5. Early Routes‎ > ‎

052.020 Steamboats

During the Steamboat Era (1851 - 1920), more than two hundred vessels worked the lower, middle, and upper segments of the Columbia River.  (Roads, Rails and Riverboats Interpretive Sign, Bridal Veil State Scenic Viewpoint)

Stern-wheeled (or side-wheeled) steamships began plying the river in the 1850s...  
(Willis 17)

Nard Jones' novel, Swift Flows the River, is based on the steamboat era of the Columbia centering about the Cascades.

Construction of a series of locks at the Cascade portage, discussed by congress as early as 1870, was delayed repeatedly.  The Cascade Locks finally were completed in November of 1895.  Hundreds of excursions passed through the 3,000 foot canal and its lifts over the next few years.  Their busiest year was 1905, when 1,417 boats passed through.  (Durbin 18)

Steamboats in rapids, approaching Cascade Locks, Columbia River Highway, Oregon
Beinecke Library. Sawyer Scenic Photos Set, Photo 14

The success of the Cascade Locks spurred a demand for more locks to boost shipping and passenger service between Portland and Idaho.  This pleased residents of small communities that had been bypassed by the railroads.  (Durbin 18)

In 1915, locks were completed at Celilo, providing passage around the raging Big Eddy Rapids. (Durbin 18)

Yet passengers and wheat farmers were in no hurry to use the river route.  "A fine paved highway was being built up the south side of the Columbia from Portland and almost immediately it became the most talked about piece of road in the Northwest," wrote Stewart Holbrook.  (Holbrook, qtd. in Durbin 18)

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