The Hood River News, Hood River, OR., March 7, 1930, page 5


     Every pioneer who came across the plains to the Willamette Valley by way of the Columbia river route, writes the veteran Fred Lockley, in the Oregon Journal, will remember what a terror to navigation were the Cascades of the Columbia, where they had to make a toilsome and dangerous portage. Eventually a short railroad was built on the north bank of the Columbia to transport passengers and freight from the lower river to the middle river.
     The Cascades extend from Upper Mail Boat to Lower Mail Boat landing. They consist of a series of rapids with a fall of 37.3 feet in a distance of five and three-fourths miles. The main rapids is three-fourths of a mile below Upper Mail Boat landing and here the water falls 21 feet in a distance of less than half a mile.
     On June 23, 1874, Congress passed an act authorizing a survey of the Cascades and Dalles of the Columbia river, for the purpose of ascertaining the practicability and cost of constructing canals and locks at these points. This survey was made under the direction of Major N. Michelor, in the fall of 1874. Robert A. Habersham, who was later surveyor general of Oregon, was chief of the party and Captain Allen Noyes, then a young man not long out of college, was a rodman of the party. Captain Noyes later became a well known river captain on the Columbia and Willamette rivers. The map of the survey was sent to Brigadier General A.A. Humphreys, chief of the engineers, on January 6, 1875.
     In his report Major Micheler says "The magnificent, bold and peculiar scenery at these two places can only be appreciated after a personal inspection." He also tells of the river being forced through a channel of basaltic rock only 125 feet wide, and says: "Among the things to be considered are the strong currents, the sudden bends, the immense rise of the river during freshets, the eddies, the whirlpools, the large masses of drift during freshets and the masses of floating ice from up river points at the break of the winter. At Hellgate, three miles above Celilo, the river becomes gorged with ice to that height of 60 or 70 feet. At the Cascades a permanent improvement can be made by the construction of a canal and locks. The work will be almost identical in character with that at the falls of the Willamette near Oregon City and in reality it will not offer the same difficulty." He estimated the cost of the canal and locks at Cascade Rapids would be about $700,000. It is interesting to note that J.G. and I.N. Day did most of the work, the cost being $3,820,829.48.
     In the fall of 1876 an additional survey was made by C.M. Bolton and the report was submitted to the chief of engineers on February 5, 1877. Bids were opened on October 1, 1878, and the contract was awarded Ball & Platt, of New York City. A.H. Ball, representing the contractors, arrived on December 21, 1878, with a force of workmen. The work was soon under way, but was interrupted by the death of A.H. Ball, resident contractor, on January 4, 1879, two weeks after he had begun the work. The contract expired on October 31, 1879, but an extension was granted July 1, 1880, at which time the contract was abrogated.
     On December 2, 1879, the equipment of Ball & Platt was purchased by the government, the total amount being received by Ball & Platt totaling $79,911.67. From December 3, 1879 to September 30, 1892, a period of more than 12 years, the work was done by hired labor.
     On October 13, 1881, David Chalmers and William E. Holmes, of Portland, were given the contract for the removal of the rock in the river between the side of the canal and the lower end of Bradford Island. Their contract called for the removal of rock to a depth of 10 feet at low water. They removed 4527 cubic yards of rock at $3 per cubic yard for the exposed rock and $25 per cubic yard for all submerged rock. The contract was completed on February 28, 1882.
     On September 15, 1892, proposals were invited for the completion of the work. The bids were opened by Major Thomas H. Handbury on November 15, 1892, and a contract was awarded to J.G. and I.N. Day. The contract was signed on December 27, 1892, and on February 19, 1893, the government plant and the government buildings were turned over to them.
     When their bid was made and accepted times were good and labor and materials were right. Immediately thereafter the panic of 1893 came on, the cost of materials dropped greatly and labor was a drug on the market, so that the contractors were able to make good money on the contract. They were paid 50 cents per cubic yard for dry excavation $1 per yard for sub-aqueous, $1.35 per cubic yard for rock excavation dry and $2.50 for sub-aqueous. A large amount of stone had been gathered by the government, most of which was cut and ready to be used. This was turned over to the contractors.
     The price paid by the government to the contractors for laying granite dimension stone was $63.050 per cubic yard. Basalt dimensions stone $36 per cubic yard. Basalt faced stone $32 and Basalt quarry field stone $28 per cubic yard. For rubble masonry they received $2 per cubic yard, and for paving the slopes, $2.50 per square yard, and for concrete work $6.25 per cubic yard.
     The locks were turned over to Captain H.L. Fisk, corps of army engineers on November 5, 1896. The Sadie B, The Dalles City, the Sarah Dixon and the Harvest Queen were put through the locks together. The Sadie Dixon had a cannon mounted on her deck and this was fired in salute. Immediately after passing through the locks, the Harvest Queen, which had 400 excursionists on board, turned around and passed through the locks again, heading back for Portland. The Harvest Queen was the first boat to make the round-trip through the locks.
     The canal is 90 feet wide and 3,000 feet long. One lock is 524 feet long, the other 514 feet. The depth of water is eight feet. The lower lock has a lift of 24 feet and can operate up to a 20 foot stage above extreme low water at the lower entrance of the canal. The upper lock is formed by the upper gates of the lower lock and a pair of guard gates, so the canal can be used to a 42 foot stage of water at the lower entrance. The original cost of the construction was $3,829,629.48 but on March 4, 1913, congress made an additional appropriation of $100,000 to complete the south wall of the upper lock, so that the total cost of the work, with some additional expense for dredging and repairing, was $3,925,584.23.

©  Jeffrey L. Elmer