Situated in the beautiful North Willamette Valley of Clackamas County, Oregon, Canby was once the seasonal meeting place for tribes of local Indians and was well known for its annual crop of wild strawberries. The area, known as Baker Prairie was an open expanse of ground in the dense fir forest that stretched for miles.
James Baker, one of the earliest white settlers in Oregon, arrived in the area in 1838 with a cattle drive from California and was soon farming on land in what is now north Canby. Other settlers arrived, including Philander and Anna Lee in 1848, who bought "squatters" rights beside a spring-fed creek on what is now SE First Avenue. Lee began growing apples on 80 acres of land and shipped them to the gold miners in California. In 1850, the Lees gained title to their 647 acres through the Donation Land Claim Act which brought many more settlers over the Oregon Trial to Baker Prairie and surrounding areas.
Joseph Knight and four sons moved to Baker Prairie in 1868. They were instrumental in early Canby development as they opened one of the first general stores, built many local businesses, served as postmasters, school clerk, sheriff, druggist, blacksmith, carpenter and more. William Knight's 1874 home still stands at 525 SW Fourth as does the 1890 Knight Building on NW First, the original meeting place for City Council and first home of Carlton & Rosenkrans, "Clackamas County's largest department store."
Along with a network of dirt roads and trials, the Willamette River served as the main transportation. Steamboats took produce into the markets of Oregon City and Portland from the local communities of Baker Prairie, Barlow, New Era, Riverside, Macksburg, Mundorff, Lone Elder, Mark Prairie and others.
While pushing the Oregon and California Railroad line from east Portland to San Francisco, promoters approached Philander Lee for land in 1870. For $2,960 he sold 111 acres for the 24-block city, 12 lots per block. The Knight family sold the remainder of the 300 acres to the railroad. Lee would only sell land for a town if the streets were wide enough for two span of oxen and a wagon to turn. So Philander's son, Albert, hitched up the oxen and turned the team and wagon, measuring the diameter of the turn to be 80 feet, which became the width of Canby's original streets. The town's plat was filed in Oregon City on August 9,1870.
Major General Edward R. S. Canby, hero of the Civil and Indian Wars, had arrived in Oregon only one week earlier to assume command of the U. S. Army's Department of the Columbia. The new town was given this hero's name by his good friend, Ben Holladay the Oregon and California Railroad Chief. Canby was incorporated on February 15, 1893, making it the second oldest city in Clackamas County. Herman A. Lee, Philander's second son, served as the first Mayor.
By 1890 Canby boasted three hotels and a bank. By 1910, the population was 587 people. The railroad tracks were quickly lined with warehouses as the agriculture industry grew in the Canby area. Local crops included grain, hay, potatoes, dairy products, turkeys, flax, prunes, rhubarb, asparagus, berries, nuts, livestock, lumber, bulbs, flowers and nursery stock.
For many years, three covered bridges crossed the Molalla River from Canby and in 1914, local businessmen established ferry service across the Willamette River. Prior to 1920, the "Road of 1000 Wonders", now NW First Avenue, was the main route through Canby, running northeast to Oregon City and west to Barlow and up the valley.
1920 marked the arrival of the Pacific Highway (Highway 99E) south of the railroad tracks, marking the beginning of yet a new era of transportation and development in Canby. Canby had grown to 988 people in 1940 and by 1945 was up to 1,286 residents. Many of the early buildings and homes in the original 24-block town site still exist and the city is surrounded by early farmhouses and barns, reminders of Canby's early pioneer, railroad and agricultural heritage.
Canby is now a city of 15,000 and growing. 15,000 more live within its trading area. Todays population is more than triple that of 1970.
Canby offers good schools, churches of numerous denominations, varied activities for all ages, public parks, a swim center, adult center, banking and other commercial services. Its Depot Museum is a reminder of this city's heritage dating to the 1870 mapping of the town and construction of the first 100 miles of main-line railroad southward to link with the transcontinental system.
The Clackamas County Fairgrounds are adjacent to the Canby Depot Museum. The Fair is annually in August but the grounds are used year-round. The Canby Ferry, north of the city, crosses the Willamette River daily.
A variety of manufacturing within the city and nearby is of light and medium industrial nature. Outside of town, agricultural and nursery products, fruits and other crops are produced for markets near and far.
Canby is populated by families and individuals who prefer small-town ambiance in the Willamette Valleys moderate climate in this beautiful county of Clackamas and state of Oregon.