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September 11, 2014 - September 17, 2014

Hands Across the Water

Fifty years ago this week, after two decades of negotiations and political wrangling, the implementation of the Columbia River Treaty was celebrated at the Peace Arch in Blaine on September 16, 1964. The treaty finalized an agreement between the United States and Canada on how to best manage the river, which flows through both nations. Of particular importance were issues of water storage, flood control, and power generation.

Although Indian tribes had used the Columbia River for millennia, the waterway did not become an object of contention until American and British explorers first happened upon it in the late 1700s. For the next half-century, until the Treaty of Oregon was signed in 1846, both nations vied for possession of the river. The treaty set the 49th parallel as the boundary between America's Northwestern territories and Canada, cutting the river in two.

Questions about joint ownership of the resource remained, and in 1909 the U.S. and Canada signed the Boundary Waters Treaty, which governed all waterways shared across their border. But starting in the 1930s, the Columbia River began to undergo its most profound transformation with the construction of dams along its route. The most notable would be Grand Coulee Dam, which when completed in 1941 backed up water almost to the Canadian border. The International Joint Commission signed off on the dam that same year, but concerns over flood control remained unresolved.

For the next two decades, the nations studied the complex problems of sharing the costs and benefits of upper-river water storage and conducted arduous negotiations. The Columbia River Treaty was signed in 1961, but it took another three years for ratification. Since then, Canada has built dams on its portion of the river, and today the Columbia generates more power than any other river in North America. But the story doesn't end there -- the treaty provided that it could be modified in 2024, and studies are already underway to consider possible changes that may be made.

Heads Across the Sky

During the summer and early fall of 1927, soon after returning from his historic solo flight across the Atlantic, aviator Charles Lindbergh traveled the country in the Spirit of St. Louis, promoting aviation and encouraging the building of airports. In Washington, he landed in Spokane on September 12, then made many low-altitude flyovers of towns along his route to Seattle the next day.

Other aviation anniversaries in Washington this week include the first airmail flight from Spokane on September 15, 1929, and the first plane to land at the Snohomish County Airport -- which later became Paine Field -- on September 14, 1937.

News Then, History Now

First Congregations: On September 14, 1892, Spokane's Temple Emanu-El became the first Jewish synagogue to open in the state of Washington. Four days later, Congregation Ohaveth Sholum opened the first synagogue in Seattle.

Big Conflagrations: On September 11, 1902, a forest fire broke out in Southwest Washington, near the town of Yacolt. Within two days, the Yacolt Burn devastated more than 370 square miles and killed 38 people in Clark, Cowlitz, and Skamania counties. It reigned as the largest fire in Washington's history until this summer's Carlton Complex fire in Okanogan County.

Feeling Ill: On September 13, 1909, some cats went stark raving mad at the Ballard police station, but there was a more serious health problem in the region. On September 12, 1909, Seattle health officials reported an outbreak of typhoid fever, but it wasn't until later that the cause was determined to be contaminated drinking water at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition.

Western Thrill: On September 15, 1915, the citizens of Mabton celebrated their abundant alfalfa crop by opening the Hay Palace -- built almost entirely of hay bales. And on September 13, 1923, Ellensburg held its first rodeo, an event now celebrated each Labor Day weekend. This celebration of Western culture harkens back to the town's origin as a trading post named Robber's Roost.

Patrons Who Care: In 1998, Seattle voters approved a $196-million bond measure to help rebuild the city's public libraries. The Seattle Public Library Foundation added $83 million to complete the building program and to enhance system-wide funding for art, technology, collections, and programs. Six years ago this week, on September 13, 2008, the city celebrated the completion of this successful "Libraries For All" campaign.

Death in the Air: In the wake of the September 11, 2001, terror attacks, Seattle citizens converged by the thousands on Westlake Park. The destruction of the World Trade Center had special resonance in Seattle because it had been designed by a native son, Minoru Yamasaki, and built under the guidance of structural engineer John Skilling. Sadly, the events of September 11 overshadowed a second tragedy three days later, when a plane crash in Mexico killed 16 UW Husky fans.

Beginnings: On September 15, 1890, the town of Sidney incorporated in Kitsap County, but later changed its name to Port Orchard. Other Washington cities that incorporated this week in history include Sunnyside, on September 16, 1902; Wapato, on September 16, 1908; Gold Bar, on September 16, 1910; and Moses Lake, on September 15, 1938.

Quote of the Week

Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.

                              --Norman Maclean

Image of the Week

Sixty years ago this week, on September 15, 1954, the USS Missouri arrived in Seattle before being decommissioned in Bremerton. (Photo courtesy MOHAI)

Today in Washington History      RSS Feed

Benjamin Cheney visits the town and the academy bearing his name on September 17, 1883.

Gonzaga College in Spokane welcomes its first students on September 17, 1887.

The Boston Tea Party and burning of the ship Gaspee are reenacted on Lake Union on September 17, 1909.

Seattle branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco opens in Seattle on September 17, 1917.

Explosions at the Puget Sound and Alaska Powder Mill rock Mukilteo and Everett on September 17, 1930.

Primary elections are held in Washington on September 17, 1968.

Peace and Freedom Party holds state convention in Seattle on September 17, 1968.

Democratic primary voters select John Martinis of Everett to represent the 38th District in the state House of Representatives on September 17, 1968.

King County voters support Sand Point (later Magnuson Park) aviation on September 17, 1974.

Bullitt Foundation pledges $1 million to the Trust for Public Land's Puget Sound Open Space Fund on September 17, 1988.

King County voters defeat a $215 million parks and open-space bond issue on September 17, 1996.

New Essays This Week       RSS Feed

Bean, Monte Lafayette (1899-1982)

President Harry S. Truman awards Dexter J. Kerstetter the Medal of Honor on October 12, 1945.

Gold Bar incorporates on September 16, 1910.

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