Enhance your Historic Highway travels in Troutdale by visiting the exhibit, King of Roads – Byway of the People, the story of building, preserving, and restoring the Historic Columbia River Highway one of the great engineering marvels of the twentieth century. The Troutdale Historical Society display in its Barn Exhibit Hall 732 E Historic Columbia River Highway, is entertaining, educational, suitable for all ages, and wheelchair accessible.
Troutdale, Oregon, is the Gateway to the Gorge and the beginning of the highway. The intriguing story of the first scenic highway in the nation, will enlighten and enhance your travels through the Columbia River Gorge.
The beauty of the Columbia River Gorge inspired early automobile owners to build a highway to carry automobiles past enchanting vistas, awe-inspiring waterfalls and lush forests. It was the coming of age of road touring.
“Get Oregon out of the Mud” was the slogan used to encourage road improvement in Oregon, part of the national Good Roads movement in the late 1870s – 1920s. As the number of registered automobiles rose from 700 in 1908 to 63,318 in 1918, Good Roads gained traction. But early drivers in Oregon built just not a good road, but a beautiful road.
In the early 20th century, the building of the road began after entrepreneur Samuel Hill recruited Samuel Lancaster, an engineer, to accept the task of creating a road that would enhance the beauty of the Columbia River Gorge, not destroy it. The Multnomah County Roadmaster, John B. Yeon, a timber baron who worked for $1 a year, recruited work gangs; offering paying jobs to local farmers.
Gas stations, restaurants, and stores began to appear as road building moved eastward linking Portland with The Dalles. Demands from female travelers to “use the facilities” resulted in the Vista House, completed in 1918. Not just a restroom, it offered a magnificent view point and visitor center. The initial budget of $12,000 rose to over $100,000 giving it the nickname “million-dollar outhouse.”
In 1922, the 73 miles of the Columbia River Highway was paved from Troutdale to The Dalles, opening a thoroughfare for all vehicle transportation. Within 20 years the need for a modern road was evident and by the early 1940s plans for a water grade route (now Interstate 84) began, resulting in the decline of the Columbia River Highway. In 1981 a National Park Service study of the highway recognized the old highway as a “cultural treasure.” Six years and many volunteer hours later, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. This began the restoration efforts and the requirement that the Oregon Department of Transportation prepare a plan for the Highway as a result of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act of 1986. As of 2018, the Historic Highway continues its restoration with most sections now linked by bike and pedestrian paths. Tunnels and bridges have reopened, and stone guard rails restored or replaced.
June 7, 2016, The Troutdale Historical Society celebrated the 100th Anniversary of the dedication of the Columbia River Highway, commissioning renowned sculptor, Rip Caswell, to create a monument befitting the historic event. Erected and unveiled 100 years later to the day, Devoted Passion, depicts “the two Sams,” Hill and Lancaster contemplating the task ahead. It sits in Visionary Park on the Historic Columbia River Highway in Troutdale, Oregon, and is part of the gateway experience to the nation’s first scenic highway.