How Did the Banfield Freeway Get Its Name?

Was there a Dr. Cyrus Q. Banfield back in the day who became famous as Portland’s first veterinarian? (Spoiler: There wasn’t.)

How did the Banfield Freeway get its name? I tried Googling, but all I can find is stuff about Banfield Pet Hospital. Was there a Dr. Cyrus Q. Banfield back in the day who became famous as Portland’s first veterinarian? —Big Dog

Shortly after World War I, a young Army lieutenant colonel—some schmo named Dwight Eisenhower—decided to test our nation’s transportation infrastructure by leading a convoy of 81 motorized military vehicles from Washington, D.C., to San Francisco. The trip took 62 days, a pace that suggests that, in 1919, it would have taken just over 111 hours to drive from Portland to Pendleton.

Maybe the real trip didn’t take quite that long, but it’s hard to overstate how sketchy to nonexistent the American highway system was in the first half of the 20th century. Even when someone built a road you could make decent time on, development would just spring up alongside it to slow traffic back to its usual crawl.

Plans for a modern-style, limited-access expressway (a new and radical concept at the time) through Sullivan’s Gulch began as early as 1926…but then came the Great Depression, and after that World War II. Before you know it, it’s the Atomic Age, and we’re still taking seven hours to drive to Troutdale. Embarrassing!

Finally, in 1947, the Oregon Legislature created the legal framework for controlled-access highways, and construction of what would become Interstate 84 began in earnest. Among those who shepherded the project to completion was its namesake, Thomas H. Banfield, chairman of the Oregon State Highway Commission and noted nonveterinarian. (The chain of pet hospitals took its name from the freeway near its first office.)

Did Banfield get his name on the expressway because his contributions to it towered head and shoulders above those of everyone else? He was a big part of the effort, no doubt—but his real master stroke was becoming gravely ill and retiring from the Highway Commission before a name had been settled on.

There’s nothing like imminent death to get folks to recognize your work, and the remaining commissioners duly voted to name the new road the T.H. Banfield Expressway on Aug. 22, 1950. Banfield himself would die just nine days later, but thanks to this honor his name will live forever. (Or at least until dogs learn not to eat chocolate.)

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