13 July 2005

[geography] The Address Nerd On New Street Names and Addresses in Washington County, and That County in General

Hello, everyone...and welcome back.

Before I get underway this time, I'd like to tip my hat to two commenters. First, Schlockstar at Stumptown Confidential, a fun place that posts what he can find of Portland going back through time in pictures, ads, and postcards. I check over there occaisionally because whatever he finds is always good. Also, J.D. at foldedspace.org, thanks for the comment.

To be honest, this isn't really a series (tho it's turning out to be one) and I'm really writing these because it's kind of an obsession with me. Also, this is the sort of blab I've always wanted to see somebody write about this somewhat dreary topic, and I got tired of waiting for someone else to do it.

The only thing I can't add, alas, is insight and reasoning-or, in many cases, when the decision was made, what caused it, and why one system predominates over the others. Why this all is the way it is is the primary animating questions-addresses aren't natural but arbritrary, but once imposed and adopted they shape our perceptions just as much as any lake or river or hill. I don't limit it to saying I'm a Portlander, but usually a Southeast Portlander, and most of all I say that I like living in SE. It seems to have a different character than NE, N, NW, or SW...which has a different character than anywhere else!

All that said, on with the show. This time, we'll take a look at Washington County.

Washington County In General

It's that county on the West Side...that place we think of (in metaterms) when we think of Hillsboro, Beaverton, Tigard, Tualatin, et. al.. It's home to several of Oregon's larger towns as well as some of the most prodigiously-growing (Sherwood, to state a case).

The greater Washington County address system, however, emanates from the intersection of Burnside Street and the Willamette-an extension of the greater Portland system. All county-gridded addresses in Washington Co. are either NW or SW, but the dividing line isn't obvious. No street has ever been laid out along it.

Remember the discussion on of the Public Lands Survey in the bit about eastside addresses? Well, here it rears its head once again. Take your handy-dandy map of Portland (what? you don't have a map? Well, MapQuest it...if you absolutely must...) and locate West Burnside Street in Portland. Follow it westward until you get to the Burnside/Barnes and NW Skyline Fork, up at the Calvary Memorial Cemetery. Look just a little to the left of that, and you'll see a 90-degree angle formed by the boundary of Multomah and Washington Counties.

This is the location of the lodestone of surveying in Oregon and Washington, a monument called the Willamette Stone. Many years ago, when the Public Survey for this region was proposed, they had to figure out some place to put the starting point. Usually notable landmarks were used to augur into a likely place. Based on info from a geography class I took this last year and an article I read a long time ago and cannot locate, this point was chosen so as to be due south of the mouth of the Willamette River, and far enough south so that the Base Line wouldn't recross of wind up in the middle of the Columbia River as both moved east.

They got it mostly correct, though the Stone's actual location is a little west of the mouth of the Willamette. It can be visited. There is a very tiny state park, Willamette Stone State Park, surrounding it. It's accessed from an easily-missed gravel turnout just up NW Skyline Blvd from where West Burnside Road splits and goes downhill to become SW Barnes Road, and a stone's throw from Saint Vincent's Hospital. It's a rather steep trail, which leads one to be amazed at the kind of travail it took to get out there when the roads weren't so good yet.

Moving on from that digression, we go back to our map. Starting from that right-angle, draw a line, a straight one, directly west, from one side of the county to the other. And that's it. That's your NW-SW dividing line, and basis for all Washington County addresses-20 standard blocks to the mile, just like on the east side.

The major problem to the casual direction-finder is that the division is barely obvious at the best. One has to keep an eye on the addresses they're seeing to know if they've gone from NW to SW. A good eye on the street signs helps, of course.

Officially the street that divides NW from SW is West Stark Street. This is a name extension from SW Stark Street in Portland. Why not West Burnside? The reason for the decision may never have been recorded. Presumably it was based on the geographical novelty of the way Portland's downtown south of Burnside stays at an angle, colliding with the more cardinally-oriented north end, resulting in parallelogram and triangle blocks and the disappearance of Ankeny, Pine, Oak, and Stark Streets before you get to I-405, combined with the way Burnside Road itself falls well off the grid pattern before it crosses into Washington County and changes it's name to Barnes Road.

Disappointingly, West Stark Street only exists in a couple of places: the Thomas Guide shows Stark Street running from Miller Road to Leahy Road (north of St. Vincent's and Catlin Gabel School) and just a bit crossing Barnes Road west of Cedar Hills Blvd but just before you get to the Saltzman Rd/Cornell Rd cross (Barnes Road obediently changing its directional from SW to NW as it crosses). West of that there's no real obvious dividing line until you get to West Baseline Road (which starts near SW 158th and Walker Road as SW Baseline Road, straggles south of the Base Line for a few miles, then lines up as it enters Hillsboro on the east and leaves it on the west).

-------Update as of 13 July 2005, 0045--------
A trip to an SCA meeting in Hillsboro gave me a chance to look over some street names. I was incorrect about West Baseline Road being prefixed SW at any point: it is signed W Baseline Road from it's origin at SW 158th Ave all the way. The name does change to East Main Street, part of HIllsboro's system, but not until the new intersection at Brookwood Parkway. County house numbering applies until that intersection as well. I presume that the ongoing east-Hillsboro street name and address resynch will fix this, but that remains to be seen (the resynch scheme is mentioned further on in this post).
-------End Update Text---------

Murray Blvd goes from SW to NW about three blocks south of the Sunset Highway; the nearest cross is NW Todd Street. 158th Avenue changes from SW to NW coincidentally where it crosses Walker Road, which also swaps SW for NW), and NW 185th becomes SW 185th between Heritage Parkway and SW Salix Terrace, just north of where MAX crosses. There used to be another segment of West Stark off that part of 185th, but it seems to have been obliterated. It's not shown up on maps for a while.

It is usually helpful to have a map handy when making your way across mid-Washington county. I'd certainly suggest it.

Many of the cities of the County have elected, apparently, to forgo thier own internal addressing scheme in favor of the County metagrid. Central Beaverton has elected to retain historical names for it's numbered cross streets, which means the addresses along, for instance, SW Hall Blvd between SW 1st and SW 2nd Streets (the numbereds are streets, since they run e-w) is something like in the 4600s rather than the 100s, as one would otherwise expect). Presumably this is in order to facilitate 911 emergency dispatch amongst the County's many adjacent jurisdictions.

A few cities...Hillsboro, Forest Grove, Cornelius, and Sherwood...have opted to have thier own internal street naming and addressing. But there are changes afoot, in Hillsboro and Sherwood.

Changes afoot in Hillsboro and Sherwood

These two jurisdictions have gone thier own way, address-wise, for many years. Hillsboro is in the act of extending thier reach, whilst Sherwood, quite in opposite, joining the County metagrid.

In the case of Hillsboro, the county seat, great growth, both annexation and development, has taken place in the area between the County Fairgrounds and Cornelius Pass Road, and south from Cornell Road to Tualatin Valley Highway, in the last 10 or 15 years.

Hillsboro is laid out in a familiar four-quarter grid. 1st Avenue and Glencoe Road break it east and west, and Main Street (and West Baseline Road) break it north and south, resulting in the by now familiar NE/SE/NW/SW pattern. Annexation in the direction of Cornelius Pass Road (which historically was SW219th Avenue before the realignment at the Baseline Road intersection some time back) and Reedville has resulted in a patchwork of city-county land; new development in the incorporated areas have benn assigned City-based street names and addresses, resulting in a address quilt even crazier than the city-county one.

Street names really mix it up here. Along SW Drake Lane, there is a cross street of SE 54th Avenue but SW 239th just a few blocks down. The intersction of SW 239th Avenue and SW Frances Street is very close to the intersection of SE Golden Rd and SE 56th Ct... and SE Golden Rd crosses SW 239th.

To the end of solving this problem, Hillsboro is synchronizing this area with its own well established grid. The information is available at this web page. Included are some nifty PDFs of the first stage of the project, which concerns the area called Reedville, which is mostly around the intersection of what we today call SW Cornelius Pass Road and SW Tualatin Valley Highway.

Sherwood is going the other way. For years, the older parts of Sherwood-the old city center (Sherwood Old Town) and the areas south and east of the railroad-adhered to a familiar quadrant pattern, divided east-west by North and South Sherwood Blvd and Pine Street, and north-south by West Villa Rd, Railroad Street, and Oregon Street. All this with low-magnitude, 3 and 4 digit house numbers to match, surrounded by the County grid of five-digit house numbers.

As new development has occurred on the north and west sides of Sherwood, those new developments have been assigned street names and addresses conforming to the County grid. Along with growth has come the attendant confusion amongst address finders and government service providers.

As a result, Sherwood is now also in the midst of a staged plan to synchronize the new with the old, but they are discarding thier old system in favor of county-addressing throughout the city. Old two and three digit addresses are to be jettisoned in favor of five-digit county addresses, and presumbly all directionals will become SW. The Sherwood plan is detailed here, complete with a PDF that details the conversion areas and sequence. No idea of what each address with be just yet, though

Just so long as they don't change the name of my favorite Sherwood street: SE (soon to be SW) G&T Drive.

Yes, that's a real street name.


Isaac Laquedem said...

One of the reasons that it's West Stark Street instead of West Burnside Street is that Burnside Street historically ended at SW 14th Avenue, where it became Washington Street. (Take a map of downtown Portland, pretend that Interstate 405 isn't there, and draw in the grid over the freeway.) Sometime around 1900 (?) the portion of Washington Street west of 14th Avenue was changed to Burnside Street, and it continued as Burnside Street up to 23rd and Westover (when Westover used to intersect Burnside), then became Burnside Road as it ascended the West Hills. Somewhere in the hills it became Barnes Road and continued in a winding path (which is still there today, as NW and then SW Barnes Road) over the crest of the hill, across SW Skyline Boulevard, and down past where Catlin Gabel and St. Vincent Hospital are today.

The current alignment of Barnes Road is far different from the original alignment. Barnes Road crossed through the current location of the Sunset Transit Station, then (where Butner Road is today) ran to about the Cedar Hills Boulevard exit, then northwestward along what is now Shilo Lane and to an ending point on Cornell Road just west of Saltzman Road.

When Sunset Highway was built, Barnes Road was cut in three. A few years ago a connector was built on the north side of Sunset, now named Barnes Road, and the portion on the south side of Sunset was renamed Butner Road to correspond to an older road that ran from Barnes to Walker.

Then during World War II the Burnside Tunnel was built to make it easier for trucks to cross the hill (it was billed as a war effort). A new stretch of road was built as Burnside Road, from Barnes Road (eastern intersection) west up the hill, through the tunnel under old Barnes Road, then coinciding with a short stretch of Skyline Boulevard through Mount Calvary Cemetery, and down the hill to the west to rejoin Barnes Road. As the name of Burnside didn't get near West Stark Street until the 1940s, I surmise it's called West Stark because it's on the Base Line, just as Southeast Stark Street is.

Samuel John Klein Portlandiensis said...


Great follow! Thanks for giving up some of the history of Barnes Road-it was quite fascinating and you know a bit more about it than I did.

I've been on that part of Barnes Road that you mention-it's a very charmng back street. Starts as NW Barnes indeed, as it splits off then crosses over West Burnside over the tunnel to become SW Barnes. Your explanation provides logic for why the road is in the place it is. I hadn't known that the Burnside Road tunnel was of that recent a vintage.

The reason I was puzzled by the naming of West Start Street stems from my thinking from the center out. As you run up Burnside from the river, and the streets start folding into West Burnside St, Stark is not the last SW street to do so. Washington does (as you mentioned), as does Alder, and, lastly, Morrison (at 21st Avenue). If you were continuing an alternate street name west from there, why not use the last street name that Burnside terminated-why not make in West Morrison Street?

Your canny observation-that the Base Line on the west lines up with what we call SE Stark Street...provides the logical leap I was missing. I think you very much have the right of it.

While I don't date back to the time when there was no Sunset Highway, I do remember when the segment of what is today called SW Butner Road between the Cedar Hills Shopping Center (Hwy 26 at 217) and SW Cedar HIlls Blvd, on the south side of the Sunset, was called SW Barnes Road, and the reason was clear from the maps-there was an obvious lineup.

Again, great followup. Thanks!