Oct. 3 Tales from the Grubby End column: Hats off to Highway 99W and its history
The often maligned thoroughfare enjoys a rich regional history
In the old days, highways were not so much about speed as they were about promoting commerce.
That Route 66 went straight through the hearts of hundreds of towns on its way across America was no accident. It quickly earned its moniker, The Main Street of America.
Here on the West Coast, we had our own version of Route 66. It was Highway 99W, Newbergs main street since 1919.
Today it runs through historic downtown via two one-way thoroughfares. Eastbound travelers use First Street; Hancock Street handles the westbound traffic.
At the splits, which bookend our city center, the highway becomes two-way once again. The east split is at the big flag pole across from Hoover Park. On the west side, its at the Dairy Queen.
For decades, traffic downtown along First Street was two-way. The flow changed in 1976.
From 1919 to 1930, that is, from the roads first construction until it was incorporated into the national highway system as a piece of U.S. Route 99W, it was known as Oregon Highway 3 or the Capitol Highway. Travelers used this road as the major route between Salem and Portland on the west side of the Willamette River.
Highway 3 was also the first paved highway built by the newly-formed (at that time) State Highway Commission, under the direction of legendary bridge-builder C.B. McCullough. A former engineering professor at Oregon State University, McCullough later supervised the construction of more than 700 bridges in the state, including all the major spans on the Oregon coast.
The last section of the famous road to be paved and opened to traffic in this part of the county was the stretch between Chehalem Creek and McMinnville. The year was 1935. The project provided much needed jobs during the Great Depression.
From 1926 to 1964, U.S. Route 99 was the principal transportation route on the West Coast from Calexico, Calif., on the U.S.-Mexico border to Blaine, Wash., on the U.S.-Canada border.
It divided at Junction City north of Eugene to travel both sides of the Willamette River to Portland. Thus, there was also a U.S. Route 99E through towns such as Salem, Woodburn, Aurora and Oregon City.
Like so many early highways, U.S. Route 99 followed old horse and stagecoach trails. Other names it answered to included the Pacific Highway, The Golden Chain Route and the Highway of Three Nations. In California it was known as the Golden State Highway.
The original route in Yamhill and surrounding counties west of the river was Salem to Dayton on Highway 221, then Dayton to Portland through Dundee and Newberg on Highway 3. At some point, the Dayton/ Salem section was bypassed in favor of the route still in use, that is, McMinnville, Amity and Rickreall to Corvallis, Monroe and Junction City.
Among the hundreds of roadside businesses given birth by U.S. Route 99W, A&W Root Beer first opened in Lodi, Calif., in 1919.
Of the 30 or so drive-in movie theaters that once dotted the highway across three states, only Newbergs 99W Drive-in remains. A second theater, the Puget Park Drive-in in Everett, Wash., closed in January 2010.
Like all major U.S. highways built during the 1920s and 30s, U.S. 99 incorporated short and long stretches of preexisting roads. Around Newberg and vicinity, this was the Capitol Highway.
In 1930, Highway 3 was renamed U.S. Route 99W and then in 1972 it became Oregon 99W. Today, 99W east of Hess Creek is known as Portland Road. At Providence Newberg Medical Center it becomes 99W or the Herbert Hoover Highway. Through the Rex Hill neighborhood, older residents sometimes refer to this stretch as the Pacific Highway.
If all this seems confusing, it is.
For those who like to travel the bypassed routes of old highways, here are several nearby options:
Between Newberg and Sherwood, there are two small pieces of the old road. Head up Rex Hill, go past Haugen Road and look to the left for Garland Road. Here you will see a sign that says SW Old Pacific Highway West. Closer to Sherwood, turn right at the Timberline Baptist Church on Southwest Brookman Road, go one block and look for the SW Old Highway 99 sign at the intersection.
On the west side of Newberg, past the Dairy Queen and just before the Shell station, turn on to Second Way street, then left and left again on a remnant marked Old 99. Follow the road into a mobile home park to a dead end at Chehalem Creek, presumably where an earlier bridge crossing used to be.
Between Dundee and Lafayette at the Highway 18 intersection, be sure to visit McDougal Road, probably the best-preserved piece of old 99W in this part of the county.
For a flavor of the original route from west into McMinnville, turn left on Lafayette Avenue, right on Fifth Street, an immediate left to Irvine Street and then a right on to Third Street and through the heart of downtown.
Ready for a real adventure?
My favorite stretch of old 99W is down in Polk County, south out of Monmouth, through rolling farmland toward the 1928 bridge at the Luckiamute River and Helmick State Park, Oregons first state park. From the main route of 99, the old road sits across open fields just to the west.
This is the perfect place to experience what your grandparents knew when they took to the open road: half the destination was the view out the window.