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Tales from the 'Grubby End': The North Main Street that once was

Before shifting to First Street, the heart of towns business core was to the west


Of all the locations in Newberg I find the most historically fascinating, North Main Street sits high on the list.

A century ago, North Main was at the heart of what was Newberg’s busiest commercial district. Not until the 1920s would it begin relinquishing its title to East First Street, then die the slow death of a business location out of favor with local shoppers.

In its heyday, folks here would simply have known the thoroughfare as “Main Street” in an earlier life the old pioneer wagon road that had connected the Grubby End to West Chehalem and beyond to Carlton and Yamhill.

To illustrate how busy this street was, let’s break it down block-by-block in roughly the distance from East First (known then as “First Street”) north past Ray’s and Jem 100 to the railroad tracks.by: COURTESY OF THE GEORGE FOX UNIVERSITY ARCHIVES - A vision of the past - The Hotel Purdy was located at the corner of Main and Sheridan streets in Newberg. The building has long since been razed.

The time frame we’re dealing with would be the 1890s and early 1900s. The streets were platted 60-feet wide and the names used then are still around today.

Next to the tracks between Sherman and Sheridan on the west side was Christensen’s (also spelled Christenson) Grain Elevator (later named Chehalem Valley Mills), with a storage facility on the south side of the tracks and a passenger and freight depot on the north side of the tracks directly across from the grain elevator. Next to the elevator to the south was a livery stable.

A drug store sat at the northwest corner of Sheridan and Main streets. A general merchandise store occupied the lot on the southwest corner. On the same block was a hardware store and a barbershop. Up and down the street were water wells, some with hoses permanently attached to be at the ready in case of fire.

Staying on the west side, from Hancock south to First were two furniture stores and a stable. Later, a meat market and a dance hall made appearances. A doctor’s office sat nearby.

Moving to the east side, for lovers of the “outlandish weed,” a tobacco shop stood at the corner of Main and First streets in what today would be within the parking lot at Nap’s Thriftway. Later, it would become a print shop.

From First Street north to Hancock Street was yet another furniture store. Moving up the block to Sheridan Street was a store selling agricultural implements, next door an office, and next to that, Armory Hall, complete with a large stage used for plays, music, lectures and the like. Later, a storage shed for chairs and a photo shop arrived near this location.

From Sheridan Street north to Sherman Street was the Arlington Hotel. The location at some point became the M.H. Pinney Lumber Yard.

North Main Street would also enjoy a second hotel, the Commercial Hotel (later Hotel Purdy) at the southeast corner of Main and Sheridan streets.

Let’s also note that Brey and Moores Fruit Drier Plant and the Oregon Handle Manufacturing Company would spring up just to the north near the railroad tracks.

So what’s left from the old days? Not much. Chehalem Valley Mills survives and is a local treasure. North of the tracks on the west side sits the old Dunkard Brethern Church (now a private residence on the northwest corner of Franklin) and the original St. Peter Catholic Church in the next block.

Because the photographic record of North Main is so thin, most of what I know about this historic street comes from the Newberg Public Library’s collection of “Sanborn maps,” priceless gems of history compiled from 1867 through 1970 by the Sanborn-Perris Map and Publishing Company of New York City. They were designed specifically to help insurance companies assess property values for thousands of cities and towns across America. A Wiki website outlining their history tells us “they are held in the paper and microfilm collections of historical societies, town halls, state archives and public and university libraries, and are of considerable value for their block-by-block portrayal of street patterns, lot lines and the placement, size, shape and use of buildings.”

For the vast majority of locations for which they are available, they contain information that can be found nowhere else.

Items typically portrayed for Newberg (located in the Newberg Carnegie Library) include cabins, private residences, warehouses, business establishments, churches, dance halls, bowling alleys, train depots, storage facilities, livery stables, hotels, grain elevators, the names of streets (and how wide), and much more.

Each Sanborn map represents a snap-shot in time, and for Newberg, these snap-shots came in 1891, 1892, 1905, 1912 and 1929. By comparing one set of maps to an earlier or later set, patterns of urban growth and decline are better facilitated.

Newberg resident George Edmonston Jr. is the retired editor of OSU’s alumni magazine, the Oregon Stater, and is a frequent contributor of history features to this newspaper. Contact him at edmonstg @comcast.net



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