by Brian Zylstra | July 9th, 2012
(A 1921 photo of the Cascade wagon road near Marblemount. Part of the WSDOT Photo Collection. Photo courtesy of Washington State Archives.)
Sure, a drive over Stevens Pass or Snoqualmie Pass is very scenic, but you really haven’t experienced the Cascade Range in all of its majestic glory until you’ve traveled on the North Cascades Highway. Part of State Route 20, this highway opened in September 1972, nearly 80 years after the Washington Legislature first hatched the idea for a “state wagon road through the Cascade mountains” to connect the Skagit River Valley with the Methow Valley.
The documents and photos related to this highway make up the first of three “Archives treasures” for July.
This Department of Highways’ 40-year report, possibly published around 1945, details the plan to build a road over the North Cascades:
While the State Highway Department was first created by legislative action in 1905, this was by no means the first legislation concerning state roads.
Twelve years earlier, in 1893, the legislature designated as a state road, a road to be constructed from a point on the Nooksack River, in Whatcom County, passing to the north of Mount Baker, and continuing to the Columbia River at a point opposite the town of Marcus. For this lengthy cross-state road, involving a crossing of the Cascade mountains, the sum of $20,000 was appropriated, contingent upon Whatcom County contributing an additional $5,000 and Okanogan and Stevens counties each $1,000, a total of $27,000. Oddly enough, today, fifty-two years later, this highway that received the first legislative appropriation remains far from completed.
The following session of the legislature again appropriated funds for this highway, which was then revised and more clearly defined, the western terminus being changed from a point on the Nooksack River in Whatcom County to a connection with an existing road near Marblemount in Skagit County. The 1895 legislative appropriation was in the sum of $30,000.
Check out this 1895 journal entry by the state road commission that covers the proposed road over the North Cascades.
It wasn’t until 1968 that construction work really began on the North Cascades Highway. The photo below shows Gov. Dan Evans at the dedication ceremony that year.
Here is a Department of Transportation history of the North Cascades Highway , which typically closes around Thanksgiving due to heavy snow and usually reopens in April or May.
We’ll feature two more Archives treasures later this week, so watch for them.
(Photo courtesy of Washington State Archives)