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ARTIFACTS ALONG U. S. 99 EAST

by Kenneth Munford

(Originally published in the Horner Museum Tour Guide Series, 1983)

ARTIFACTS are defined as "products of human manufacture." Obviously, only a few of these illuminators of previous civilizations can be exhumed, catalogued, and brought into museums and historical parks for display and interpretation. Most still stand, lie, or grow where human endeavor place them.

On this tour we seek artifacts in situ, that is, where they were originally built. Our route takes us along the old Pacific Highway, which by 1922 was paved from border to border, from Canada through Washington, Oregon, and California into Mexico. Paved in sturdy concrete, it was said at the time to be the longest paved highway anywhere in the world. It was given the federal designation as U.S. Highway 99.

Hwy 99 map

Through the Willamette Valley from Junction City to the Columbia River U.S. 99 has two branches, 99 East and 99 West. On this tour we follow 99E from south of Albany to East Portland.

In many places old 99E has been disrupted - regraded, widened, rebuilt, and rerouted - to such an extent that it is sometimes difficult to find the original. But let's try. Let's see how much of old 99E we can discover.

Railroads had an important influence in determining where products of human manufacture would be erected in the Willamette Valley. Most of the settlements we pass through on this tour were on the Oregon & California Railroad (O&C), which built through this section in 1870 and which is now operated by the Southern Pacific Company (SP). Some settlements, such as Albany, Jefferson, Salem, Aurora, Oregon City, and Milwaukie, predate the railroad. Others, especially those on French Prairie, were created by the O&C.

The first railroad we cross en route to 99E was built by the Oregon Electric (OE) about 1912 and is now operated by SP's rival, the Burlington Northern (BN). Both the O&C and the OE established stations about every five miles. The O&C stations became towns and cities; the OE, coming 40 years later had little effect on the settlement pattern. Many OE stations are little known or forgotten. For example, Gray, the OE station where a branch line ran west to East Corvallis, is gone. The present nearby station, at a large grain elevator near Highway 34, is now called Ehlen. Other OE stations are hardly known today - Pirtle, Dever, Talbot, East Independence, etc.

The Oregonian Railway, a narrow-gauge line that wandered around in the Willamette Valley, had some impact on the settlement pattern. It ran from a ferry on the Willamette to St. Paul, Woodburn, Mount Angel, Silverton, Lebanon, Brownsville, and Coburg. Parts of it converted to standard gauge and are still operated by the Southern Pacific.

We get our first glimpse of the old O&C right-of-way when we join 99E and turn left. We parallel it for several miles. Off to the left we see the Moorish architecture of the main campus of Linn-Benton Community College.

The few curves we make as we approach Albany are a good example of how highway builders are prone to follow antecedents. In the 1878 Atlas of Linn County, these curves are the same as they were 100 years ago.

We may catch a glimpse of the Albany-Lebanon Canal dug more than a century ago for barges. The flow proved too swift for upstream traffic but the canal is still maintained from a dam on the South Santiam River to provide a water supply for Albany.

Builders of the Pacific Highway, following an earlier custom, tried to please the towns along the way by routing the highway along the main streets of the towns. If Main Street ran north and south there needed to be no turns; the highway could go straight through. If it ran east and west the highway entered at one end, ran along the main street, and left at the opposite end. Some examples: Monmouth, McMinnville, Carlton, Cottage Grove, and Albany.

The highway entered the west end of 1st Street in Albany and departed on the east end. Because of the one-way grid system we cannot follow exactly the original 99E route through downtown. We leave on Old Salem Road. Note the plant of the Veal Furniture Factory on the right, one of Oregon's unique industries, where hardwood logs are stored, sawed, cured; and handcrafted into fine furniture all in one location.

Along the north bank of man-made Waverly Lake we pass between two cemeteries. Both are old. On the 1878 map the one on the right is called a Jewish cemetery. The one on the left is Protestant.

Millersburg, an industrial suburb of Albany, was incorporated as a separate city in 1974. It had a population of 565 in the 1980 census. As you can see its tax base is primarily industrial.

We duck under the O&C/SP rail line and come out near Willamette Memorial Park, on the left. More industries, a Boise-Cascade sawmill on the left, the Willamette Industries kraft paper mill on the right, and beyond it a tank farm operated by the Southern Pacific to store petroleum products being pumped through underground pipes between Portland and Eugene.

After underpassing the freeway, old 99E parallels the railroad. There was an older road off to the left along the valley of Murder Creek. We cross at right angles the old Territorial Road that ran from Hale's ferry at Syracuse on the Santiam River in a southerly direction over Hardscrabble Hill to Knox Butte.

At the Jefferson crossing of the Santiam, the present railroad bridge is in the same location as the original one opened in 1870, at what was then called Conser's Ferry. The Conser house is now the City Hall and Library.

North from Jefferson we are on a route well over a century old, perhaps dating from Territorial days. Three miles north of Jefferson, on a knoll on the left surrounded by trees is the house of Hamilton Campbell built in early 1850s. This was the home of "Cow" Campbell, who purchased the Mission cattle, and his wife, Harriet Biddle Campbell, sister of B. R. Biddle, and their six daughters, one of whom married Ben Holladay, the railroad builder. Campbell designed the dies from which Beaver Money was minted. He and brother-in-law B. R. Biddle engaged in 1850s real estate speculation in Corvallis.

At Jefferson, you may have noticed that the rails and highway part company. The railroad swings northeast for three miles and rolls on through Marion and Turner and along Mill Creek on an almost flat, level grade all the way into Salem. The highway takes to the hills and winds and climbs over several ridges before reaching the Salem plain.

One wonders why the highway builders for many decades have continued moving mountains of earth and stone in upgrading the route from a wagon road to a federal freeway when three miles to the east is a broad, level valley which would require a minimum of grading.

There are several possible explanations. The Territorial Road took to the high ground because it provided a firm, well-drained, all-year base for wagon wheels and it was three miles shorter than the level route.

Then, too, Jesse Looney was a member of the Provisional Legislature and was appointed in 1848 to be one of the Commissioners to select the official route south from Salem. He saw to it that the road ran through his Land Claim on Looney Butte. He had in mind operating a stage stop and offering services for the traveling public.

Looney with his wife and six children (they eventually had thirteen) had come west in the Great Migration of 1843 - with the Applegates, the Waldos, Peter Burnett, James Nesmith, etc. The next spring they selected a Provisional Land Claim on the southeast slopes of the butte that bears the family name. They planted one of the first large orchards in the valley. They had a sewing machine, said to be the first in Oregon.

As a Commissioner of the Legislature, Looney was able to have the wagon road routed through his property. He developed facilities where he and his family could provide lodging, food, hay for horses, fruit, and perhaps even patches on torn britches. A company of Mounted Rifles was organized at his place in March 1848 for volunteers to participate in the Cayuse War in eastern Oregon.

Sons and daughters acquired land nearby. To educate the growing number of youngsters in the families in the vicinity, Looney helped organize Jefferson Institute in 1856. It had 89 pupils when opened two years later. It was a public school in that any child could attend; it was private in the sense that it was supported only by tuition and donations. After Looney's death in 1869 and after Marion County established rural schools, District 24 built a school at the corner of his original claim. Jefferson Institute, for which the town of Jefferson is named, turned over to the county the property, which is still used for school purposes. An artifact of the greater dream is still evident. One of the streets by the school yard is named "University."

The old road around Looney Butte continued as the main thoroughfare. Although there was a flat roadbed a few miles to the east, state highway builders continued to use the Looney route, expanding it into U. S. 99E and part of it up hill and down dale into U. S. I-5 freeway.

One thing can be said in favor of the hilltop route to Salem. It does give some excellent views of the countryside. To the east are the state prison farm and annex and the old tuberculosis hospital now occupied by Western Baptist College. To the north is McNary Field, the municipal airport, and as we get closer to Salem, we see the penitentiary, buildings of Willamette University, and the gilded pioneer, axe in hand, on top of the state capitol.

Old 99E, of course, wound through the city of Salem but few artifacts of it remain. By staying on I-5, we bypass the downtown traffic to the northern suburbs.

On the north edge of Salem we peel off to the right on Portland Road and once again are on 99E.

Chemawa Indian School on the left has a handsome new campus. This boarding school is operated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. It started a century ago in 1880 at Forest Grove, but after the building burned twice, the principal teacher, Dr. John Minthorn (Herbert Hoover's uncle) moved to Newberg and the school moved to this 450-acre tract. The original school was off to the west along the railroad. Buildings erected in the early 1900s deteriorated and were no longer fit for school purposes. Congress appropriated funds to build a new, delightfully landscaped campus marked by the large red water tower. When you have time, take a drive and walk through the campus. The Chemawa School has served a variety of purposes for native Americans. At one time all students were Navajos, another time all Alaskan. Now it serves disadvantaged Indian youth of the Pacific Northwest, western Montana, and northern California.

Lake Labiche was a huge beaver pond when the French - Canadian trappers named it for the elk that abounded in the area. It drains into Pudding River, which was named according to legend by Joseph Gervais and Etienne Lucier, perhaps as early as 1814, in memory of a blood pudding their wives cooked for them on a stormy winter night. Now drained for agriculture, Lake Labiche is rich, onion growing bottom land. This is the southern end of what is known as French Prairie.

99E follows a century-old wagon road. It had several settlements which were abandoned when the O&C built its rail line nearby in 1870. New settlements grew up around stations on the O&C, all of them serving the original French-Canadian settlers and the new Americans. Each developed in its own way.

Brooks, named for 1850 settler Linus Brooks, long remained just a crossroads. It has had a spurt of development in recent years as a service center on the railroad for the farming community and because it is adjacent to the expanding Bethel Gospel Park and an off-ramp on the I-5 freeway.

Gervais station was at a point where the road to Butteville crossed the one to St. Louis. Samuel Brown, a native of Pennsylvania, came west with his family in 1846. He followed the Scott-Applegate trail for a bit then decided to go to California, where he spent four profitable years mining gold before coming to Oregon in 1850 with $20,000. He took a Donation Land Claim in this vicinity and purchased other property. He laid out a half-mile square town site along the railroad. There was already a Brownsville in Linn County. Brown's minister at nearby Belle Passi suggested that the new town be named for Joseph Gervais, who had lived six miles west on the Willamette River. Gervais was the first French Prairie town to be incorporated (1878). It had 202 residents by 1880, but by 1940 still had only 300. It now has more than 1,000, but is still mostly confined to the 160-acre original town plat.

Samuel Brown House is on the right a bit after we pass the road into Gervais. It was described in 1878 as "one of the pleasantest" in the valley. It became a stage stop on the old wagon road. Three generations of Sam Browns have lived in this house. One of them, a son of the original Sam Brown, was a state senator and ran for governor in 1936.

At Belle Passi, Cumberland Presbyterian minister Neill Johnson started a church, a school, a post office, and a cemetery in the 1850s. Sam Brown was superintendent for the Sunday School. When the O&C missed Belle Passi by a mile or more Johnson's settlement became a ghost town, although remnants are still visible - the site of the church, the school, and the cemetery where Johnson and his family are buried.

After driving west through Belle Passi, we come to the southern branch of the famous Boone's Ferry Road, named for the Willamette River ferry operated by Daniel Boone's grandson and great-grandson at present Wilsonville.

Woodburn outgrew all of the other French Prairie towns. J. H. Settlemire platted the town in the 1870s. It was incorporated in 1889 with 405 people. It had an advantage over the other towns because the narrow-gauge Oregonian Railway running from St. Paul to Silverton crossed the O&C at this point and required transfer facilities for freight and passengers. Woodburn's big boom came after World War II when accommodations for retired people began expanding. City now has more than 11,000 people. Settlemire house is preserved as a historical museum.

The Hubbard area was densely wooded, in contrast to the open grassy plains that lured the first settlers to French Prairie. Charles Hubbard and family, immigrants of 1847, rented a farm from Thomas Hunt, who was leaving to mine gold in California. Hunt was never heard from. Hubbard bought squatter's rights to the property from Hunt's widow and began clearing land for farming. When the railroad came through his property he platted the town. By 1915 when Hubbard was incorporated it had 300 people; today about 1,700.

Aurora predates the railroad. It was established in 1857 by a communal colony of German immigrants led by Dr. William Keil. All property was held in common and responsibilities and income shared by all. Twenty-eight miles from East Portland was a convenient stop on the Sacramento stage coach route for meals and a change of horses and later for passengers on the O&C before it had dining car facilities. The table spread by the German housewives, the hospitality of the community, and the popular German band gained wide fame. Even in recent years when train crews stopped there for meals it was fondly known as Dutch Town. The Aurora Colony Historical Society has restored old buildings and created a unique Ox-barn Museum. The communal principle of holding all property in common declined after the death of Dr. Keil and property reverted to private ownership.

Barlow was founded by William, the son of the famous Sam Barlow who pioneered the Barlow Trail over the Cascades south of Mt. Hood in 1845 and later turned it into a toll road. William was 23 when he came west with his father. He engaged in various enterprises - land speculation, mercantile business, running steamboats on the Willamette. In 1852 he married Martha Ann Allen, a widow with three children. They bought land at the present site of Barlow. She had ideas about the kind of house she wanted to build and laid plans for it. One of the things they both missed in Oregon were nut trees. He commissioned a man who was going east to buy nuts for him to plant and to ship them by Adams Express. The nuts arrived in due time and he planted them. He sold and gave away hundreds of seedlings and kept some of the best black walnut seedlings and planted a magnificent corridor from their intended home site off to the west overlooking the town site that he and son Cassius laid out. These are claimed to be the first black walnuts planted in Oregon. When the O&C came through their property in 1870 he had to cut some of the west end of the corridor. The state highway later took more of them. Barlow took a contract for $100,000 from Ben Holladay to build a section of the O&C. Martha Ann's Italianate mansion is still maintained as a historical museum.

Canby, named for the Civil War general who came to Oregon later and was murdered at a peace-treaty conference by Captain Jack's Modocs. The town of Canby was laid out at about the same time as Barlow but prospered more by laying out extensive rail yards and station site for the O&C. Canby became a shipping center for flower bulbs and shrubs. A free ferry still operates across the Willamette north of town. Note the overhead trucking road that crosses the highway at the far end of town. It was the first such private road built for logging trucks in the 1930s and marks the transition stage when trucks began to replace rails as the principal means of hauling logs.

East of Canby, old 99E ran due east for a mile or so and then turned north. The present highway takes a short cut along the crest of the bluff above the Willamette.

New Era, on the left between highway and river, was of significance when the railroad out of East Portland reached the mouth of Parrott Creek. Freight and passengers on river boats could be transferred onto rails, avoiding the portage around the Falls of the Willamette. It introduced a new era for farmers and shippers.

Canemah, site of an Indian camp and place of bartering during the salmon-run season, was known as "the place of the canoe." Fur traders and early settlers used it as an upstream landing place for the portage around the Falls.

Coalca, also known as Rock Island, has a photogenic rock formation on the cliffs to the right. This site was also used as a portage point.

Oregon City was the capital for the Provisional Government and for the first years of the Territorial Government. Before he retired as chief factor for the Hudson's Bay Company post as Fort Vancouver, Dr. John McLoughlin began developing this area as an industrial site using the waterpower from the Falls. After he retired he moved here and built a fine house that was later moved up on top of the cliff and is now an historical museum. He was cheated out of his holdings by the Methodists and our first delegate to Congress, S. R. Thurston. Many "firsts" in the far west at Oregon City: first newspaper, first Protestant church and Masonic lodge, first to fly the U. S. flag, first paper mill, first long-distance transmission of electricity, etc.

Gladstone is remembered as having the largest Chautauqua auditorium in Oregon. Before the days of the Tin Lizzie it and the Oaks Park on the river were served by an electrified rail line. Thousands of Portlanders came every summer for lectures, classes, and entertainment. Great orators of the day appeared here.

Jennings Lodge still has reminders of the Portland Traction Company's electrified interurban rail line that ran between Portland and Oregon City. It was one of the first such lines in America and ran for 65 years.

Milwaukie, named for Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was founded by Lot Whitcomb, builder of the first steamboat on the Willamette (1850). Llewelling brothers started nurseries. The rail overpass north of the city is what is left of the Portland Traction Compan's route to Gresham. Still used for freight.

Westmoreland Park on the left has ponds for sailing model boats and for fly casting. Eastmoreland, one of Portland's most ancient golf courses, is on the right.

Brooklyn Railroad Yards. Somewhere out there in the midst of the welter of tracks is the place where the O&C got its start with fanfare on April 16, 1858. A large parade started in Portland, which was then a westside town, ferried across the Willamette on two boats, and came out to Gideon Tibbett's farm to hear speeches and watch a gang of Chinese laborers with shovels and wheelbarrows start grading the line that eventually, twenty years later, connected Oregon by rail with the rest of the country.

U. S. 99E continues on north along McLoughlin Boulevard and Union and Grand Avenues. It joins 99W and I-5 freeway near Delta Park before crossing the Columbia on the interstate bridge to Vancouver, Washington.

Reed College, east of Eastmoreland and the SP railroad yards, was endowed by the estates of Mr. and Mrs. Simeon G. Reed. Their pastor Thomas Lamb Eliot was President of the Board of Trustees in the formative years. W. M. Ladd, Reed's associate in many ventures, donated 40 acres for the campus. With William T. Foster as the imaginative president, six instructors, and fifty students chosen from 150 applicants, the College opened in September 1911. It has an international reputation, especially for its ability to prepare its students for graduate study elsewhere.

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Philomath, Oregon
The Benton County Historical Society is a nonprofit corporation that operates museum facilities for the preservation of history and culture.  Its mission is to:

  1. Preserve the material and intellectual culture of Benton County, Oregon, by acquiring and caring for significant collections that illustrate and interpret the history of the area and its relationship to the world;
  2. Enrich people's lives through exhibitions and educational programs.