First Bridge at Kettle Falls 1929

The Crossroads Project

Stevens County Crossroads on the Columbia Digital Archive

Since the ice sheets retreated 10,000 years ago, Native Peoples fished at Kettle Falls until the falls were submerged beneath waters backed up by Grand Coulee Dam in 1940.  Rivers were the highways of early travel, where they came together villages arose.  Native people gathered through the summer at the falls to catch and dry salmon.  This is the oldest and greatest of the Crossroads on the Columbia.

The first official contact between Native Peoples and White People at Kettle Falls occurred in 1811 when David Thompson arrived at the falls and constructed a canoe to take Beaver pelts to Fort Astoria at the mouth of the Columbia.  This connection began an era when Kettle Falls became the principle Fur Trading Post in the interior of North America West of the Rockies. It’s key position in an international trade loop to China and back to England made it a crossroads on a much larger scale.

The Fur Trade ended around 1850 just before gold was discovered on the Columbia near Waneta on the border of the US and Canada.  Mining dominated development over the next 100 years as gold and other minerals hidden in the complex geology that formed the Kettle Falls led to the rapid development of travel by river and then by railway.  National and local governments clashed, built stongholds and wagon trails, and provided security for the dominant culture.  Industrial and agricultural boom towns peopled by immigrants from Europe and Asia sprang up along the waterways and eventually the railways of the region.  These new crossroads towns grew in turn from waves of homesteaders, many fleeing turmoil in the US and abroad.  They settled in even the most remote ends of the roads wherever water and soil would support a cow and the forest would provide trees for a cabin.

In some ways the forces that built the region stole its glory.  Railroads that brought industry and took minerals found more lucrative crossroads in Spokane and Seattle.  Rivers became sources of industrial power and ceased to serve as highways for fish and boats.  Mines boomed and busted forcing many to abandon the ends of the road and flee to bigger cities for work.

These themes meet and crisscross each other: Native People, The Fur Trade, Government, Mining, Boats, Railways and the Ends of the Road.  Each of them provides a way to organize our history.  Like any arbitrary convention, they may fall short of telling the whole story.  But they do provide roads into the territory and we encourage you to explore each of them to understand how they influenced each other.

For those of us who call the Kettle Country home and the thousands more who have their roots here, but live elsewhere, the crossroads on the Columbia have many stories to tell.  This archive is designed to hold the pictures, stories, records and other pieces of the past in a digital form, where researchers can piece together their own stories, share them with each other and with the rest of the world.  It is also designed to back up the physical treasures of our local museums and family collections so that even if they are lost to flood, fire or a weak economy, they will be here at least in a virtual form for the world to see.

Like any crossroads town, this website depends on its patrons to build valuable, accessible and attractive works together. Every dollar of the Preserve America Grant that funded its beginning needs to be matched with labor and material from the community itself.  There are opportunities and resources to encourage that effort in the History Detective categories of this website.

We need to strengthen, not replace our museums. There is no subsitute for being here,  This project will enhance efforts to develop tours and tourism to the museums and the rest of this historic area.  If you are not already familiar with the museums of Old Stevens County, a territory that covers much more than today’s jurisdiction, visit them soon.  You will be glad you did.

Although some history is written in stone in grave yards and the corner stones of historic buildings, none of it is complete and all of it is open to interpretation.  There are always facts to add and facts to dispute, this site will provide forums so that we can improve what is written.

A town that stops changing dies.  Similarly, technology keeps providing new opportunities to see the world in different ways.  Social Networks, Mobile Technology, Augmented Reality, Location Based Service, Gesture-based Computing and the Semantic web are some emerging technolgies that can enhance our understanding of the past and enrich our interactions with the present.  There is room for a lot of growth in this archive and rich resources to work with.  If you have ideas and projects that dovetail with this one, get involved.  We can find ourselves at the crossroads.