|Volume 4, Issue 7||
Bonny Slope–pioneers, bootleggers and developers
By Virginia Bruce
[Much of the material for this article came from the booklet, “The Bonny Slope Story,” by Violet Frost, third grade teacher at Bonny Slope School, published around 1969. The original booklet is available as a reference item in the Cedar Mill Community Library. Other material is from "Cedar Mill History" by Nancy Olson and Linda Dodds, with additional information supplied by long-time area residents.]
“Basically, the boundaries of Bonny Slope remain as they were originally platted by Western Oregon Farms, a development company, in 1931,” writes Ms. Frost. “A general description would include Saltzman Road on the west, both sides of Laidlaw Road to the north, both sides of McDaniel Road to the south and east, with Thompson Road running roughly through the middle, east and west., and continuing north slightly beyond its juncture with Laidlaw Road.” Bonny Slope straddles the Multnomah-Washington county line.
Ridges and valleys crisscross the area, often at right angles to the crest of the Tualatin Hills, contributing to the ruggedness and the often unspoiled beauty of the terrain. The headwaters of Bronson and Willow Creeks are both within Bonny Slope, and the many tributaries of each create a region rich with wildlife and wetlands, even as development surrounds them, thanks to increasingly protective policies from government agencies.
The soil of Bonny Slope is a thin layer of silt
blown up from the valley with volcanic bedrock not far below the
surface, as many a developer has discovered when digging utility trenches.
Frost explained, “It has
been a long hard struggle for the wide variety of vegetation which
exists today to become established since the area has been plagued by devastating
forest fires, the most recent of which was in 1951. Today brush and
deciduous trees predominate where once stood a dense stand of timber.“
Potter’s Mill located near NW Laidlaw was one of the earliest businesses. It was founded around the turn of the last century, at a time when mechanization was being adapted to the lumber industry. E.O. Potter purchased the mill from Charles Thomas in 1903, and began to replace oxen and horses with steam engines and other innovations. By 1908, Potter had designed and installed a pole road, in which the concave wheels of the steam train fit over convex poles or rails. A wooden-frame bed loaded with timber was attached to the wheels and run by a pulley system that hauled the logs to the mill pond (now the pond in Forest Heights).
In addition to providing employment, the operation was responsible for improving several local roads leading to the mill site. Potter used some of his timber to plank NW Saltzman and Thompson roads to accommodate the steam engines and their heavy wagons. One old-time resident, Nels Nelson, stated that all the original roads were logging roads coming down from Skyline, and were all excavated by horses. Once established, local residents kept up the corduroy, plank and mud roads. A saw, an ax, and a shovel were required tools as residents set off to work two and one-half hours early in order to arrive on time. Think about that when you curse the traffic that delays your commute!
Sawmills at that time were portable and were moved about to take advantage of the remaining stands of lumber. The last mill was moved in and operated for about six months to salvage timber following the 1951 forest fire. This 1600-acre blaze occurred in August as tinder dry forests succumbed to what may have been started by a campfire or arson.
“Mitchell’s Shake Shop and the Bonny Slope Store both had burning embers on their roofs but equipment was there to put them out. The Shake Shop became headquarters for a Rec Cross Canteen unit, which later moved to the Bonny Slope Community Club,” wrote Frost. “If the 1951 fire was bad, the 1940 fire was worse!” she wrote. “Seven houses, eight other buildings, and 3000 acres were engulfed before it was stopped on Sunday, August 19.” One resident recalled, ”As the fire came close, the furniture was carried into the yard preparatory to moving it to Skyline Blvd. for safety. CCC boys sprayed water over the house from the roof and the house was saved but all of the furniture burned!
Violet Frost writes, “Although access roads have been slow in coming to the area, it is, nevertheless situated as it were at the doorstep of Portland. The era of Prohibition gave rise to a class of outlaws who distilled and sold spirits. They were able to successfully camouflage their illicit activities while being close to the ready metropolitan market.
“Mr Nelson had
a twinkle in his eye as he tells the story of ‘Frenchie’ an
intrepid moonshiner who hollowed out a tree stump, out of which
vapors from the still dissipated and mingled with odors of burning
stumps. Mr. Nelson recalls that he thought this stump was an incredibly
long time in “burning,” Frenchie’s
wares were peddled in Portland, along with vegetables that he
Improvements come slowly
Although suburban development has erased the boundaries of early settlements, Bonny Slope was a self-sufficient community at one time. A small grocery store, a barber shop, a church and a malt shop were located at the intersection of Laidlaw and Thompson. The Bonny Slope Community Club and Bonny Slope Park were established on Thompson, and a general store operated in the building that still stands at the corner of South and Thompson up until the mid-90s. The country between Bonny Slope and Cedar Mill was forest and farms.
Local roads and other amenities were established as a result of petitions circulated on foot by residents who saw the need. W.H. McDaniel circulated a petition for the establishment of McDaniel Road in 1928. Less than a year later, a petition was filed for the establishment of Thompson Road, that would “provide a county road for a large area of farming lands now without a road, will afford an outlet toward the city of Portland…will furnish a road for children residing in said territory to reach school, and that said proposed road is necessary for the public travel and is a public necessity.” Laidlaw Road was finally approved in 1932.
Most of the rest of the older roads in the area were dedicated when the area was platted in 1931 by Western Oregon Farms, with C.D. Bruun as developer. At the beginning of the Depression he subdivided into mostly two-acre lots, built inexpensive unfinished houses and sold them to people to finish as they wished. These were called “starter houses,” and according to longtime resident Jerry Hoffelner, “there’s one of those old houses inside most of the homes you see around here now.” All around Bonny Slope you can find these small homes and the larger homes that resulted from a succession of additions and improvements.
Violet Frost wrote, “People had mixed feelings about C.D. Bruun. Some deplored the inexpensive “starter’ houses as being unworthy of the view sites and claimed that they would attract an undesirable element. Many were glad in those depression days to have a roof over their heads that they could afford. Low down payment and easy terms were attractive, while others countered that the interest rate was excessive.”
Up until recent times, Bonny Slope had a reputation of being a rough area full of “hicks from the sticks.” Jean Hoffelner recalls that when she was attending Beaverton High School she told her friends that she lived “between Cedar Mill and Skyline,” to avoid admitting to being from Bonny Slope.
Now the proximity to
Portland, better roads, and the beauty of the natural area
has attracted some of the most expensive development in the region.
As a result of the Urban Growth Boundary, infill is turning every
two-acre property into a dozen large homes on small lots. How many
of these new homeowners even realize that they live in Bonny Slope?
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