The land on which Silver Falls State Park rests has an incredible history that dates back many thousands of years. From the area’s earliest inhabitants to the drive to preserve the park’s natural wonder, here’s a bit of the fascinating story behind Silver Falls—along with a bit about its famous waterfalls.
The area’s earliest inhabitants
Ancestors of the Kalapuya and Molalla people arrived in the Willamette Valley about 14,000 years ago — and generations of Indigenous inhabitants went on to hunt and embark upon spirit quests in the area. Local Indigenous populations reached about 15,000 before the first European-Americans settled and began logging in the Willamette Valley in the 1800s, and all native people in western Oregon — including those remaining in the Silver Falls area — were forced by the U.S. government onto a nearby reservation in 1854. Today, the Kalapuya and Molalla people are part of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde.
Saving Silver Falls
The area around Silver Falls had been timber country until the Great Depression, which in 1929 cratered the local economy. Sensing an opportunity to preserve the idyllic attraction, local photographer June Drake led the charge in 1931 to purchase land around the waterfalls for future use as a park; two years later, in 1933, Silver Falls State Park was officially dedicated as a state park.
Civilian Conservation Corps work
When the park was created in 1933, it bore little resemblance to the lush playground you enjoy today. In the years that followed the park’s creation, members of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) — a federal program that sought to jump-start the U.S. economy after the Great Depression — worked to repair and beautify the forest, which had been damaged in recent decades by relentless logging. In its time at Silver Falls, the CCC built park structures, created trails to the park’s waterfalls, installed bridges, replanted trees, rehabbed the scarred landscape, and more.
Sideshow attractions at Silver Falls State Park
In the late 1920s, before Silver Falls State Park was established, the owner of South Falls made money by charging visitors to watch him shove junk cars from the top of the 177-foot waterfall. And then in 1928, a former logger named “Daredevil Al” Faussett plunged from the top of the waterfalls in a boat; naturally, he sustained serious injuries in the death-defying feet — and while recuperating in the hospital, legend has it that his unnamed partner left town with the $2,500 they’d earned from the stunt.