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Lewis & Clark's Columbia River - "200 Years Later"
"St. Helens, Oregon ... Belgian Blocks"
Includes ... St. Helens ... Belgian Blocks ...
Image, 2011, Basalt Cobblestone Quarry, Ridgefield NWR, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
"Belgian Block", Basalt Cobblestone Quarry, Ridgefield NWR, Washington. Image taken September 23, 2011.

St. Helens Quarries ...
The community of St. Helens, Oregon was at one time home to many quarries, some of which mined stone for "Belgian Blocks", used to pave many of the streets in nearby Portland.

Belgian Blocks ...
Belgian blocks, introduced to New York about 1850, were so named because they were first used in Brussels, Belgium. Belgian blocks are of a unique shape - narrower at the top than at the base - rather than of a stone type or source location. Fitted together, the blocks made for sturdy roads.

NOT Ship's Ballast ...
According to Harvy Scott (1890, "History of Portland") and other researchers, the Belgian blocks used in the roads in Portland, Oregon, were made from locally mined basalt from quarries in St. Helens, Oregon, Ridgefield, Washington, and some mines in the Columbia River Gorge. The basalt was NOT transported here as ship's ballast. However the granite brought in as ship ballast WAS used in Portland crosswalks. This differs from the Belgian blocks used in the roads in Tacoma, Washington, nearly 150 miles north of Portland. According to Peter Callaghan ("Tacoma News Tribune", April 13, 2011), Tacoma's cobblestones were "repurposed granite ballast from ships returning from England or sandstone blocks cut from the mine in Wilkeson".

Portland Streets ...
Beginning in 1885, Belgian blocks made of basalt mined at St. Helens, Oregon, and then at Ridgefield, Washington, were used on the heavily traveled streets in Portland, Oregon. Parts of Front, First and Second streets were paved with the locally-mined blocks while the granite brought in as ship ballast was used in the crosswalks (Harvey Scott, 1890). Today, if construction unearths these Belgian blocks the City of Portland is saving them, cleaning them, and then re-using them in historical projects.

St. Helens' Quarries, 1909 ...

Broken Rock.

"The largest part of the broken rock brought to Portland is quarried on the bank of Columbia River, a short distance below St. Helens. This locality is about 30 miles northwest of Portland, but direct tidewater connection makes the expense of transportation very low. The quarries are in the bluff about 100 feet above the river, and all of the products are loaded on large scows by gravity. The rock is a fine-grained augite andesite of nearly black color, which outcrops in prominent ledges, usually presenting well-marked columnar structure. It occupies an area of about 2 square miles, extending westward to the railroad. The amount of material available is very large. One of the principal products of the quarry is paving blocks. The large amount of waste which results is crushed, screened, and shipped as crushed rock for road material. More than 2 tons of this rock were sent to St. Louis, for working tests in concrete to be made later. The rock is free from honeycomb structure, very dense, and exceedingly hard, but somewhat brittle. Notwithstanding this latter quality, working tests demonstrate that it possesses great toughness when used as a component of concrete. It is sold for $1.50 a yard on the dock at Portland."

Source:    N.H. Darton, 1909, Structural Materials in Parts of Oregon and Washington: U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin 387.

Map, 1928, Columbia County, Metsker, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
HISTORICAL map detail, 1928 Metsker's Columbia County, St. Helens Quarry Co., St. Helens, Oregon. Original map courtesy "HistoricMapWorks.com" website, 2017.
Image, 1909, St. Helens Quarry, Oregon, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
HISTORICAL PHOTO, Lower Quarry, St. Helens, Oregon, as seen ca.1909.

"Lower Quarry near St. Helens, Oreg. In Andesite used for paving blocks and crushed rock." Source: N.H. Darton, 1909, Structural Materials in Parts of Oregon and Washington: USGS Bulletin 387.
Image, 1909, St. Helens Quarry, Oregon, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
HISTORICAL PHOTO, Upper Quarry, St. Helens, Oregon, as seen ca.1909.

"Upper Quarry, Crusher, and Loading Incline, South Bank of Columbia River near St. Helens, Oreg." Source: N.H. Darton, 1909, Structural Materials in Parts of Oregon and Washington: USGS Bulletin 387.


  • "The Sunday Oregonian", February 28, 1904 ...
  • "The Columbia Register", July 8, 1904 ...
  • "St. Helens Mist", September 1, 1911 ...
  • "St. Helens Mist", April 23, 1915 ...

"The Sunday Oregonian", February 28, 1904 ...
Will Quarry Belgian Blocks.

"ST. HELENS, Or., Feb.27. -- (Special.)
The letting of the contract for 640,000 Belgian blocks for paving the streets of the metropolis will be considerable help to the business of this community, as the blocks are to be quarried here, necessitating the employment of a large number of men whose wages run from $2.60 to $8 per day. Two quarries will be operated. One on Milton Creek, and the other below town, known as the Listers' quarry. The latter has several feet of loose rock over the quarry and this will be barged to Portland, crushed and used on the city's streets."

Source:    "The Sunday Oregonian", February 4, 1904, courtesy Historic Oregon Newspapers archives, University of Oregon Libraries, 2014

"The Columbia Register", July 8, 1904 ...
"The Sister's quarry below St. Helens is being run full blast. The rubble is shipped by barges to Portland and other points for street improvement. Jack McKie has a large contract for Belgian blocks. There is no finer rock in the world than that taken from the St. Helens quarries for street pavements."

"Jack McKie has finished his Fort Stevens contract and is now filling a contract of 450 tons of rock for the Vancouver barracks, which will be shipped from the Sister's quarry by barge. He has also a contract for 150,000 Belgian blocks for the City and Suburban railway of Portland."

Source:    "The Columbia register", July 8, 1904, courtesy Historic Oregon Newspapers archives, University of Oregon Libraries, 2014

"St. Helens Mist", September 1, 1911 ...

"After an investigation consuming several weeks in time, during which all the different methods and materials used in street paving were carefully considered, the city authorities of Portland have unanimously decided in favor of Belgian blocks to be used on all streets where heavy traffic is expected.

The awarding to Jeffrey and Bufton of one of the largest single contracts for street paving in the history of Portland is an event which will result in incalculable benefit to St. Helens and Columbia County. This community, possessing as it does, by far the largest supply of basaltic rock suitable for the manufacture of Belgian blocks in the State and of easy access will find through the decision of the Portland authorities, a ready market for an immense amount of this stone in the shape of Belgian blocks and crushed rock which is used in making the concrete foundation on which the blocks rest.

This contract, for which Philip Bros. of this city will furnish the blocks, will require 950,000 blocks. Laid down in Portland these blocks are worth $44 per thousand or a total of $41,800, which will be disbursed in this community in the following proportions: labor, which is by far the largest beneficiary, will receive in round figures, $33,250, leaving a balance of approximately $8,550 for the stone and transportation.

Figuring on a basis of two hundred blocks per day per man, which is a fair average, this means 4,750 days work, or 95 days steady employment for 50 skilled mechanics at good wages, beside the small army of laborers, teamsters, blacksmiths and others necessary in handling a contract of this magnitude.

Stone men are jubilant over the decision of the Portland officials and predict a bright future for the St. Helens stone market. It is believed that the awarding of this contract on Friday the 25th of this month, will lead to other and larger ones in the near future; in fact it is confidently expected that a similar contract will be let during the fall or early winter months, and the prestige that has been attained by St. Helens stone, leaves but little doubt that this stone will be specified by the Portland officials."


"It is with pleasure we congratulate St. Helens on the continued good prospects in the paving block cutting business. The contract recently secured by Philip Bros. for 950,000 blocks to be laid in the 14th street district, around the North Bank Depot in Portland, and another contract of equal size for the same neighborhood filed for publication by the city engineer, will mean great activity in the stone business in this city.

These two contracts will bring about seventy thousand dollars into St. Helens and Houlton.

It is gratifying to see that the authorities at Portland recognize the superior qualities of stone paved streets for heavy traffic.

Both the stone crushing plants are running day and night and this years output will double that of any previous year.

Any city that can supply men with steady employment and the good wages that St. Helens does needs no special boosting.

Such a condition makes this city a place where industrious men deserve to come and make a home for themselves."

Source:    "St. Helens Mist", September 1, 1911, courtesy Historic Oregon Newspapers archives, University of Oregon Libraries, 2014

"St. Helens Mist", April 23, 1915 ...
Multnomah Authorities Might Be Induced to Favor Local Product In Their Paving Work.

"St. Helens, the home of the Belgian paving block, should forthwith present its claim in a forcible manner to the authorities having in charge of the work of paving the seventy miles of highway in Multnomah county as a prospective, meritorious and deserving candidate as the supply source for a great deal of the material to be consumed in that enormous volume of public work. This claim would not have to be based upon any sentimental assumption, but upon the fact of genuine merit, backed by dollar for dollar value.

There is no patent paving material that is in any manner whatever a competitor of the Belgian block in point of durability. A pvaement laid with the idea of carrying heavy traffic, certainly should be laid with no other material. This, of course, is the foremost reason for presenting the cause of the Belgian block to the consideration of the prospective customer.

However, its claims for favor are many. In the first place, the Belgian block is strictly a home product. In this respect, also, it has no competitor. And further, too, being a strictly home product, all the expenditures in its employment as a paying material would immediately flow back into the channels of home commercialism. Furthermore, Belgian blocks is the only paving material which has no cost for the raw material. Nature's lavish hand in placing this superior basaltic formation at our disposal has made it possible to utilize it at a comparatively low cost.

A Belgian block pavement is the only one that can be guaranteed to stand up under heavy traffic. It makes no difference what other class of paving material is used or by whom it is placed, the consumer cannot expect to have a guarantee of its durabiltiy. No contractor will guarantee patent paving material at all. With the Belgian block no guarantee would be necessary. Its durability has for many years been an undisputed fact.

The portion of the highway from the oil tanks, in the vicinity of Linnton, to Portland, is, no doubt, carrying the heaviest traffic of any section of road in the state. Approximately 100 ten-ton auto trucks make the trip daily from the tanks to the city. No ptent paving can long withstand such a severe test. The distance from the oil tanks to the city is approximately two miles. It is proposed to surface that section of the highway to a width of eighteen feet. For that work it would require approximately 900,000 regulation-size Belgian blocks, and even though the first cost of the improvement by the use of stone blocks were greater, the ultimate cost would be nominal, as future cost of repair would be entirely eliminated.

Portland has sent into the ocffers of foreign institutions during the last decade hundreds of thousands of dollars for paving material. Vitrified, or Seattle brick has been extensively used for paving the streets of the Oregon metropolis. The money so expended built up foreign institutions at the cost of the home product. The test of times has demonstrated the fallacy of such business methods. The use of the wooden block, another strictly local product, and excelled for standing up under heavy traffic only by the Belgian block, ahas been industriously avoided, greatly to the discredit of the authorities and to the financial loss of the community at large. The merit of the Belgian block should be presented to the Multnomah county authorities in the most convincing manner possible by business interests of this community. Certainly, it does seem that out of the great volume of material to be consumed in paving the 70 miles of Multnomah county roads, such a meritorious local material as Belgian blocks should be given the consideration which is due it." ."

Source:    "St. Helens Mist", April 23, 1915, courtesy Historic Oregon Newspapers archives, University of Oregon Libraries, 2014

From the Journals of Lewis and Clark ...

Clark, ...

Vancouver LowlandsReturn to




*River Miles [RM] are approximate, in statute miles, and were determined from USGS topo maps, obtained from NOAA nautical charts, or obtained from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers website, 2003

Sources:    Darton, N.H., 1909, Structural Materials in Parts of Oregon and Washington: U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin 387;   

All Lewis and Clark quotations from Gary Moulton editions of the Lewis and Clark Journals, University of Nebraska Press, all attempts have been made to type the quotations exactly as in the Moulton editions, however typing errors introduced by this web author cannot be ruled out; location interpretation from variety of sources, including this website author.
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May 2015