Congress passed the Oregon Donation Land Act in 1850, creating legal land claim procedures for new settlers in the vast territory. But accurate surveying was needed. Existing settlers too needed more accurate land measurements to divide and sell their claims. President Millard Fillmore appointed John R. Preston to the position of Oregon Territory surveyor general to provide these measurements.
Preston and his team of surveyors convened on a hillside spot about four miles west of Portland on June 4, 1851 and drove into the ground the starting stake for all land surveys in the Pacific Northwest.
The stake established the Willamette Meridian, running north to Puget Sound and south to the California border. The Willamette Baseline was also established, west to the Pacific and east to the Idaho border.
The Willamette Stone State Heritage Site now marks and commemorates the historic spot. A stone obelisk replaced the original cedar stake in 1885. But due to the work of vandals in the 1980s the stone has since been replaced by a small metal cap.