Sunset Highway Dedication at Snoqualmie Pass
July 1, 2015 marks the centennial of the dedication of the Sunset Highway, at Snoqualmie Pass, in Washington State. This scene was photographed in about 1915 and is looking northwest across the 3010′ summit of Snoqualmie Pass and down the original Sunset Highway toward 5520′ Denny Mountain, which is visible in the background. The white post shown along the eastbound side of the Sunset Highway is about where the county line (Snoqualmie Summit) is shown at STA 1105 on a 1913 Sunset Highway survey map that I overlaid on an orthophoto. I also overlaid that same survey map on an oblique aerial view, with the perspective of looking north-northwest through Snoqualmie Pass. The Snoqualmie Pass wagon road, also shown on the survey map, ran across the slope of what is now the present-day Summit West ski hill.
In 1905 the wagon road over Snoqualmie Pass was designated as State Road No. 7. In July 1905, to encourage road betterment for motor vehicle use, motorists Charles L. Roy and John Kelleher of Seattle drove over the Snoqualmie Pass wagon road in a single-cylinder 1905 Cadillac Model “E” Light Runabout. They left Seattle on July 10 and by shortly after nightfall reached the homestead clearing of Charles P. Beard, which was a travelers wayside stop named “Bide-a-wee Ranch,” where they camped for the night. They left early the next morning from Beard's homestead, which was where the 15-mile crossing was located on the South Fork Snoqualmie River. They drove until 3 p.m. that second day out and they camped that night by the 25-mile crossing. They left there the following day, around noon, and after an “inexpressibly rough trip” they reached the summit of Snoqualmie Pass in the late afternoon on July 12. They arrived at Ellensburg, a couple days later, in the evening on July 14. Their route back to Seattle went through North Yakima and continued on through Bickleton to Lyle. There they put their agile little two-passenger Cadillac Runabout on board the steamboat Dalles City and went on down the Columbia River to Portland.
In 1913 the State road numbering system was discontinued and the new planned route over Snoqualmie Pass was designated as the Sunset Highway. Before the Sunset Highway was constructed the old Snoqualmie Pass wagon road (State Road No. 7) was improved over a two year period beginning in 1910 and was formally opened for traffic on July 17, 1912, as a temporary route suitable for automobiles. At that time wagons and cars were ferried on Lake Keechelus by Finch Brothers gas-powered ferry Wahkiakum for a minimum ferry fare of $2.50. A Certificate of Inspection was first issued for the Wahkiakum in July 1911 and the ferry was operated by Sidney Gordon Finch and Emery Josiah Finch.
In 1914 construction began on the Sunset Highway to make a new improved route through the pass that was more suitable for automobile use. The Snoqualmie Pass stretch of the Sunset Highway was opened for traffic by October 1, 1914, although gravel surfacing had not been completed by that time and the highway wasn't formally dedicated until nine months later. The P.J. McHugh Paving & Construction Company, owned by Patrick J. McHugh (1862-1926), constructed the summit stretch of the Sunset Highway, doing the clearing, grading and bridging work from Gold Creek east of the summit to within about four miles of North Bend west of the summit.
Frank McGee Fretwell (1882-1937) was a Seattle insurance agent and a prominent member of the Automobile Club of Seattle. In early August 1914 he drove over Snoqualmie Pass during the road construction and later wrote a magazine article about the route for the November 1914 issue of Motor. In that article Frank M. Fretwell wrote that the final 24-mile link in the Sunset Highway, connecting eastern and western Washington, was opened to motorists of the world on October 1st.
The Sunset Highway dedication ceremony, on July 1, 1915, was conducted under the auspices of the Automobile Club of Seattle, which by then was an affiliate of the American Automobile Association. The dedication ceremony was conducted at the summit of the Sunset Highway, which was where the present-day Summit Inn is now located. Numerous automobiles took part in that dedication ceremony. About twenty-five automobiles were driven from Ellensburg and more than that were driven from Seattle, with many from there bringing members of the Automobile Club of Seattle. A panoramic photograph was made of the gathering on the Sunset Highway, at Laconia, at the summit of Snoqualmie Pass. At noon Governor Ernest Lister (1870-1919) delivered the keynote dedication address. Seattle Mayor Hiram C. Gill (1866-1916) and others also spoke. An account was read about a trip made over Snoqualmie Pass in 1868 by early Kittitas Valley pioneer Tillman E. Houser (1840-1918), who settled along Coleman Creek about seven miles northeast of Ellensburg. Washington State Highway Commissioner William R. Roy (1851-1921) also participated in the dedication ceremony. In an article about the dedication ceremony and the new road, The Ellensburg Capital newspaper, on July 8, 1915, reported that “The drive from Ellensburg to Laconia, the summit of the pass, was made over a magnificent road that is wide enough at all points for two cars to pass.”
Estep, E. Ralph, editor. “Little Tales of Touring” The Motor Way. Vol. 13, No. 6 (August 10, 1905). Chicago: Motor Way, Inc., 1905. Page 13.
Fretwell, F.M. “Bridging the Cascade Mountains.” Motor: The National Magazine of Motoring. Vol. 23, No. 2 (November 1914). New York: International Magazine Company, 1914. Pages 58-59.
Hubbard, Charles F., Commissioner of Labor. Biennial Report of the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Factory Inspection, 1911-1912 (8th Biennial Report). Olympia: E. L. Boardman, Public Printer, 1912. Pages 99-102.
Roy, Charles L. “A Trip Over the Cascade Mountains.” The Horseless Age. Vol. 16, No. 7 (August 16, 1905). New York: E.P. Ingersol, 1905. Page 225.
Roy, Charles L. “Over the Cascade Mountains A-Motor.” Motor: The National Monthly Magazine of Motoring. Vol. 5, No. 4 (January 1906). New York: The New Publication Company, 1906. Page 50.
Roy, William R., State Highway Commissioner. Report of the State Highway Department for the Period October 1, 1912 to October 1, 1914. Olympia: Washington State Highway Department, 1914. Page 54.
“The First Auto Over the Cascades.” The Ellensburg Capital, July 19, 1905, Page 3.
“Snoqualmie Pass Auto Road Done: Highway is Formally Opened When Cavalcade of 30 Wagons Passes Over.” The Spokesman-Review [Spokane], July 18, 1912, Page 8.
“Lister Dedicates Sunset Highway.” The Seattle Star, July 1, 1915, Page 5.
“Sunset Highway Dedicated Today.” The Tacoma Times, July 1, 1915, Page 8.
“Formally Open Snoqualmie Pass Road.” Washington Standard [Olympia], July 2, 1915, Page 5.
“The Sunset Highway is a Great Road: Its Completion Celebrated by a Great Automobile Parade to the Summit.” The Ellensburg Capital, July 8, 1915, Page 3.
Revised July 4, 2018
Copyright © by Andrew Craig Magnuson