Oregon Historical County Records Guide
Marion County History
Marion County Courthouse
Willamette University in Salem is the oldest institution of higher education in the West. The small university traces its history to missionary Jason Lee's 1842 founding. Among its other firsts, the university established the first law school (1883) and the first school of medicine (1866) in the Pacific Northwest.
It was originally named the Oregon Institute, but in 1853 it changed to "Wallamet" University. The university's original building, a three-story frame structure, held its first occupants in 1844. Because it had what was considered the most imposing edifice in the Northwest, the building also served the larger community beyond the school. For example, it housed the first session of the legislature to meet in Salem and held the first court in the territory under United States auspices. (Source: Willamette University)
Marion County, originally named Champooick District (later Champoeg), was created on July 5, 1843, by the Provisional Legislature. Champoeg District stretched southward to the California border and eastward to the Rocky Mountains. The area, however, was soon reduced with the creation of Wasco, Linn, Polk, and other counties. Marion County's present geographical boundaries, established in 1856, are the Willamette River and Butte Creek on the north, the Cascade Range on the east, the Santiam River and North Fork of the Santiam on the south, and the Willamette River on the west.
The county shares political borders with Clackamas, Yamhill, Polk, and Linn Counties. It contains 1,194 square miles. Champoeg District was redesignated a county in 1845 and renamed Marion County in 1849 after General Francis Marion, a Revolutionary War hero. That same year Salem was designated the county seat. The territorial capital was moved from Oregon City to Salem in 1852. The ensuing controversy over the location of the capital was settled in 1864 when Salem was confirmed as the state capital.
Salem has had three county courthouses, all located on the same site. The first courthouse was completed in 1854 and replaced in 1873. During the 1930s and 1940s efforts to move the 1873 building and preserve it as a museum failed and it was demolished in 1952. The third and present courthouse was completed in 1954. Arson fires in 2005 cause severe damage to the courthouse, causing a long closure before renovations were completed. The Courthouse Square Building next to the courthouse was constructed in 2000 and houses many Marion County administrative offices.
Marion County had a county court form of government for the first century of its existence. The county court exercised a combination of executive, administrative, and judicial functions; however as the judicial branch of state government developed, the necessity for the county court to exercise judicial functions diminished. In 1941 the county was divested of all judicial responsibilities, and the remaining vestiges of probate and civil jurisdiction were transferred to the circuit court. In 1961 the Legislative Assembly enabled a county court with no judicial functions to reorganize as a board of county commissioners. With court approval, the Marion County Court was abolished and became the Marion County Board of Commissioners in 1963.
The 2000 population of 284,834 represented an increase of 24.66% over 1990. The 2006 population of 306,665 marked an increase of 7.7% over 2000.
The county is located in the center of the Willamette Valley. Agriculture and food processing are important to the county's economy, as are lumber, manufacturing, and education. Government, however, is the county's main employer and economic base.