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Currin Substation - the origin of the name

June 23, 2023 Robyn Smith, EWEB Communications

Hugh Currin stands in front of the Currin Substation in the 1960s

In February, after EWEB announced the plan for demolition and reconstruction of the Currin Substation near Garden Way and Interstate 105, the utility received a call from a concerned local historian. Dana Merryday with the Cottage Grove Historical Society asked, "Will Currin remain the name of the substation?"

The answer is yes. The reconstruction of the 60-year-old station will improve future electric reliability and meet modern infrastructure standards, but the name will remain the same. Merryday, relieved to hear the news, imparted the origin of the substation's namesake – Currin.

The Oregon frontier

The Currin family were Irish immigrants that came to America before the Revolutionary War. The sons of Major George Currin, who owned land in Tazewell, Virginia, had migrated to Missouri but found the climate "unhealthy." They were heading for Texas when they read letters that praised the Oregon territory. That changed their minds, and they formed a wagon train headed west.

John and William Currin settled in Cottage Grove with donation land claims in 1852. In the 1860s, sons of George's brother, Wadsworth (Waddy) Currin, joined the brothers in Cottage Grove. Waddy's son, James Knox Polk Currin (JP), was one of three members of the first graduating class from what is now Oregon State University, and he became an influential businessman in Cottage Grove. JP wore many hats, known for his work as a surveyor, pioneer druggist, schoolteacher, merchant, and civic leader.

"In Oregon's frontier, everyone did what needed to be done, and some made it up as they went along, which is why JP had a number of different enterprises," said Merryday.

The J. Polk Currin Swinging Bridge 

In 1900 with Cottage Grove expanding, JP devised a way to connect the town divided by the Coast Fork of the Willamette River by constructing a wooden footbridge. On one side was his drugstore; on the other, he created what was known as Currin Park. JP later donated the footbridge to the city and subdivided the park into residential lots.

Original cottage grove bridge

The original bridge was simple – an uncovered wooden trestle footbridge. Over time it rotted. Numerous repairs convinced the City Fathers that a suspension bridge would be less maintenance. In 1917 the bridge moved downstream to its present location. A Halloween cutting prank and the 1964 Christmas Flood took out two bridge versions. Rot in the towers closed the Swinging Bridge again in 2016 due to safety concerns. Merryday and others as the "Friends of the Swinging Bridge" led the charge for its resurrection. Now, the new J. Polk Currin Swinging Bridge stands firmly over the river with steel towers – not wood, a bridge for the ages.

The new J. Polk Currin swinging bridge

Hugh Currin – EWEB Engineer

JP Currin and his wife, Amelia, had a son, Hugh, and a daughter, Lula. Both children graduated from the University of Oregon and picked up occupations influenced by their entrepreneurial father. Lula became a prominent and long-time high school teacher in Cottage Grove, and Hugh became an engineer.

Hugh worked in Alaska as a plant operator for a mining company and as an electrician for the Eastern Oregon Light and Power Company before he returned to the Willamette Valley and was hired as an engineer at EWEB in 1923. Later, he became the chief engineer for the utility.

Hugh was an engineer for EWEB at a time when the city of Eugene was rapidly expanding, and demand for electric reliability and system redundancy was growing. Hugh helped EWEB prepare for the Walterville Plant enlargement by designing substation equipment to handle the increased generation capacity. He was also influential in the design of the Leaburg dam's gate controls and Eugene's electric distribution system.

After Hugh's three-decade career with EWEB, he retired in 1952, and in the years following, the utility named a new substation for the veteran engineer – the Currin Substation.

Hugh and other water superintendents at EWEB table

Currin Substation update

The rebuilt Currin substation will contribute to improved future reliability by minimizing the frequency of outages resulting from equipment failure or routine maintenance. The substation's new design will also meet modern earthquake standards for infrastructure to withstand the Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake better. The foundations will be larger and deeper so that equipment mounted on them won't overturn or slide during an earthquake.

Crews work on foundation in substation 2023

Crews have finished the site demolition and are now pouring concrete for the new foundation. The station's transformer, which "steps down" high voltage power to distribution levels for homes and businesses, will be welded to a steel plate on top of the foundation. This structural design will provide the desired seismic protection for the substation.

Substation foundation material

The $14.8 million rebuild project is scheduled to finish in the spring of 2024. Another nine substations will follow in the next decade, as outlined in EWEB's 10-year Capital Improvement Plan for major infrastructure investments to rehabilitate and replace aging infrastructure.

Dana Merryday is a Cottage Grove Historical Society member and on the Cottage Grove Museum Board—special thanks to the Cottage Grove Genealogical Society for the information found on the Currin family.