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Backsights

Historical account from the Gorge Heritage Museum files

(Second of Two Parts)

The condition of our roads and highways may be on the minds of area commuters these days as notices abound in our local newspapers of work to be done on the Hood River bridge, SR 14, SR 141 and 142 and various rural roads in Klickitat County.

Locally, the transformation of SR 14 [Steuben Street] through Bingen is a wonderment to behold, with all utilities being put underground and with concrete being poured daily. The prime contractor is to be commended for the smoothness of traffic flow provided during this construction project, saving us from some of the woes suffered by other communities having similar projects in this region.

To hark back to 1922-24 when Highway 8 [now SR 14] was constructed, Highway 8-C [now SR 141] through Bingen and White Salmon was still a county road.

The roadway was realigned by County Engineer August Hanson (a local who was born and raised in Glenwood) and the present right of way was transferred to the State of Washington in the 1940s.

One can see portions of earlier routes near the Dry Creek crossing; one above the present roadway and one below the roadway and just west of Dry Creek. (As an aside, Dry Creek at this point to its mouth generally followed Jewett and Oak Streets, although early maps seem to ignore its location. If one looks east on Steuben Street (SR 14) from the Bingen Post Office, the highest point of elevation of the roadway is likely the center of the alluvial fan of the original location of Dry Creek which, before 1924, has been moved to what is now much of its present artificial location.)

The photo accompanying this article depicts the wooden stairway from the base to the rim of the bluff, passing adjacent to and west of the A. C. Ziegler home and connecting to an approximate extension of south 1st Street in White Salmon, before that easement was vacated in the late 1940s. The home and stairway were destroyed in a 1950s bluff fire and while the date of the stair construction is elusive to me, it intersected Dock Grade and continued to the base of the bluff to serve as pedestrian access to the Columbia River.

Dock Grade, constructed more than a century ago to serve as an alternate route from that which is now SR 141 through Bingen, helps to relieve local traffic congestion but as a city street is subject to periodic debate as to its widening or making it one-way to serve increasing traffic. It is necessarily closed at times during the winter, since portions of the grade vary from 8-15 percent.

In 1912-13, a means of transporting goods from White Salmon to the SP&S Railway was studied by the engineering firm of Newell, Gossett & Walsh (who also surveyed and designed the Condit Dam project for Northwestern Electric Company). While they concluded reconstructing a new 6 percent grade would cost some $28,000 the expense of hauling freight over such a route, considering the 500-plus feet or so of elevation difference, would not prove feasible. They suggested an incline tramway as an alternative with an estimated cost of $50,000.

Otis Elevator Company offered an agreement to White Salmon for a single car counterweighted on a double track for approximately $7500-8500 with the purchaser to lay the twin rails. The location proposed in 1914 was on a portion of the Lauterbach property, about 300 feet west of a southerly extension of what is now Garfield Street in White Salmon, and would have terminated some 600 feet east of the old Arnold Store location, at the site of the present Bridgemart, just east of the north terminus of the White Salmon-Hood River bridge.

Keith McCoy, in his Enterprise column of February 14, 1991, offered additional facts about this tramway. My information was derived from the materials in the Gorge Heritage Museum, located at 202 E. Humboldt in Bingen, which is open now through September on Thursday-Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., through the support of its membership, volunteers and donations.

The museum files and library are available for research at no charge to members during regular hours or by appointment throughout the year.

If you wish to support the museum by donation or membership write to PO Box 394, Bingen, Wash. 98605, call 509-493-3228 during open hours, or at other times to leave a message, or 493-3111 to contact the current president.

(Backsights is to be the name of this column, although some fun [ha,ha] was had with the opening title due to a verbal misunderstanding).

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