Department of Transportation Records Guide

Agency History - 1843-1913

1843-1913 | 1914-1939 | 1940-1968 | 1969-present

The focus of the early Provisional and Territorial Government on transportation matters centered on roads and waterways as well as the establishment of road districts and road supervisors. All men over 21 were accountable for two days of labor in their road district each year. Fees were accepted in lieu of physical labor or the provision of implements, horses, or oxen to the road project (1843-1849 Oregon Territorial Law, General and Special Laws, Page 17). The Clackamas Bridge Company was authorized to construct a toll bridge "not less than twelve feet wide" to enable crossings by wagon, horses, and cattle across the Clackamas River (1843-1849 Oregon Territorial Law, General and Special Laws, Page 30). Pilotage on the Columbia River was limited from the Columbia Bar to the Willamette River (1843- 1849 Oregon Territorial Law, General and Special Laws, Page 46). Authorization was also granted for two ferries at Oregon City (1843-1849 Oregon Territorial Law, General and Special Laws, Pages 73 and 75). Also in that first session, "John McLoughlin, his heirs, and assigns" were authorized to construct a canal around Willamette Falls on the east side of the river (1843-1849 Oregon Territorial Law, General and Special Laws, Page 81).

On September 19th, 1849 the Territorial Legislature passed an act that established a system for governing pilotage on the Columbia and Willamette rivers. The act required the establishing of a Board of Commissioners responsible for control the industry including setting policy and procedures, investigating complaints and taking action against negligent pilots.

The Territorial Government in 1852 authorized numerous territorial roads primarily spanning the west side of the Cascades and the Columbia River Gorge (1852-3 Oregon Territorial Law).

The late 1850's realized two pieces of legislation concerning marine traffic on the Columbia and Willamette Rivers (1857 Oregon Territorial Law, page 52 and 1859 Oregon Law, page 43) and the establishment of Port Wardens in 1859 (1859-1860 Oregon Territorial Law, page 26).

The Legislative Assembly of 1864 passed an act that established a system for governing pilotage on the Umpqua River. The act required the establishing of a Board of Commissioners responsible for controlling the industry including setting policy and procedures, investigating complaints and taking action against negligent pilots.

In the 1870's legislative focus turned towards road expansion as well as the extension of the railroad into Oregon. 1870 brought an exemption for firemen from having to do roadwork (1870 Oregon Law, Chapter 76). In 1872 the Legislative Assembly approved funds for the construction of a "free" bridge over the Umpqua River at Winchester on the state highway (1872 Oregon Law, page 62).

The Northern Pacific Railroad in was permitted by the Legislative Assembly to bring rail and telegraph lines to Oregon (1874 Oregon Law, pg. 101). That year as well, the Oregon Central Pacific Railway and Telegraph Line was granted military railway and road construction contracts to connect Oregon to the Eastern seaboard by rail (1874 Oregon Law, pg. 103).

In 1880 the Oregon-Washington Railroad and Navigation Company laid track between Whitman, Washington and Blue Mountain, Oregon and by mid 1882, a rail line was completed to Portland.
Realizing the need for industry regulation, the State Legislative Assembly in 1887 established the Board of Railroad Commissioners responsible for the regulation of railroad operations within the state (OL 1887 Ch. LXXIII). Originally the board was composed of two commissioners appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the senate. In 1889 the board expanded to include three members and provided for the assumption by the Board of regulatory duties for warehouses.

By the late 1880's and early 1890's the means for paying for a transportation infrastructure was a primary focus of the Legislative Assembly. In 1889 the payments made in lieu of each day’s roadwork are lowered to $1.50 per day, except for petitioners for county roads, who continue to pay $2 or do a day’s labor opening the road (1889 Oregon Law, Chapter 76). Counties with populations over 10,000 were allowed to levy a property tax and a $2 per person poll tax, both dedicated solely to road building purposes (1889 Oregon Law, Chapter 76). In 1893 another form of raising money was introduced when counties were allowed to levy a $2 poll tax dedicated to county road expenses. County general funds were also made available for building bridges (1893 Oregon Law, Chapter 76).

In 1898 the Legislative Assembly abolished the Board of Railroad Commissioners.

The first automobile arrived in Oregon in 1899 and was owned by E. Henry Wemme. In 1903 much of Oregon’s road legislation was changed, repealed or replaced by HB 280 (1903 Oregon Law, page 262). That bill established a new act for county roads, road districts, taxation and infrastructure spending for Oregon.

In 1905 just two years after the first Model A rolled off the production line, the state began registering automobiles with the Secretary of State's office for a $3 fee (1905 Oregon Law, Chapter 136). Registration certificates were to be "displayed on the back of such automobile, motor vehicle or motorcycle in light-colored Arabic numerals, at least three inches high, on a dark background." Chapter 136 also focused on the duties of the driver by stating that drivers should take every precaution not to spook horses or go faster than 8 miles per hour. Violations were declared misdemeanors punishable by fines.

The Legislative Assembly, realizing a continuing need for industry regulation, created the Railroad Commission (1907 Oregon Law, Chapter 53) to maintain oversight of the railroad industry by monitoring rates, schedules, service, and infrastructure. The Commission was appointed by the Governor, the Secretary of State, and the State Treasurer and consisted of members who would geographically represent the state's interests.

By 1909, the Legislative Assembly enacted legislation on behalf of the railroad industry. The Railroad Commission was granted authority to prescribe contracts for the shipping of livestock and prohibit discrimination against any locality along Oregon's railroads (1909 Oregon Law, Chapters 169 and 97).

In 1909 also marked a great vision for Oregon's infrastructure in Senate Concurrent Resolution Number 22, which outlined the need for a bridge spanning the Columbia River at Portland. A legislative committee was formed to meet with a like committee from Washington State "to initiate this movement for an interstate bridge across the Columbia” (1909 Senate Concurrent Resolution Number 22, page 490). That year another bridge, over the Snake River at Ontario, was also provided funding to commence construction on the Oregon - Idaho border (1909 Oregon Law, Chapter 106).

The annual renewal of motor vehicle license began in 1911 with graduated fees introduced based upon the vehicles horsepower. Motorcycles were registered for $3 and vehicles over 40 horsepower were registered from $10.

Chauffeur registration also began in 1911 (1911 Oregon Law, Chapter 174). The first registered chauffeur was William M. Hodson of Medford. In 1911 the commissioning of railroad track scales was added to the Railroad Commissions duties (OL 1911 Ch. 57). In 1912 the Railroad Commission assumed responsibility for supervising and regulating public utilities except for those operated by municipal organizations

Oregon’s beach highway law went into effect in 1913 after a speech by Governor Oswald West (1913 Oregon Law, Chapter 47). The legislation intended to keep beaches undeveloped to allow motorists beach access between the low and high tidelines. That year the state highway system was also established to "get Oregon out of the mud."

The State Highway Commission was formed and its members included Governor Oswald West, Secretary of State Ben Olcott, and State Treasurer Thomas Kay. The Commission was charged with monitoring the construction of state highways and the actions of the State Highway Engineer (1913 Oregon Law, Chapter 146). The first state highway plan was approved in 1914.

1843-1913 | 1914-1939 | 1940-1968 | 1969-present

Delta On to 1914-1939 narrative

State Archives • 800 Summer St. NE • Salem, OR 97310

Phone: 503-373-0701 • Fax: 503-378-4118 • reference.archives@state.or.us