That Hazel Dell once almost was named Basilville is a tribute to a Belgian boy who arrived in this country broke and rose to become the most influential person in the community just north of Vancouver.
Basil Dhanens landed in New York City June 10, 1913, a frightened 9-year-old orphan boy who could not speak a word of English. He traveled across country alone and arrived at Portland’s Union Station six days later with ” a dollar and a half, six inches of hard sausage, a piece of black bread and a bar of hard chocolate in my pocket.”
The boy stayed with relatives in Portland, then moved with them to a Vancouver farm where he milked cows in the morning and spent afternoons trying to find a job. His first work was picking up nuts, bolts and washers at the SP&S railroad maintenance shop on 39th Street.
He graduated to a lathe and learned the machinist’s trade. On April 1, 1923, Dhanens started one of Hazel Dell’s first businesses in a simple wooden building on the northeast corner of Pacific Highway (now Hazel Dell Avenue) and Poor Farm Road (now 78th Street). He called it Basil’s Garage.
By the late 1920s, Dhanens had moved his shop to the southeast corner of what is now the intersection of 78th Street and Highway 99. He sold and serviced Ford automobiles and farm equipment. In an attached machine shop, he built his own biplane, which he flew in the early 1930s, taking off and landing on a strip adjacent to his business.
Over the years, Dhanens built a regional reputation as an amateur weatherman with his own weather station, which featured a 50-foot tower. He went on the radio at noon each day with five minutes of weather information.
Dhanens also drilled a 170-foot well on his property and ran a one-man water department, supplying water to nearby homes and across Highway 99 to the Totem Pole restaurant and service station. He operated the water department until the late 1950s, when the Clark County PUD took it over.
Dhanens had such a great effect on the growth of Hazel Dell that local businessmen at one time wanted to change the name to Basilville. However, Dhanens declined the honor, with thanks.
Dhanens died in 1972 at age 77.