Sunday, January 05, 2014

Plaza Square, St. Helens

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St. Helens, OR, is home to the historic Columbia County Courthouse (1906), which (uniquely in Oregon) has an honest-to-goodness courthouse square out front. St. Helens City Hall sits nearby, the town's main street runs along the far end of the square, and Columbia View Park on the river is steps away on the other side of City Hall. The whole arrangement goes way past cute into serious twee, at least if you ignore the ugly 1960s addition next door to the original courthouse. I wouldn't be surprised if the word "Mayberry" gets used a lot here. I don't think I've ever actually seen an episode of the Andy Griffith Show, so I can't vouch for the pop culture reference myself. Ralph Friedman's In Search of Western Oregon (1990) says it has the "sleepy look of an Andy Hardy movie". I haven't seen any Andy Hardy movies so I can't personally vouch for that either. To go with a more Generation X pop culture reference instead, it actually reminds me of the Courthouse Square set used in the Back to the Future films, although the courthouse itself looks nothing like the one in the movies.

A narrow path meanders its way around the square. Titled "down the trodden path", it commemorates the journey of the Lewis and Clark expedition along the Columbia River.

The square is home to the city's municipal Christmas Tree each year, and -- more unusually -- hosts a pumpkin lighting in early October to mark a month of Halloween festivities. Apparently the city started this tradition after Halloweentown, a 1998 Disney film, was filmed here. The town's a popular filming location, actually; several locations around town were used in the original Twilight film, and the Governor's Office of Film and Television markets the town as a good shooting location.

For those of you who come here for the really pedantic stuff -- and I like to imagine you exist -- I have a couple of items for you, namely the ever-popular questions "What's it called?" and "Who owns it?". Just going by internet search results, people seem to just call it the town square, the courthouse square, or the Plaza a lot. The streets on the north and south sides of the park are labeled "Plaza Square", so I'm assuming that's the official name & going with that for lack of anything more definitive (although the park's a rectangle and not a square, technically). I don't have anything more definitive because it's not a St. Helens city park as you might expect; the county GIS system says the county owns it, but it's also not listed as a regular Columbia County park either. I imagine it's just considered part of the courthouse grounds or something. The only relevance of this being that it sort of falls through the cracks, internet-wise, and I don't have as much material as I otherwise would. I did find the lists of city and county parks while I was searching, so at least I've got those filed away for the next time I'm in the area.

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