Ridgefield is a rich slice of Americana, an unspoiled town seemingly trapped in time so it can nurture the tranquility, natural beauty and community kinship that craft its Norman Rockwell-esque charm.
Pioneer Street and Main Avenue are clean and lined with shops and original eateries run by friendly neighbors. The old houses on side roads ooze character. Full-bodied firs and evergreens frame every outdoor image as adorable dogs promenade the sidewalks and children burn off energy on the Davis Park jungle gym across from the community center.
This country cubbyhole is where U-Haul originated 70 years ago, just a 30-minute drive north of Portland on the Carty family ranch.
U-Haul has not forgotten its history. Neither has its native city.
“We are very honored to have U-Haul here to celebrate its 70th anniversary,” Ridgefield mayor Ron Onslow said. “Our ancestors are the Cartys and the Shoens and all of their buddies, so it’s permeated throughout our community. People here are very proud of that fact. They want to know, ‘Where is that house where U-Haul started?’ Well, it’s right here north of town. It’s a curiosity keepsake. We’re very proud of it and the new residents that come in can accept that pride, also.”
Another source of Ridgefield pride had been an old sign that welcomed people to town and declared it the birthplace of U-Haul.
As part of Ridgefield’s Heritage Day celebration on Sept. 12, which doubled as a 70th anniversary tribute to the industry leader in do-it-yourself moving and self-storage, U-Haul representatives presented Onslow and the town with a new black, orange and white sign to display at a location of their choosing.
The presentation capped off an afternoon of U-Haul speeches, stories, acknowledgements and displays for Heritage Day. Outside the community center, U-Haul showcased a 20-foot truck (TT) with a special Ridgefield SuperGraphic alongside two antique trailers, including one of the original wooden trailers constructed in 1946. Inside the center, tables of old U-Haul photos and historical newspaper clippings, a detailed U-Haul timeline, toys and trinkets from yesteryear and tributes to Company founders L.S. “Sam” Shoen and Anna Mary Carty Shoen lined the walls.
Practically every seat in the center was claimed by the time U-Haul began its ceremony at noon as hundreds of townspeople filed into the banquet room – many of them Ridgefield High graduates from the 1930s and 40s and classmates or friends of U-Haul pioneer Hap Carty.
Hap, the younger brother of Anna Mary, helped Sam build the first U-Haul trailers and was later in charge of the Northeast U.S. rental companies before becoming president of U-Haul International, Inc.
Hap told the audience about his grandfather’s uncle being the first settler in Ridgefield and how his ancestors left Ireland for the U.S. to become gold prospectors. He reminisced about how U-Haul got its start after Sam and Anna Mary unsuccessfully attempted to rent a trailer for their belongings while moving from Coronado, Calif., to Portland in 1945.
And Hap recounted the many obstacles that U-Haul overcame in its early years, including licensing regulations for its trailers in the 1950s when states had differing laws.
“(Sam and Anna Mary) set out on a mission – not on a business, but on a mission – to get that service available for the public,” Hap explained. “The mission that U-Haul has had is to put Portland, Oregon; Portland, Maine; and every other city in America on every American’s horizon. If he wants to go there, he can do it in an economic way. That’s the way we think of our equipment. That’s the way we do our business.
“Anna Mary was raised here in Ridgefield. She had that (can-do) spirit. I lived with them when they first left Ridgefield and moved to Portland. I lived with them for two years. I sat at the breakfast table with them. I know what they talked about and serving customers was their goal, and that’s the goal we have at U-Haul today.
“I’d like to thank the people of Ridgefield for the spirit I see here when I come back to visit. It’s the spirit that made U-Haul. It’s the spirit that made America a great country. I’m proud of Ridgefield and I’m proud of everybody here.”
Henry Kelly, Vice President of Industrial Relations, and Ron Frank, Executive Vice President, also spoke on behalf of U-Haul and conveyed the message that customers will continue to come first.
“U-Haul has constantly upgraded what it needs to do in response to the customer,” Frank said. “If the customers want changes, we change.”
It may not appear that Ridgefield has seen as much change as U-Haul, which relocated from the Pacific Northwest to Phoenix 48 years ago. But Ridgefield’s population is growing faster percentage-wise than any city in Washington, according to a May 2015 article in The Columbian.
And to accompany that change and Ridgefield’s new residents, there is a more fitting sign to remind the town that its roots are every bit as important as its future.
“This is where it all started,” Onslow said. “People are always impressed by that. Now we have a new sign and we can all be proud of that sign. The old sign was more like the old wooden trailers that U-Haul used to have. Everything got modernized. We’re growing and you’re growing.”
Did you attend Ridgefield Heritage Day or do you have a U-Haul memory to share in light of our 70th anniversary? Please share with us in the comment box below.