For those of you who have spent many hours driving up or down through Washington, Oregon, and California: what was this trip like a hundred years ago? Here’s a fascinating Western motor car route guide from over 100 years ago at the Library of Congress and my own observations, ending with the Hotel Oregon in Portland.
The 1915 guide reveals much about this emerging road-trippin’ trend from San Diego, CA to Vancouver, BC.
In 1915, Oregon and California had only recently established their DMVs. Oregon didn’t yet require a driving license. Railroads and streetcars were at their peak. Cars were beginning to be mass produced.
For example, Ford’s Model T had been in production for about 8 years with a top speed of about 40 mph on a good road. A full 10 gallon tank of gas could take you about 200 miles.
It would have taken a good deal longer to travel the route than it does now! So, it’s not surprising that the Guide marks about 15 places with a red ‘X’ for overnight stopping. Here’s Oregon.
Note also that the ads are not for motels but for hotels.
That's because the word motel wouldn’t exist for another decade from the time of this ad in 1915. The word motel would come about as a development of this new car motoring culture, as a hotel designed for easier road-tripping. How so? Because rather than having to park in a garage, as this ad suggests, a motel allowed you to park right in front of your room.
Also, when was the last time you thought ahead on a car trip to make sure there was a car repair shop available? Right. Cars haven’t always been so dependable. Look closely and you’ll notice that the ads are for hotels plus repair garages. The ad paired each hotel with a garage because travelers would want a secure place to park their car and get repairs. Thus, the garages advertised that they have the necessary supplies to get you on your way.
How about fire concerns? Note that nearly all the garages advertise not just storage and repairs but fireproof storage. Fire damage was a major concern. Here’s the ad for the Portland and Medford stops.
In Portland, the Hotel Oregon at the corner of Broadway and Stark (what is now Harvey Milk St.) assures you that it’s the “Headquarters for Automobile Tourists,” and like most of the others, operates on the European Plan (meals not included). It could run you $1 to $5 per night. The Hotel Medford has “Running Hot and Cold Water, Steam Heat and Private Phone: Elevator”, and if that’s not enough to get you, many rooms even had a private bath.
From downtown Portland, you could drive or take streetcars to the local sights. For instance, the amusement park up on Council Crest offered a wonderful view of Portland. (The amusement park closed when the Great Depression hit, but the view remains!)
Next time you go road-trippin’, be sure to enjoy your reliable car, your private phone, and private bath.
This link will show you the entire guide.