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About this collection

Through the use of historic and contemporary photographs, the Columbia River Photograph collection illustrates the story of the Columbia from the time it ran free to the time men tamed the river for irrigation and power. It is the largest river by volume flowing into the Pacific Ocean in the Western Hemisphere and runs 1200 miles from its source in British Columbia to its mouth at Cape Disappointment.

The images tell the story of the Native people who lived in the area and a way of life that centered around the river. It is also the story of those who came later to explore and settle along the river building farms, railroads, industries and towns. The settlers planted orchards, grew wheat, grazed cattle, and built homes, schools, and churches. The entrepreneurs laid railroad tracks, built depots, roads, and dams and sent steamships up river to carry resources to market.

Historic photos from Asahel Curtis, Carleton Watkins and I.G. Davidson reveal the natural beauty of the river and the dramatic changes brought by men. Contemporary color photography captures the beauty that remains today.