'Very evocative of what driving was like in the 1920s'

'Very evocative of what driving was like in the 1920s'
McKenzie Highway 242 snakes through the lava fields with the Three Sisters in the background. (Gary Halvorson, Oregon State Archives)

BEND, Ore. (AP) — A much-traversed section of scenic highway linking Lane County to Deschutes County has been recognized for its merit as a significant landmark in Oregon history.

The McKenzie Highway, also known as state Highway 242, was recently entered into the National Register of Historic Places, joining the ranks of about 2,000 other properties in Oregon.

"It represents the cooperation between the state of Oregon and the federal government," said Robert Hadlow, a historian with the Oregon Department of Transportation. "It's something very special."

The 34-mile section of highway connecting Sisters to state Highway 126 near McKenzie Bridge was nominated for entry in 2009 by Oregon's State Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation and officially listed in the register last month.

To win this distinction, proposed properties must go through a review process in which state and national committees consider their historical significance. Among other criteria, a property must be at least 50 years old and communicate the essence of the original structure, said Ian Johnson, historian for the State Historic Preservation Office.

"The highway was definitely made for older, smaller cars," Johnson said. "It's very evocative of what driving was like in the 1920s."

The origins of the highway date back to a wagon route constructed in 1862 through the middle Cascades to link the Willamette Valley to the Bend area. The actual highway was constructed in 1924, when automobiles became the main mode of transportation. Though the highway has been renovated multiple times, it has retained its 1920s-style geometry and alignment.

Johnson added that the road still contains many original features, including narrow and windy sections without highway shoulders. In addition, the highway follows a path initially constructed in the 1920s to promote tourism and recreation in Oregon, with its sweeping vistas of mountains, forests and lava beds.

"It was aligned to make an impression on tourists," said Johnson, adding that certain curves along the highway were meant to frame and showcase one of Oregon's most scenic regions.

The property has been eligible to be listed in the register for years, said Hadlow, and is in league with other highways significant to Oregon's past, including the Crater Lake Highway. The McKenzie Highway also features the Dee Wright Observatory, a mortared-rock structure that provides panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and lava rock fields.

The highway's recent listing in the register does not necessarily change anything in the way it will be maintained, said Johnson, but serves as a way to highlight the highway's impact on Oregon's national forest recreation and early transportation.

"They're still gonna pave it, stripe it and plow it like usual," Johnson said. "But with it being listed now, it really allows its story to be told more readily."


Information from: The Bulletin, http://www.bendbulletin.com


Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.