The Historic Pacific Highway
Vancouver to Castle Rock
The Columbia River is a magnificent scenic state boundary. It is also a formidable one. Since the first days of settlement in the Columbia basin, the sweep of the great river has divided commercially the communities which are now called the Oregon and Washington shores. For a generation, the people of both commonwealths have asked the question; "When and how will this barrier to communication, traffic and commerce between two states be blotted out?" The answer is, "By a highway bridge!"
After crossing the Interstate bridge over the Columbia River, the traveler enters Washington State and Clark County. The county has an area of about 656 square miles and a population of about 425,000. The soil is clay on the uplands and in the bottom lands along the Columbia River, the soil is made up of rich loams and decayed vegetable matter, which raises immense crops of grass, grain, potatoes and other root crops. The fruit orchards of Felida and Sara are a special feature, where apples, pears, peaches, cherries, prunes, plums, small fruits and all kinds of berries, all do exceedingly well.
The Pacific Highway heading north out of Vancouver, followed the 1870 Military Road road between that city and Salmon Creek. This early road was narrow and because of the terrain, the crossings of the creeks had steep hills leading down to the fords. Crossing these streams during the high water months could mean life or death and many perished in the cold waters.
Burnt Bridge Creek is roughly 12 miles long and flows in a southwest direction toward Vancouver for about 7 miles where it bends and then flows in a northwest direction for about 5 miles through a small canyon and empties into Vancouver Lake. The canyon floor is covered in lush vegetation home to an abundance of waterfowl.
Salmon Creek, is 26 miles long and flows westerly across Clark County and empties into the Lake River about 2 miles north of Lake Vancouver. The creek's headwaters are on the northwest side of Elkhorn mountain and it is the largest tributary of Lake River. Clark County is divided by Salmon Creek and all overland traffic going between Vancouver and the Lewis River except for the Lower River road must cross over this creek.
Whipple Creek is located 7.5 miles north of Vancouver. The headwaters of the creek are near the intersection of NE 179th St. and NE 15th Ave., just east of the freeway. The creek drains westerly into Lake River, and is now a part of the 12 square mile Whipple Creek watershed.
Across the East Fork of the Lewis River on the south side of La Center, was the notorious La Center Hill. The wagon road, constructed in 1878, came down this hill from Pioneer to the river crossing. Before the first bridge across the East Fork was built in 1883, the county put a free ferry in at the crossing. It was said that the citizens of La Center showed their appreciation by letting the ferry float off at the first high water.
The town of La Center is located on the East Fork of the Lewis River 16.5 miles north of Vancouver and 4 miles southeast of Woodland. It is situated at the head of navigation on the East Fork, though smaller boats could make it up as far as Stoughton, which was about 2.5 miles upstream from La Center, but only if the water level was not too high or not too low. Before the arrival of the Europeans, the Lewis River was called the Cathlapotle by the Chinook. The river was renamed later for the first European settler, Aldolphus Le Lewes.
Before 1915 on the Pacific Highway leading northwest out of La Center, there was a notorious incline that was known as Hawk's Hill. The top of the hill is located at the intersection of NW Bolen Road and NW 9th Avenue. Many of the roads in and around La Center were built in the late 1870's and early 1880's by William Bolen and other town residents. NW Bolen Road built about 1883, originally terminated at the bottom of the hill near the mouth of the East fork of the Lewis River. By 1900, the road had been extended to the Woodland ferry.
The Lewis River Valley where Woodland will be founded was first known as the "Bottoms" by the early settlers of the 1850's. Later in the 1860s, the Bottoms became known as Pekin. The village of Pekin began a few miles south of Woodland near where the Military Road crossed the river. The name Woodland started out as the name of the farm that was owned by Squire and Mildred (Millie) Bozarth. Millie named the farm Woodland, because of the many fir trees that grew there. Some of the early locals had called it "Forest City."
Martin's Bluff has been overlooking the Columbia river for eons, watching the water flow by on its way to the sea. The bluff is high and rocky, about a mile long, and is situated between the river and the freeway and is located about 5 miles northwest of Woodland. The area is rugged and hilly and there wasn't much human presence there until the 1850's. The town of Martin's Bluff was a mere flag stop on the mainline and was nothing more than a small village with a store and post office.
The city of Kalama is located along the Columbia river about 35 miles north of Portland. The town is situated on a narrow piece of land between a bluff and the river. The terrain around the town has prevented it from expanding very much. This was one of the reasons Kalama never grew into a larger city. Before the railroad came in 1871, there wasn't many people living there.
The Lower Columbia river ferries associated with the Pacific Highway were between; Goble and Kalama, Rainier and Kelso and the last ferry put into service was the Long-Bell ferry that ran between Rainier and Longview. The other lower river ferries were; the Portland-Vancouver ferry and the Astoria ferry. The only ferry still operating on the lower Columbia is the Westport-Cathlamet ferry, also known as the Wahkiakum county ferry. This ferry is operated and maintained by the Washington Department of Transportation. It is a scenic trip and well worth the time to cross on it. You will see an abundance of waterfowl and lush aquatic vegetation. You might even get a picture of the seals playing on the shore.
The first bridge over the Kalama river was a wooden wagon bridge. On the north side of the bridge was an elevated roadway that continued across the bottom land. It is unknown exactly how long the trestle was or when the bridge and elevated roadway was built. It may have been constructed in the late 1880's. The bridge was located about 400 feet east of the freeway. The south approach was built on a steep hillside that required a ledge to be excavated in order to reach the bridge.
The Pacific Highway between Carrolls and the Kalama river runs along the cliffs above the Columbia river for 1.5 miles. This was a difficult section of road for the early motorist. In 1909, the first heavy rock work was undertaken when a new road was blasted out of the cliffs. This work was done using convict labor. All of the heavy rock work throughout the state was performed by convicts. The convicts volunteered to do the work and were well feed and clothed. Work was completed in 1910 and this section was improved again in 1915. The corner on the "point" was smoothed in 1920 with a new cut.
The city of Kelso is located opposite Longview near the mouth of the Cowlitz river 38 miles north of Vancouver. This area is the ancestral home of the Lower Cowlitz people. The Cowlitz tribe consists of 2 groups, the Upper and the Lower. They lived in small villages along the river. One of the most extensive ethnographic and historical descriptions of the Cowlitz was that of Edward S. Curtis. In The North American Indian he wrote;
Rocky Point is a small mountain of blue basalt about 250 feet high, overlooking the Cowlitz river about 2.5 miles north of Kelso. The mountain is like a thumb sticking out blocking the path of the river and rises steeply forcing the water to flow around it. This is a natural barrier for north-south overland travel. When the Northern Pacific (N. P.) completed its road through Kelso in 1871, they had to blast a ledge to get the tracks around the point. This dangerous curve was considered the worst section on the entire line between Portland and Tacoma.
Before the Pacific Highway was improved in the 1920's, it was a narrow road with many steep hills and sharp curves. After a good rain, the road across the swampy bottom lands would become a sea of mud. The highway through Cowlitz county was squeezed between the steep hills and the river making it one of the worst places to build a highway. About 2 miles south of Castle Rock was a notorious curve that was known as the "Devil's Elbow." The road had rounded the steep hillside on a narrow curve that had blind spots at both ends. Cars going around the curve could not see if an oncoming car was approaching. This made for some wild scenes of cars swerving to avoid an accident. Most motorists were lucky in negotiating the curve, but some were not as fortunate.