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Road to 'heck' usually involves a paving project

Stuck in Baseline Street traffic during the paving project in Cornelius, it’s not hard to imagine some foul language being muttered in the cars around you — or in your own.

A century ago, however, Forest Grove and Cornelius residents were begging for paving projects. In 1913, most of the streets in those towns were dirt — and not the hard compacted gravel roads we know today, but mud in the winter and dust in the summer, all mixed with manure from the ubiquitous horses.

Residents looked with envy at a new, booming metropolis to the south, where cars glided along on paved streets. That town had other amenities Forest Grove and Cornelius craved, such as reliable electricity, including street lights. That town was Cherry Grove.

If Cherry Grove can do it, Forest Grove and Cornelius residents pleaded, so can we. The editors of the “Washington County News-Times” were so intrigued by the wondrous prospect of paved streets that the newspaper filed a report from The Dalles, which was completing the first phase of its own paving project.

In the summer of 1913, Forest Grove finally acted, paving Pacific Avenue from the eastern city limits westward through downtown (see page A11).

Other city streets, however, presented issues. Many were little more than narrow wagon trails. And newfangled cars raised the issue of how wide streets should be: wide enough for two cars to pass side-by-side, but what about parking? Horses could be kept in a backyard pen, but in the days before garages and driveways, people often just left their cars in the street. Should the city create parking lanes for the mere handful of cars?

For the next three years, the city tackled such issues and managed to pave most of the major thoroughfares in town. So in 1916, city fathers and social clubs took on a new issue.

Pavement began and ended at the city limits. Motorists who wanted to drive to or from Cornelius, Banks, Gaston, or Cherry Grove still had to endure miles of muddy, bumpy roads.

Unfortunately, Oregon’s revenue structure at the time was a hodgepodge of property taxes and fees, and Washington County didn’t have the money (or any real authority) to pave the roads.

Fortunately, as a boom in the concrete business created a “gravel rush” in the nearby Chehalem Mountains, more gravel was available for county roads, which began to improve. While most were not paved, at least they were somewhat solid and firm.

For the next 20 years, Washington County drivers made do on gravel roads, until Franklin Roosevelt launched his New Deal to pull the country out of the Depression. Among the federal projects was the paving of the Tualatin Valley Highway that connects Portland to Forest Grove, although just like the westside MAX line, the paving project stopped in Hillsboro. But for those travelers who could get to Hillsboro, the rest of the trip into Portland was a breeze.

So next time you’re stuck in Cornelius’ construction zone, remember these words from the 1913 News-Times story about The Dalles. “Already the automobiles go blithely gliding over the smooth (pavement) wherever the finished streets have been thrown open,” the story reported. “Many a driver ... will find a part of his previous, perhaps necessary, vocabulary rapidly decreasing, for the better the roads the less will the swearing be.”

This column includes excerpts from “Walking to Forest Grove” by Ken and Kris Bilderback, who write the News-Times’ biweekly local-history column, “Now and Then.” More information is available at kenbilderback.com.




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