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Us 99, Pacific Highway Follows Trappers Trail


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#1 Keep the Show on the Road!

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Posted 02 September 2008 - 08:39 PM

The Pacific Highway (US 99) in Washington State in large part follows in the footsteps of the trappers of the Hudson’s Bay Company and the Oregon Trail pioneers who settled in the Puget Sound. Today several of the original sites and buildings, many dating back to the mid 1850’s and 60’s still line the route, yet the road is little celebrated today.

Mobilene, with his Michigan Road pursuits, inspired me to pick up a project I set aside 15 years ago, to document the Pacific Highway along the Cowlitz Trail, as it was known to American pioneers, or the Cowlitz Portage as it was known to the trappers of the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC).

The map below shows in orange the Cowlitz Trail or Portage between the head of navigation on the Cowlitz River and Olympia, Washington. The pink dotted line is the water route between the HBC’s Ft. Vancouver and Cowlitz Landing, where man and beast set off on foot through the forest and wetlands to the Puget Sound.



Over the Labor Day holiday and for some of the week before, I poured over maps, trail logs, and old periodicals from the state library to discover or rediscover what I could about the Trail. And thanks to the BLM for reposting the 1850’s plat maps. I used them as overlays on Google Earth to provide the detailed path of the old trail. I have now done the entire trail from Cowlitz Landing to Olympia on the road and on the old maps.

The maps below show a sample section of the Trail (yellow line) and old US 99 (Pacific Highway). Using a photo editing program, I converted the plat maps to the blue overlay, highlighted the Trail in yellow, and used Earth Points to carefully match townships and sections. The results were both satisfying and exciting. In case you care to match images, I added a coordinate at the yellow pin for reference.





I was amazed at how closely the route of the old Pacific Highway followed the trappers trail (yellow line), virtually on top of it in many, many cases, and always very near. And it brought a whole new appreciation of my home area, seeing the connection between sites today and in 1853 or there about. I may have even discovered a previously unrecognized section of the trail just a few feet from old 99! And I may have located the first concrete section of old 99, at least in Washington. More of all that later.

If I stay as true to the task as Jim (Mobilene), we will travel south from the Puget Sound to Cowlitz Landing, following old 99, and its relationship with the trappers’ and pioneers’ Cowlitz Trail over the next few weeks.


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Dave


#2 Chris Rowland

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Posted 03 September 2008 - 07:19 AM

QUOTE (Keep the Show on the Road! @ Sep 2 2008, 08:39 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
And thanks to the BLM for reposting the 1850’s plat maps. I used them as overlays on Google Earth to provide the detailed path of the old trail.

I really liked the overlays... I have tried that technique from time to time when drawing my own maps, but for showing old alignments or history, it seems to work pretty well!

I still have a sense of wonder at how accurate most old maps are, especially when you compare with an aerial photograph. It makes me want to learn how to do land surveying...

Chris

#3 Keep the Show on the Road!

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Posted 03 September 2008 - 10:46 AM

QUOTE (Chris Rowland @ Sep 3 2008, 05:19 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
I really liked the overlays... I have tried that technique from time to time when drawing my own maps, but for showing old alignments or history, it seems to work pretty well!

I still have a sense of wonder at how accurate most old maps are, especially when you compare with an aerial photograph. It makes me want to learn how to do land surveying...

Chris


Chris,

Thanks for the reply! I’ll be out doing some photos today, starting in Olympia and working south.

I discovered things I didn’t know about my home area using the plat map overlays. For example I discovered that the famed Cowlitz Trail crossed a field near my home that I cross almost every day. And it was fascinating to recognize which roads were the pioneer roads in the area. And how their routes differed in detail from today.

As to accuracy, it was something of a mixed bag. Where a feature (eg road, stream) crosses a section line, it is usually right on the money, but it is obvious that in 1853 they didn’t usually survey features within a section, so the road within a section may be less accurately placed.

And accuracy differed based on what was being surveyed. Around Olympia they were spot on. Out in my neck of the woods, where the maps served only to assign large acreages and claims, they were less accurate.

But I say without reservation, if you live where the General Land Office plat maps are on line, download the ones around your house and overlay them on Google Earth. You are bound to discover things you never knew.

Oh, I should add, if anyone wants a review of where the maps are, how to identify the townships and sections you want, how to convert the maps to transparent colored overlays, and how to get the overlay maps aligned correctly on Google Earth, let me know. There is the hard way, and there is the easy way.

I’m headed for the field.

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Dave

#4 mobilene

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Posted 03 September 2008 - 02:28 PM

Awright! I can't wait to see the photos!!! jim

#5 Keep the Show on the Road!

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Posted 04 September 2008 - 03:24 PM

The Hudson’s Bay Company established a site at Ft Vancouver on the Columbia River in 1825 and it was probably not long after that trappers on the way to Company sites in Canada started using the Cowlitz Portage to reach the Puget Sound.

On his way to Ft Nisqually (13 miles NE of Olympia) William Fraser Tolmie, in his journal of 1833 describes the trail a few miles north of the Cowlitz Landing, on the edge of the Cowlitz prairie,

“Sunday, May 26, 1833……through which the road was execrable, knee deep in water and mud, or laid out in ridges and deep furrows formed by large roots extending across, or obstructed with trunks of large dimensions and at the same spot overarched with low branches..…was twice neatly hooked off by a projecting leafless branch.”

It is fair to say it was not much of a road in 1833, but it was regularly traveled, and well marked.

As promised, we will start our trip in Olympia. The Old Pacific Highway in Olympia followed 4th Street westbound and turned south on Capital Way. The green dot labeled Olympia in the initial post here marks this intersection, and it is evidently on the old Cowlitz Trail (see map below). The trail (bright yellow) ended a few blocks north of here in the shoreline mud and the salt waters of the Puget Sound, in what today is Port of Olympia land built on fill.



Capital Way is the main north south street in the downtown area, and as the name suggests it takes the auto traveler past the capitol campus (top red arrow). It appears that the old trail is under Capital Way/ US 99 / Pacific Highway as far south as the modern capitol.

Sylvester Park is the third block south of the Olympia red dot, along the old trail, on the east side of old US 99. It was created in 1850 on the original town plat by the town’s founder, Edmund Sylvester. It served as a town square and cattle commons. Teddy Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and Franklin Roosevelt all spoke here, but I missed them! In this photo taken yesterday, students and downtown residents get in a little relaxation on a sunny early September afternoon.




Today it is flanked on the east by the old state capital (1901 -1927), on the north by the Olympian Hotel (brick building in park photo), and on the south by the now closed art deco Greyhound Bus Station (1937). The Olympia Hotel is featured in many 1920’s post cards and was a popular stop on the old Pacific Highway. The hotel, the park, and even the bus station would have been familiar sights as one traveled old US 99.





For the next few blocks south the old trail follows a bit to the east of Capital Way, then it crosses the I5 freeway over its massive cut near the 1957 bridge that today carries old US 99 and Capital Way across (middle arrow).

The photo below is taken from the 1957 bridge that carries Capital Way/ old US 99 over I-5, looking south west. Standing there looking down on that massive cut and the roadway with its roaring traffic, I couldn’t help but be impressed with our highway engineers and builders. And comparing it with a trail through the brush seems impossible. What would the trappers have thought!



The old trail (on the overlay) as we go south drops down here to near the water’s edge. Note that the waterline is accurately surveyed, and the Cowlitz Trail (bright yellow) is clearly shown running near the water’s edge, not along the present alignment of US 99 which stays up on the higher ground. That doesn’t make sense to me, and presents a “mystery.”

I will return to this matter later, but since we are on Capital Way/ US99 southbound, which doesn’t drop down, note the long forgotten and neglected old highway guard posts with rusted cable along the road. These are along the section of Capital Way (US99) that swings out to the east and back west to the south of the middle arrow. This was the route in 1929, based on local maps.






I am going to end this post here so that I can get it up today, and because it is a great day for picture taking. We will return to the mystery and the route of US 99 south in my next post.



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Dave

#6 mobilene

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Posted 04 September 2008 - 09:04 PM

I love seeing that the Olympian Hotel still stands. Is it still a hotel? So many remaining old hotels aren't hotels anymore. And I always like to stop and look at an old bus station, esp. one with gleaming chrome.




#7 Keep the Show on the Road!

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Posted 04 September 2008 - 10:59 PM

Jim,

The Olympian Hotel was converted some years ago to residential apartments. It still retains much of its charm, inside and out, but they won’t rent you (or me) a room!

The old bus station was in use until recently, but now I think it is on the way to be torn down. I suppose Greyhound and the long distance bus business is near dead, judging by the number you don’t see on the road. As I recall, in the “old days” they had permission to run at the automobile speed limit, at least in California, and they were common on every highway.

This is about the Pacific Highway, but I “discovered” this afternoon the 1860 route between Olympia and Tumwater. In my 23 years here, I didn’t know where it left the main road which was the Cowlitz Trail.

Maybe the story is worth telling. The Cowlitz Trail was well established and used between Olympia and Tumwater, but it was circuitous as it had to go around the south end of the Puget Sound. Remember the bow in old 99. In 1860 a bridge was built across the south tip of the sound. I stumbled across an old photo post card of it some years ago, and later sold it for a handsome profit (you get lucky sometimes!) Since then I have wondered its route and location.

The old bridge shows on the 1891 map below. Until I started this project (which you inspired) I assumed that the old road across the tip of the sound took off somewhere along the modern route of Capital Way on the bow. Not so!

It went down along a one lane route now called “Old Oregon Trail.” Convenient name! Sheila and I drove it today, and it is right out of the past, narrow with a sheer drop to the sound below. It ends in a private lot/ house, and past the house the cut for I5. But there is no mistaking that it is the old road.





The route down to the bridge was along the road named Old Oregon Trail (green pin), the 1860 bridge is at the red pin, and the Cowlitz Trail passes through the yellow pin.

I may never know, but it may even be the case that the Pacific Highway, or more correctly its predecessor route, followed the alignment along “Old Oregon Trail.” Certainly it was an alternative “short cut” if your destination was Tumwater.

The 1891 map maintains the mystery of whether the old Cowlitz Trail went along the steep bank to the west of old US 99. There is a rail line along there, but I remain skeptical as the climb to the north seems too steep.


Well, next we will be entering Tumwater on the old Pacific Highway, the site of the first American settlement north of the Columbia River in what was to become Washington.

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Dave



#8 mobilene

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Posted 05 September 2008 - 05:40 AM

I went to Google Maps and found that stub of Old Oregon Trail. It looks like the approach to the sound and the bridge were lost to I-5. How exciting to find a one-laner back there. I take it it's just an access road to the house at the end.

Sad that the modern map shows no trace of many of the old roads from your 1891 map. Side note: What is up with the satellite imagery? Heavy cloud cover in one section, plus a major resolution change, makes things really hard to see.





#9 Keep the Show on the Road!

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Posted 05 September 2008 - 10:32 AM

QUOTE (mobilene @ Sep 5 2008, 03:40 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
I went to Google Maps and found that stub of Old Oregon Trail. It looks like the approach to the sound and the bridge were lost to I-5. How exciting to find a one-laner back there. I take it it's just an access road to the house at the end.

Sad that the modern map shows no trace of many of the old roads from your 1891 map. Side note: What is up with the satellite imagery? Heavy cloud cover in one section, plus a major resolution change, makes things really hard to see.


Jim

Ah...but wait a bit. Last afternoon Sheila and I walked through the canyon that carries the Deschutes River, then did some "used book store" research. The reward was a 1920's aerial photo of the area. I think you and I may be pleased with how well the old map does show the roads.

And I have used Virtual Earth with more success in that area because they have what they call "bird's eyes." You can clearly see an old road bed along the bank in their photos. .

The old Oregon Trail Road is quite a surprise. The neighborhood is of stately old homes surrounding the Capitol, with wide and straight streets. Suddenly you see this narrow little road drop off the edge of the neighborhood. It is out of place, and appears to lead to a rabbit warren! But it was the main road in 1860 and for some time thereafter.

More after breakfast!

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Dave

#10 Keep the Show on the Road!

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Posted 05 September 2008 - 12:32 PM

Jim,

Deciphering the route of the Cowlitz Trail and the Pacific Highway may prove to be more interesting than I expected in the Olympia / Tumwater area. I have yet to see any map that displays over time the land routes in and out of the state capital. Maybe I can do one! Or find one.

The whole matter might be trivial, except for the fact that Tumwater stands as the earliest site of American settlement north of the Columbia River, and is one of the two earliest sites in Washington. Add to that the fact that Olympia is the capital city, and it may deserve more than a yawn. And if you toss in the old brick Olympia Brewery beside the road, it may awaken a bigger interest!

The two overlays (1853 and 1891 in my earlier posts) have suggested that the old routes ran to the west of Capital Way, and you have observed that they don’t appear in Google Earth. Actually they may, but they are hard to recognize. And they are better seen in Virtual Earth’s bird’s eye shots.

What you will see is a rail line which actual goes through a tunnel under old 99, and what appears to be a road very slightly to the west and below the rail line. I believe this “road” is the old streetcar right of way, and I walked a short section of it yesterday. It follows the alignments shown in my overlays….that is to the west of current Capital Way, and down below, closer to the water.

The old streetcar route shows clearly in the 1920’s aerial shot I mentioned, which I will post later. I need to find a map from the 1900 – 1928 period to determine if the streetcar alignment was on an older trail or road, or even if the streetcar line was also a road for wagons and cars. If it was, then the old overlays were showing what was a trail or road that took a “gradual” assent north bound from near the mouth of the Deschutes River to the land above (north) where the city of Olympia was built.

I am off to do a bit more research and add some photos.

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Dave


#11 mobilene

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Posted 05 September 2008 - 02:48 PM

Dave, this is utterly fascinating, and I eagerly await the next installment! jim

#12 Keep the Show on the Road!

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Posted 06 September 2008 - 01:42 PM

QUOTE (mobilene @ Sep 5 2008, 12:48 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Dave, this is utterly fascinating, and I eagerly await the next installment! jim


I spent too much of yesterday trying to determine why both 1853 and 1891 maps place the large curve of the road and trail at the tip of the Sound too far west. I looked over maps at the city and state libraries and walked along the shoreline of the tip of the Sound…all to conclude that it was mapping error.

Yesterday morning I thought an alignment up the grade from the old 1906 Olympia Brewery might be the streetcar route, and perhaps an earlier roadbed. It would have explained the old maps. But it turned out to be a 1915 railroad switchback that was used to move beer from the brewery to Olympia and other points…..important to the formerly thirsty, but not to the route of the Pacific Highway.

One tiny point did emerge that might be of interest for someone from Olympia. The old road (Pacific Highway) coming north along the big curve did not intersect Capitol Way (Main Street), but rather east - west 27th street a block east of Capitol way, then followed 27th one block westward to a perpendicular intersection with Capitol Way. The “stub” at the south end of Capitol Way would have been on the old route.






So let me summarize the Pacific Highway between Olympia and Tumwater, as I now know it…and its relation to the 1853 and before Cowlitz Trail. Both went south from 4th and Capitol Way, along what was Main Street (now Capitol Way) (see orange line on map below).

An 1860 branch road went southwest and followed what is now the Old Oregon Trail Road down to the water and across a long bridge (called Long Bridge) (see map) which had a turn table section over the river allowing boats to pass. This bridge ended in what is now Tumwater Park across the Deschutes River from the Old Olympia Brewery. Wagons probably followed on or near the current park access road up to old Tumwater, where they could go further south if they wished.

The only explanation I could find for the Long Bridge route to Tumwater, rather than the route around the head of the sound (orange dashed line around curve on old US 99) was that the latter was described as dusty, and longer. I would add a guess that the water powered mills located along the three falls at Tumwater also created wagon traffic that could reach Olympia easier over Long Bridge…but that is speculation.

The photo below of Long Bridge is looking south into Tumwater. The Deschutes Falls canyon I walked day before yesteday with Sheila is just to the left (east) of the large white building.




So my vote is that the infant Pacific Highway followed on top the bank as it does today, along the big curve around the tip of the Sound. And the Cowlitz Trail did the same. The Trail probably crossed the Deschutes within a few hundred yards or less of the 1915 concrete bridge (bottom of dashed line), (as described shown earlier on the 1853 plat map) and gained the top of the bank by any practical means, and perhaps at slightly different places depending on season.

It the mid 1930’s Old 99 (Pacific Highway) was rerouted over a newly built bridge (see my Totem Pole Bridge post of a year or so ago) along the route of the green dashed line.

So that concludes the route between Olympia and the east end of the old (1915) concrete bridge. As a preview of the next leg, look at the red rectangle at the bottom of the map. That was “downtown” Tumwater….BFE (Before Freeway Era).

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#13 mobilene

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Posted 06 September 2008 - 02:30 PM

Aieee!! What nincompoop approved obliterating the downtown of one of Washington's oldest settlements with an Interstate?!!?!?!?

That photo of Long Bridge is great, and sure helps place it on the map. And figuring out the "dogleg" using 27th St. to connect Capitol Blvd. and Capitol Way is excellent. Further explains (beyond I-5 being there) why Capitol Blvd. dead ends where it does. Any idea when this routing disappeared?

#14 Keep the Show on the Road!

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Posted 06 September 2008 - 03:03 PM

QUOTE (mobilene @ Sep 6 2008, 11:30 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Aieee!! What nincompoop approved obliterating the downtown of one of Washington's oldest settlements with an Interstate?!!?!?!?

That photo of Long Bridge is great, and sure helps place it on the map. And figuring out the "dogleg" using 27th St. to connect Capitol Blvd. and Capitol Way is excellent. Further explains (beyond I-5 being there) why Capitol Blvd. dead ends where it does. Any idea when this routing disappeared?


Jim,

Turn of the century and 1920’s Tumwater was concentrated near the west end of the 1915 concrete bridge (orange line). There was a Richfield service station at the south side of the east end of the bridge where the Falls Terrace Restaurant now stands, and straight ahead from the bridge would have been a line of stores that at various times included a bicycle shop, and a drug store, and if my research memory serves, a gas pump. There is just a freeway wall there now. North along Deschutes Way there were more buisinesses.

The road across Long Bridge or around the tip of the Sound (Pacific Highway) and down across the 1915 concrete bridge (orange line) would have led to all these businesses.

It is a bit of an urban legend around here (Tumwater/ Olympia) that the freeway destroyed “downtown” Tumwater. I am beginning to think it would be more accurate to say that the freeway paved over the site of turn of the century – 1920’s Tumwater. By 1957 or so when the freeway was built, I surmise Tumwater businesses had relocated.

The reason? The late 1930’s relocation of US99 across the “Totem Pole Bridge” (green dashed line) bypassed the old town. Early 1950’s business ads promote businesses along that alignment.

I hope to answer the question today with a look at Polk’s business directories at the city library.

Finally, I would guess the stub on Capitol Way was created when the freeway went through. I am thinking I will look at the end for any sign of the old streetcar tracks.

Off to the field!

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Dave

#15 mobilene

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Posted 06 September 2008 - 06:53 PM

Eagerly awaiting your next report.

#16 Keep the Show on the Road!

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Posted 06 September 2008 - 08:41 PM

QUOTE (mobilene @ Sep 6 2008, 04:53 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Eagerly awaiting your next report.


Jim,

I poured over newspaper clippings today and came up with half a dozen gems. One describes an ordinance in 1903 to create a boulevard along Capitol Way around the south end of the Sound to Tumwater. The other confirms the two routes to Tumwater previously described (Long Bridge and Capitol Way / Pacific Highway) and describes a walk along each….quite an amazing piece (see below).



I wish the last had been dated, but based on the fact that the streetcars ended in 1933 and the brewery building was built 1906-07, we can date it as between 1907 and 1933, and based on the tone, I would place it toward the early end of that period.

As for the freeway paving over of downtown Tumwater….yes and no. It was likened to diverting the Columbia River to run through town by one, and as a return of the road (US 99) which had long before been rerouted, by another. Clearly the freeway took out houses, but when it comes to “downtown,” I find less to support that. No businesses are actually cited. Strangely there are no post cards or photos of “downtown” anywhere I have looked thus far.

Instead what I did find was what I expected (self fulfilling prophecy?). A drug store near the end of the bridge, opened in the late 1800’s, closed in 1943. That is about 5- 6 years after US 99 was rerouted to the “Totem Pole Bridge,” perhaps a key factor in its demise, and a sign that “downtown” was shaky.

In the category of roadside artifacts, I explored the stub of Main Street / Capitol Way mentioned earlier. I would have needed a shovel to see if there were streetcar tracks, and the road was freshly repaved…probably within the last few weeks….but look at the old light pole. That is not a reproduction. There are three on the stub. They haven’t been “restored” so maybe I will see if any of them light up in the evening.



Well, I have to get south of Tumwater before the snow flies…so the Pacific Highway Tumwater & south tomorrow. I did a short scout, and “discovered” two routes.

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#17 mobilene

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Posted 06 September 2008 - 10:18 PM

Des Chutes, hunh? I agree that the tone of the article suggests it's earlier rather than later.

The light post you found reminds me of the ones along the Michigan Road in Plymouth, IN. Photo below. Each reads, "DO NOT HITCH TO THIS POST CITY OF PLYMOUTH" -- do the ones on the end of Capitol Way give any messages of times past?



#18 Keep the Show on the Road!

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Posted 07 September 2008 - 12:41 PM

QUOTE (mobilene @ Sep 6 2008, 07:18 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Des Chutes, hunh? I agree that the tone of the article suggests it's earlier rather than later.

The light post you found reminds me of the ones along the Michigan Road in Plymouth, IN. Photo below. Each reads, "DO NOT HITCH TO THIS POST CITY OF PLYMOUTH" -- do the ones on the end of Capitol Way give any messages of times past?



Jim,

That is quite a lamp post, and it looks older than “mine.” And “No,” there was no warning on the one on the “stub.”

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#19 DennyG

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Posted 08 September 2008 - 10:47 AM

Just a note to say that, even though I'm not active in this thread, I do appreciate it -- in at least two senses of the word. I am quite aware of the effort involved and I'm grateful for the knowledge it adds. I don't follow every step of the logic but, if the opportunity presents itself, I'll happily make use of the conclusions.

#20 Keep the Show on the Road!

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Posted 08 September 2008 - 02:57 PM

QUOTE (DennyG @ Sep 8 2008, 08:47 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Just a note to say that, even though I'm not active in this thread, I do appreciate it -- in at least two senses of the word. I am quite aware of the effort involved and I'm grateful for the knowledge it adds. I don't follow every step of the logic but, if the opportunity presents itself, I'll happily make use of the conclusions.


Denny,

Thanks for the comment!

The thread is a bit a "steam of consciousness!” I got distracted for a couple of days following the old streetcar line, and trying to reconcile map error. It was also a surprise to “discover” the old road down to the 1860’s bridge. I’m thinking there may still be some remnants of the bridge, but it would require hacking through a lot of brush.

One big difference between Mobilene’s Michigan Road and the Cowlitz Trail / old Pacific Highway is in construction materials. Apparently you folks in the mid west built with stone…stone bridges, stone houses, etc. In the northwest we used wood, and it is clear what lasted longer!

I have scouted the next 10 miles southward pretty well now and I am putting it together.

Keep the Show on the Road!

Dave






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