Saturday, December 10, 2022

Transformation of Shelton Creek to Shelton Ditch was Depression-era Project

What exactly happened in 1934 with Shelton Ditch is for another time, but it is interesting to note that work in the summer, fall, and winter of 1934 was part of the immediate predecessor to the New Deal, a program under the Federal Emergency Relief Administration flowing to the State Emergency Relief Administration. Broadly speaking, Shelton Ditch as we know it today is a Depression-era project. (See yesterday's post for extract from Wendy Kroger's History of Pringle Creek Watershed.)

The 1895 Sanborn map shows the major creeks running into downtown. There is the "stream of mystery," which we have nearly totally lost, but which in flood times has reminded us of its course, and the meandering Shelton Creek, along with a couple of lost branches.

1895 Sanborn shows Shelton Creek
and "stream of mystery"

The USGS maps of 1917 and 1925 show more detail on the braided, distributed network of seasonal creeks between what we now call Mill Creek and Pringle Creek.

1917 and 1925 USGS maps show
distributed system of seasonal streams

Ditching Shelton Creek was a flood control proposal.

September 1928

In 1934 that early Depression-era jobs program, the SERA, funded brush clearing, widening, and straightening of the creek as well as other waterways.

September 12th, 1934

You may remember the name Hedda Swart, who seems to have originated the idea for a Third Bridge. The overlap between flood control and traffic engineering, with the main operation as dredging or ditching, very much analogous with our arterial roads, shows exactly one reason it is proper to call our autoism "hydraulic."

The SERA program also appears to have funded a new ditch between the creek at what is now Airport Road and Mill Creek. (Diagrammed on 1917/1925 map above.)

December 16th, 1934

Inside the city, it is likely that the rock work retaining wall in Pringle Park dates a successor project. On the 1926 Sanborn Map you can see the meandering course of the creek. There it is labeled "South Mill Creek," not Shelton Creek. Pringle Creek is labeled with our current name. (See here for more on the Auto Camp.)

Auto camp in yellow, meandering Shelton Creek
But it was called "South Mill Creek" here!
1926 Sanborn map

The straight section at Pringle Park appears to date from 1935.

May 11th, 1935

The retaining wall might be from 1939.

August 8th, 1939

There is lots of uncertainty here, but it seems clear we should see Shelton Ditch itself, not merely diversion dams and rock retaining walls, but the ditched waterway itself, as a Depression-era project.

The "natural history" of Shelton Ditch is very undernourished here. There are reasons. Pringle Creek, and Glenn and Gibson Creeks in West Salem originate in wealthier and hillier parts of town, and those residents are more likely to participate in Watershed Councils. Mill Creek is much larger and also associated with the Lee Mission c.1840. Shelton Ditch goes through a poorer part of town, and is at least partially associated with the Prison where water is diverted to Shelton Ditch from Mill Creek. Prison labor may also have been used in digging. Finally, Shelton Ditch is "unnatural" in being heavily ditched and a human creation.

But it is very much a non-trivial waterway in Salem, and it deserves more attention.


I forgot that the dearly departed Salem Weekly blurbed part of this! 

Salem Weekly, Aug. 2016

In a 2016 story on "Waterfalls of Salem" (via the Internet Archive), Salem Weekly mentioned the diversion dam built on Mill Creek for the newly excavated portion of Shelton Ditch. It's between Kettle Foods and the ODOT Materials Lab.

1 comment:

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Added clip from Salem Weekly on the diversion dam.