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Lewis & Clark's Columbia River - "200 Years Later"
"Lyle Convict Road, Lyle, Washington"
Includes ... Lyle Convict Road ... Lyle ... Historic Columbia River Highway ...
Image, 2009, Columbia River, upstream from Rowena, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Columbia River upstream from Rowena, Oregon. The Lyle Convict Road was located along the lowest bench, left middleground above Washington State Highway 14. Mayer State Park, Oregon, is along the river in the foreground. Image taken May 9, 2009.


Lyle Convict Road ...
The "Lyle Convict Road", built in 1910-1911, was a part of Washington's State Road 8, a road which was to link Vancouver with Spokane. The most difficult section to build lay just east of Lyle at approximate Columbia River Mile (RM) 182, where large massive Columbia River basalts at the Rowena Gap had to be circumvented. Unfortunately this road was never completed.

North Bank Highway ...
"North Columbia Highway", "Evergreen Highway", "State Route 8", "North Bank Highway", and the "Lewis and Clark Memorial Highway" are all names once used for today's Washington State Route 14 which follows the Columbia River, linking Vancouver (Columbia River Mile (RM) 106), with Plymouth (RM 290).
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Sam Hill ...
According to Scott Cook in "Curious Gorge" (2010):

"The never completed 1910 Lyle Convict Road is one of those arcane bits of Gorge history that's being fast forgotten ...   This roadbed, directly above the tunnels east of Lyle, stretches about a half-mile and it's not too difficult to scramble over a century of rock fall and landslide to examine these remnants of Sam Hill's road-building vision. ...   Sam Hill, the quirkiest of the Northwest's pioneer business magnate, was building the infrastructure for his proposed Maryhill town site in 1909. He believed that economic prosperity followed road improvement and he campaigned enthusiastically for "Good Roads". ...   Hill strove to get the WA gov't to build a road on the Columbia's north bank to aid commerce between Gorge, Maryhill, and inland farmers. Initially, with WA Governor Hay's support, Hill convnced Klickitat County to house convicts in a walled tent camp east of Lyle in order to use their inexpensive labor to build the roadway over this difficult cliff-pinched impasse. ...   Construction began with leveling the surface and building masonry retaining walls on this one-mile stretch ... until Gov. Hay inexplicably about-faced and pulled the plug on the convict-use idea. Regular wage-workers were deemed too expensive to hire for this far-from-anywhere road, so the infant north-bank road was abandoned."

Construction ...
"In January, 1910, the State Highway Commissioner of Washington, Mr. Henry L. Bowlby, established a convict camp at Lyle, Wash., for the purpose of building the heaviest section of State Road No.8. This particular piece of road was selected because of its unusually favorable location, both with respect to its climatic conditions and the nature of the material to be handled.

Lying just east of the Cascade Divide and at an elevation of about 200 ft. above sea level ...  

Most of the rock of this region consists of lava in columnar structure and at Lyle the cliff rises abruptly from the river's edge to an elevation of about 1,500 ft. in rude, uneven steps. The Spokane, Portland & Seattle Ry. was built, at tremendous expense, at the foot of this cliff. At an elevation of approximately 125 ft. above and a distance back of from 50 to 100 ft. from the railroad track there was a step in the cliff which could hardly be called a bench and upon this the State Road was built. On the lower side it dropped vertically to the track level, while on the upper side the lava cliffs towered pillar on pillar with only occasional flattenings of the very precipitous slope.

This bench was crossed by so many gulches and hogbacks and was itself so steep and narrow that the work was necessarily very heavy and required a great amount of labor and material to complete a short distance.

The location of the convict camp was well chosed both from the standpoint of minimum of lost time on account of winter weather and from the more important standpoint of concentration of convicts on heavy work, thus reducing the expensive guard force and enabling the state to put up a permanent stockade and camp without the constant expense of moving as work progressed.

The convicts detailed on road work are in most cases those who are serving an indeterminate sentence, i.e., are sentenced for a term of from 1 to 14 years, or 2 to 20, etc., as the case may be. The most common sentences are 1 to 14 and 2 to 14 years. These men are not usually sent to the camps until after they have served their minimum. At the camp they are placed under the superintendent who has the entire handling of the prisoners and is responsible for their safe keeping, conduct and labor. ...

Those men who behaved themselves, did good and efficient work and otherwise proved themselves to be capable of self support and deserving of freedom were pardoned within one year from the date service began on the road. If any proved to be agitators, mutinous or lazy they were, after having been warned and given time to show proof of good intentions, sent back to the penitentiary with their good time taken from them, which means a loss of years in most cases. ...

The labor is as hard as ordinary pick and shovel work, but is harder than any work they are used to in the penitentiary. Here their work is out of doors, and they are given all of the most substantial food required. Their hair is not clipped and they are in every way dressed and managed like a gang of free laborers, except that the armed guards are standing near. ...

The State Camp at Lyle opened with a total of 27 convicts, including those employed in the ktichen and maintenance of camp. This force remained the same until March, when the number was increased. ...

[The road], covering a distance of 1.65 miles, was practically complete to within 500 ft. of the proposed tunnel by April 13, 1911. Beyond the proposed tunnel the work was comparatively light for the remaining two miles, to where the road tied into the county road, leading to the Dalles ferry with a water grade and distance of eight miles, instead of climbing 1,500 ft. and a distance of about 14 miles between towns. The new route would make travel between the west end of the county and Goldendale, the county seat, a much simpler matter than it is at present. The width of the roadway is 20 ft. and maximum grade is 5 per cent.

The completed work is the most difficult on the entire trunk highway between Vancouver and Spokane, and is said to compare favorably with Swiss mountain roads for grandeau of scenery and the nature of construction. However, the 1911 legislature neglected to make appropriations for any state roads, and the policy of working convicts on roads was abandoned, thus leaving this expensive and much needed piece of road without an outlet. ..."


Image, 1912, Lyle Convict Camp, click to enlarge
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Figure No.1, showing the "Lyle Convict Camp and Stockade", Lyle, Washington.
Image, 1912, Columbia River, upstream from Rowena, click to enlarge
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Figure No.2, showing the "Lyle Convict Road", Washington State Road 8, Lyle, Washington.
Image, 1912, Lyle Convict Camp, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Figure No.9, showing the "Completed Wall and Arch", Lyle Convict Road, Lyle, Washington.


Source:    Frank A. Kittredge, Engineer in Charge, 1912, Highway Construction in the State of Washington by Convict Labor, IN: Engineering & Contracting, Vol.XXXVII, No.26, June 26, 1912.



Display, Twin Bridges Museum, Lyle, Washington ...

Image, 2015, Twin Bridges Museum, Lyle, Washington, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Lyle Convict Road, Display, Twin Bridges Museum, Lyle, Washington. Image taken September 26, 2015.
Image, 2015, Twin Bridges Museum, Lyle, Washington, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
135-foot-high wall and work being done at Rocky Point, Lyle Convict Road, Display, Twin Bridges Museum, Lyle, Washington. Image taken September 26, 2015.
Image, 2015, Twin Bridges Museum, Lyle, Washington, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Lyle Convict Camp, Display, Twin Bridges Museum, Lyle, Washington. Image taken September 26, 2015.
Image, 2015, Twin Bridges Museum, Lyle, Washington, click to enlarge
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Inside the compound, Lyle Convict Camp, Display, Twin Bridges Museum, Lyle, Washington. Image taken September 26, 2015.


Views ...

Image, 2005, Rowena Gap, Washington side, from Rowena Crest, Oregon, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Mayer State Park, the Columbia River, and Washington's Rowena Gap basalts, as seen from Rowena Crest, Oregon. Image taken September 18, 2005.

The Lyle Convict Road was located along the lowest bench above Washington State Highway 14. The convict camp was located on the flat grassy field left of the basalt outcroppings, east of the community of Lyle.
Image, 2004, View from Mayer State Park, Oregon, click to enlarge
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The Lyle Convict Road as seen from Mayer State Park, Oregon. Image taken November 11, 2004.

The Lyle Convict Road was located along the lowest bench above Washington State Highway 14, visible left middle of this image.
Image, 2005, View from Mayer State Park, Oregon, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Columbia River sailboarder with Washington State Highway 14 and the Lyle Convict Road in the background. View from Mayer State Park, Oregon. Image taken June 4, 2005.

The Lyle Convict Road was located along the lowest bench above Washington State Highway 14. Note original rock wall left of unknown-vintage concrete structure.
Image, 2015, Lyle, Washington, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Lyle Convict Road remnant, as seen from Washington State Route 14, Lyle, Washington. Image taken September 26, 2015.
Image, 2015, Lyle, Washington, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
East portal, Washington State Highway 14 tunnels, east of Lyle, Washington. View heading west at Tunnel #7 with east portal of Tunnel #6 visible. Image taken September 26, 2015.

The Lyle Convict Road was located on the bench above today's Highway 14 tunnels.
Image, 2011, Lyle, Washington, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
East portal, Washington State Highway 14 tunnels, east of Lyle, Washington. View heading west at Tunnel #7 with east portal of Tunnel #6 visible. Image converted to black/white. Image taken June 4, 2011.

The Lyle Convict Road was located on the bench above today's Highway 14 tunnels.


From the Journals of Lewis and Clark ...

Clark, ...
 




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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:    Cook, S., 2010, "Curious Gorge", Maverick Publications, Bend;    Kittredge, F.A., , Engineer in Charge, 1912, Highway Construction in the State of Washington by Convict Labor, IN: Engineering & Contracting, Vol.XXXVII, No.26, June 26, 1912;   

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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August 2015