Highway’s twists, turns take travelers back in time | Taking Stock

By Tim Raetzloff | Jul 26, 2017
Courtesy of: Teresa Anderson In May 1922, Herbert Anderson made this photo of Top-o-th-Hill at the top of Blewett Pass along a section of the Yellowstone Trail.

I recently drove a section of the Yellowstone Trail right in our own backyard.

Now nearly forgotten, this was the first highway in the U.S. that ran from coast to coast. It started in the east in Plymouth, Massachusetts, and ended in Seattle. At Livingston, Montana, a spur led to Yellowstone National Park, which provided the name for the road. It was possible to drive a car from either coast to the first national park.

According to Wikipedia, the Yellowstone Trail was established on May 23, 1912. Some sections of the road still exist in Washington.

A section in the original brick still exists as 196th Avenue Northeast in Redmond, and additional sections of it run just south of Highway 202 between Redmond and Fall City past the Happy Valley Grange.

One section runs past Weeks Falls east of North Bend near Olallie State Park. Another section runs between the east and west lanes of I-90 from Denny Creek to Alpental. Years ago, I saw a stone-water trough on that section of road where radiators could be refilled or livestock watered. I looked for that trough a few years ago, but couldn't find it again.

The frontage road in front of the Snoqualmie ski areas generally follows the original route of the Yellowstone Trail. That section is also notable because it was originally the route of the Milwaukee Road Railroad until it was re-routed into a tunnel under Snoqualmie Pass, which is now on the John Wayne Trail. The depot of the tiny town of Laconia was located at the top of the pass.

But I didn't visit any of those sections on this trip. I drove the Old Blewett Pass Highway. I was surprised to find that it had deteriorated very little since the last time I drove it nearly a decade ago.

It twists and turns up the watersheds of Swauk Creek and Blewett Creek. An interesting side trip is a visit to Liberty, a gold town that is more than 125 years old. The old highway may be accessed from Highway 97, which runs between Cle Elum and Wenatchee. The signage is poorly placed, so I missed it on my first try, even though I had been there before.

Driving the old Yellowstone Road will take you back to another era when roads twisted and turned with the landscape, and there were no guardrails. The road is not heavily used, though I passed at least five other cars and a couple of motorcycles. I have seen other cars every time I have driven the road, so a few of us know it is there and appreciate it.

Six days after I drove the Old Blewett Pass Highway, I was sent a number of photos taken in May 1922 by Herbert Anderson. His daughter Teresa Anderson of Issaquah sent them to me.

Most of the photos were taken from a train over Stevens Pass, but one photo was of a place called Top-o-th-Hill. That was located at the very top of Blewett Pass, where there is now a wide spot to pull over.

Top-o-th-Hill had food and gasoline. The chalk sign says, “Pork & Beans, Ham & Eggs, Bacon & Eggs, Sandwiches, Hot Chili, Coffee.” Above it, a more permanent sign proclaims “Blewett Pass, Spokane 232 miles, Seattle 123 miles.”

This was the main route across Washington, a far cry from Interstate 90 now or even Highway 2. Today, Seattle is only 280 miles from Spokane via I-90 – 75 miles less and better highway than 100 years ago.

As early as 1915, there was a timed relay over the Yellowstone Trail from Chicago to Seattle. The winner finished in 97 hours, according to Wikipedia. Railroads were faster. No one was killed in the race, but there were accidents, according to Wikipedia. Driving old Blewett Pass today, it is easy to see that a speeding car could be prone to crashes. Plus, tires and brakes were of much lower quality in 1915.

The Yellowstone Trail is much lesser known than Route 66, which it predates by more than a decade. Still, significant parts of it remain, and we have some of them within easy driving distance from home.

 

Tim Raetzloff operates Abarim Business Computers at Harbor Square in Edmonds. What he writes combines his sense of history and his sense of numbers. Neither he nor Abarim have an investment in any of the companies mentioned in this column.

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