Friday, March 13, 2015

Travel on the Columbia River in the 1800s and Early 1900s

Bridal Veil Falls

By Miralee Ferrell

Two of my books set in the 1800s, Finding Love in Bridal Veil, Oregon, and Dreaming on Daisies, required that one of the characters (or more) travel by steamboat up the Columbia River Gorge, where I've lived most of my life. Lewis and Clark first discovered this route as they searched out The Oregon Trail. The picture of Bridal Veil Falls to the right is exactly what the pioneers would have seen as they traveled the river that flows between Oregon and Washington.

A few years ago I had the fun of taking a trip from Hood River to Cascade Locks on a reproduction of an old paddle-wheeler, and it was a wonderful experience. Here’s a picture of a paddle-wheeler still making trips from Portland, Oregon, all the way East through several dams—some offer day trips, some go for several days on an extended cruise.

The first steam boat went up the Columbia in the 1850s, the Beaver. 

During the time period my books are set, the 1870s and 1880s, there was no highway through the Gorge—in fact, there was rugged territory that had to be transversed through the edges of the Cascade Mountains, and some of it could only be accomplished by boat. One of the largest hurdles to boat travel during that time period was Celilo Falls, a few miles above The Dalles, Oregon. I was only a few years old when The Dalle
s Dam was built and Celilo Falls flooded. It wasn’t so much a large dropping fall, as a series of small falls and rapids where the Native Americans had fished for generations. I remember my parents driving up there so my older sister and I could see it before it disappeared for the last time. 

Mitchel Point Tunnel
Multnomah Creek Bridge
The very first highway through the Columbia Gorge began construction in 1913, and is now called the Scenic Columbia Gorge Highway. It still has many of the beautiful bridge and concrete work, passes in front of breathtaking waterfalls, and is maintained by the State. I was so amazed when researching the transportation through the Gorge a few years ago, to discover that my great-grandfather on my mother's side, helped build the highway. He and his team of mules were hired to drag stumps out of the way after being removed from what would become the roadbed. Until this road was built, people traveled by wagon, horseback or boat if they wanted to get from Portland to The Dalles, while staying along the river.

The building on the very top of the cliff is The Vista House, built in 1917 during the construction of the highway. Since 1918. when it was finished, this regal sight has enthralled millions of travelers, sitting 733 feet above the river. (as taken from Wikipedia) It was designed by Edgar M. Lazarus. With its marble interior and brass fixtures, some Oregonians at the time derided it as the "$100,000 ".[3] The original idea for an observatory at the site came from Samuel Lancaster, the consulting engineer for the Columbia River Highway. Lancaster proposed "an observatory from which the view both up and down the Columbia could be viewed in silent communion with the infinite"[4]  Lancaster also suggested the name "Vista House."

Miralee Ferrell is a best-selling, award-winning author, speaker, accredited counselor, and American Christian Fiction Writers chapter president who has published multiple contemporary and historical romance novels. She has two new series that released between 2013 and 2015, Love Blossoms in Oregon (historical romance) and Horses and Friends (middle-grade horse novels). She and her husband enjoy horseback riding, gardening, and family gatherings around their eleven-acre property in Washington State’s beautiful Columbia River Gorge.

Dreaming on Daisies--On Sale Now

When her father's debts, brought on by heavy drinking, threaten Leah Carlson's family ranch, she fights to save it. When handsome banker Steven Harding must decline her loan request, he determines to do what he can to help. Just as he arrives to serve as a much-needed ranch hand, Leah's family secrets—and the pain of her past—come to a head. They could destroy everything she's fought for. And they could keep her from ever opening her heart again.

This is western historical romance that offers hope and healing to the deepest wounds in a woman's past.


  1. We Have enjoyed the waterfalls along the Columbia River Gorge and went as far as the first lochs built by the Army Corps of Engineers. I do want to take the road around Mt Hood. What a beautiful place to grow up! I have read your book and enjoyed it. Sm wileygreen1(at)yahoo(dot)com

  2. Years ago, I visited one of my good writer buddies who lived in Salem, OR. She took me to see a beautiful waterfall that I think was called Angel Falls. The Gorge is breathtaking, especially for a gal from the flatlands of the plains in the Midwest. I hope to visit the Northwest again.

  3. Gosh, I would love to visit this area of our country. So beautiful!!! I am amazed at what the Army Corp of Engineers can do. I do feel sad that they had to flood the area but understand what it meant for us now. How special that your own family was part of the bridge building. Thank you so much for sharing.

  4. I love the Columbia Gorge and the falls there. Bridal Veil is beautiful. I've been to the Vista House overlook. What an incredible view. Thanks for sharing this story.

  5. Thanks, ladies, for stopping by! If any of you ever cruise through the Gorge, give me a shout before you come so we can meet for coffee. Sorry it took me so long to reply. I had major computer problems the past two days. All fixed now, finally!