Pick of the Week: History Museum hosts ‘Engineering Highway 30’

Benton family 1926-27 Ford takes a special role in the Highway 30 exhibit at the museum.

Photo by Kirby Neumann-Rea
Benton family 1926-27 Ford takes a special role in the Highway 30 exhibit at the museum.



“Engineering Highway 30: Artist’s Dream/Engineer’s Nightmare,” is on display through Dec. 31 at The History Museum of Hood River County, 300 E. Port Marina Drive, Hood River.

The museum is open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Circa 1910, highway promoters Sam Hill (entrepreneur of Maryhill fame) and Sam Lancaster (road engineer with the U.S. Bureau of Public Works) shared a bold vision for a road along the Columbia River, said a museum press release.

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Visitors will get a detailed look at the origins of the highway with the historic American Engineering Record (HAER) drawings and related photographs that capture the singular design achievements realized in the construction of the Gorge highway.

“Together, they envisioned a highway to link the Portland area with the rich agricultural region of Hood River and Wasco counties. But beyond creating a serviceable road, they schemed together to create a stunning visual experience capitalizing on the scenic beauty of the Columbia River Gorge. This is the genesis of the first scenic highway in the United States. And American’s love of wandering (and protecting) our scenic byways began here with this paved road hugging the Columbia River,” said the press release.

“Breathtaking Gorge views of curving river, ice-age rock formations, and tree-covered cliffs rival any landscape’s beauty,” said the museum’s press release. “But much Gorge terrain is so unstable that it dares the engineer to find adequate footing for roadbed and bridges. Together Sam Hill, Sam Lancaster, and a sequence of engineers and investors literally and figuratively bulldozed their way through the Gorge.”

The History Museum presents to visitors the measured and interpretive Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) drawings and related photographs that capture the singular design achievements realized in the construction of the Gorge highway — engineering solutions that are both functional and beautiful. In 1995, HAER artists created a suite of 27 illustrations celebrating the engineering of the Columbia River Highway. The originals are archived at the Library of Congress. But through the generosity of The Columbia Discovery Center and Museum, The Dalles, the Hood River museum is able to present reproductions of many of the HAER drawings, said the press release. They explore nature’s topographical challenges and the elegant solutions designed by a skilled team of engineers and executed by specialized construction workers.

Known by many names, The Columbia River Highway (aka Historic Columbia River Highway, Highway 30, and subsequently Highway 100) filled the need to link the eastern communities of Hood River and The Dalles with Portland. Eventually it would satisfy a growing commercial transport need.

But initially the highway lured affluent, automobile-owning people to venture out into the Gorge to savor nature and experience the joys of being “on the road’.”

“Inextricably linked to the development of the Columbia River Highway is the novelty of the automobile. And thanks to the generosity of Bob Benton, a 1926-27 Ford Touring car is featured in the exhibition, adding a realistic dimension to the installation,” said the press release. “Meanwhile, numerous vintage postcards illustrate the glamour and pure fun of exploring Gorge beauty spots. Stylish travelers are captured touring the new highway, delighting in the novelty of having the time and means to savor nature.”

Note: Peg Willis used the phrase “An Artist’s Dream and An Engineer’s Nightmare” promoting her book, “Building the Columbia River Highway: They Said It Couldn’t Be Done” (2014).



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