They were moving the highway across the river, and that meant trouble.

They were moving the highway across the river, and that meant trouble.

The Brownell Motel along Highway 99 in Gold Hill relied on an intermittent tourist trade passing by its cabins, what George Brownell called "the impulse trade."

Their motel was all that Brownell and wife Barbara Jean had. They weren't getting rich, but they had enough for themselves and their two young children.

The Oregon Highway Commission, predecessor to ODOT, had announced early in 1951 that it planned to build a four-mile, four-lane highway bypass of Gold Hill that would eliminate crossing two narrow bridges and all but three shallow curves. It would also be a disaster for downtown business.

In response to a protest letter from the City Council, the commission agreed to conduct a hearing where residents could express their opposition to the plan.

"The commission's proposals doubtless mean loss in revenue to auto court and restaurant owners and others who cater to the transient trade," said a newspaper editorial, "but we cannot help but feel that their objections will be futile."

Brownell agreed. His family's life was at stake, and even before the public meeting was held, he was making plans. He would move his 12 motel cottages to Medford.

"My wife's church is in Medford," he said, "and I hope to find better schools for my children and get a better financial return of my investments."

By November, he had located a lot for sale on North Riverside Avenue, "a better spot," he said.

He obtained special permits that allowed him to carry his heavy and bulky loads over the highway and county roads. He hired moving contractor Guy Cox to handle the project and agreed to pay him about $100 a day for the duration of the move.

It was an 18-mile trip. They began in early December, slowly hauling cottages, one by one, across the Gold Hill Bridge. The cottages barely squeezed through the narrow bridge railings and motorists on the old highway were forced to wait while each passage was made.

Once across, it was a brief trip over the highway until they reached Old Stage Road, where they turned south toward Medford. The grades here were steeper and the curves sharper, but traffic was much lighter.

On Dec. 20, 1951, the highway commission announced it had finally approved the Highway 99 bypass of Gold Hill. By then, Brownell's motel move was complete.

The move had taken 15 days, and everything had gone smoothly, without any problems.

While the cottages were placed and renovated, the Brownell family lived in an old residence that still stood on the Medford property. A coat of asphalt was laid and landscaping around the cottages softened the look.

On Feb. 1, 1952, less than two months after the Brownells' final guest had left Gold Hill, they were back in business — the only Gold Hill business physically transplanted to Medford.

They were back on Highway 99 where business was good, but not for long. In 1962, Interstate 5 was dedicated and made its own bypass of the Brownell Motel.

Sixty years and a few owners later, the cottages still stand — sturdy memorials to the motel that took a drive.

Update: In our Jan. 29 column, we wondered how Oakdale Avenue got its name when Medford was renaming streets in 1909. Reader Scott Clay sent us the answer.

"Oakdale Avenue derived from a developing suburban 'Oakdale' neighborhood at the south end of the road."

Clay said he found early references to the neighborhood in late-1890s versions of the Medford Mail newspaper, a predecessor to the Mail Tribune.

Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at