Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Columbus, Washington and Wood for Steam Boats on the Columbia River

Former Columbus, Washington

Just north of the Highway 97 Columbia River crossing and below Maryhill is a stretch of orchards and farm fields along the river shore. This area was settled before the arrival of Sam Hill and the construction of Maryhill. For one thing this low bench above the river area would have been an ideal location for First Nations settlement. When the Lewis and Lewis and Clark Expedition passed this area they noted many villages along the river as the river provided abundant fish for food. At that time (1805) there were probably significantly more people living along the river than today. One challenge the expedition had in this area was the lack of wood available for cooking purposes and on occasion they were obliged to purchase wood from the First Nations villages that they came across.

A small post First Nation community called Columbus was located at this site in as early as 1880. This small community traded in the very product that the Lewis and Clark Expedition found wanting in the area - wood. Steam powered ships moved goods up the Columbia all the way to Lewiston, Idaho on the Snake River. These low draft ships needed wood for firing their boilers. A trip from Columbus to Lewiston required 170 cords of wood. Not far downstream of this site was Celio Falls which effectively blocked ship passage and importing wood via ship from the more forested areas to the west. To the east there is no forest so this was the spot to get wood. Oxen teams would haul wood from the forests near Goldendale located to the north down the steep road to Columbus. 

Over time this operation probably pushed the forest edge around Goldendale back. The forest near Goldendale is a mix of oak and ponderosa pine with Douglas fir and a variety of other trees at higher altitude to the north.

With the arrival of rail, the steamboat shipping began to decline. What steamboats remained were then able to get coal from rail shipments to the area and the wood trade at Columbus came to an end. The timber harvest in the high country near Goldendale did not end, but the end use of the wood products shifted to lumber products.  

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