretches through Oregon and Idaho. Famous for its spectacular views and whitewater rafting along the Snake River, there are no roads across its 10-mile wide expanse.
22. Reed College in Portland is the only liberal arts college in the world with a nuclear reactor run by undergraduates. Built in 1968, the reactor is used as a research and teaching facility by the school, and is manned by 40 students.
United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
The official Oregon state fish is the Chinook salmon, and the official state animal is the beaver. Both animals are indigenous to the area, and Oregon is sometimes unofficially called “The Beaver State.”
24. Mount Hood is often said to be the second-most climbed mountain in the world (the first is usually cited as Japan’s Mount Fuji). Though plenty of humans have scaled its peaks, the record for most ascents may belong to a dog named Ranger, who allegedly climbed the mountain 500 times between 1925 and 1939. After his death in 1940, the intrepid canine mountaineer was buried at the summit of Mount Hood.
25. In 1880, Rutherford B. Hayes became the first United States president to visit Oregon, 21 years after the state was officially incorporated. Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush, meanwhile, are tied for the most trips to the state, with five visits each.