Today, we grace the eye with a few views of a map. Before that, a word about Rural Routes.
There was a time when 911 didn't prevail, when you had to know the local police number and write it down, and when urban-style address grids didn't extend to the limits of every county. In Oregon, most Boomers and Gen Xers from outside the Portland area will remember what it was like to have a Rural Route address.
A Rural Route is really a simple thing. An address on a country road might have a mailbox, and that mailbox would be marked (and assure that it could be read, else you won't get your mail) similarly to the following:
Route 1, Box 265
The thought of Rural Routes came to the Address Nerd as we got an unexpected comment on a rather old post and answering it made us smile. The commenter wondered what was up with that. Here's what was up with that.
A Rural Route is, in its simplest form, a loop with mailboxes posted all along its traveling. They radiate out from the local post office, and boxes along it are simply numbered in order from low to high – Route 1 Box 1 (ideally) to Route 1 Box 827 (or however high it goes). As I recall, they did not necessarily were consecutive ... there were gaps. Route 1 Box 165 might have been followed by Route 1 Box 172, allowing room for new addresses.
Now, to the map. This is a thumbnail of an inset map scanned from a 1966 Chevron gas station map (distrubted by Erickson Chevron at Fairgrounds Road and Highland Avenue, locally printed) detailing the state-of-the-rural-route-art in the hinterlands of Salem ... as of 1958 (click here to go to the page in Picasa; click the zoom button, upper right, to embiggen):
Route 1 covered NW, or what we call today West Salem; Route 2, North; Route 3, South and West; Route 4, South, and Route 5, South and East.
A close look (at the resolution we were given, a patient, sharp, and un-fatigued eye will be required) shows how the system works. The arrows show the direction of travel of the carrier, and the number-notations give an idea of the run of the box numbers.
One thing that becomes clear real quick is the serpentine nature of the carrier's travelings. One would travel west into an intersection, go north to the next intersection, east and then NW then back to an intersection one went through before, then west and then turnaround and back in again, covering one side of the road going out and the other coming back.
For a better view, here's a clipping of a part of Route 5 ... a bit out of the center-right of the image above. this really gives an idea of the carrier's comings and goings and the way the box numbers play out:
Travelling east along the road straggling through the middle of the image (what we know today as Salem's State Street in its outer precincts), we come upon a crossroads called "Geer". Just below and to the left, there's the number 781; a house at the SW corner of State Street and Howell Prairie Road (the modern name of the N-S road at that junction) might have the address of Route 5 Box 781. Directly across the street, though, the address would be Route 5 Box 355, and the arrows tell that the carrier covered the area to the right of that intersection before covering the area to the left.
Another interesting point: look directly to the left of the word "Pratum" on the upper part of the image, and look for the numbers "795" and "604". Today, that's the intersection of Sunnyview Rd NE and Howell Prairie Rd NE, and the road completes that gap right there. Howell Prairie Road is the axis of those wide farmlands east of Salem, and at one time, it stopped at Sunnyview Rd instead of going straight though as it does today.
The Rural Route system had the benefit of having the road name being completely unnecessary in getting mail to its destnation. This also supplied the drawback – since it does not lay along a grid, quick and efficient location by emergency services is all but impossible ... never mind giving directions to your long-lost cousin who finally decided to see you after all these years. Hence the current systems of address gridirons that cover almost every county in Oregon.
But it's a pleasant memory, and hearing a "Route something Box whatever else" reminds me of some of the sweeter times of my childhood, and the beginning of an obsession with street signs that continue to this day.
Tags: Address_nerd, Oregon history, old maps, oregon maps, Salem, Rural Routes, Address systems
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