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Thursday, November 30, 2023
Nov. 30, 2023

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A dozen defining moments

From the Yacolt Burn to the Chkalov flight to the eruption of Mount St. Helens, The Columbian has been there to report on Southwest Washington’s historic moments

By , Columbian staff writer
16 Photos
One of the biggest days in Clark County history was Feb. 14, 1917, when a ribbon was cut opening the Interstate Bridge between Vancouver and Portland.
One of the biggest days in Clark County history was Feb. 14, 1917, when a ribbon was cut opening the Interstate Bridge between Vancouver and Portland. Thousands turned out to cheer as Washington was linked to Oregon, eliminating one of the oldest ferry systems on the Columbia River. Photo Gallery

When big news happens right here in our own front yard, The Columbian’s job is to scoop it up immediately and spread the word quickly. Here are a dozen huge local happenings, as witnessed and written by Columbian reporters:

“Ruin in its Wake,” Sept. 18, 1902: “The forest fires raging in Clark County this past week have reached a climax. The charred and lifeless bodies of 38 people have already been found … Many settlers and an unknown number of campers from outside points are missing. The burned section extends from Etna on the North Fork Lewis River to the summit of the Cascades on the east, and embraces nearly all the country between there and the Columbia River, running as far west as Vancouver.”

“Railway is opened,” March 19, 1908: “The first regular passenger train over the North Bank Road left Vancouver this morning at 9 o’clock. The first train from the east is scheduled to reach here at 7 o’clock this evening. The first freight train will start up the river tomorrow morning.” Twenty-six tickets were sold for the 221-mile, eight-hour maiden voyage from Vancouver to Pasco; a report from the journey underway hailed the fact that at the 109-mile marker the train was running “only 35 minutes behind schedule.”

“Mammoth Bridge of Steel Across Columbia Breaks the Last Barrier in Pacific Highway,” Feb. 14, 1917: “Thousands Witness Opening Ceremonies; Samuel Hill, Father of Pacific Highway, tells of Conception of Mammoth Bridge; Formal Cutting of Ropes and Unfurling of Flags Dedicate it to Traffic.”

(Nearly a century later, the phrase “dedicate it to traffic” seems painfully ironic — but a century ago, busy traffic meant commercial progress, not commuting problems.)

“Dreams do come true. Men who yesterday dreamed of this bridge and set about with earnest work toward its accomplishment today find their dreams a reality,” The Columbian printed in black-but-purple ink.

“Thousands attend Klan ceremonial at fair grounds,” Aug 25, 1924: “With a fiery cross looming in the background and before a gathering of half a thousand Klansman in uniform and between 10,000 and 15,000 spectators, a hundred or more neophites in the order of the Ku Klux Klan swore allegiance to the invisible empire in a ritualistic initiation ceremony in the open air at Bert Bagley Park …” “The ceremony started with the appearance of the flaming emblem suspended from an airplane flying high above the crowds and thrilling the onlookers with a series of spectacular convulsions.”

“Sheriff Wood slain while raiding still,” May 22, 1927: “Lester Wood, sheriff of Clark County, was almost instantly killed at about 4:30 this afternoon when shot through the body by an unknown assailant in the foothills near Dole, four and one-half miles south of Yacolt. … The scene of the murder was in the roughest and wildest part of Clark County.” A group of deputies and the sheriff had been hunting for an illegal distillery after arresting one Douglas Lowery with a “truck-load of booze, manufactured … at the still in the wilds of Dole country,” when they were ambushed.

On May 23 The Columbian reported that Luther Baker and six others had been arrested “by an armed posse last night in a secluded cabin.” Baker was hanged at the state penitentiary in Walla Walla on March 29, 1929.

“City in World Spotlight as Russian Fliers End North Pole Flight Here,” June 21, 1937: “Spotlighted before the world as the official terminus of one of the most hazardous flights in history, Vancouver today was a center of official and aviation interest … that broke upon this city yesterday morning when three intrepid Russians glided from the warm drizzle to Pearson Field after traversing the North Pole.”

Reporter Erwin O. Reiger couldn’t help noting, under a side story headlined “Columbian 1st to Tell Of Arrival”: “The thrill that comes to few newspapermen in a lifetime of service — the chance to ‘scoop’ the world on an important story — is one sidelight of the landing of the Russian ‘top of the world’ airmen yesterday morning.”

Pilot Valery Chkalov and his crew were treated as heroes here, and afterwards spoke warmly of their new friends and their hopes for a peaceful future in a demonstrably smaller world.

“Battered County ‘Digging Out’ From Under Wind Storm Debris,” Oct. 15, 1962: “State and local officials today surveyed widespread devastation left by the killer windstorm which unleashed its fury here Friday evening. The storm, which swirled into full fury in a matter of minutes, left three dead in Clark County and injured at least 70 others. Catastrophe plans are being put into operation here by insurance companies as a result of the multi-million dollars worth of damage …”

“Vanmall”: Aug 16, 1977: The opening of the Vancouver Mall after years of construction brought out Gov. Dixie Lee Ray and other dignitaries; nearby, ground-breaking on the I-205 bridge was imminent, with both developments hurrying the growth of east Vancouver and east Clark County. The Columbian published a special “Vanmall” pullout section stuffed with stylish advertising, as well as some editorial copy marvelling over the new mall, noting its interior greenery, space for public events, celebrities and technological innovations — like the space-aged Climatron, “a newly developed, energy-saving system” that operated fans, compressors and heaters in separate zones, without which the “mammoth glass-roofed structure” would be too hot in summer and too cold in winter.

“St. Helens spews death, destruction,” May 19, 1980: “Mount St. Helens, the once-serene, cone-shaped peak that dominated the skyline northeast of Clark County … erupted with a force likened to an atom bomb Sunday …” “The blast left the snow-capped mountain about 1,300 feet shorter than it was two days ago, spread death and destruction through the Toutle River valley north and west of the mountain and sent a gigantic ash cloud to the east.”

“I wondered if we were going to make it out alive,” said Valerie Sigfridson, 23, who was planting trees for the Forest Service. “There were these big logs bouncing along like toothpicks. Just rolling!” said Harold Terry, a security guard for Weyerhaeuser Co. land in the area. “When that mountain went, it looked like the end of the world,” said Bart Dalfonso.

In the end, there were 57 fatalities — including Columbian photojournalist Reid Blackburn.

“Brewery turns off Vancouver ‘L,’ ” October 6, 1985: “The decades-old ‘Lucky’ sign atop the General Brewing Co.’s downtown plant blinked off for the final time on Wednesday morning. (T)he huge ‘L,’ which used to burn Vancouver’s nighttime sky like a hot charcoal briquette,” went dark as the 128-year-old brewery closed. Employees were “caught off guard” by the August announcement that the plant would close; 88 of them eventually sued the company — unsuccessfully — for breach of contract; the brewing equipment was shipped to a plant in China while the historic Lucky Lager plant on Eighth Street was demolished, in phases. The site, east of Esther Short Park, is now home to the Vancouvercenter condominiums and office space.

“Record-size annexation official today,” Jan. 1, 1997: “Vancouver annexed an estimated 55,000 residents in the urban area east of the city limits as of 12:01 this morning, making the city the fourth largest in Washington with a population of 123,000.”

Esther Short Park’s new look gets a warm, sunny welcome,” April 13, 2000, and “(Propstra) Square festivities draw thousands,” July 26, 2001: “With a quick snip of the red ribbon, Esther Short Park’s new community square spurted to life Wednesday evening. Seconds later, a fine mist appeared and water began trickling through the shallow man-made stream. … Community leaders hope the continuous flow will come to represent a revitalized downtown that never shuts down.

“Look around you, folks,” Mayor Royce Pollard told an estimated 1,800 to 2,000 people who attended Wednesday’s dedication. “You will see what a community looks like.”

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