Oregon Historical County Records Guide
Douglas County History
Douglas County Courthouse
Douglas County took in vast amounts of money over the decades from O&C (Oregon and California) lands. The payments were a vestige of an 1866 federal land grant to subsidize the construction of a railroad from Portland to the California border. The grant consisted of 20 one square-mile sections for every mile of completed railroad. The line was completed by the Oregon and California Railroad Company in 1887.
Trouble began in 1894 when the railroad began to illegally sell the heavily forested land for its timber value. Earlier federal legislation required that only "actual settlers" could purchase the land from the railroad company. By 1910, nearly 100 people, including prominent politicians, had been indicted in connection to the fraud. Finally, Congress responded in 1916 by taking back most of the land and later earmarking much of the timber sale revenues for counties along the route.
Environmental issues greatly reduced the bonanza since a peak in the 1980s. Congress agreed in 2000 to continue "safety net" payments to rural counties. But as these payments end, Douglas County and several other Oregon counties must plan for a future without significant federal payments, potentially affecting roads, libraries, and other services. (Source: Atlas of Oregon; News Reports)
The early history of Douglas County was closely tied to that of Umpqua County. Umpqua County, created in 1851, was located along the Umpqua River in southwestern Oregon. Gold had been discovered in the Umpqua region resulting in the rapid increase in settlement of the new county. The first meeting of the Umpqua County Court was in Elkton in 1852; later the county government was moved to Green Valley and Yoncalla.
Because the population of Umpqua County had rapidly increased and met the population requirements for a new county, a new county was created on January 7, 1852, out of that portion of Umpqua County lying east of the Coast Range. It was named Douglas County to honor U. S. Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois who was a congressional advocate for Oregon statehood.
Meanwhile, in Umpqua County the gold mining boom played out, and the population of Umpqua County decreased until finally in 1862 it was absorbed into Douglas County and ceased to exist. In 1856 the Camas Valley was annexed to Douglas County from Coos County and further boundary adjustments were made with Jackson and Lane Counties in 1915. Today, Douglas County covers 5,071 square miles and is bounded by Curry, Jackson, and Josephine Counties to the south; Klamath County to the east; Lane County to the north; and Coos County and the Pacific Ocean to the west.
In the county seat of Roseburg, courthouses were built in 1855, 1870, 1891, and 1929. The 1929 courthouse is still in use. The adjacent Douglas County Justice Building was constructed in the 1970s and houses both county and state circuit court offices. Umpqua County never had a courthouse.
The first meeting of the Douglas County Commission was held at Winchester on April 4, 1853, with the three elected commissioners and sheriff in attendance. Winchester remained the county seat until 1854 when Deer Creek (renamed Roseburg in 1855) was made the seat by popular election. Douglas County had a county court form of government until 1965 when a board of commissioners was formed. Current elected officials include three commissioners, assessor, clerk, district attorney, sheriff, surveyor, and treasurer.
The county's population has increased steadily from 3,203 in 1860 to 108,850 in 2013, a rise of 1.1% over 2010.
The entire watershed of the Umpqua River lies within the boundaries of Douglas County. The heavily timbered county contains nearly 1.8 million acres of commercial forest lands and one of the oldest stands of old growth timber in the world. The forest products industry continues to play a significant economic role in the county. Agriculture, featuring mainly field crops, orchards, vineyards, and livestock, is also important to the economy. There is a significant federal presence in the region; the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management administer more than 50% of the county's land.
The Umpqua Indians of the Umpqua Valley belonged to the Chinook tribe. Following the Rogue River Indian War in 1856, all remaining natives were moved by the government to the Siletz and Grande Ronde Indian Reservations.