Book Review: Hillsboro

Hillsboro (Images Of America), by Kimberli Fitzgerald and Deborah Raber with the Hillsboro HIstoric Landmarks Advisory Committee

As someone who lives at present just outside of the city boundaries of Hillsboro, it is striking to note just how small Hillsboro was in terms of area for most of its history.  While Hillsboro has certainly always had ambitions to be a major city and has engaged in some very clever behavior (including snagging a desirable source of water) to try to build up a reputation in farming and trade, for most of Hillsboro’s history it was a very small town that was heavily based on timber and agricultural related business as well as serving as a somewhat sleepy suburb of Portland.  Obviously, its days as a sleepy little town are over, though, and this book indicates little by little how this happened, how it was that a town that had less than 1000 residents just over a century go has more than 100 times that amount now, thanks both to drastic changes in the city itself as well as in massive annexation efforts that swallowed a great many of the smaller communities like Orenco that were once independent communities of their own, until Hillsboro has become a city of its own.

This book of a bit more than 100 pages is divided into six chapters and begins with acknowledgments and an introduction that discuss the material in the book and its context, given that Hillsboro has always been the county seat of Washington County from the time it was created in the 1850’s.  The book begins with a discussion of the Atfalati and East Tualatin plains where natives cut off from the rich fishing of the regions major river valleys were engaged in farming (including prairie-burning efforts) from time immemorial until the area became desirable for local settlers (1).  After that the book discusses the early history of the town, when it was known first as Columbia and then becoming Hillsborough in honor of a prominent local man named Hill (2).  After that the book deals with the latter part of the 19th century when Hillsboro started building hotels and businesses and entered the 20th century with a fair amount of ambition (3).  Immediately after that the city’s growing up from a saloon town famous as a “sin city” is discussed (4) before the book shows some photos of the 1920’s, the Depression, and the Second World War period (5).  Finally, the book concludes with a discussion of the changes that took place in the second century of Hillsboro’s existence, not only in the city core itself but in outlying areas like Orenco (6).

In reading this book, I was struck by how much understanding of it depended on having a local knowledge of the area.  As someone who lives and works and travels within the bounds of Hillsboro on a pretty regular basis, there was much I found here that I enjoyed.  I smiled at the street references, knowing how Cornell looks at present as opposed to how it looked decades ago when the airport was relatively new, for example, or knowing the location of Shute Park and being intrigued by how different it is now that the sports pavilion has been torn down for one of the city’s two libraries.  I enjoyed the sight of the old courthouse, knowing that the current county courthouse there was once a place where marching bands used to play and where square dance exhibitions have been held, and where the streets of the city were once swept by matrons supporting the election of Eisenhower in 1952.  And there are poignant photos too, for example of a Japanese family that was interned and were fortunate enough during those dark times to have neighbors who helped keep up their farm so that when they returned they were able to pick up despite the years of the locust.  And although I am a relative newcomer here, there is much about this town and the gap between its reality and reputation, between its ambitions and its achievements, that cannot help but be intensely Nathanish.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, Book Reviews, History and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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