What’s in a name? In the case of two Clackamas County, Oregon, municipalities: not at all what it first appears.
The names of Boring and Zigzag really have nothing to do with their common meaning as applied to their culture, personality or geographical makeup.
Boring is the namesake of William Harrison Boring (Feb. 26, 1841-Dec. 1, 1932), whose life was hardly like what his surname implies. He served as a Union soldier during the American Civil War in the battalion that distinguished itself in the Siege of Vicksburg in the spring and summer of 1863.
The severe injuries he suffered to his face and throat prompted him to wear a beard for the rest of his life.
After his medical discharge from service, he and his wife, Sarah, left their home state of Illinois and traveled to Portland via San Francisco to meet his elder half-brother, who had traveled the Oregon Trail and settled a dozen miles east of Portland about 20 years before.
William and Sarah put down their roots on 160 acres of nearby land in 1874. He donated land for the settlement’s first schoolhouse, and the residents opted to name their community in his honor.
The community was officially plated in 1903 following the construction of an electric rail line by the Portland Railway, Light and Power Company, and became a major hub of the Pacific Northwest timber industry. Owing to its beneficial climate and soil, Boring also spawned a proliferation of plant nurseries, berry farms and other agricultural enterprises, many of which still operate today.
Boring remains an unincorporated community, its residents having spurned attempts to incorporate it as a village, town, city or other designation.
The community dubs itself — whether as a tongue-in-cheek witticism, a preemptive self-defense gesture or a prospective judo flip of anticipated negative press — “the most exciting place to live.”
On the other hand, furthering its ostensibly self-effacing moniker, Boring has twinned with two foreign sister cities, Dull, Scotland, and Bland, New South Wales, Australia, and uses those pairings in its tourist promotions.
The municipality registered a population of 8,985 residents in the 2020 census and serves as a bedroom community for Portland, the state’s largest city.
Zigzag is an unincorporated community nestled within the Mount Hood Corridor, located along U.S. Route 26, with nary a zig or a zag in its streets.
It was named after the nearby Zigzag River, a tributary of the Sandy River, which in turn is a tributary of the Columbia River. The Zigzag River, though, is no more crooked or geographically meandering than other waterways in the area.
The zigzag concept that would provide the names of the river, community and a nearby glacier was actually first applied to a canyon and ravine near the timberline of Mount Hood, bestowed upon the geography by a party of pioneers in 1845.
One member, Joel Palmer, wrote of their experience crossing the ravine in his journal entry dated Oct. 11, 1845:
“The manner of descending is to turn directly to the right, go zigzag for about one hundred years, then turn short round, and go zigzag until you come under the place where you started from; then to the right, and so on, until you reach the bottom.”
The expedition eventually explored around the perimeter of Mount Hood, and the next year another team member, Samuel K. Barlow, established Barlow Road, a toll road travelers could use instead of floating on rafts down the Columbia River.
The site of one of the toll gates, now a Forest Service campground, featured a post office to serve the community immediately to the west. The post office was established in February 1917 and in September 1918 officially adopted the name of Zigzag.
Notable Zigzag denizen William John Lenz built, along with other structures, the original Zigzag Inn in 1927 from hand-hewn logs. He also built wood furniture and was a hiker, guide, hunter, musician and storyteller. In May 1933, Camp Zigzag, the state’s first Civilian Conservation Corps camp, was constructed and populated with reforesters, trail builders and construction workers who erected buildings at the U.S. Forest Service Zigzag Ranger Station, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.