"Ha! ha! ha!" laughed the thoughtless. "He builds wagon roads like railroads, to last forever! It is too expensive!"
Possessed of a great civic imagination, a natural builder, Sam Hill came to Oregon. He had seen Italy, Spain and the Pyrenees. He had studied the old roman roads and the engineering feats of Switzerland. But now, enchanted by our picturesque mountains and mighty rivers he exclaimed: "This is the land!"
Gathering about him others of like spirit, he showed pictures, colored slides of lands afar. "Look at them! What have they, compared with you?" Oregon and Washington he took by storm, carrying their legislatures away to the new home he was building at Maryhill on the Columbia, pointing out roads he had builded and roads that might be built.
As Caesar would say, all Oregon is divided into two parts, Eastern and Western, by an almost insurmountable barrier of the Cascade range, containing 13 snow peaks averaging 10,000 feet in height, dozens not even named of 7000 feet, higher than Mount Washington, higher than any Appalachian or Adirondacks, to say nothing of lesser peaks averaging 5000 feet, all the way from the Canadian border to California.
Through this range breaks the Columbia River. Down it on either bank expensive railroads had been hewed almost out of the solid rock, but not a highway for man or beast or auto. To reach Eastern Oregon by wagon one still had to climb the old Barlow Trail, high over Mount Hood's rough and rugged southern flank.
Among Sam Hill's friends was Julius L. Meier, whose father and mother were pioneer Portlanders, born in that self-same Bavaria, the art center of Germany, and to Bavaria young Julian had traveled, bringing back indelible pictures of vast public works.
In 1912, almost at the risk of his life Julius Meier drove his automobile westward through the Coast Range of mountains to the ocean. Out of that came half a million dollars voted by Lower River counties to make a road to the beach - because he called a meeting, and Sam Hill showed his wonderful pictures.
Another who came was Simon Benson, born in Norway. At 16 he had saved enough to pay his passage to America, where he worked as a logger in the woods of Wisconsin. A fire sweeping away his little savings, Simon Benson emigrated again to Oregon logging camps on the Lower Columbia. That was in 1879. Everything he made he put into timberlands. Today, a millionaire philanthropist, he would return to Oregon some of the weatlth obtained from her forests.
"The Columbia River Boulevard should be the name," said the secretary.
"Cut out that word boulevard," objected Julius L. Meier, president of the Columbia River Highway Association. "This is to be an industrial highway from Portland-to-the-sea."
"Right, Julius," remarked Samuel Hill. "Call this the Columbia River Highway - not from Portland, but from Pendleton-to-the-sea - a work to be as monumental as the river it parallels."
For not idly had Sam Hill traveled up and down the great river, by boat, by train and on foot alone three days in the rain, studying basaltic bulwarks a mile high. The proposed low-lying county road, stakes already set, he would lift into a great scenic highway worthy of the estuary it traversed.
"But you can never build a road around Shell Rock Mountain!", old-timers jeered when "the godfather of good roads" talked of a Columbia River Highway, "It can't be did!"
Simon Benson took a look at Shell Rock Mountain, a shaly, shifting, disintegrating point of rock. Had he not seen roads in Norway, the home of good roads? Simon Benson handed Governor Oswald West $10,000 to establish a convict camp of "honor men" to build a solid road around Shell Rock. By Spring it was done. But with the first jar, down fell the walls on the railroad track below.
"Here! here!" cried the O.W.R. & N. officials. "This will never do! No road can be built above us! All your money is wasted."
"No," Simon Benson decided, "the money is not wasted. It has served a good purpose. It shows we must have intelligent engineering skill."
It so happened that once upon a time, as president of the American Road-builders' Association, Sam Hill had taken a company of engineers to Europe to show them the lands that were building highways before America was discovered. Now one of these experts - Samuel C. Lancaster, of Tennessee - he brought to Oregon.
Then Portland business men and Multnomah County officials took a trip up the Columbia to Chanticleer, near the heights where Thor, the Thunderer, whirls chinook winds up from the sea.
"Ah," said a certain banker, "I would favor increasing the county tax if we only had a practical business man, say like John B. Yeon, for roadmaster."
Now Yeon is a Frenchman, born in Canada, who in early boyhood crossed the border into the United States and engaged as a logger in the woods of Ohio. Saving his money, at 20 Yeon reached Oregon with $50 in his pocket, and again made his home in logging camps. Today he is another millionaire philanthropist. And had he not built roads, logging roads from the very tops of the Coast Mountains down into the Columbia?
John B. Yeon heard the banker's remark. He was just finishing the tallest skyscraper in Portland and making arrangements for a European tour. But he had seen Sam Hill's pictures.
"I'll build the roads. I will act as county roadmaster for one year without salary. But you couldn't hire me for this job for $1500 a month."
Oregon woke up. The men who met on the heights at Chanticleer began to blow away mountains, bore tunnels, make fills and build bridges for a highway such as had never been built outside of Europe. Engineer Lancaster laid out the plans. Roadmaster Yeon, in colored shirt and overalls, led his army of builders. Multnomah and Hood River counties began putting up the money. Two millions.
Should you drive out there today, from Chanticleer eastward for a half a mile you will find a road hung round the face of cliffs like the cornice on a tall building, cut from the brow of precipices, protected by walls of rock and concrete, like the famous French Corniche from Monte Carlo to Nice. Out and out you will go over a pavement smooth as the streets of Paris, to Crown Point, overhanging the valley and Rooster Rock.
Like a circus ring the road runs around Crown Point, surrounded by a curbed concrete walk, protected by a parapet from whose coping tall posts hold aloft the aluminum mounts and frosted globes of 29 electric lamps, beacons on the mountain side, lighting Crown Point at night. Seven hundred feet high, this Oregon Gibraltar has been called the supreme concept of Samuel C. Lancaster, the great engineer.
Down below the river rolls. Miles the view extends, over fields and orchards and lakelike levels dotted with green islands, west and west through a break in the Coast Range into the very gates of sunset. To the east, around a sharp turn of masonry, behold the entrance to the hiterto inaccessible Columbia River Gorge.
By loop on loop and figure eights, firm and smooth the driveway glides onto a three-arch bridge of concrete opposite the waters of Lautourell tumbling sheer down 224 feet over a black basaltic bluff. La Tourelle, of the old French-Indian days, finds here his monument. And yet a little farther, like the exquisite carving of a sculptor's chisel, the chasm at Shepperd's Dell is spanned by a springing arch of 100 feet, through whose curving frame pictures of Oregon's purple mountains and dark forests shine like colossal paintings.
Engineer Lancaster asked Mr. Shepperd if he would give the right of way. The owner demurred. "Do you love it?" inquired the engineer. "Love it? Sir, my wife is dead. On Sundays I take the children and come out here - to think of her and watch the waterfalls."
"Will you not then, for your wife's sake, give it as a memorial to her? Tears sprang to the lone man's eyes, "I'll do it," and he wrote the deed to 11 acres.
Once the ideal American attended strictly to his own business. Today the ideal American looks to the welfare, not only of his own, but of all. But for such men the Columbia Highway never could have been built. Thus George Shepperd, an ideal shepherd of the Columbia Highlands, gave Shepperd's Dell, screening in its mossy depths yet another cascade tumultuously rushing to the Columbia.
No wonder Lewis and Clark adventuring down the great river a hundred years ago cried "Cascades!" at the continuous waterfalls tumbling from upper springs and snows, until "Cascades" became the name not only of the waterfalls, and the rapids in the gorge, but of the entire range that mothers these eternal streams.
Back of these Cascadean battlements lies Mount Hood, with glaciers glittering on his shoulders, and foothills filled with purling streams that find here their nearest outlet, eddying yet a moment before they take the plunge below.
A mile east of Shepperd's Dell, the Bridal Veil shimmers like the Staubbach, the Dust-brook of Switzerland, and three miles more, Mist Falls leaps like Nuuanu stream back of Honolulu, to be dissipated and blown into space long before reaching the waters below.
Out of Punchbowl Crater, 1300 feet deep, springs Wahkeena, full panoplied like Minerva springing from the head of Jove, winged with foam and bubbles, cutting huge gorges on its way to the Columbia, a roaring cataract, tumbling, foaming, spouting icy-cold as the underground glacier in which it has its birth. Simon Benson found the cradle of Wahkeena, a natural artesian well only half a mile from the roadside. He bought it, and the land around it, presenting it to the City of Portland for a public playground forever.
A half mile further yet, Multnomah takes her double leap, 700 feet, with a concrete arch below the falls, and a hundred feet above, a second bridge for foot and pony passengers on the trail to Larch Mountain. Eight snow peaks are visible from Larch Mountain - besides,
How can we name them all, 22 waterfalls in 25 miles, as we go skimming on and on to Bonneville, named for that Bonneville, who, long ago, driven out by menoplistic foreign fur-traders, shook a menacing finger, "I will return!" And he did, to take charge of the United States Government Barracks at Fort Vancouver on the Columbia.
At Cascade Locks across the river may be seen the jutting pier whence Indian tradition says the "Bridge of the Gods" fell in, filling the river with rocks that cost the United States Government $4,000,000 to overcome with locks.
Beyond Cascade Locks is Mitchell's Point, the old Storm Crest of the Indians, approached by the most daring piece of masonry in the entire highway. Here, as at Crown Point, and in many other places, engineers had to be hung over cliffs with ropes 150 to 200 feet long to blast footing enough to make a survey, working like mountain goats to trace a beginning. Young men did these stunts, a boy by the name of Elliott, a student of the University of Washington, located the tunnel at Mitchell's Point and directed the construction under Henry L. Bowlby, the young State Engineer of Oregon, a Nebraskan from West Point.
Not only is the Storm Crest tunneled, but it has five gigantic windows over-looking the Columbia and the mountains beyond. Nothing like it is known anywhere, save in a certain point in France and in the famous Axenstrasse along the shore of Lake Lucerne, in Switzerland, and that has only three windows, while Mitchell's Point has five. Fifty thousand dollars it cost to fix up the old Storm Crest castle, with parapets at the windows and seats for visitors within.
What the Axenstrasse has done to make Lake Lucerne famous, what the Crypomaria avenue is to Japan, the Columbia Highway will be to Oregon, an attraction for tourists and a joy to our own people forever.
In that little Switzerland, not larger than some of our states, there are about 4000 hotels, in which travelers spent $100,000,000 in 1913. The Swiss government itself owns steamships and railroads and maintains offices in New York and other large cities to arrange itineraries and co-operate with the hotels, thereby attracting Americans who scatter their money abroad.
In like manner hotels are rising here amid these radio-active fountains. Already some chalets are perched in evergreen glens. Already Crown Point is to be rimmed with Dabney Cliffs, romantic as an old Rhenish castle, with balconies, terraces and chimes to peal at sunset far over the blue Columbia.
To solidify this road miles of artistic dry rock walls were built by Italians after the fashion in Italy. Thus all Europe has contributed more or less to this American masterpiece.