Monday, July 30, 2007

The Willamette Stone

Willamette Stone

Willamette Stone

A few pics from the hands-down nerdiest state park in all of Oregon. This is Willamette Stone State Park (ok, "State Heritage Site") [map], a tiny spot up in the West Hills just off Skyline Blvd. I've mentioned the now-absent stone and its history before, in an earlier post about Milestone P2, and now here it is in the flesh. Updated: I've since tracked down all the remaining Stark St. Milestones, plus a couple of others around town. You can read the whole set of posts here, if you're interested.


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Anyway, isn't this exciting? The disk shown above (where the stone used to be) is the "initial point" for the land survey system covering Oregon and Washington. I'm no expert about land surveying, but apparently this spot is quite important. Or at least it was at one time, back in the pre-GPS era.

A few Stone-related resources on the Interwebs:
  • The Wikipedia article tries to explain it all in a halfway-accessible way. I happily admit to being a hardcore nerd, and a bit of a history dweeb too, and even my eyes started to glaze over. I think it was around the time it got to the phrase "Donation Land Claim Act of 1850". Although I'm sure that was a worthy and necessary piece of legislation, probably.
  • Mr. Klein of ZehnKatzen Times fame has a better piece about the place here, and a bit more here. He explains all the gory details of the land survey system, so that I don't have to. (Thanks!)
  • Another good history here, courtesy of the End of the Oregon Trail center down in Oregon City.
  • Bill McDonald (of the late, lamented Portland Freelancer) wrote an amusing 2002 Trib story about the stone as well.
The park's always kind of puzzled me, ever since the last time I visited. (I was in a group of confused and bored Cub Scouts, and the "real" stone was still there, way back when, not that I'm old or anything.) It's quite an obscure thing to create a park around, given all the places and events that go uncommemorated here, and you have to wonder why they went to the trouble. It's possible the state kept it around for reference (again, in the pre-GPS era), not just for historical curiosity, since we aren't the only state to do this. (Yes, it's time to take a deep breath, kids, it's "Dig a little deeper" time again...)

  • There's Meridian-Baseline State Park in Michigan.
  • Arkansas has Louisiana Purchase State Park, which was once the "initial point" for the whole Louisiana Purchase, hence the name. That would seem to be a bigger deal than our little park here, but the Arkansas park seems to be just as obscure, plus it's in the middle of a gator-infested swamp.
  • California's Mt. Diablo State Park has a marker, although it may or may not be correct, I gather.
  • Illinois has a roadside historical marker.
  • Idaho's got a marker too, rather more dramatic than ours, and like ours, it's had vandalism issues. I suppose if anarchy and chaos is your thing, a marker that claims to lay out the world in an invisible grid system is not going to be much to your liking. I'm probably reading too much into that. I know I've said this before, but the world would be vastly more interesting if all the vandalism was committed on serious aesthetic or ideological grounds, rather than the "Dude, like, I was, like, here" we see in real life. Sigh...
  • Utah's is at the SE corner of Temple Square. Gee, nice church-state separation there, guys.
  • There's a list of initial points nationwide and a map of the territory they cover, plus a bit of background on the Public Land Survey system.
  • Another list of meridians and baselines here, also including "guide meridians").
  • Naturally there's an exhaustive reference book about all 37 (or 38?) such points around the country, and the author tracked down and visited all of them. So yes, it's been done already. Feel free to load up the RV and hit the road, though, if you're so inclined.
  • More info about some of these places here.

Willamette Stone

Willamette Stone

Willamette Stone

There's not much to the park besides the marker. There's a wide spot in the road for parking, and a sign that tries valiantly to explain what the park is all about. A short well-maintained trail heads downhill through the forest to the stone, but doesn't connect with the rest of the trail system in the West Hills. To the west are a couple of huge broadcast towers (Channel 8, among other things), to the east is as-yet-unused cemetery land, and to the south-southwest there's a gated condo community. In the aerial photo on their home page, the park's the forested area in the upper right. You can't get to the park directly from The Quintet, though. There was a time when developers and prospective homebuyers would be thrilled about a connection with the local park and trail system, but that time has long since passed. I suppose it would defeat the point of making the community gated; the evildoers could skulk in through the park and wreak havoc or cause mayhem or something, possibly. Or at least that's what everyone's terrified of, and fear sells.

Willamette Stone

One fun thing about the park is that it's right next to a couple of gigantic broadcast towers, so that you're strolling along through the forest, and suddenly through the trees you see an enormous orange and white structure stretching into the clouds. It's not something you see every day. Unless you live on Skyline, I guess, which I certainly can't afford to do. Seems there was a bit of a land use battle over the towers -- one was built in 1998 to replace the older one, and they ended up keeping both, and the state wasn't happy about it. If you look at the property details on PortlandMaps, you can see just how tiny the park is. It looks like it's barely wider than the trail as you get down to where the stone is. In this view you can tell pretty much exactly where the stone is: Note the property boundaries (and a road) that run right along the baseline and meridian lines.

Willamette Stone

Willamette Stone

2 comments :

Samuel John Klein Portlandiensis said...

Thanks for the props, friend. I dig your take on it (and dugg you, too).

Sean Bragg said...

Add the n6mbers up and get shocked by the sum...666 THE FREEMASONIC BABYLONIAN AMULET hidden in plain site