29 July 2005

[geography] The Address Nerd Visits Clark County Cities

This is essentially part 2 of this post.

In that post I did a sort of grand tour of Washington's Clark County, commenting on the address baselines definition, the Vancouver rationale, and how it extends into the county and that even though the naming systems seem different the county grid is actually an extension of the city grid.

Clark County has a handful of outlying cities: Ridgefield, La Center, Battle Ground, Yacolt, Washougal, and Camas. As distinct from many cities in the Portland metagrid, each one of these cities has thier own internal address and street name systems, with no exception.


Ridgefield is located along the Lake River, a "yazoo" type that forms the outflow from Vancouver Lake to the Columbia River (which it itself joins just northwest of the town, near its confluence with the Lewis River at the NW corner of Clark County). It's reachable by car off I-5 exit 14, which is actually about three miles east of the center of town.

For a long time, Ridgefield's complete corporate area was a wedge-shaped bit of land less than a mile square straddling the Willamette Meridian in Township 4 North. The address and street name structure has always been simple. North-south numbed avenues increase east from the railroad which runs along Lake River, and Pioneer Street formed the baseline dividing the north from the south. Numbered avenues have simplex directions as prefixes (N 4th Ave, S 9th Ave), and Pioneer Street became NW 269th St at the city limits, connecting town to freeway.

Within the last 4 years, Ridgefield increased its area on the ground many times. From a small patch of ground three miles west of I-5, the city has expanded to extend one mile east of it, and extended about a mile and a half south of Pioneer Street to encompass the Ridgefield High School Campus (at the intersection of what had been NW Hillhurst Road and NW Royle Road). Most of this new city land lays undeveloped as of yet, but urbanization can't be too far down the road.

With annexation of the new city land, all county-named roads within that area have been brought into the Ridgefield grid. In a small version of the Clark County method, the names of the older section of town have been preserved but the names of new streets in former county lands have been dubbed with numbers. Avenues, Courts and places increase to the east, Streets, Ways, and Circles increase north and south from Pioneer. Roads that do not follow cardinal directsions retain word-names, the names they had as county roads, prefixed N or S as appropriate.

The result is very high numbered streets in a small town, which is a strange thing to see. For instance, what was called NW 31st Avenue is now known as N and S 45th Ave-this is between Exit 14 and central Ridgefield , less than 1 mile west of I-5. The former NW 269th St has been renamed to Pioneer Street all the way out. Just west of I-5 traffic is diverted down S 65th Avenue (renamed from Clark County NW 11th Avenue) onto S 5th Street (formerly NW 264th Street) which intersects S 77th Place and S 78th Place before it ends at Clark County's NE 10th Avenue (which, since it is on the city-county boundary, has apparently not been renamed to S 85th Avenue, which would be its logical city name).

Most of this area remains farmland, which means that a map is useful to see the pattern. The new streets are spaced fairly far apart, and the pattern may not be terribly obvious on the ground.

La Center

La Center is just a few miles northeast from Ridgefield, and is reachable from I-5 exit 16. The road leading into it was once called NW 319th Street until it started to curve to enter the town. This has since been changed, and NW 319th Street has inherited the name NW La Center Road for its entirety east from I-5 into town.

One enters La Center proper after crossing the bridge over the East Fork Lewis River, approximately 1.5 miles off the freeway. The main road (the old Pacific Highway 99) nicks off a slice of the west part of town and slides quickly out enroute to the Lewis River bridge into Woodland.

As many Clark County cities have, La Center has grown too, though not as much as others. It has grown by about a factor of two, however, and has added in enough new land to plat a large new subdivision on the towns northeast side.

Generally speaking, numbered streets cross named streets. East of the dividing line, Aspen Street, streets name in alphabetical order after trees: Birch, Cedar, Dogwood, Elm. West of Aspen the streets are lettered: A, B (Pacific Hwy), D, E, F, G. Not every street was developed on this side, and the pattern breaks down fairly quickly.

Observation of the map shows two different textures to town. South of 10th Street, there is a regular gridiron, moreover, the west is at a steeper tilt than the east. North of 10th Street lays the big subdivision plat, easily distinguishable by its lazy curves and loops. The numbering pattern is logically continued even if named streets are not; the highest-order numbered street is E 18th Street, adjacent the north city limits.

The 10th Street transition line is important for another reason; 10th Street is laid out along an important line in the Public Lands Survey for this region, the First Standard Parallel North. A complete description of this is a bit off topic, but quickly, this line is necessary because the Survey is a flat grid laid out on a big ball. As you go north, those Range lines tend to converge. The east-west spacing is resurveyed at the Standard Parallels, which usually space off at 5 townships north and south of the baseline.

The Town of Yacolt

This is perhaps the most backwoods corporation in the county. You reach it by going out SR 503 (NE Lewisville Hwy) to Rock Creek Rd/Lucia Falls Road, which by what I understand is a very picturesque drive, will lead you into Yacolt from the south. No state highways lead to Yacolt. It is about twelve miles exactly east of La Center along the First Standard Parallel North.

Of all the cities in Clark County Yacolt's growth has been the most modest growth-almost none, in terms of territory. Its city limits have changed very little in the last 10-15 years.

And, in contravention of the urge of all cities in this area which strive to have some sort of system of numbered streets and avenues, Yacolt has none. N-S avenues cross E-W streets, but everything has a name, either proper names (Wilson, Jones), local landmarks (Amboy, Twin Falls) or functional names (Railroad). The divisional system is similarly simple, with simplex directional prefixes of N, W, E, and S based on the divisional streets of Railroad Avenue and Jones Street. Railroad Avenue runs NNW-SSE, at a slant, but the spread of the town is limited enough that this doesn't become a logical house numbering issue.

East and West Yacolt Road is laid out on the First Standard Parallel North, meaning it lines up exactly with 10th Street in La Center.

Battle Ground

This is another quadranted town with numbered Avenues running N-S cross numbered Streets running E-W.

It was not always thus. Ten or fifteen years ago, when the town had less area and less population, named Avenues crossed numbered streets. at some time during the last five years or so, the decison was made to toss all street names in the dustbin in favor of numbers, with just a handful of exceptions (notably, Clark Avenue, Grace Avenue and Fairgrounds Avenue; Rasmussen Blvd and Scotton Way in the south part of town, Onsdorff Blvd in the north).

The dividing streets are still N and S Parkway Avenue and E and W Main Street. they simply divide the town into duplex directionals (NW, SW, NE, SE) which are street name prefixes. The highest-order numbers in town are NW 29th Ave on the west, NW 24th Street on the north, NE 20th Avenue (off county's NE Heisson Road/229th Avenue) on the east, and SW and SE 18th Street, intersecting South Parkway Avenue just north of that street name's termination at NE 199th Street-Battle Ground's south end.

State Route 502 comes into town from the west end to become West Main Street: State Route 503-Battleground's direct connection to the I-205/Fourth Plain/Vancouver Mall area-comes into town from the south with the County name of NE 122nd Avenue and leaves town as NE Lewisville Highway, but while inside the Battle Ground city limits is known as NW and SW 10th Avenue.

Camas and Washougal

Camas has grown prodigiously on the ground much as Vancouver and Ridgefield have. From a modestly-sized town in the 80's that pretty much hugged the Columbia right bank it has exploded up the bluff to become a large wedge-shaped piece of land which now extends along the whole of the south shore of Lacamas Lake, and whose city boundary extends north of County's SE 1st Street-some four miles north of the river.

New development in the annexed areas has been named and numbered as an extension of the city's original grid.

The center of Camas is interesting because it sits at such a severe angle to the rest of the city. Established on a relatively level bit of land immediately north of where the Washougal River enters the Columbia, it runs at nearly a 45 degree angle from the cardinal. So great this angle is that, at the east end of the old town, NE 6th Avenue nearly intersects NE 19th Avenue, which is extended eastward from the cardinally aligned streets on the bluff overlooking the older part of town.

Regardless, this skewed grid forms the basis of the Camas addressing and numbering system. East-west numbered avenues intersect named north-south streets arranged alphabetically. The baseline running east is 1st Avenue, the baseline running North is Division Street.

A look at the map brings a notable feature out-there are a great many geographical discontinuities which make the Camas system a matter of logic and design. The skewed old town I already mentioned; north of 7th Avenue the bluff rises and the streets straighten out, and on the west end of city center the paper mill (what is it these days, James River still? I go back far enough that I still think of it as Crown-Z) prevents 1st Avenue and Division Street from physically meeting. Washougal River cuts off a tongue of land on the southeast side, and the system as a whole seems to preclude any SW prefixed addresses at all. But the system was established along those baselines, and the planning has been admirable consistent along those lines.

The baselines of Division Street and 1st Avenue logically divide the space into four quadrants, duplex directional, NW/SW/NE/SE , prefixed (the SW is dubious, as I mentioned, and I'll detail it presently). The geographically isolated SE section's name is determined by virtually extending East 1st Avenue along the Washougal River and probably estimating what those streets would be if something was physically extended from the center of town. West of city center all land is NW except for a sliver of land between State Route 14 and the Camas Slough shore, where a small district of land is prefixed SW and numbers increase from SR 14 toward the river. NW 6th Avenue crosses into this area and becomes SW 6th Avenue.

Because of the geographical problems inherent in the layout, following along with a map is recommended, if not required.

Camas and Washougal link up on Camas's east end like Camas is docking with Washougal. The center of Washougal is a reguarly gridded area about 1/2 mile east of where the two cities abut. The address and street name system of Washougal is essentially based on the easternmost point of Washougal south of the Washougal River, where you can find 1st Street. Thus, the historic central section of Washougal starts with 9th Street and extends east to 22nd Street.

Numbered streets progress west to east, lettered streets south to north. There are no directionals in the original city area, which is the part of the bar of land between the Columbia and Washougal Rivers not in Camas.

Since Washougal has grown, however, it's sprawled a little south (the floodplain of the Columbia provides an area for industrial growth; the area north of SR 14 and east of 32nd Street has provided room for residential growth. Latterly, growth has also included land north of the Washougal River and west toward Camas.

These extensions have logical extensions as appropriate. Any street south of A has a name but and a directional of S (S Ford St, S Index St), and any numbered street extending south of A is similarly prefixed (S 32nd Street). The geographic pocket north of the Washougal River has street names and numbers and addresses logically extended but evething in this area (just off Washougal River Road) is prefixed N (N M Street, N 24th Street). Even more interesting, the area of Washougal north of the river and west of a logically defined notional 1st Street extension north of Washougal River is prefixed West (an actual 1st street wouldn't quite line up correctly). The extent of this developemnt is a small subdivision off NE Crown Road (reachable from NE 3rd Street in Camas) with street names such as West Lookout Ridge Dr and W Y Street, W Z Street, and West 9th and 10th Streets.

The extension of Washougal east and north has a few named streets but largely extends the scheme of numbers and letters established in the original areas of the city. The highest-order numbered street I can find currently in Washougal is 57th Street.

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