The native tribes of the Tualatin branch of the Kalapuya Indians lived in the Forest Grove area prior to being settled by European immigrants in the 1840’s. The first settlers were Alvin and Abigail Smith, the Clarks and the Littlejohns. They built a log cabin in September 1841. In 1844, Harvey Clark arrived in the area and joined with Alvin Smith to start the Congregational Church. In 1845, Thomas Naylor claimed 562 acres near the present day downtown. By 1845, Forest Grove numbered 15 families and was referred to as West Tualatin Plains.
In 1849, Harvey Clark and Tabitha Brown established the Tualatin Academy, a school for children of settlers and a home for orphans. The Academy became a major attraction to new settlers. The charter was amended to add Pacific University. Both schools operated until 1915 when Tualatin Academy ceased operations due to competition with public schools. In 1859, the name Forest Grove was officially recognized for the area around Pacific University. This name probably referred to the grove of oak trees on and around the University.
Farming was the predominant occupation. In 1869, a 100-ton steamship carrying both freight and passengers began operating on the Tualatin River from Emerick’s Landing just east of Forest Grove. The first rail was established in 1869. This spurred industrial growth around the stop. By 1870, 396 people lived in Forest Grove and the community started to diversify with only 33% of the population employed as farmers. The rest were merchants and craftsmen or professionals working at the school. The City was formally incorporated in 1872.
The first newspaper, The Independent, was established in 1872. Electric power came to Forest Grove in 1892 and a City ordinance was passed in 1893 requiring all buildings in the downtown core to be constructed of brick to reduce the risk of fire. Many of these buildings remain in active use today. In the early 1900’s, the City continued to grow as electric streetcar service and rail lines connected Forest Grove with Portland and McMinnville. In 1914 the name of Tualatin Academy was officially changed to Pacific University. During the period of 1915-1940, the population grew little topping out at 2,450 in 1940. The Great Depression and major forest fires affecting logging in the Tillamook Forest hurt the local economy and slowed growth. After World War II, significant growth resumed and has continued to today. By 1947, the number of building permits issued was three times the number in 1938. Population grew from 2,450 in 1940 to 8,275 in 1970 to 20,380 today. Developed acreage increased from 406 acres in 1948 to 1,984 acres in 1985. Led by food and beverage processing and manufacturing, the local economy includes concentrations of value-added wood products, high-tech industry, education, and health care, while the main agriculture products include nurseries, winemaking and blueberries. Housing types include apartments, homes constructed of modest frame construction built in the 1950’s to modern full-amenity executive housing. Today, Forest Grove is a full service city with both urban and rural elements that make it an attractive place to live, work, learn and play.