Portland’s Freeway Names, Minnesota Freeway

Portland’s Freeway Names, Minnesota Freeway (now I-5):

Back to Banfield Freeway

The Freeway now known as I-5 was officially known as the EastBank Freeway, but quickly garnered the nickname of Minnesota Freeway.

Building the Eastbank Freeway
Building the Eastbank Freeway

As you can see, the freeway project took up the entire block where Minnesota Street used to be, and thus it’s nick name came into more common use. As far as I can tell, outside of official documentation from the City of Portland, Eastbank Freeway was rarely used. But the name “Minnesota Freeway” is still found on the Internet which causes some confusion as it’s not commonly used any more.

Construction started in 1959, and ended up costing $22 million. The new freeway was pretty much rammed through despite citizen’s protests and decimated entire African American Neighborhoods. Outside of the the African American Neighborhoods though, there seemed to be little protest over building the highway. No doubt a bit of racism played heavily into that.

By 1961, the planned road had taken over the 99W name from Pacific Highway. It was opened the morning of December 2, 1964, and businsses along Interstate Highway immediately knew they were done. It also lacked any type of environmental impact studies, or even basic economic studies!

Various documents claim that I-5 legally maintains the Pacific Highway name, but I am not able to officially substantiate that. Nor can I find when the road was officially named to I-5.

Next, War Veterans Freeway

Portland’s Freeway Names, Banfield Freeway

Portland’s Freeway Names, Banfield Freeway

Back to Pacific Highway

Banfield Freeway (I-84 between I-5 and I-205):

Finished in 1957, the Banfield Freeway was the first to be built with the new grade-separated and controlled-access design proposed by the OSHD. It was built to replace Sandy Boulevard, which had become one of the busiest roads in all of Oregon, serving traffic between Portland and East Portland. An expressway had been planned for Sullivan’s Gulch as early at 1926, but no action was ever taken. The Lloyd Corporation ended up developing a golf course in the Gulch, and a shanty town popped up around a formerly popular picnic spot named “Sullivan’s Spring” (located at about 19th street.) A fire hit the shantytown in 1941, and the last shack was pulled down to make way for the freeway.

After much controversy, the new Freeway was named after retired Oregon State Highway Commission Chairman, Thomas H. Banfield, over Timothy Sullivan who had the original land claim that contained Sullivan’s Gulch.

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Portland’s Freeway Names, Pacific Highway

Portland’s Freeway Names, Pacific Highway

Start at the beginning

Pacific Highway (99W, and surface streets):

While essentially a “Dead” highway, Portland’s highway system starts with the Pacific Highway. The Pacific Highway was completed in 1923, as the first “border to border” paved highway west of the Mississippi, it ran 341 miles from California to Washington. Eventually it was expanded from Canada to Mexico. This new road spurred a lot of development throughout Oregon. Several smaller cities moved their downtown core to be along the highway, and businesses sprung up along it’s full length to service travelers.

As 99W, Pacific Highway ran through Downtown Portland, crossed Willamette River via the Steel Bridge, and then continued up Interstate Avenue. In the 1950’s, the downtown portion was routed on the west side of the Willamette along Harbor Boulevard. But when Harbor was removed after the Freeway Protests, in 1974, it ran along First Avenue/Naito Parkway to the Steel Bridge.

Remains of the Pacific Highway still run parallel to I-5, along SW Barbur Boulevard.

On to Banfield Freeway

Portland’s Freeway Names

Portland’s Freeway Names

Unknown to many Portlanders is the fact that many of our highways have names beyond their official designations. A few of the traffic reporters in the local news still throw out names like “Banfield,” and “Sunset,” during their reports but several other names have long faded into obscurity.

In Oregon, there are three specific periods when it comes to highways. Oregon was the first state to pass a tax on gasoline in 1919, with the money dedicated to improving highways in Oregon for travel. Many highways were built with this money, many of which are still in use today. These highways mostly connected one town with another, but the ambitious Pacific Highway was built during this period.

While Oregon’s ambitious highway system proved it’s worth during WWII in supplying the needs of local war efforts, the entire system was showing it’s age. The Depression removed a lot of money for repairs and expansions, and during WWII Congress forbade any road construction pass what was necessary for the war effort. Spurned by the support of Robert H. “Sam” Baldock, the Oregon State Highway Engineer, and the strong support of Thomas H. Banfield, the Oregon legislature gave OSHD the authority to build grade-separated and controlled-access routes in 1947. The Oregon Legislature continued to pass laws and budgets to support this ambitious project well into 1949.

This also marked a turn in “modern” highway design. Previous highways could have stop lights, rail road crossing, and businesses on each side to attract travelers. Unfortunately these could cause major backups for miles along the highway. The new grade-separated and controlled-access design was meant to eliminate these backups and more efficiently move traffic between points.

By the late 1960’s and early 1970’s the “Freeway Revolts” were well under way not only across America, but around the world. Portland was at the fore front of these for a variety of reasons. The original 1950’s six freeway plan (and the follow up plan of 50 freeways by 1990,) were effectively scrapped. This left two Freeways uncompleted, and led to the complete removal of another.

These original revolts, which lead to Oregon’s Urban Growth Boundary law are credited around the world in keeping sprawl in Portland to a minimum and directly leads to it’s high livability scores.

On to Part Two

The Seven Toughest Men in Oregon History – Part 4

Back to Part 1

The Seven Toughest Men in Oregon History – Part 4

Nimrod O’Kelly is possibly my personal favorite character out of Oregon history. His story is not only one of murder, but a complete history of law in the Oregon Territory just after formation as a Territory and during Oregon’s transformation to full fledged Statehood.

Nimrod, a veteran of the American Revolution, walked to Oregon at age 65 as part of the second wagon train to Oregon. He was a bit of a loaner to the point that he didn’t really stay with the actual wagon train much, although he did have a few people he called friends. Once the wagon train arrived in Oregon City, instead of staying there for the winter, he immediately started walking south in an attempt to find virgin land to settle. He kept walking until he was at least two days walk from any other settlers. He finally stopped near present day Brownsville (who’s claim to fame is the where the movie “Stand By Me” was filmed,) and setup a land claim.

As Nimrod was a Revolutionary War veteran, he claimed himself an extra 160 acres of land as was due to him as part of his discharge from the war. He also claimed 640 acres instead of 320 as a single man. His reasoning was that his wife and kids would be joining him soon so he was legally entitled to claim the full 640 acres. But pretty soon Nimrod found himself surrounded by unwanted neighbors. A few of the neighbors took it upon themselves to only recognize a claim of 320 acres, noting that after two years no wife and children had shown up, so they must not exist. Two even went so far as to place their own land claims over large parts of his. As Nimrod was a bit of a loaner and not entirely liked by other locals things escalated to the point where he shot and killed one of the men who had taken over part of his claim.

Instead of running, Nimrod walked a full day to turn himself in for the first murder in the Oregon Territory. As there was no Sheriff, no Judge, no Courthouse or even Jail at that time, he was sent back to his home to wait for the rest of the settlers to figure out what to do. Eventually things were put together enough to where he could be tried and convicted by a Jury. He was jailed at a neighbors house, one who had been one of his few friends on the wagon train coming over. He spent over a year this way, being allowed to walk around freely and taking meals with the family before being locked into a nearby shed for the night.

Eventually a “real” Judge was appointed and another trial held as the Oregon Territory had adopted a new set of laws. He was found guilty again, and jailed again. After a while he was allowed to return to his own property to await a proper jail to be built, as Oregon simply didn’t have a jail yet. Once one in Portland had been built, he was moved there. But his Sheriff and Sheriff Deputy escort got drunk the night before they were to drop him off. Instead of delaying his arrival, Nimrod walked to the jail by himself and signed himself in.

After several attempts to get a pardon from the Governor of the Oregon Territory and the President of the United States, he was pardoned by the first Oregon State Governor. During this time Nimrod’s family had actually shown up and settled onto the claim he had made. Instead of spending time with his family, he immediately set out to Washington D.C. to formally file his claim under the new laws. This done, he walked back to Oregon. For the second time.

Unfortunately laws changed again and all settlers had to re-make their Donation Land claims yet again. So at 75 years old, Nimrod made a second round trip to Washington D.C., walking all the way to file his claim for the third time. Nimrod returned home to Oregon, but died only a couple of years later. His claim was eventually split up and sold by his family, part of it to the second husband of the wife of the man he had originally shot and killed.

On to Part 5 – The Survivors of Battle Rock