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Lewis & Clark's Columbia River - "200 Years Later"
"Castle Rock, Oregon"
Includes ... Castle Rock ... Castle ... Boardman ...
Image, 2006, Castle Rock, Oregon, area, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Vicinity of Castle Rock, Oregon. View from driving west on Interstate 84 looking towards the area where Castle Rock, Oregon, use to be. The Columbia River is just barely visible as strip of blue on the right. The hills of Washington State are in the background. Image taken October 2, 2006.


Castle Rock ...
Historic Castle Rock, Oregon, is located at Columbia River Mile (RM) 262, across from Crow Butte, Washington. Upstream is the Oregon city of Boardman, and downstream is Willow Creek and another railway station Heppner Junction. The community of Castle Rock was named after a basalt feature which lay along the Columbia River at RM 261. The community was located southeast of the rock. According to McArthur and McArthur (2004):

"... Castle Rock ... was a low bluff said to resemble a castle from the river. This formation as well as the old railroad and highway grades were inundated by Lake Umatilla behind John Day Dam. The 1881 railroad station was Castle Rock, and a post office with that name operated from 1883 to 1926. ..."

In W.H. Gray's writings (1870):

"... At the end of the railroad the steamboat receives the traveler, when, as he ascends the river, the land on either side diminishes in height, till he reaches Castle Rock, seventy-one miles above the Dalles. This is a lone pile of basaltic rocks having the appearance of an old castle in the midst of a great plain to the east, south, and west of it. ..." [Gray, 1870]


The Dalles to Walla Walla

Excerpt from: William Henry Gray, 1870, A History of Oregon, 1792-1849, drawn from personal observation and authentic information, by W.H. Gray, of Astoria, published in Portland, Oregon.


"From the Dalles we ascent this mightly river fourteen miles by rail, where the water has worn its crooked course amid solid basaltic rocks to unknown depths, not exceeding a hundred and fifty feet in width, causing the river, in discharging its annual floods, to rise at this point over eighty feet in perpendicular height.

At the end of the railroad the steamboat receives the traveler, when, as he ascends the river, the land on either side diminishes in height, till he reaches Castle Rock, seventy-one miles above the Dalles. This is a lone pile of basaltic rocks having the appearance of an old castle in the midst of a great plain to the east, south, and west of it.

A large portion of this plain, lying along the river, is of course gravel and sand, dry, and comparatively barren; yet producing the artemisia, sage, and a luxurious growth of wild mustard in the early spring; with but little grass, and abundance of the low sunflower.

The lands back from the river are high rolling prairie, covered with rich bunch grass, having a light soil composed of pulverized basaltic sandstone.

This soil, to the eye of the careless observer, though it is thickly set with the bunch grass, generally appears barren and worthless; yet, with irrigation, or with winter grains, or grasses adapted to the soil, it can not be exhausted.

Twenty-file miles above Castle Rock stands the thriving little town of Umatilla, at the mouth of the river of the same name, and nine miles above is Windmill Rock. In ascending the river fifteen miles from this place, the land on either side rises to some fifteen hundred feet above the level of the river which occupies the entire bottom from rocks to rocks on either side; when the land suddenly drops from this high plain which extends from the Blue Mountains on the east to the Cascade range on the west, forming as it were, a great inland dam across the Columbia River, fifteen hundred feet high at the place where the river has broken through the dam. As you pass out of this gap, in looking to the north and east, the eye rests upon another vast, high, rolling plain, in the southeastern part of which lies the beautiful valley of the Wallawalla."



The railroad station at this location today is known as "Castle". Views of the location of this now vanished community can be seen from Interstate 84 west of Boardman, or from the Washington side of the Columbia downstream of Crow Butte. Electrical transmission towers cut through the area.

Image, 2006, Castle Rock, Oregon, area, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Vicinity of Castle Rock, Oregon. View from driving east on Interstate 84 looking towards the area where Castle Rock, Oregon, use to be. The Columbia River is just barely visible as strip of blue. The hills of Washington State's Crow Butte are in the background. Image taken September 29, 2006.


Early Castle Rock ...
Castle Rock, as well as nearby Coyote, Willows, and Umatilla, were registered by the Oregon Railroad and Navigation Company (O. R. & N. Co.) in 1881 and the town was platted in 1883. The Castle Rock Post Office came into existence in August 1883, along with a newspaper called the "Castle Rock Record". Businesses included sheep ranching, the Castle Rock Warehouse, and the Castle Rock Lumber Co. The community also was a steamboat landing and a stage coach stop. The demise of Castle Rock began when the railroad built further inland. At the turn of the century the nearby community of Boardman began developing. In 1926 the Castle Rock Post Office closed.

Besides Castle Rock, Oregon, two other Castle Rocks were noticed by early river travelers. Downstream 120 miles on the Washington side is Beacon Rock, known as "Castle Rock" until 1916. Seventeen miles up the Cowlitz River (merging with the Columbia at RM 68) is located Castle Rock, Washington, today a thriving community.


Castle Rock in 1940 ...
From the Oregon State Archives "A 1940 Journey Across Oregon":

"...CASTLE ROCK .... (241 alt., 10 pop.), once a busy community, now is a station on the railroad edging an empty plain. The magazine West Shore for October, 1883, records: "Castle Rock. . . . now contains an express office, post office, saloons, dwellings, schools, etc . . . The growth of western towns is wonderful." ..."


Image, 2004, Castle Rock, Oregon, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Vicinity of Castle Rock, Oregon. View from Tower Road looking towards the area where Castle Rock, Oregon, use to be. The Columbia River is just barely visible at the base of Crow Butte in the distance. Image taken September 24, 2004.
Image, 2005, Crow Butte, Washington, Castle Rock, Oregon, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Crow Butte, Washington (left) and vicinity of historic Castle Rock, Oregon (right). View from Washington State Highway 14. Image taken May 24, 2005.


From the Journals of Lewis and Clark ...

Clark, October 20, 1805 ...
A cool morning wind S. W. we concluded to delay untill after brackfast which we were obliged to make on the flesh of dog. after brackfast we gave all the Indian men Smoke, and we Set out leaveing about 200 of the nativs at our Encampment [near Irrigon, Oregon]; passd. three Indian Lodges on the Lard Side a little below our Camp [Irrigon, Oregon] which lodges <we> I did not discover last evening, passed a rapid at Seven miles one at a Short distance below we passed a verry bad rapid, a chane or rocks makeing from the Stard. Side and nearly Chokeing the river up entirely with hugh black rocks [Lewis and Clark called these rapids "Pelican Rapids"] an Island below close under the Stard. Side on which was four Lodges of Indians drying fish,- here I Saw a great number of pelicons on the wing, and black Comerants [American White Pelicans and Double-crested Cormorants]. at one oClock we landed on the lower point of <Some> an Island at Some Indian Lodges, a large Island on the Stard Side nearly opposit and a Small one a little below on the Lard Side on those three Island I counted Seventeen Indian Lodges, ...

[Lewis and Clark are passing through the Blalock Islands area. Today most of the islands are beneath the waters of Lake Umatilla, the reservoir behind the John Day Dam. In this vicinity are today's Boardman, Whitcomb Island, Canoe Ridge, slightly downstream is Crow Butte and historic Castle Rock, along with the many lands of the Umatilla National Wildlife Refuge.]

after diner we proceeded on to a bad rapid at the lower point of a Small Island on which four Lodges of Indians were Situated drying fish; here the high countrey Commences again on the Stard. Side [Alder Ridge] leaveing a vallie of 40 miles in width, from the mustle Shel rapid [Umatilla Rapids at the McNary Dam]. examined and passed this rapid close to the Island at 8 miles lower passed a large Island near the middle of the river a brook on the Stard. Side [Alder Creek] and 11 Islds. all in view of each other below, a riverlit [Willow Creek] falls in on the Lard. Side behind a Small Island a Small rapid below. The Star Side is high rugid hills [Alder Ridge], the Lard. Side a low plain and not a tree to be Seen in any Direction except a fiew Small willow bushes which are Scattered partially on the Sides of the bank

The river to day is about of a mile in width; this evening the Countrey on the Lard. Side [area around Arlington, Oregon] rises to the hight of that on the Starboard Side [Columbia Hills], and is wavering- we made 42 <days> miles to day [to Roosevelt, Washington]; the current much more uniform than yesterday or the day before. Killed 2 Speckle guls Severl. ducks of a delicious flavour.





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*River Miles [RM] are approximate, in statute miles, and were determined from USGS topo maps, obtained from NOAA nautical charts, or obtained from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers website, 2003

Sources: Early Canadiana Online website, 2006, "William Henry Gray's A history of Oregon, 1792-1849, drawn from personal observation and authentic information, published in 1870."; McArthur, L.A., and McArthur, L.L., 2004, Oregon Geographic Names, Oregon Historical Society Press, Portland; Oregon State Archives website, 2006; "Rootsweb.com" website, 2006, "Castle Rock Timeline" by Jerry Peck.

All Lewis and Clark quotations from Gary Moulton editions of the Lewis and Clark Journals, University of Nebraska Press, all attempts have been made to type the quotations exactly as in the Moulton editions, however typing errors introduced by this web author cannot be ruled out; location interpretation from variety of sources, including this website author.
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September 2008