Original Keller Ferry site floods as the Columbia River rises behind the newly constructed Grand Coulee Dam in the winter of 1939/1940.

  • By Paula Becker
  • Posted 1/26/2005
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 7227
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In the winter of 1939/1940, the original site of the Keller Ferry crossing at the confluence of the Columbia and Sanpoil rivers is flooded by the increasing water level of Lake Roosevelt, the reservoir formed by the Columbia rising behind Grand Coulee Dam. 

The waters of Lake Roosevelt began rising in January 1939.  River current first slowed and then ceased altogether, necessitating a switch from a cable ferry to a motor-powered ferry.  In July a diesel powered side-wheeler, the L. A. McLeod, went into service. This was a shallow-draft ferry that operated over shallow waters during the two years that the Grand Coulee Dam reservoir (Lake Roosevelt) was being filled. "Being a river-type boat," The Wilbur Register reported, "the McLeod was very slow on lake waters and her car and heavy load capacity were inadequate for the public demands" (August 17, 1961).

By March 1940, the rising water level of the lake forced the ferry crew and their families to move to higher ground, from the 1,028-foot level to new quarters at the 1,310-foot mark.  The small settlement of ferry employees and their families became known informally as Keller Ferry Village.

The town of Keller moved to a site eight miles away, but was unable to recover from the economic consequences of the change in location.  The creation of Lake Roosevelt ended the salmon, trout, and steelhead runs that had long been a fixture of life for the Colville Indians and, after Keller’s founding in 1898, for residents of the town.

In May 1944, the McLeod was replaced by a diesel-powered tug named Ann of Wilbur. The tug towed a 10-car scow called San Poil of Seattle.


“Keller Remembers The ‘Good Old Days,’ ” The Wilbur Register, October 2, 1958; “ ‘Martha S.’ Has Ancestors Dating Back to the Late 1800s,” Ibid., August 17, 1961.

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