Columbia County, named for the Columbia River, was created in 1854 from the northern half of Washington County. It covers 646 square miles and is bounded on the north and east by the Columbia River, on the west by Clatsop County, and on the south by Washington and Multnomah Counties. Columbia County was the 16th county created in Oregon and is the 3rd smallest county in Oregon after Multnomah and Hood River counties.
Lewis and Clark explored this area in 1805-1806. Early settlements were established by fur traders as early as 1810. As American immigration increased in the mid-1840s, lasting settlements appeared. The Yakima Indian War (1855-1859) drove many Washington Territory residents south of the Columbia River and helped boost the populations of St. Helens and Columbia City.
The first district court met in 1854 in Milton, which served as the county seat until 1857 when it moved to St. Helens. St. Helens was founded in 1848 and took its name from the nearby Mt. St. Helens. The present courthouse was built in 1906, and the signature clock tower and bell were added in 1910. The annex, which now houses most county offices, was constructed in 1968. Columbia County had a county court form of government until 1971 when a board of commissioners was elected.