The city of Oregon City includes dramatic changes in elevation. The city's central business district is sandwiched between the Willamette River and a basalt cliff, and is only several blocks wide. At the top of the cliff lies another neighborhood. Indian trails negotiating the cliffside were used originally to connect the two areas beginning with the founding of the town in 1829. Stairs were built in the mid 1860s, but a better transportation solution was needed.
A bond measure to raise $12,000 for construction was put to voters in July 1912. This levy failed, but a second referendum passed in December of the same year. The elevator opened to the public in 1915, delayed by politics. The original elevator was water-powered and took three minutes for the ride. The elevator was so popular that most of the cliffside stairs were removed. The elevator was converted to electric drive in 1924, which reduced the time to 30 seconds.
After 40 years of service, a replacement was authorized by a $175,000 bond by a special election held May 1952. The specifications called for the design to be "as plain as possible, without ornament". The new elevator, manufactured by Otis Elevator, featured push-button operation and automatic doors. It was dedicated May 51955 and remains in service today. The engine room was computerized in 2004.
The elevator essentially serves as 7th Street, as both entrances (top and bottom) are on S. 7th Street, a major thoroughfare on both ends. The lower entrance is at the intersection of 7th Street (Oregon Route 43) and Railroad Avenue; a short pedestrian tunnel runs under the Union Pacific Railroad tracks, and into the elevator itself. The upper entrance is accessed from S. High Street, a short distance from the intersection with 7th Street and Singer Hill (a road which descends the side of the cliff, connecting 7th street on the top with S 10th Street on the bottom). The upper level includes an observation deck, from which one can see Willamette Falls, the Oregon City Bridge, and the Abernethy Bridge.
The elevator has an operator. It is open 6:45 AM to 7 PM, Monday thru Saturday; 11 AM to 7 PM Sunday Pacific Time. There is no charge to use the elevator. Ridership is as high as 1,300 people per day during the city's summer tourist season.