Sunday, October 23, 2016

Riverboat at the Bridge of the Gods

Many of the antique photographs in the Archive's collection are not in what would be considered "mint" condition, and probably wouldn't be found in the collections of more formal museums. But that's okay, because regardless of the condition, these photographs are still a remarkable window on the past. This is one such photograph. Typically when one things of sternwheel riverboats, it's the Mississippi (along with Mark Twain) that probably comes to mind. But the Columbia River, separating Washington and Oregon, also had a big population of paddlewheel riverboats.

Many of the Columbia's riverboats looked very similar to each other, and unfortunately the boat's motion and the camera's slow shutter speed has resulted in enough motion blur that the name can't be distinguished. But, based on other photos and the boat's features, this is possibly the Claire, the Dalles City or the Altona.

The riverboat, in this photo, is exiting the Cascade Locks, which were built in 1896 in order to bypass the Cascade Rapids and make navigation between the upper and lower Columbia possible. The rapids were the remnant of four massive landslides in the area, the most recent being the Bonneville Slide that Native Americans in the area called The Bridge of the Gods. The estimated dates of the slide have varied as the dating methods have evolved, with the range varying widely from 1100AD to 1700AD. The most recent studies suggest a date of 1450. The slide temporarily built a natural dam across the river that was 200 feet high and over three miles long, forming a lake that stretched from 35 to 70 miles upstream. The river eventually overcame the dam the lake drained.

The rapids and the original Cascade Locks no longer exist, having been submerged in 1938 by the lake formed by the new Bonneville Dam (the Archive's collection also includes the photo below of the dam).

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