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ODOT History Center


Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) History Center

First Highway Bond for $1,000 issued in Oregon, Jackson County, 1913
1st Highway Bond issued in Oregon, 1913
From left:
E.E. Kelly, District Attorney, F.L. Touvelle, Jackson County Judge and W.C. Leever, County Commissioner

In December, 1987, an ever increasing concern for loss of Oregon heritage began to intensify. The Legislative Historian approached the Governor with a proposal that major departments be directed to prepare a history of their department. Although a joint effort by all departments was not initiated, the Director of Transportation appointed the Assistant Director of Strategic Planning and Communications to organize ODOT's history and develop criteria for identification of documents and records of historic significance. In January, 1990, a Steering Committee and Advisory Committee were established to make recommendations on a Department of Transportation History Program. A Department Historian was hired in 1991, and the two committees were merged to form the History Committee, which is still active today. On May 6, 1991, Bob Bothman, Department of Transportation Director, formally established the History Program. The History Center was established as part of the History Program.

The History Center is a repository for correspondence, photographs, and publications which show the history and development of the department and may depict or identify unique persons, places or events (e.g. bridge dedications, special programs, speeches by prominent individuals, highway history, photos of past/current commissioners, bridge engineers, highway engineers).
The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) History Center is located at the Mill Creek Building, 555 13th Street NE, Salem, Oregon 97301. Hours of operation are from 8am-4:30pm, Monday through Thursday. Calling ahead ensures the availability of staff to help with research. For more information, call Laura Wilt at: (503) 986-3280.

The History Center's collection is maintained by Laura Wilt. Historical artifacts are not part of the collection.

ODOT Library


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Historical Documents

Cemetery Survey
The cemetery survey was developed by the Oregon Department of Transportation, under the provisions of Senate Bill 598, which became law after the 1977 legislative session.
Cemetery Survey

The Travel and Information Division of the State Highway Department was organized in November, 1935 to draw tourists to Oregon. More than 234,000 booklets were printed and distributed in 1936 as part of the advertising and publicity program.
Drive Oregon

Brief History of Oregon's Highways
The Oregon State Highway Commission (OSHC) produced a document in the late 1940s which gave a brief summary of little-kown facts in the development of transportation in Oregon. Compiled by Ralph Watson, Public Relations Consultant, Casual and Factual Glimpses at the Beginning and Development of Oregon's Roads and Highways, gives some interesting history. Mr. Watson used the Biennial reports as a primary source of information and created a document that was designed to introduce people to the monumental task which faced the OSHC, both present and past, and their part in the economic development of the state.
Casual & Factual Glimpses at the Beginning Development of Oregon's Roads and Highways

Oregon Ferry Routes
The Oregon State Highway Department produced a map showing the location of state-, county-, and privately-owned automobile ferries for the State of Oregon. Follow the link to view the map:
Map of Ferry Routes, 1935

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Historical Photographs

Historical Photos from the History Center collection may be viewed by clicking on the links below:

Why Oregon's bridges were painted green:
'Mr. G.W. Harra, Head of the Testing Lab, tells me that in the Mid 1930s at the instigation of Mr. C.B. McCulllough, a search was made for a more pleasing color than the "dead black" which had been used. It seems that Mr. McCullough wished to use a more lively color in painting some of the coast bridges.' (excerpt from a letter from Floyd Query, Secretary for the State Highway Commission, to Mr. Lloyd Shaw, Asst. State Highway Engr., March 16, 1964).

To see some historic bridge photos, click on the link below.

To find out more about Oregon's historic bridges, go to Oregon's Historic Bridge Field Guide, published by the ODOT Bridge Engineering Section in 2013. This is a very large file, and can take quite a long time to load.

Covered Bridges

Covered bridges in Oregon were sometimes referred to as Roofs Over Rivers. Only a small handful of Oregon's covered bridges still exist.

Photos of covered bridges can be found in the historic bridge guide (link above).

In 1931 Oregon's first class of driver examiners went to work. This group, and many of those that followed, was all male. It would be several years before the first female driver examiner went to work for Oregon DMV. In the early days all driving examiners were required to wear uniforms. Later, while the women still had uniforms, the men were allowed to wear dark slacks and dress shirts. Finally the uniform requirement was dropped for both sexes and all examiners were simply required to dress neatly. Many Oregon driving examiners carried a badge to identify them while they were on the job.
Original historic license plates, records, correspondence and photographs are stored at the DMV, 1905 Lana Ave, Salem, Oregon.

Click on the following links to view images of the following items:

'When the highway system was first designated, there were a considerable number of ferries, some of which were operated by the counties on a free ferry basis and others operated by private parties as toll ferries. The Highway Commission took over all of these ferries on the system. Until such time as the bridges could be built, the ferries were operated as free ferries. There were originally six ferries on the Oregon Coast Highway. These were replaced with bridges in 1932 and 1935 at a total cost of $5,900,000. We have found that ferries are, at best, a very unsatisfactory arrangement.' (excerpt from a letter from R.H. Baldock, State Highway Engineer, dated November 6, 1945).

To view historic ferry photos, click on the link below.

To view a map of automobile ferry routes, as they appeared in 1935, click on the link below:
Map of Ferry Routes, 1935

Highway Equipment
'The first building constructed in 1918 on the Penitentiary Brick Yard site proving inadequate and also the storage space adjacent too small in area, arrangements were made with the Warden of the Penitentiary and the Board of Control whereby the penitentiary relinquished the entire brick yard site, removing it to a plot of ground directly east on the condition that the department pay for the cost of extending the spur track and the necessary materials to put the new grounds in shape.
In February, 1919, Congress passed a bill which authorized the Secretary of War to transfer to the Secretary of Agriculture all available war materials, equipment and supplies not needed for the purpose of the War Department but suitable for use in the improvement of highways and provided that the same be distributed among the Highway Departments of several states.' (excerpt from the Fourth Biennial Report of the Oregon State Highway Commission, 1919-1920).

Click on the following link to view images of highway equipment.

"Interviews are the most common method of selection", says Gene Huntley, personnel director for the Oregon State Highway Department and author of this article. And he has a few suggestions:
"As soon as possible, relax and be yourself. You should have neither the attitude of fawning and scraping, nor of cockiness. Show confidence, but do not brag. If you have been in trouble with some other employer, discuss it openly. The personnel man is not a tyrant, and if there are other factors in your favor, you still may get a job. At any rate he will probably find out about it later anyway." (excerpt from Western Construction, Vol. 28, No. 12, December 1953).

Click on the following link to see historic photos of some employees:

Road Construction
'Multnomah County had the best system of gravel and macadam roads in the Northwest until recently, but the increased use of that comparatively new means of conveyance, the automobile and auto truck, weaving back and forth like shuttles in a loom, caused their rapid deterioration, and it became apparent to those in authority that new methods must be used in road construction and maintenance if these roads were to be able to resist the pounding and grinding which this ever-increasing traffic puts upon them.' (excerpt from the First Annual Report of the State Highway Engineer to the Honorable State Highway Commission of Oregon, 1914).

To view historic photos of road construction, click on the link below.


To view historic photos of tunnels, click on the link below.

Historical Photographic Negatives at Oregon State Archives
The following is an index of photo negatives sent from the Department to Oregon State Archives in the late-1970s for permanent storage:
Oregon State Archives Historical Photo Negatives

If you wish to obtain a copy of a photo, contact them at:

Oregon State Archives
800 Summer St. NE
Salem, OR 97310
Phone: 503-373-0701
Fax: 503-378-4118

or visit the home page at:
Oregon State Archives Home Page
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1964 Christmas Flood

Herman Creek Bridge 1½ miles East of Cascade Locks, Columbia River Highway. 
Herman Creek Bridge, east of Cascade Locks, Columbia River Highway.
The sudden and devastating forces of the flooding that became known as the 1964 Christmas Flood were unequaled in Oregon's history. This disaster was caused by several unusual circumstances of weather, any one of which would have been endurable, but when put together, caused havoc. A freak cold spell hit Oregon about December 13, sending temperatures far below normal for a prolonged period. This was followed by a snowfall which covered the frozen ground in unusual amounts, including 11 inches in Portland. Next came a storm which dumped several inches of rain on the snow and raised temperatures by 30 to 40 degrees. This brought thawing of the snow, but the ground remained frozen so hard that it absorbed practically none of the moisture.

The December flood resulted in 320 separate closures on 125 of the State's 201 primary and secondary highways. The January flood caused 149 closures on 57 of the State's highways. They consisted of slides, inundations, washouts and bridge damage. Bridge damage ranged from minor erosion around piers to loss of the entire structure. (excerpt from a letter from Forrest Cooper, State Highway Engineer, dated December 17, 1965).

View photos of the flood.


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ODOT History and Timeline

Chronological History
Oregon on the Move: A History of Oregon's Transportation Systems, is a timeline which provides an overview to the history of transportation in Oregon, from pre-statehood to the present. Published as part of Oregon's 150 celebration, this document compiles many transportation-related facts and figures from our Department's history.
Oregon on the Move: A History of Oregon's Transportation Systems

Highway Slogans
Past Highway/ODOT Slogans:
  • 1913 - "Get Oregon Out of the Mud"
  • 1957 - "Building Oregon Thru Better Highways"
  • 1958 - "Oregon Freeways...Symbol of 2nd Century Progress"
  • 1961 - "Freeways are Easier"
  • 1967 - "Fifty Years of Building Better Highways in Oregon" (Although the Highway Commission was formed by legislative act in 1913, the state did not actually become a road-building department until 1917)
  • 1978 - "Keep Oregon Green and in the Black"
  • 1986 - "ODOT on the Move"

History of State Highways
The following document is a reference guide only and pertains to the creation, relocation and abandonment of the State's highways.

Produced by ODOT's Geometronics Unit, it also includes Road Establishment files and both state highway and market road maps in the Appendix.
History of State Highways in Oregon

Oregon State Archives
The following links will take you to the Oregon State Archives web site with additional information on the history of the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT): 
ODOT - Agency History
ODOT - State Archives Records

The Oregon State Archives is located at 800 Summer St NE, Salem, OR.


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ODOT Museum


The Highway Division started a physical "historical repository" about 1980. This effort turned into a "museum", located on our East Salem compound. This museum collection has been compiled to preserve the heritage of the Oregon Department of Transportation.

The existing building which houses the collection is in disrepair and is unsafe for the public to visit. However, the artifacts it contains represent much of the history of the Oregon State Highway Department that might otherwise be lost to time and ever-changing technology.  The ODOT History Committee, a volunteer group of current employees and retirees, is in the process of documenting and cataloging the collection, which includes retired rolling stock (equipment), old signs, a limited number of old engineering inspection/survey equipment, old mileposts (both wood and concrete), and other hardware of the memorabilia classification. They plan to create a photo display of some of the artifacts, with accompanying details, so that this collection can be enjoyed by others.

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