COLUMBIA RIVER HIGHWAY BRIDGES
Spanning various crossings along the Columbia River Highways
between Portland and The Dalles, Multnomah and Wasco Counties,
Dates of Construction:
Samuel Hill, Samuel Lancaster, Henry Bowlby, C.H. Purcell,
K.P. Billner, L.W. Metzger, Conde B. McCullough
State of Oregon
Oregon Department of Transportation
Vehicular and pedestrian bridges along a scenic highway
The idea of building a scenic highway along the south bank
of the Columbia River was conceived by Samuel Hill and other
prominent Portland businessmen. Hill took Samuel Lancaster
and future State Highway Engineer, Henry Bowlby. to Paris
and the Rhine River Valley of Germany to analyze highway development
in Europe. With the establishment of the Oregon State Highway
Department in 1913, Sam Lancaster was hired to oversee all
preliminary engineering proposals and designs prior to pavement
construction. State Bridge Engineers C.H. Purcell. K.P. Billner
and L.W. Metzger created the innovative bridge designs that
were constructed between Troutdale and Eagle Creek. Topographical
and scenic values of the gorge were important factors in determining
the bridge designs and locations. The Columbia River Highway
was the first scenic highway constructed in the United States.
Documentation of the Columbia River Highway Bridges is part
of the Oregon Historic Bridge Recording Project, conducted
during the summer of 1990 under the cc-sponsorship of HABS/HAER
and the Oregon Department of Transportation. Researched and
written by Kenneth J. Guzowski, HAER Historian, 1990. Edited
and transmitted by Lola Bennett, HAER Historian, 1992.
See also HAER reports OR-23, OR-24, 0R-27, OR-28, OR-30
The typical method of travel in the Oregon country in the
1830s was by canoe in the waterways, by horseback in the valleys
and open country, and on foot through the mountains and other
forested areas. Indians and trappers established trails throughout
the region, and these were later broadened into roads when
westward migrations began. Eventually, the primary trails
became collectively known as the Oregon Trail. Thousands of
ox-drawn wagons eventually established a main travel route
from the lower Missouri River to the Willamette Valley The
Oregon Trail ended at Oregon City. The early trail ended at
The Dalles, and the remainder of the journey west was down
the treacherous Columbia River.
West of The Dalles, the river provided
the only means of transportation until 1846, when Samuel Barlow
and Joel Palmer cut a crude wagon road. The Barlow Trail,
through the forests and over the high slopes of Mount Hood
to the Willamette Falls at Oregon City. During this period
short stretches of primitive roads were also constructed between
adjacent settlements not connected by waterways. Demands for
adequate mail service helped to hasten the transformation
of trails into vehicular roadways.
The Hudson Bay Company controlled freight
movement on the Columbia in the early part of the nineteenth
century. Early settlers and their belongings rafted down the
river. There were few steamboats in Oregon prior to 1850.
The riverboat Columbia (1850) transported passengers and goods
between Astoria and Oregon City. Service was supplemented
with the launching of the Lot Whitcomb at Milwaukee, near
Wagon wheels were still creaking over the
mountain passes when promoters in the Northwest began to organize
railroad companies. In the late 1850s, Joseph S. Ruckel and
Harrison Olmstead established the first rail service in Oregon.
In the summer of 1859 four and a half miles of wooden track
were laid between Bonneville and the Cascade Locks. Mules
and horses pulled trains of four or five small cars. Soon
after this stretch of railroad was laid the wooden rails were
covered with sheet iron and the Oregon Pony, the first steam
locomotive to be built on the Pacific coast, began transporting
freight and passengers both ways past the Cascades.
The Union Transportation Company was reorganized
as the Oregon Steam Navigation Company in 1859. It had begun
operations with eight small river boats and eventually acquired
the portage railroad at the Cascades and another between The
Dalles and the mouth of the Deschutes River.
Henry Millard, German-American railroad
tycoon did much to develop the railroad in Oregon. After completing
a north-south railroad to California he acquired the Oregon
Steam Navigation Company, which controlled traffic on the
Columbia River for many years. Villard reorganized the company
as the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company and began building
a railroad on the Oregon bank of the Columbia. After its completion
in 1882, Oregon finally had its commercial outlets to the
East and California.
On October 23. 1872 the state legislature
of Oregon appropriated $50,000 for construction of a wagon
road from the mouth of the Sandy River to The Dalles, along
the south shore of the Columbia River. The state appropriated
another $50,000 in 1876 to complete construction of this crooked
and narrow trail with steep grades. This was the beginning
of the Columbia River Highway.
Oregon took its first decisive step to
improve roads in November of 1910. Oregon adopted a constitutional
amendment granting the power to counties of the state to issue
bonds for the construction of permanent roads. In the same
year, Henry Wemme and others petitioned the authorities of
Multnomah County to construct a road from the town of Bridal
Veil, east to the Hood River county line. In January, 1911
the ''Oregon Good Roads Association'' inaugurated a state-wide
movement to secure support for five highway measures that
were submitted to the legislature, and appointed a general
''Good Roads Committee." with two members from every
county. Thus the era of the good roads movement was launched
in Oregon, and the slogan of advocates became, "Let's
Pull Oregon Out Of The Mud.''1
During the closing decade of the nineteenth
century the Pacific Northwest was rapidly shedding its frontier
status. An important step in this process was the development
of transportation systems that connected the Northwest with
the rest of the nation. The increasing importance of the automobile
fostered state, national and international good roads movements
that provided the impetus for the formation of a national
The trend toward a civilized wilderness
developed rapidly in the turn-of-the-century Pacific Northwest.
Eastern institutions were established in a period when mass
production was a new boon to American industry. It was during
this period that the United States emerged as an industrialized
nation. Road-building in the east followed the progress of
industry. Prior to the turn of the century, federal funding
for road construction was minimal, or non-existent. The Pacific
Northwest became civilized with the completion of the northern
transcontinental railroad in 1883. From 1900 to 1920, there
was a dramatic population shift from the country to the city.
In Portland, Oregon, the population doubled
after the successful Lewis and Clark Exposition of 1905. This
exposition helped to advertise the economic potential of Oregon
and encouraged the development of Portland.
The mass production of the bicycle in the
1890s brought about a bicycle boom that carried over to the
auto industry in the early l900s. The popularity of the bicycle
became the catalyst to improve road conditions. The promotion
of good roads really began with the League of American Wheelman
(LAW). This organization was established in 1880 and consisted
of bicycle manufacturers, dealers and owners. The League of
American Wheelman began publication of Good Roads magazine
in 1892. They organized the National League for Good Roads
at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. As the automobile
gained in popularity and importance the Good Roads Movement
became a national crusade with political clout. "President
Roosevelt gave an address entitled ''Good Roads as an Element
in National Greatness' to the National Good Roads Convention
at St. Louis in l903."2 The railroads supported good
roads as a vehicle to bring people and goods closer to their
numerous stops and lanes.
A new trend that was gaining favor with
the American middle class was the legitimacy and desirability
of leisure time. This trend affected residents of the Northwest,
and an attitude of national pride developed as newly developing
technologies and ideas were blended into mainstream society.
Increased leisure time, along with comfortable and faster
transportation systems, added to the appeal of tourism in
Oregon. Developing tourism, combined with the need to help
farmers move produce from rural to metropolitan centers, inaugurated
the idea of an effective Oregon road system that connected
with the national road system.
In Oregon, transportation for the farmer
was desperately needed because goods were transported to market
on wagon and toll roads over treacherous mountain passes.
In the 1890s few engineers were trained in highway construction
but with the growing interest in road reform a new technology
began to develop. By 1900 the National Good Roads Association
was established, and in 1901 International Good Roads Congresses
encouraged the study of European highway systems.3
When Samuel Hill first traveled over Washington's
roads he decided that he was going to introduce a Good Roads
Association that would ultimately improve transportation in
the Northwest. All across the country conventions for the
promotion of good roads were taking place in response to cultural
and technological changes that were occurring in American
society. Samuel Hill, wealthy railroad executive, lawyer and
banker, became an active participant in both the national
and international good roads movements. He studied road building
in Belgium and England. He worked with International good
roads enthusiasts King Albert of Belgium and Britain's Lord
Kitchener. Hill developed a long-standing friendship with
King Albert from this experience.
Samuel Hill was born in North Carolina
in 1857. His father was a country physician, banker and cotton
industrialist who advocated the building of plank roads in
Because of his Quaker stand on abolition,
Hill's father became Involved with the underground railroad
and, when the Civil War threatened fled to Minneapolis, Minnesota.
By 1867 both of Samuel Hill's parents had died, leaving the
six children parentless.
Samuel Hill worked many jobs including
geological surveys. He received a law degree from Harvard
University in 1879. He practiced law in Minneapolis with the
firm of Jackson, Atwater and Hill. Hill was always civic and
politically oriented. Samuel Hill loved to travel and over
the years became friends with many influential Europeans.
Through his law practice Samuel Hill became
acquainted with James Jerome Hill, president of the Great
Northern Railway. Jim Hill was one of the most powerful men
in the transportation business at the end of the nineteenth
century. Sam Hill married Mary Hill, Jim's eldest daughters
in 1888. Samuel and Jim Hill shared similar philosophies and
agreed that ''the advancement of civilization would depend
on transportation facilities."4 In 1888 Sam Hill became
interested in banking and organized the Minneapolis Trust
Company, which later financed his investments in the Pacific
Prior to the completion of the Great Northern
Railroad, Portland, Oregon, was the principal metropolitan
center of the Pacific Northwest. Seattle was still undeveloped
and Hill thought it a good place for him to begin his enterprises.
Hill's railroad and financial interests brought him to Seattle.
Here Samuel Hill invested in the Seattle Gas & Light Company
after the completion of the transcontinental railroad to Seattle
in 1893. By 1903 Samuel Hill was settled permanently in Seattle.
Sam Hill wished to ''civilize'' the West
in the image of Europe. His numerous trips abroad took him
to the German Rhineland. He was inspired by the beauty of
the scenery along the Rhine River, and realized that road
building was an aesthetic undertaking as well as an engineering
accomplishment. Hill brought Samuel C. Lancaster, aspiring
young highway engineer to Seattle.
In 1899 Hill organized the first Good Roads
convention for the state of Washington. The meeting was held
in Spokane, Washington and was attended by fourteen advocates
and supporters of good roads in Washington. The Pacific Northwest's
coming of age was linked to the growing popularity of the
automobile and the surging spirit of a rapidly growing nation.
These men realized that the economic development of the region
was dependent on improved roads. In later years the railroad
would recognize the economic threat of the automobile. But
for now the railroad was satisfied to support the good roads
movement because they could realize direct financial benefits.5
Hill served as president of the Washington
Good Roads Association from its inception in 1899 until 1910.
In 1907 the National Grange joined the good roads movement
and supported the use of federal and state monies to build
better roads across the country. With the eventual support
of the farmer the good roads movement was destined to succeed.
Hill also promoted the scenic beauty of the Pacific Northwest
because he knew revenue from tourism ultimately benefited
the individual states. Samuel Hill fully realized that the
support of the old frontier society and the new progressive
society that was emerging at the turn of the century were
essential to the success of a national system of good roads.
During this early highway development period
in Washington Hill brought two highway engineers to the Northwest
whose expertise and dedication played an important role in
the development of the region. These men were Samuel Christopher
Lancaster and Major Henry L. Bowlby.
Henry Bowlby was educated at West Point
and began his career on a railroad survey in South America.
He was a specialist in mathematics who went on to become a
professor at the University of Nebraska. Samuel Hill brought
him to Seattle where he taught at the University of Washington.
Bowlby was appointed Highway Commissioner for the state of
Washington in 1909.6
Samuel Lancaster (1864-1941) was born at
Magnolia, Mississippi. He grew up in Jackson, Tennessee and
worked as a construction engineer for the Illinois Central
Railroad before an attack of infantile paralysis, combined
with malarias exposure and overwork, forced him to quit at
age 22. After a miraculous recovery, he began work as city
engineer in Tennessee. In 1904 Lancaster began experimentation
with hard-surfaced roads and became consulting engineer with
the Bureau of Public Roads. Hill met Lancaster in 1906 and
encouraged him to settle in Seattle. In Seattle, Lancaster
became consulting engineer to the parks department and worked
with city engineer R.H. Thomson.7 In preparation for the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific
Exposition, Thomson and Lancaster worked on the boulevard
system designed by the Olmsted Brothers of Brookline, Massachusetts.
In 1909, Lancaster became one of the first instructors in
highway engineering at the University of Washington.
To better understand road issues and prepare
for a road conference in the Northwest, Hill, Lancaster, Bowlby
and Thomson attended an International Road Congress in Paris.
This trip, taken at Hill's expense, extended to several European
countries to study roads and their improvements. Some of the
goals of this conference were to establish standard specifications
for highway construction. Papers were presented on Asphalt
Macadam Roadways; Fences, Hedges and Shade Trees; and Modern
Roadway Bridges. Lancaster was particularly impressed with
the German Rhine River scenery. This area possessed steep
and rugged slopes and resembled the topography of the Columbia
River Gorge, however it was more settled and developed as
an agricultural area. Numerous castles and ancient structures
were located along the Rhine and Samuel Hill hoped to construct
a magnificent home for himself at Maryhill.
In 1910 Hill resigned as president of the
Washington State Good Roads Association. He later became president
of the Pacific Highway Association and the American Road Builders
Association, as well as vice president of the International
Road Congress. These later two organizations advocated construction
of 50,000 mites of interstate highways.
By the end of 1910 Willis influence had
permeated the Good Roads Movement. His knowledge of the latest
technological advances, his visionary outlook his money connections,
and . : : dramatic lobbying efforts all helped him to become
a leading promotional force in many of the road building associations,
both national and international.
Sam Hill and Samuel Lancaster believed
that scenic beauty. fertile soil and natural resources, when
harnessed efficiently, could raise agricultural production
and tourism for the nation, much as the Rhineland had done
for Germany.8 Hill's numerous trips to Europe allowed him
to study the industry and agriculture of densely populated
areas and to analyze German methods of land-use planning.
Hill was greatly impressed by the neatly-trimmed European
Germany's Rhine River cuts through the
countryside in a manner similar to the way the Columbia River
cuts through the Pacific Northwest. Because of denser populations
near the Rhine, an unbroken line of villages and farmland
developed along both balks of the river. The high precipices
were dotted with medieval castles, which lent a protective,
secure feeling to the surrounding countryside. This bucolic
scenery, combining both industry and beauty, pleased Hill's
aesthetic sense. Hill believed the Columbia River bin had
more scenic and economic potential than the Rhine.
National road systems had been developed
in Europe long before the advent of the automobile. Hill believed
that motorized vehicles and highways were the key to growth
in the Northwest. A system of good roads was essential in
establishing the Northwest as an important industrial center
and agricultural region.
In 1907 Sam Hill purchased 6,000 acres
of foothills overlooking the Columbia River 100 mites east
of Portland, on the north shore of the river. In 1914 Hill
commissioned Hornblower and Marshall, a Washington D.C. architectural
firm, to design his renaissance revival-style residence. A
variety of circumstances slowed the completion of this estate
which was named Maryhill. It was here that Hill experimented
with road paving and launched his campaign for good roads.
It was Hill's dream to demonstrate that roads could be more
functional routes. They could be aesthetic
and historical, and could offer amenities like restaurants.
auto camps and filling stations.
In 1911. Hill built seven mites of experimental
roads at Maryhill. Samuel Lancaster and Henry Bowlby attempted
to use every method of road building and paving in use at
the time on Hill's experiment. In addition to concrete they
experimented with cicadas. asphalt macadam, crushed rock macadam
treated with oil sand and gravel macadam, and decomposed rock
macadam. Innovations were used with drainage gutters and grading.
The ultimate goal of Samuel Hill's good
road vision was to build a state highway through the Columbia
River gorge that would become part of the national highway
system. Part of his goal was to provide a route that would
bring people to view the grandeur of his enterprise at Maryhill.
With the failure of the gorge highway in Washington Hill switched
his lobbying efforts to the Oregon legislature.
By 1913 the Good Roads Movement had shifted
its emphasis from rural lines to transcontinental highways.
The early motorists were mainly wealthy businessmen who were
willing to tackle the many obstacles of transcontinental highway
development.9 In 1915, the year of the Panama-pacific Exposition,
boosters of national highway development envisioned a nation
covered with transcontinental highways. California was one
of the first states in the nation to adopt a state aid bill
for roads in 1895. Washington formed a highway commission
Oregon was slow to adopt the national ''Good
Roads'' attitude and would not establish a state highway department
until 1913. Advocates of good roads mostly wealthy Portland
businessmen ? like Simon Bensons John Yeon, Rufus Holman,
Julius Meier and Amos Benson, began working towards a road
commission in 1907.
In 1909 the Portland Auto Club made an
assessment of the road situation in Oregon and found it to
be deplorable. Oregon good road advocates wished to see transportation
routes developed along the Columbia and Willamette rivers.
There was great interest in the Columbia River Highway for
a number of reasons. First, the river cut through the Cascades
low enough to make the route accessible year round. Second,
such a route would be a direct connection with the eastern
part of the state and would connect to Portland and on to
the Pacific Ocean. Third, the Columbia was one of the most
scenic attractions in the state of Oregon, and by developing
a road along its route tourism would benefit.
In 1912 Simon Benson gave Governor Oswald
West $10,000 to build a road around Shell Rock Mountain, which
was built with convict labor. Under the leadership of Governor
Oswald West (1911-1915) a road bill passed to insure state
bonds up to two percent of the assessed valuation of the state
for the construction of permanent state roads. The remainder
of the 1912 roads legislation was defeated. This would have
allowed unlimited power to issue bonds for road improvement
and development and created a state highway department and
a state road board.
These defeats frustrated the ambitious
ideas of the Portland good roads advocates. however it was
through the leadership and the lobbying efforts of Samuel
Hill that toad legislation was finally passed that allowed
construction of the Columbia River Highway.
Samuel Hill became a member of the Portland
business elite in 1910 when he invested in the Home Telephone
and Telegraph Company with such prominent businessmen as William
M. Ladd, Henry and Elliot Corbett, Theodore Wilcox, and A.L.
Mills. In 1913 Hill began his Good Roads program in Oregon.
He believed that if the Columbia River Highway could be built
to connect with the Pacific Highway in time for the Panama-pacific
Exposition in San Francisco, the results could mean tremendous
growth and economic development for Oregon. Hill explained
to the legislators on February 9, 1913, ''The Pacific slope
has greater areas for the tourist, pleasure- seeker and man
in need of wholesome recreation than has the Old world."10
After conducting a tour for prominent Portlanders and legislators
of road improvements at Maryhill, Samuel Hill appeared at
the Oregon legislature with Frank Terrace, Henry Bowlby, Samuel
Lancaster and Charles Purcells to lobby for the construction
of the Columbia River Highway. These men lobbied for a state
highway commission and a state system of unified roads. After
a presentation with lantern slides and charts they presented
convincing arguments that farming and tourism would generate
many new services and revenues for the state of Oregon. if
adequate roads were provided. Hill compared the Pacific Northwest
to Switzerland and the Columbia River to the German Rhine.
Hill believed the advantages of the tourist-luring European
highways could be re-created in Oregon. He stated, ''We will
cash in year after year, on our crop of scenic beauty without
depleting it.''11 Additional benefits of better roads in rural
areas would improve schools, make telephones more accessible,
and increase rural free mail delivery. The Pan- American Highway
was being promoted as well as the Columbia River Highway during
the 1913 legislative session. Both of these highways could
be used for protection in case of foreign attack on the United
States. Military protection was the final influence that swayed
The first Oregon Highway Commission was
established in 1913, with participation by every county in
the state. This commission included Governor Oswald West,
chairman; Secretary of State Ben W. Olcott, and State Treasurer
Thomas B. Kay.12 This commission allowed Samuel Hill to bring
his highway experts into the newly formed system. Henry Bowlby
became Oregon's first state highway engineer. Samuel Lancaster
became the highway engineer for Multnomah county as well as
consulting engineer for the Columbia River Highway. Charles
Purcell became the principal bridge engineer and Sam Hill
was a member of the highway board for the Columbia River Highway.
The Columbia River Highway became a venture in craftsmanship
and progressive technology that was to put Oregon at the forefront
of the race for a national highway system.
Ground was broken for construction of the
Columbia Highway in the fall of 1913. John Yeon millionaire,
lumberman and realtor, donated two years of his time as county
roadmaster, and organized and directed the work of the day
laborers. Amos Benson was his assistant during this period.
The scenic wonders of the gorge were complemented by fine
craftsmanship and creative designs of the highway structures.
The highway was constructed with a maximum grade of 5 percent,
with widths of no less than 24' (18-foot road amid two 3-foot
shoulders) and minimum curve radius of 100'.
The stretch of road from the Sandy River
to Hood River was the showpiece of the highway. The beautiful
waterfalls and overlooks were complemented by Lancaster's
highway and structural designs. Costs for this stretch of
road included an initial $750,000 given by Multnomah County
with a voted bond of $1,250,000 for paving. It was ultimately
paved with Warrenite, an asphalt bound macadam or asphalt
concrete. at a cost of approximately $15,000 per mile. There
was no state or federal aid in the construction of this highway.13
The highway extended from Hood River to Astoria by the summer
Seventeen bridges and viaducts with a total
length of 3,699' were built to enhance the scenic beauty of
this stretch of highway. The bridges illustrate the fusion
of the utilitarian and the aesthetic. Each bridge was unique
to the site situation and incorporated technological innovations
that were just becoming understood during this period. Italian
stone masons crafted the dry-masonry retaining walls, which
were built of native stone and blended with the rocky hillsides
that they were excavated from.
Latourell Creek bridge was the first bridge
constructed on the highway. It was designed by K.P. Billner,
under the direction of state bridge engineer C.H. Purcell.
The bridge is a three- span reinforced concrete braced spandrel
deck arch. The braced spandrel framing is usually found only
in steel deck arch construction. and is unique to this structure.
At the time of its construction it was one of the lightest
concrete bridges, relative to its dimensions, in the country.
This bridge established the essential form
of the concrete arch that would be used in Oregon and other
sections of the United States.
Shepherd's Dell bridge was the second bridge
on the highway designed by K.P. Billner.
This bridge Is a reinforced concrete deck
arch with a 100-foot span. The solid curtain wall between
spandrel columns and above the crown of the parabolic arch
was a unique feature for the period. This was one of the strongest
and best erected bridges on the highway. Later concrete arch
bridges on the highway, and elsewhere in Oregon, of state
bridge engineer Conde B. Mccullough's imitate the form and
detail of this bridge.
The Moffett Creek bridges 1915, is another
significant bridge design on the Columbia River Highway. It
was designed by L.W. Metzger and is a low rise reinforced
concrete deck arch with a dear span of 170' and rises only
17' in that distance. When it was constructed it was the longest
three-hinged flat arch bridge In the United States. The hinges
were cast iron with steel rollers.
These three bridges were technological
achievements in their day and were designed for functional
uses. They balance utility with aesthetics. Judging by the
way these bridges have stood the tests of time we can be satisfied
from the fact of their undamaged condition that the technological
solutions are correct and at the same time have proved themselves
Economy in construction was a major goal
of these early bridge engineers, as they would be with later
bridge engineers. These early bridges incorporated new technologies
of the day, including influences from European road and bridge
construction. They were designed to fit their setting, and
in craftsmanship, were works of art. Historian Carl Condit
believes the Oregon State Highway Department played a leading
role in the development of American concrete bridges, with
their earliest contributions on the Columbia River Highway.
After the outbreak of World War I, Samuel
Hill left for Europe to work for the Red Cross.
In 1916 he traveled to Russia to advise
on the construction of the trans-Siberian railroad.
Oregon's efforts for a centralized highway
commission left responsibility with the individual counties
until 1917. At that time the state began planning and promoting
highway development for defense purposes. Additionally. in
1916 the first Federal Road Aid bill allocated money to each
state to improve rural roads. Federal funding for roads, mass
production of affordable automobiles, and the rising influence
of the American middle class due to the politics of the Progressive
era, climaxed a unique cultural period.
After World War I a highway like this would
never have been built. The interest in craftsmanship diminished
because of rising labor prices and environmental and artistic
concerns were forced to accommodate greater loads and faster
speeds. Highway construction became financed at the public
expense. This was the era when construction materials became
mass produced and designs became standardized. The Columbia
River Highway became an example of technological experimentation
of the early twentieth century with the classic formality
of the late nineteenth century.
Hill died enroute to highway hearings in
Salem, Oregon, on February 26, 1931. Samuel Hill was an experimenter
and promoter, fitting into the progressive spirit of the period
in the ''modernization'' sense of Samuel P. Hays, with his
promotion of standardized road systems, scientific planning,
and expertise in highway engineering.14
The early work of the state highway department
was financed by a state tax levy of one fourth mill which
was expected to raise approximately $250,000 per year. The
first Oregon road law had not been entirely satisfactory to
Governor West because it lacked some key components.
The state highway engineer, Henry Bowlby,
urged the commission to allow his department to obtain right-of-way
by condemnation. Bowlby wanted the jurisdiction over roads
granted to the State Highway Commission, including the right
to grant franchises.
Henry Bowlby served as highway engineer
until March 31, 1915. The legislature of 1915 placed the duties
of road construction on to state engineer. who was an elective
official responsible for water resources and irrigation. Bowlby
was attacked for inefficiency and charged with squandering
state highway funds. Considering the rapid development of
the Columbia River Highway, it appears that Bowlby accomplished
a great deal with the limited resources and difficult conditions
that he was faced with in the first years of the Oregon State
highway Department. Bowlby's unpopularity with the farmers
and state grange were greatly responsible for his dismissal.
This change in highway commission authority
resulted in more or less chaos in state highway affairs, and
the years 1915 and 1916 went by with comparatively small accomplishments.
The work begun in 1913 and 1914 was carried
to completion, and a limited amount of additional work was
undertaken in the counties- No expansion in highway department
organization occurred during this period.15
Little highway work was accomplished until
February, 1917, when Governor Withycombe signed the State
Highway Commission Measure. This measure established a three
man commission consisting of Simon Benson. chairman; Pendleton
banker W.L. Thompson; and Eugene real estate agent E.J. Adams.
After Adams' short term expired lumberman Robert A. Booth
joined the commission. The commission appointed its own chairman
as well as a chief counsel, a secretary, an auditor, a state
highway engineer, and one or more assistants.
One of the first duties of the commission
was to hire Herbert Nunn my state highway engineer. Nunn was
experienced in all branches of road building and paving. He
had been employed with state highway work in New York City
and El Paso, Texas. He was known for his efficiency and ability
to inspire and manage people. Soon after he began work for
Oregon he showed that he was familiar with dirt-road construction.
macadam-road construction, grading work, bridge work, culvert
work and paving. ''He had the faculty of enthusing the men
with whom he worked and dealt, so they threw every atom of
energy into what they were doing."16
Nunn straightened out right-of -way tangles
and maintained a sense of flexibility with his peers that
insured high quality innovative work for the Oregon State
In 1916, the United States Congress enacted
a law making available $85,000,000 for cooperation with the
states in the construction and improvement of roads. Of this
amount Oregon received $1,819.280 for cooperative work which
would not exceed 50 percent of a projects cost.
The Oregon State Legislature passed a bill
in 1917 accepting the terms of the federal governments cooperative
offer. The highway department adopted the policy of matching
the government funds with equal amounts from state funds only.
County funds were used to increase the total amounts available
rather than to reduce the amount of state cooperation.17
With financial arrangements secured for
highway construction Herbert Nunn threw the state highway
department into its work. He explained:
In order to anticipate the large amount
of construction for 1919, the state highway department has
worked a rather large engineering force throughout the summer
of 1918 and will continue it through the winter of 1918 and
1919. This preliminary work is absolutely necessary in order
to award contracts early in the spring of 1919. The federal
government work requires very carefully prepared plans and
estimates for all future government work and this has been
anticipated also, and practically every project has been completed
as to engineering features and submitted to the federal government
The period 1917-1918 had been a difficult
time for highway construction work. Labor and materials were
difficult to secure, wages and prices were unusually high
and inadequate transportation facilities interfered with highway
progress. Because the United States was in the throes of World
War I the highway department was not able to accomplish as
much work as they could have in peaceful times. In addition
to their work with paving, macadamizing and grading, the highway
department managed to prepare designs for forty-two bridges
for various county authorities.
The Third Biennial Report of the Oregon
State Highway Commission reveals that the roads of Multnomah
county saw some of the heaviest grading and construction work
in the state. Work included hard surfacing and laying of macadam,
drainage and grading works bridge construction and engineering
Between the years 1919 and 1920 the highway
department experienced a shortage of labor, particularly labor
skilled in highway work. They had difficulty securing road
construction equipment, material prices were high, and contractors
had difficulty obtaining financing for their work. An increased
work load made it difficult for the engineering department
to finish all of its jobs within the generally accepted time
frames. To handle the increased work load of the department
the office space and personnel were expanded. Division offices
were established at key-points throughout the state. A testing
laboratory was established at Salem for the purpose of testing
road building materials and pavement. The first blueprint
room was outfitted in the Capitol Building. With the additions
of personnel Conde B. McCullough was appointed bridge engineer
for the state. Under his direction the work expanded rapidly
and considerable favorable comment was made on the structures
completed by him.19
Nunn offered McCullough the position of
State Bridge Engineer in the spring of 1919.
McCullough Accepted tie position and brought
with him his expertise in bridge construction.
McCullough believed that aesthetics were
an important aspect of bridge design, as well as economy of
construction. The reinforced concrete arch became one of Mccullough's
favorite bridge types because of its simplicity. its engineering
qualities, and its low maintenance costs.
McCullough is credited with perfecting
the use of concrete, reinforced with steel bars, in Oregon
bridge construction since the 1920s.
The 1920 biennium ended with improvements
to the Columbia River Highway from Astoria to Pendleton nearly
completed. Along the highway's 340-mile length. 178 miles
were paved and 123 miles had been surfaced with broken stone
and gravel. Paved surfaces were 16' in width with 4 feet of
broken stone laid on both shoulders. Grading for a large part
of the highway through the Columbia gorge had been extremely
costly because of the vertical rock walls and numerous chasms
that were spanned. "The grading of this highway represents
what is probably tile most difficult and costly piece of highway
construction yet undertaken in America."20
In 1919-1920 the bridge section was kept
busy preparing designs for 238 bridges having spans in excess
of 18'. Additional designs were prepared for seventy-nine
structures less than 18'.
This work totaled $4,850,000 worth of bridge
construction in the state. Section III of the Columbia River
Highway from Hood River to The Dalles involved heavy grading
along the steep slopes and construction of the Mosier Twin
Tunnels. Where the highway crosses Mosier Creek Conde B. McCullough
designed his third deck arch bridge to cross above the creek.
This bridge, completed in 1920, is very similar in design
to the Shepperd's Dell bridge.
Also in 1920 McCullough designed an ornate
deck girder bridge to span Mill Creek, on the outskirts of
The Dalles. This bridge is 124' long and has arched curtain
walls which disguise the girders. There are pebble-dashed
panels, which became one of Mccullough's signatures. There
are ornamental brackets and urn-shaped balustrades with posts
and concrete caps. Construction of this bridge completed the
Columbia River Highway to The Dalles.
McCullough designed his fourth arch span
of 75' to cross Dry Canyon Creek, on the Columbia River Highway.
Like many of his arch bridges the open spandrel columns terminate
in semicircular arched curtain walls. There are pebble-dashed
panels in the curtain wall and main piers. The decorative
treatment on this bridge leans toward the streamlined look
of the Art Deco style, that McCullough would become known
for in the designs of his Oregon Coast Highway bridges.
In Oregon the automobile and the Good Roads
Movement grew up together. Unlike the national movement Oregonians
needed little convincing for the need of better roads after
the highway department was established in 1913. Oregon was
very forward in its highway and bridge planning. Oregon instigated
the l-percent gasoline tax as a bold new plan for financing
highway construction. Oregon's idea was emulated by states
all over the country.
In 1917 the legislature applied the same
principle of the user's tax when it levied license fees upon
automobiles and required that the funds obtained be expended
only for building and maintaining roads. The legislature of
1919 extended the principle by taxing fuel. By levying a tax
upon each gallon of gasoline used by vehicles on the public
highways, the legislature provided funds in an amount that
not even the most optimistic advocates of state financing
would have thought possible a scant five years before.21
Oregon faced the 1920s with confidence
because they had provided for adequate funds and a comprehensive
system of planning and control for the development of their
highways and bridges.
It was the farsighted thinking of Sam Hill
and Samuel Lancaster that fashioned this spectacular highway
along the steep basks of the Columbia River gorge. Major General
George W. Goethal, builder of the Panama Canal, passed over
the Columbia River Highway between Portland and Cascade Locks
of Wednesday, September 1, 1915. He said ''The Columbia River
Highway is a splendid job of engineering, and absolutely without
equal in America for scenic interest.''22 In 1950-54 construction
of a low, water-grade route eliminated sections of the Columbia
River Highway, that interfered with this straight ribbon of
concrete. Further encroachment came with the construction
of I-80N (later renumbered 1-84) in the 1960s. The Columbia
River Highway District was listed on the National Register
of Historic Places in 1983.
1. ''Oregon Campaign Starts," The
Oregonian, Jan. 8, 191 1, p.10.
2. Charles L. Dearing, American Highway
Policy (Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution, 1941),
3. Ibid., p.248.
4. Patricia Connolly Krier, "Toward
a Civilized Wilderness: Samuel Hill's Contribution to Pacific
Northwest Highways. 1899- 1916,'' PhD dissertation, University
of Oregon, June. 1984, p.15.
5. ibid., p.18.
6. Oregon Journal, January 26, 1913. p.12.
7. Ronald Fahl ''Samuel Christopher Lancaster
and the Columbia River Highway: Engineer as Conservationist,
Oregon Historical Quarterly, v.74 (June 1973), pp.104-106.
8. Samuel Hill ''Poor Roads are the Costly
Highways, Not Good Ones," Oregon Sunday Journal, June
9. Earl Pomeroy, The Pacific Slope (New
York: Alfred A. Knopf , 1965), p.360.
10. Portland Telegram, March 14, 1913,
11 . Fahl, ''S.C. Lancaster and the Columbia
River Highway: Engineer as conservationist," Oregon Historical
Quarterly, v.74 (June 1973), p. 14.
12. Oregon State Highway Department, First
Annual Report of the Highway Engineer, (Salem: State Printing
Department, 1914), title page.
13. Fred Lockley, History of the Columbia
River Valley from The Dalles to the Sea (Chicago: The S.J.
Clarke Publishing Company, 1928), p.265.
14. Samuel P. Hays, Conservation and the
Gospel of Efficiency: The Progressive Conservation Movement
1890-1920 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1959), p.256.
15. Oregon State Highway Commission, ''Brief
History of the Development of the Oregon State Highway Commission,"
16. "New Highway engineer", Oregon
Voter, v.9 (April 28, 1917), p.127.
17. Oregon State Highway Commission, Third
Biennial Report. 1917-1918, p.23.
18. Ibid., p.15.
19. Oregon State Highway Commission, Fourth
Biennial Report. 1920- 1921, p.30.
20. Ibid., p.36.
21. Hugh Myron Hoyt, ''The Good Roads Movement
in Oregon: 1900- 1920." PhD dissertation, University
of Oregon, June 1966. p.270.
22. Samuel C. Lancaster, The Columbia:
Americans Great Highway (Portland: Press of Kilham Stationery
and Printing Company, 1916). p.139.
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