KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. — From the high hills above downtown Klamath Falls, the view down 6th Street to the railroad viaduct overpass and beyond is spectacular. It’s also unusual for a town in Southern Oregon.
“Part of the South 6th Street that we know today actually dates to the 1880′s and probably much earlier, out beyond the little town site of Altamont,” says Klamath County Museum Director Todd Kepple. “But there is a gap in between the town of Klamath Falls and Altamont. And so in the very old days people had to drive up by the canal on an old road to get out to the countryside east of Klamath Falls.”
Kepple says what we see today is nothing like the first little road that bounced over the railroad tracks and headed into what is now called the south suburban area.
“It was just over a hundred years ago that there was just a simple grade crossing across the railroad tracks. There’s a big flour mill that stood on the west side of the tracks. So it was around 1906 when they connected South 6th Street with the road out by Altamont and the whole road then became known as South 6th Street. Even though all the other numbered streets end here at the railroad tracks or even further west. South 6th street is the one street that got connected all the way clear beyond Altamont clear out to the Lakeview-Merrill Junction,” Kepple explains.
It was also one of the first street of any length to be paved in Klamath Falls and Klamath County.
“Well, fist it was ‘macadamized’, which means they just put down gravel and covered it with oil and it became a sort of pavement,” said Todd says.
That then led to businesses sprouting up all along the road, from gas stations, to movie theaters and shopping centers.
“Once south 6th street made its way across the railroad tracks then suddenly we had a connection with all of that suburban countryside to the east of Klamath Falls and subdivisions sprang up on both sides south sixth street. Businesses located along South 6th Street, and so that’s why today we have this major thoroughfare.”
6th Street actually begins as north sixth up in the hills above town, comes down through the south suburban area as South 6th Street and continues for several miles clear out to the Highway 140 junction. Todd Kepple thinks that maybe a name change is in order.
“I’ve wondered why we couldn’t try to rename South 6th Street,” Todd says. “Seems like we ought to be able to come up with something more creative. Something that evokes more of an image of something more befitting of the beautiful countryside, or the rich heritage and history we have here. So I would like to see somebody put together some kind of a naming contest and see if we can’t come up with something better. ”
Until then, just as it has for a hundred years, this bustling boulevard of business will remain the only numbered street in Klamath Falls that extends beyond the railroad tracks as a commuter and commerce lifeline to this community in the sun.