In the Beginning …
To tell the story of the Historic Oak Trees that grace the Orenco Max Station stop at 231st and Alder Street in Hillsboro, Oregon might take a long time. A really long time because the trees are somewhere between 150 and 250 years old. Considering the first settlers came to Washington County after the time these majestic White Oak Trees were young adults one must imagine how this place was back then. They may have been out of the acorn phase when Lewis and Clark came down the Multnomah Channel and sent their scout- James Logie (Logie Trail) up to the top of the Tualatin Mountains to have a look into the Tualatin Valley.
Logie was likely the first non-native American to look onto the rich valley that now comprises Hillsboro, Forest Grove, Beaverton, and Aloha, Oregon. Somewhere due South and a little to the East from his vantage point at the top of the ridge (at Skyline Blvd and Logie Trail) James would have seen the Historic Five Oaks near what is now Shute Road and Jacobson Road. Those now famous Oaks were the original meeting location of Joe Meek and the Mountain Men and the Tualatin – Atfalati Indians also known as the Kalapuya Tribe.
Logie would have also seen the lesser known grove of White Oaks to the South at Orenco which was likely another meeting location. The history of “Logie’s Trail” indicates that it is not his but rather it is thousands of years old and that it continued off the Columbia through the Tualatin Valley to the South – sort of an inside passage North and South for tribes moving between the rich Wapato fields and hunting grounds and the Columbia River basin. That tells us that these Oak may well have been planted by the Indian tribes to create meeting spaces; the Tualatin Valley was covered with massive Old Growth Douglas Fir and these Oaks provided an open break in the canopy as they were big enough to prevent other trees from growing. Meetings and trade were known to have been held under such Oak groves. Read More about the Kalapuya Tribe rigth here!
Provenance – the authentication of the History of an item. That is what these Oaks do for the Valley- at least in their lives.
The Modern Era Comes To The Orenco Oaks
So the Oaks at the Orenco Max Station are very Old. They are older then anyone that ever has set foot in the Tualatin Valley; in fact they are older then the last 5 generations of Americans.
The Orenco Oaks are markers in time and the place that a Million wishes were made, kisses were given, and a spot where countless sunrises, sunsets, rain and snow storms, and more have happened.
“As a kid I hung in them. I swung on them from a rope and they gave me cover in a storm or two; these 3 masters of the Canopy provided me shade on many a hot Summer day as my friends and I strolled along the railroad tracks of the Old Oregon Electric Railway. I collected their Acorns partly to launch out from my sling shot, some I fed to my legendary Nubian goat “Willie” at our Dogwood Street farn, and some I collected just because they were shiny and made me feel rich to have when I had nothing else.”
We all knew we were leaving the Old Orenco neighborhood and heading West to Hillsboro or the Fair Grounds as we passed those Oaks. They whispered to us “Travel safely and come back soon with stories to tell…”.
Old Oaks like stories.
It is in fact the reason they live so long; they listen really well and if you listen back they will tell you tales only your wildest imagination can fathom. They live to hear and to tell stories and in the telling they find their purpose and meaning and a reason to add another ring to their lives each Spring.
All three of them, those mighty giants, were there for me and a thousand kids like me in those times.
But they say all good things must come to an end. One day One of them was removed; wiped from the Earth and fed to soulless machines of steel and smoke and noise.
And it is the “How” and the “Why” of it’s death that bothered me the day it fell and to this day still does.
So I want to chronicle this momentous point in time as Orenco is growing to the Sun with new high rises and throngs of new comers. It is important that a local boy, now a white bearded man, tell of these friends of mine and why we all need to care so much.
Authors Note: You might want to stop reading all of this and head down to the Orenco Max Station (when they are done with the 2015 construction) and park yourself under these mighty Oaks on what Trimet calls ‘The Witness Tree Rest” and have a rest and witness what I am writing about.
In the early 1990’s the folks at Trimet were planning for the MAX Light Rail Westside Blue Line along the freight rail line, which in fact had replaced the Oregon Electric Railway in the 1930’s. Funny how a good idea like electric rail trains comes back and is a hit! Well the Hillsboro folks were crazy about this new commuter train and all the people it could move and development it would bring; tax dollars, trains, jobs, money, and more money. It was Go!
BUT… in the Orenco Townsite lives a band of Rogue free-thinkers; they were here in the early part of the 1900’s and I am happy to say many are still here. What I know, having moved away from Orenco during this part of my life, is that the town folk here fought the light rail and wanted assurances that their way of life would remain. They commented on everything to do with this new MAX train and it’s potential and obvious impacts both good and bad. A LOT of discussions were had about the Orenco Station and where it was going to be located. It was thought to be a natural that the stop could go right back into the Orenco Townsite here across from my Home where the Orenco Station was originally located.
Having no where to park on Alder Street, which is all of 14 feet wide, the decision was made to move it West to the corner of NW 231st and NW Alder Street. A great spot for it truly as the land there North of the tracks was vacant and ready for redevelopment with lots of room for parking; at least we all thought there was.
These rogue neighbors went so far as to fight the entire concept of the Westside Light Rail and many of them were primarily concerned about the Oaks; back to them now.
It was the subject of many a speech and regulation and promise that the Oaks would stand for “all time” and be a beacon of development and history meeting at a cooperative crossroads to make something great happen. After all Old Oaks, these Old Oaks, had not had many stories in recent years and still had many to tell. So new people coming West and traveling under the Oaks was a wonderful thing indeed. When the fighting stopped and the promises were sealed with a handshake construction commenced and from 1993-1998 the MAX LIGHT RAIL BLUE LINE was built; under the watchful eyes of the Rogues and the Oaks. It was a cohesive albeit tentative arrangement.
In 1998 the power sizzled through the lines and the trains began to run through Orenco. The Oaks were alive like never before and for many years the Orenco Station Max stop with the many tie-ins and art works provided a new energy and a quite lovely result with a few hiccups. The trees were healthy, getting older, but more and more people were stopping by to say Hello, mind you most of them had not one inkling as to the importance or the age of these trees.
On into the new Century we came and the Oaks saw another 100 years pass. The three friends stood together musing over this new modern world and remembering all that had come before but never forgetting the Indians and many friends they had come to know along the way.
So it was that change had come and resolved itself in Old Orenco and even the old timers griped a little less when the MAX went by and made its “WHOOOSH”. The Oaks were happy and doing well. Old and New was working and it seemed the promises made to the Oaks to save them was one made in earnest.
THINGS CHANGE – Promises Begin to Waiver – Orenco Oaks In Trouble
In about 2012 plans began to take shape for a massive undertaking with the vacant land around the Orenco Oak Trees. It was a plan made by developers to truly rival anything that had been done at anytime in the history of Hillsboro, Oregon or the West Side of Portland for that matter. What would be known as The Platform District was drawn up on a computer and was taking shape virtually.
The Walsh Company along with Metro had signed contracts to sell all of the land it owned along the Orenco MAX tracks; much of it part of the original ORENCO (Oregon Nursery Company) holdings.
Several articles began to fly around announcing that The Holland Company, a large developer, was seeking a Master Plan Approval for the location and some of the plans included high rise structures adjacent to the Oaks.
In time this would all lead to one of the the three friends loosing its life; long before it was ready to go. While there was talk of the Northern most Oak being sick many speculate it was not. But one thing is for sure. It was in the way of the auspicious development plan.
Here are a few links to stories that cropped up by their time line that dealt with this issue:
- 25 June 2015 – Holland, Hillsboro arborists met with skepticism surrounding arborist report on Orenco oak trees
- 19 July 2013 Hillsboro parks to recommend removing 2 of 3 oak trees near Orenco development
- 25 July 2013 Revised tree report shows Orenco oak in much better shape than initially thought
- 30 July 2013 – The Largest Of Three Oaks Will Not Be Cut After All
- 3 August 2013- Commission Says One Tree Must Go! Portland Tribune
- 20 August 2013 – Holland Partner Group Release Designs for Plaza- Oregon Live
- 27 August 2013- Cheat Sheet For the $120 Million Dollar Project and The Orenco Public Plaza
- 2015 – Public Plaza – Platform District – Holland
Video From 25 June Meeting – noted Above-
Despite the best efforts of many to save that tree it was all for naught.
The Tree was cut friends. And it was not pretty. Was it sick? Maybe. Maybe not. I have a 12 ” cut from the bottom of the tree now and it is quite clear from looking at it that is was in pretty darn good shape.
There were as you will read in the links above significant efforts to cut the largest Oak along with the Northern Oak but thanks to the amazing efforts of our neighbors and in particular Dan Bloom the Giant was saved. It was the matter of great controversy that the arborists the City and the developer relied on pulled a 180 and blamed machinery when Dan challenged their findings on that second tree. From the moment he did that is was less then 24 hours until the consulting firm admitted a mistake and recanted on their claim the second Oak was dying and rotted.
There is not enough thanks in the world that any of us can give to Dan Bloom for saving the tree- in doing so he retained the spirit at least of what the Oaks stand for.
Dan Bloom Challnged this report and reading on the tree and applied to bring in a second consultant-
One day later this is what happened.
Nothing will ever bring it back but we as a community may be able to honor this fallen giant and offer some solace to its two remaining friends.
Look for that story in the next few Weeks- Holland makes good on it’s promise!
Here are more pictures to enjoy of the Oak Trees and the setting at the Orenco Max Station-