News and information from our partners

Rowdy River

Chapter IX in Keith McCoy's column

Chapter IX


The White Salmon River has been a troublesome, costly barrier to transportation development.

The earliest government maps show that access to the back country followed the traditional Indian trails. The difficult route from Husum Falls to Camas Prairie -- Glenwood up the Rattlesnake Creek drainage was the earliest route and the first access to the Trout Lake Valley. A primitive road was carved out from Gilmer Valley across the ridges to Bear Valley and up the east side of the White Salmon River to a treacherous ford above the present Weingartner Bridge.

County help with the developing road system was painstakingly slow. For example, in 1910 residents of the Glenwood Valley and those who lived along the Rattlesnake Creek road sought county help. Klickitat county simply did not have the funds required. Their engineering department did, however, provide some surveys for improvement, took steps to obtain proper rights-of-way and supervised much of the improvement work.

Those who lived along the route provided most of the labor on a volunteer basis. The several Myles brothers, for example, subscribed so many days of work with their teams. Some offered 13 days, others signed up for 26 days. White Salmon merchants were asked to donate to the fund. The average subscription was $3 or less. some of the big spenders such as Banker Charles R. Spencer, gave $19. He was topped by G.F. Jewett with a $20 donation. This project covered only the several miles from Husum to the Twin Mountains pass above Gilmer Valley. Further improvement awaited a similar project of volunteer labor and donations.

The Oak Ridge road, a shorter route from Husum to Gilmer Valley, was built and gradually improved on a similar basis. Hopes for a road from BZ Corner to Gilmer Valley finally captured more county support. The first survey, up the west side of Gilmer Creek, was stalled by costs of the proposed bridge across the White Salmon River. In 1915 the project finally took off with an altered survey and less expensive bridge site.

Though a rudimentary road was pushed down the west side of the White Salmon River in the 1890s, it remained just that for many years. Ankle-deep in dust in the summer, equally deep with mud in the winter.

Our "forgotten corner" of the State of Washington saw two major changes in the mid 1930s. One was building of Bonneville Dam that changed forever the wild, free-flowing Columbia and backed Lake Bonneville up over much productive bottomland and into the estuary of the White Salmon River.

And it was in 1937 that the five tunnels between Cook and Underwood were opened, at long last giving this area a water-level highway westward to Vancouver. Prior to that time tedious detours from Underwood to Cook and through the mountains to by-pass Cape Horn were the rule.

It was then, and only then, that the state Department of Transportation paid much attention to developing, improving and maintaining the Highway 14 laterals such as SR 141.

The bridge across Rattlesnake Creek was built in 1937, and the new bridge across the White Salmon at Husum Falls was built in 1940. The vastly improved highway, SR 141, ran from its junctions with Highway 14 at Bingen and Underwood to Trout Lake at MP 25. Then it runs west to the Gifford Pinchot National Forest boundary. County and Forest Service roads trend northward at Trout Lake and ramble over Mount Adams foothills for 53 miles to Randle. This scenic shortcut to the Seattle-Tacoma area is open in the summer and fall months only.

The White Salmon River has also been a troublesome, costly river to bridge. It has been spanned at the most appropriate places. One of the first bridges, of course, was that built in 1908 when the SP&S Railway came down the north side of the Columbia. The state of Washington funds and maintains a bridge on Highway 14 and two on Highway 141. Klickitat County, with 10 bridges, has had the bulk of the cost. There are three private bridges spanning the river and one on U.S. Forest Service roads near Mount Adams.

Many of the bridges provide spectacular views of the turbulent White Salmon below. For example, the 120 foot span across the river at BZ Corner is more than 90 feet above the river. It gives the effect of looking from atop a nine story building to the raft launching points below.

It is interesting to note that the original steel truss bridge that spanned the river at BZ Corner was moved when the present cement bridge was built in 1957. The old bridge was moved to the Weingartner bridge site near MP 17.1 and is now a private bridge some 70 feet above mean river level. A tortuous trail leads down the cliff to a favored kayak launch. The kayak fraternity now calls it the Green Truss bridge -- and the wild river miles below are also known as the Green Truss section.


As the country was developing, almost any small settlement could obtain a U.S. Post Office. More often than not it was in the farmhouse or store of the current postmaster. Early day mill settings such as Bristol, Dorr and Robertsville had offices.

Over the years the White Salmon River drainage area has had 22 different post office. Now there are six. Improvement of the road network brought consolidation, just as it did with the schools. Some post offices, of course, died with the mills that supported the village they served.

Possibly the most familiar sight on these developing roads -- and during the birth and demise of post offices -- were the rigs of Wyers Stage Company. Teunis Wyers got his first horseback mail contract in 1894. During World War II he was honored as the mail carrier with the longest continuous service in the United States -- 50 years. Determined to hold on to his mail delivery contracts, he let his other businesses, including contract school bus service, make him low bidder for another 20-some years.

Underwood, at the very mouth of our Rowdy River, seemed to have everything going for it except enough riverfront land. Its early ferryboat and steamboat facilities were first class and it was on both the railway and North Bank highway as they developed.

During the so-called Apple Boom its hotels and bar were crowded as vast acreages were cleared for orchards on the volcanic slopes above. It was particularly busy during the construction of nearby Condit Dam in 1912 and 13. Location of the Underwood Fruit and Warehouse Company there seemed to assure growth of the town. But the limited riverfront land and a series of unfortunate fires ended the dream. The busy market burned in 1948 and the fruit warehouse moved to a more spacious site in Bingen. Then closing of the Indians' in-lieu fishing site boat ramp to others further limited activity at the once-busy town.

Husum, too, had its day in the sun beginning during the Apple Boom. It was the center of much of the orchard development and soon boasted a hotel, a church, a school and a market that prospered for many years.

The original post office, established in 1880 as Wilkensheim, was renamed Husum in 1880 and continues to this day. Except for the Husum Hills Golf Course, very little happens there now. Husum Falls is the starting point for some kayaking and a portage point for much of the whitewater rafting.

The johnny-come-lately village of BZ Corner really started in the late 1920s when the genial Billy Biesanz bought up a substantial acreage and started selling lots in this strategic point where the Gilmer Creek road leaves Highway 141. It has grown and survived while some of the other hoped for towns -- particularly on the Snowden-Appleton plateau, withered and died with the sawmills that once supported them.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment


Information from the News and our advertisers (Want to add your business to this to this feed?)