The Scappoose-Vernonia Road
Routes from Vernonia and other points in the Upper Nehalem Valley to St. Helens, Portland and Washington County were a challenge to valley residents from the earliest times into the 1920s. The Pittsburg to St. Helens road built in the 1800s to connect the valley with the county seat was a rough and rocky road, then as now not particularly friendly to passenger cars. With more automobiles in use and the population rapidly growing because of the new Oregon-American Lumber Mill, Vernonia’s Chamber of Commerce appointed a special committee to find a good route for a market road to the towns on the Columbia River.
William Pringle, W.C. Meyer and Postmaster Emil Messing comprised the committee to investigate the feasibility of constructing a road from Vernonia through Clark & Wilson Camp Eight (about three miles from Pittsburg along the East Fork of the Nehalem) to the existing Scappoose-Chapman county road. In October 1925, the committee traveled up the East Fork to Camp Eight to determine what might be the best route. According to the article in the November 1st Vernonia Eagle, they “found that at very little expense a road of water grade (i.e. graveled) could be built from Pittsburg to Camp Eight, thence down the canyon to Bridge Twenty-three of the old Portland-Southwestern Railroad (see note below). Then, north over the tunnel and come out under Bridge Seventeen of that same line. From there it will be very easy to connect to the Chapman Road as there will be about one half mile of road to be constructed from Bridge Seventeen.” The committee received cooperation from A.W. Hansen, Assistant Superintendent of the Clark & Wilson Lumber Company, who placed a railroad speeder at the disposal of the committee to travel from Camp Eight eastward through the company’s timberlands.
In the prior week’s edition, the Eagle made a case for completing an eight-mile road from the One-Mile Bridge (now also known as the Green Bridge) to Camp Eight. Only the three miles from Pittsburg to Camp Eight would have to be built as there was an existing road between the bridge and Pittsburg. The estimated cost for the three mile road was $20,000 that could be funded by voter approval of a road tax. The various Clark & Wilson camps within the Vernonia School District had a $100,000 per month payroll, but their remoteness held no economic benefit for the city.
The Eagle opined: “If a good road is put in there, it is probable that at least half of the married men in the camps will live in Vernonia and drive back and forth each day, thereby letting their children attend school here and having more comfortable homes and surroundings for their families, as well as conveniences obtainable.” And, of course, they’d spend their earnings at Vernonia businesses! The eventual extension of the road all the way to Scappoose would create a market road of benefit to both ends of the county. Like any other public works project, this new road was not without controversy, but that is a story for another column.
Note: The Portland-Southwestern Railroad was built in the early 1900s. The railroad carried logs from Pittsburg to Chapman Landing on Multnomah Channel from around 1905 to 1945, passing through a 1,712-foot-long tunnel at the Nehalem Divide. This abandoned rail line was converted to a truck route when Crown-Zellerbach acquired Clark & Wilson Lumber. It became the basis of the new CZ Trail that connects to the Banks-Vernonia Linear Trail.
From Virgil Powell’s Diary
Virgil Powell was a long-time resident who had a farm in the Upper Nehalem Valley between Natal and Pittsburg. Each year from 1906 until 1955, he kept a regular diary of his activities. Like this year in the Midwest, the winter of 1916 was a very cold and snowy one. Despite the conditions, Virgil made a trip to Houlton and St. Helens in the midst of it all, presumably on horseback.
Sunday, January 16, 1916: Victor and I went up around East Fork in forenoon. Just fooled around in afternoon. Awful cold but fair day. About 18 inches of snow on.
Tuesday, January 18, 1916: We went down the road a ways in forenoon after some hunters. Walked over the Nehalem River on the ice for the first time in my life. Just fooled around in afternoon. Cold but very good day.
Monday, January 24, 1916: Left 7 A.M. and got to Houlton 1:30 P.M. Went on over to St. Helens then back to Houlton and stopped overnight. Fair during the day but snowed considerable late in evening. About three feet of snow on the mountain.
Tuesday, January 25, 1916: Left Houlton 7:15 and got home 2 P.M. Snowed pretty hard all day and it was certainly a hard trip. Was sick most all night. There is about 18 inches of snow on.
Six years later, the old Pittsburg Road was still the main route to St. Helens. As with the above entries, he doesn’t mention how he traveled – by car or horse. We assume because of the snow in the mountains that winter, it was the latter, possibly with a sled attached based on some other diary entries around this time.
Monday, January 16, 1922: Over St. Helens road to St. Helens at 2:30 P.M. Very cold.
Tuesday, January 17, 1922: Left St. Helens 7:30 A.M. In Portland till 3 P.M. Out to Beaverton over night. Awful cold and ice.
Wednesday, January 18, 1922: Came from Beaverton home via Timber. Frozen awful hard.
The Vernonia Pioneer Museum is located at E. 511 Bridge Street and is open from 1 to 4 pm on Saturdays and Sundays (excluding holidays) all year. From June through mid-September, the museum is also open on Fridays from 1 – 4 pm. There is no charge for admission but donations are always welcome. Become a member of the museum for an annual $5 fee to receive the periodic newsletter, and if you are a Facebook user, check out the new Vernonia Pioneer Museum page created by Bill Langmaid. The museum volunteers are always pleased to enlist additional volunteers to help hold the museum open and assist in other ways. Please stop by and let one of the volunteers know of your interest in helping out.