The short answer around here is “history.” This issue we start a new feature on the origins of the local names that are part of our daily lives.
Story by Jim Hays, Photography courtesy of Douglas County Museum
Douglas County is a place with a past. And, let’s be honest, a sometimes colorful past at that. That includes a creek named Steamboat that has never had one on its waters. And STEP Creek near the coast, whose name is an acronym. And Diamond Lake, whose name has nothing to do with either precious stones or the lake’s configuration.
There’s a story behind nearly every named locale in Douglas County and UV aims to explain them all — or most of them — in short takes appearing in this and subsequent issues of the magazine.
To those readers of a certain age, some of this material will be familiar, or at least “I remember once hearing about that.”
But for others, it’s a chance to learn something new and interesting about the place we call home.
Like counties in seven other states — Colorado, Georgia, Kansas, Missouri, Nevada, Washington and Wisconsin — our home territory was named for Stephen A. Douglas, a powerful U.S. senator from Illinois during the run-up to the Civil War. Known as the “Little Giant” because of his diminutive 5-foot-4 stature, Douglas was a big booster of statehood for Oregon, but was perhaps best known for getting second billing in the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates against the guy on the $5 bill. He also lost to Lincoln — and two other candidates — in the 1860 presidential election and died at age 48 just seven months later, a few weeks after the shooting war started.
According to multiple sources, the county was in 1852 carved out of the eastern part of Umpqua County, which itself had been created by the Oregon Territorial Legislature a year earlier. Another chunk of Umpqua County was absorbed by Coos County in late 1853, and the remaining land was merged with Douglas County nine years after that. Accounts differ as to whether the demise of Umpqua County was caused by population decline or simply partisan politics.
DOUGLAS COUNTY FACTS
FOUNDED: Jan. 7, 1852
POPULATION: 108,457 (estimated)
AREA: 5,134 square miles
COUNTY SEAT: Roseburg
The seat of Douglas County government, Roseburg is the largest of the county’s 12 incorporated cities, with an estimated population of more than 22,000.
The site was settled in 1851 by Aaron Rose, a recent arrival from Michigan. Rose established a homestead in September of that year, and his first building on the site was reportedly a rough-hewn roadside inn and tavern. Rose would build a more conventional hotel in 1853 and became a well-known figure in Southern Oregon before his death in 1899 at age 85.
Rose’s homestead site was at the confluence of the South Umpqua River and Deer Creek. The town that started to develop there was first named Deer Creek, and a post office by that name was established in 1852. Two years later, Douglas County voters chose the town over Winchester as county seat and Rose donated three acres and $1,000 to build a county courthouse.
According to Oregon Geographic Names, the name of the post office was changed in 1857 to Roseburgh (note the ‘h’) in honor of literal first citizen Rose and his German heritage. At the time, the town boasted some 800 residents. Over time, however, locals shortened the spelling, dropping the last character. By 1894, the town’s population had nearly doubled and the post office was officially renamed Roseburg.