Tag Archives: Settlers

Cora Blake Endures

The wreck of the Cora Blake lies beneath the shallow waters of this Lake Whatcom bay.

The wreck of the Cora Blake lies beneath the shallow waters of this Lake Whatcom bay.

I have one of the most beautiful commutes in the country, I’m pretty sure. My drive is around fifteen miles long, winding through precipitous hills clad in dark and overgrown forests of hemlock, Douglas fir and Bigleaf Maple. Most of the route follows the south shore of Lake Whatcom on a road that is thinly traveled. The drive I make is a relatively recent road, though.

Since American settlers first visited this lake in the mid-1800s, boats were the favored mode of transportation. Native Americans taught the earliest settlers how to build shovel-nosed canoes made of a single hollowed-out cedar log. Row boats followed, then sailboats. The first of the steam-powered boats was launched in the late 1800s, and it contributed its muscle to burgeoning industries of coal-mining and the lumber trade.

By the early 1900s several steamboats traveled the twelve-mile length of Lake Whatcom, visiting docks of settlers and nascent communities along the way. Other steamboats dragged barges loaded with coal or with train cars loaded with coal. Still others nudged rafts of huge logs toward several lumber and shake mills that dotted the perimeter of the north end of the lake. Continue reading

Advertisements

A Picnic to End the Dustbowl

Farmers and ranchers and their families mingled with promoters and dignitaries to hear about the progress being made. From the top of the mountain they gazed north on the desert lands that Grand Coulee Dam would make into a garden.

Farmers and ranchers and their families mingled with promoters and dignitaries to hear about the progress being made. From the top of the mountain they gazed north on the desert lands that Grand Coulee Dam would make into a garden.

They gathered on top of Saddle Mountain in the heat of August, 1927, on a patch of sand and basalt at the top of the cliffs that form the western edge of the landmark that gave the mountain its name. Every car and truck that arrived ground the powdery soil in the road into a finer dust that hung in billows over the hillside before drifting slowly away. As they arrived, the cars were directed to a makeshift parking lot, a vacant hillside spotted with small sagebrush. But the passengers were dressed in their finest clothes, as if coming to a wedding. And in a sense, they were.

The State of Washington would look a lot different today if Grand Coulee Dam hadn’t been built…something that probably couldn’t happen today. My purpose here isn’t to debate whether or not it was right to so dramatically alter the environment of the Eastern Washington desert (indeed, because my family has been so closely tied to the enterprise, I’m not exactly sure how I feel about it). To get a brief history of the dam, you can find this excellent, pretty well balanced, article on HistoryLink.org.

It’s hard to imagine what the farmers who attended that picnic on Saddle Mountain were feeling. Over the years many of them had watched their neighbors and friends give up or fail on the lands they had invested so many years of labor to develop. Continue reading