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Little Gaston born after two and a half years in labor

An old News-Times supports the Bilderback's findings.The city of Gaston celebrated its centennial this past Monday, April 14, 2014. Its official date of birth is listed as April 14, 1914, although by then, Gaston already thought it had been a city for two and a half years.

The city’s difficult birth and growing pains are a classic example of the trouble many early rural Oregonians had adapting to government rules and regulations.

The town’s roots were planted about 1868, when Joseph Gaston purchased parts of several Donation Land Claims and created a site from which to supervise the construction of his railroad from Hillsboro to Corvallis and the draining of Wapato Lake for agriculture.

Joseph Gaston was a man of many talents and professions, including newspaper editor and lawyer. He was not very successful as a railroader or farmer, however, and by 1896 he had given up on the railroad, the lake draining, and even the community that bears his name.

Joseph Gaston moved to Portland and rarely returned. In 1910, he wrote four thick volumes of Oregon history, the most thorough and complete work of its kind. He mentioned nearly every nook and cranny of the state, without a word about the town that bore his name.

By 1911, Gaston had been a community for more than 40 years, but lacked any formal government. People drew water from wells, used outhouses as toilets and relied on the sheriff to deal with criminals. In 1911, however, community leaders felt the need to create a fire department and hire their own town marshal. They went before a county judge who approved the plan, as did Oregon’s Secretary of State. On December 11, 1911, the Gaston Common Council held its first meeting.

The first couple of years were spent figuring out how to pay for police and fire protection. The town already had a volunteer bucket brigade, so it became the first formal city department in 1913, followed by a paid marshal. Neither cost much. By 1913, however, the Council was wrestling with bigger expenses, including a desire for rudimentary water and sewer systems.

Townspeople began to grumble about the city overstepping its authority, and when the Council voted to demand that residents stop pumping raw sewage directly into the streets and to pay for their own sewer hookups, dissention grew. When the Council passed an ordinance authorizing the marshal to arrest those who didn’t comply, dissent grew to the point that city needed a new paid contractor: an attorney. The attorney suggested that the city should essentially start over.

Using the initiative process — a revolutionary concept at the time — citizens called for an election to decide if Gaston should remain a city. Citizens also drafted a formal charter to answer such questions as whether the city had a right to levy taxes or to sell bonds to finance public works. A special election was called for April 14, 1914, to address the issues. A new city and a new charter were created that day when 79 voters in the town of about 240 people voted 62-17 in favor. The turnout would have been smaller, if it weren’t for another milestone that day: This election marked the first time women were allowed to vote in city elections.

For the next 50 years, the city structure remained pretty much the same, its primary function being the maintenance of police, fire, water and sewer services. The following 50 years, however, would see many changes. In 1968, the city got out of the fire business and let the Gaston Rural Fire District take over. In the 1970s, the city outsourced most of its sewer services to what is today Clean Water Services, and in 2004, Gaston got out of the police business, contracting instead with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.

Happy 100th birthday, Gaston!



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