[Early photographers in the gorge] helped create a mystique surrounding the gorge even before the first roads penetrated the chasm. ... [They] introduced the world to a romantic vision of the gorge even before most Portland residents had seen firsthand the scenic glories of the gorge. (Durbin 16-17)
In the Early 1900s, photographers Sarah Hull Ladd and Lily White, members of wealthy Portland families, lived aboard a large houseboat in the Columbia and made photographs of gorge landscapes filled with soft light, clouds, and dreamy atmosphere. The women also photographed Indians who lived in the gorge. Their photos, used in travel brochures and magazines, attracted some of the first waves of tourists. (Durbin 17)
The potential benefits [of the CRH] were many. In addition to opening a new route for immigrants to western Oregon and Washington and expediting commercial trade between Portland-Vancouver and eastern connections, [Sam] Hill believed such a road would provide the motoring public with views of the sublime beauties of the Columbia River Gorge, as well as bring visitors from all over the world. (Reddick viii)
Oregon "boosters" believed the war [WWI] would cut off travel to Europe, encouraging people to vacation within the United States, and that the scenic highway would attract tourists from all over the country. Tourism would be, they believed, an ideal way of stimulating the local economy - without damaging or depleting the state's scenic resources. Dozens of articles extolling the virtues of Oregon and the Columbia River Highway were published, and after the completion of the scenic highway, Sam Lancaster took stereoptican slide shows around the nation to further publicize the beauties of Oregon and the Gorge in particular. Even the Oregon Bureau of Mines and Geology added "boosterism" to its other duties. In 1916, they published "Some Little-Known Scenic Pleasure Places in the Cascade Range in Oregon" by Ira Williams. In the preface, William's query rings oddly familiar:
WIlliams' study [Geologic History of the Columbia River Gorge As Interpreted From The Columbia River Highway], originally titled The Columbia River Gorge: Its Geologic History, was first published in November 1916, but because of its great popularity as an interesting and beautifully illustrated guidebook, it was reprinted in 1923 with added references to recently constructed tourist facilities. Beyond scientific information, the book provides an accurate, thorough, and detailed description, as well as a panoramic "view" of the highway at its inception. In spite of its apparently scientific bent, this publication, too, begins with a promotion for the development of tourism. Williams states unequivocally: "Oregon's scenery is a vital commercial asset that awaits development only." (Reddick x)
Rooted in the Jefferson tradition, the philosophy of work as the ultimate American virtue and Progress as an edict from heaven was most dramatically illustrated in the writings of the man who designed and built the highway. Sam Lancaster wrote The Columbia, America's Greatest Highway - Through the Cascade Mountains to the Sea (1915). A splendidly illustrated little volume with "hand-tinted" photographs, it differed from Williams' book in a number of ways. The Columbia was not a step-by-step tour of the Gorge but a miscellany of history, geology, excerpts from early pioneer diaries, and Indian lore. Clearly influenced by the preservationist views of of John Muir, the book was ideal for the romantic tourist -- heavily laden with poetic and deeply spiritual descriptions of Lancaster's favorite places in the Gorge. A devout Southern Baptist, the author perceived the natural beauties of the earth (and the good fortunes of certain men) to be directly attributable to God, as he revealed in the dedication of his book to Sam Hill:
More objective, but no less poetic, Williams' descriptions of the Gorge and its geologic processes allude to no deity, but often lend a glorious anthropomorphic animism to the river, sediments, and lava flows. Although meticulously scientific in his approach, (his field assistant, J.H. Bretz, would become a distinguished geologist in his own right), Williams idealizes the relationship between natural forces and human ingenuity and, with no dearth of poetry in his descriptions, even cast the Columbia River in the role of composer and director with the Gorge as a theatrical setting -- Man and the new Highway as stars:
Today, we find that the Columbia River Highway's significance has expanded beyond its importance as a brilliant engineering feat and a critical commercial land-link through the Cascades to the Pacific. The old scenic road has indeed provided Oregon with an opportunity for increased tourism and, in spite of its gradual deterioration and partial abandonment, has remained one of the most admired and heavily traveled routes in the state. (Reddick xii - xiii)
After I-80 (now I-84) opened, by-passing Latourell, tourist traffic on the Columbia River Highway declined precipitously. After the State of Oregon purchased the Latourell Falls Villa in 1959, it razed the landmark and added the land to Talbot State park. Today the former vibrant community of Latourell is quiet, there are no business establishments and few residents compared to its earlier years.
Clarence E. Mershon, The Columbia River Highway: From the Sea to the Wheat Fields of Eastern Oregon
Stephen Mather's plan for a national scenic highway touring the National Parks; including the Columbia River Highway.
Mather joined forces with automobile clubs, good-roads associations, local governments, and car manufacturers to lobby for a national park-to-park highway linking all the western parks. He believed this scenic highway would pour "tourist gold" into the communities along its route.
Ken Burns: The National Parks - America's Best Idea, Episode 4 Going Home (1920 - 1933)
In hidden recesses and secret passageways travelers walk quietly alongside a serene splash pool of crystal clear water, moving across a smooth rock streambed and quietly through lush greenery that flourish along the narrow canyon floor. The Gorge explorer may get disoriented on occasion, but is seldom truly lost, because breathing deeply of the mysterious beauty of this place will refresh the soul. (Olson 1)
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4. History >