Polk County Historical Society

Arguments over the location of highway improvements are not uncommon today.  Usually it is traffic-averse property owners who want the improvements – and traffic – to be sent somewhere else.  Historically, this was not always the case.  Folks in Dallas and Independence once spent four years, three law suits that went to the Oregon Supreme Court, and an election to recall the chairman of the Board of County Commissioners.  Their complaint?  The state was going to put a paved highway (Highway 99W) through Polk County and they wanted it to go through their towns, too.

Oregon voters in 1917 approved a $3-million bond issue to finance a system of paved and graveled state highways across the state.  Travel between Oregon towns then was over a network of poorly designed and maintained county roads.  Getting bogged down was a common experience during rainy winter months.

The highway system included two north-south routes through the Willamette Valley.  One route lay east of the Willamette River.  (Today, Highway 99E.)  The other lay west of the river.  (Highway 99W.)

The highway was to follow existing county road rights of way where possible, and the county was responsible for the cost of bringing the road beds up to grade.

The Highway Commission proposed a road through Polk County that followed county roads south from Amity, through Rickreall, through Monmouth and south to Corvallis and Junction City where the two highways were to merge.  

The route through Monmouth was to come in over Riddell Road to Monmouth Avenue, past the Normal School campus to Main Street, west three blocks to Knox Street, then south on Knox Street and the county road past the cemetery to Suver.

This brought screams of anguish from folks in Dallas and Independence.  Traffic meant people came to one’s town.  And maybe they would spend some money while they were there.

What the folks in Dallas and Independence wanted was a zig-zag Highway 99E.  They proposed that the state leave the county road near Holmes Gap and head overland southwest to Dallas.  From Dallas the road should go southeast to Clow Corner, three miles north of Monmouth.  Then after leaving Monmouth the road should have gone due east to Independence, then south-southwest in another zig-zag to hook up with the existing county road near Suver.

Dallas citizens sued to force the state to run the highway through Dallas.  They lost in the Circuit Court.  A second suit was brought claiming that the language of the voter-approved measure required the road to go through Dallas and Independence.  The Circuit Court rejected that claim and the Supreme Court agreed.

The Highway Commission agreed to pave the road from Monmouth to Independence and from Dallas to Salem, giving both cities access to the highway system.  That wasn’t enough.

Folks in Independence sued claiming county money could not be used to meet the county’s share of construction.  The Circuit Court agreed.  The Supreme Court in 1924 held county funds could be used.

A county-wide vote was called in 1921 to recall County Judge Asa Robinson, chairman of the board of county commissioners.  His role in the dispute was an essential part.  The Monmouth precinct voted to recall Robinson.  The rest of the county did not.

The highway was built.

During World War II the federal government paid for rerouting that part of Highway 99W that runs from the intersection of Pacific Avenue and Main Street in Monmouth south to Suver.  The stretch of the present route between Monmouth and Rickreall was constructed in the early 1950s.

The new highway brought more traffic to Monmouth.  So much so that the Commercial Club undertook a project to assign a system of numbers to all homes in town.  This was to make it easier for strangers to find where they were going.

Monmouth also erected stop signs, calling them “the silent policeman.”

A similar dispute erupted over a proposal to build a highway to the coast between Falls City and Newport.  Lumber interests in Newport intervened and the road eventually was built from Newport to Corvallis.

This historical article is sponsored by Some Things Antiques. We believe our heritage is one of the most important things to Polk County.

Some Things is located at:

745 Main St., Dallas


Tue-Sat | 10:30am-5:30pm

Information in this article is from the Library of the Polk County Historical Society.

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