The Willamette Meridian was established in 1851, and extends from the Canadian border to the northern state line of California. The baseline runs east/west through northern Oregon from the Pacific Ocean to the Idaho state line, and was established so as not to pass through the Columbia River. The intersection of the lines is the Initial Point, located in a tiny state park in the hills a few miles west of downtown Portland. All of Oregon and Washington were surveyed starting from here. The original stake at the Initial Point was replaced by a quarried stone post in 1885, and the point is now known as the Willamette Stone.
The monument at the Initial Point as it stands today was made mostly in 1956, when the nine-foot concrete slab was poured, and into which the various interpretive and commemorative elements, including the Willamette Stone, were embedded. Like many contemporary outdoor monuments, the recent history of the monument is one of modifications related to vandalism and repair. In the original monument from 1885, the Willamette Stone, an eight inch square, four foot long stone, was set in the ground and protruded upwards 24 inches, with legible engravings on its sides. It survived until 1951, when it was broken off by vandals, but the missing part was recovered. In 1956, the slab was poured and the stone was set in it, along with brass strips indicating the Meridian and Baseline, and a 28 inch bronze text plaque. In 1967, the stone was broken off again, and the missing part was not recovered. Instead, the top of the remaining stub of the stone was planed, and a brass plaque installed on its top (though the plaque was soon destroyed by a hatchet or axe). The large brass text plaque in front of the stone was pried out and stolen sometime in 1979 or 1980. In 1984 it was recast and reset, and the monument was re-dedicated in an event attended by the governor. In 1987, the remaining seven inches of the Willamette Stone’s protrusion was broken off flush with the concrete pad, and the big brass text plaque was stolen again. Repairs were made, and another re-dedication was held in 1988.
The Initial Point is located in Willamette Stone State Park, established in 1945 near the ridge along Skyline Drive in Portland. A 500-foot long trail through tall trees, passing by guy wire anchors of the tall radio towers nearby on top of the ridge, leads to the site.
At the bottom of the stairs, at the end of the trail, is the nine foot square slab, from 1956, embedded with the remains of the Willamette Stone and other interpretive elements. Three benches surround the slab, each engraved with a name of someone important to the Initial Point. One of the names is C. Albert White, the historian of America’s Initial Points, who lived in Portland for much of his life, and visited this site often.
The often stolen brass interpretive plaque, and the remaining stub of the Willamette Stone, with the latest survey marker embedded in it.
The Willamette Stone is the Initial Point for the surveys of Oregon and Washington State.