Saturday, January 28, 2012
WALLA WALLA - City Council last week approved a preliminary landscape design that could one day improve several blocks of 13th Avenue in a move to honor a road long forgotten.
The Mullan Road once connected Fort Walla Walla to Fort Benton, Mont., more than 600 miles away.
It was the first wagon trail across the Rockies and a critical link for settlers as they left the last steamship port on the Missouri River to connect with another steamship at a port on the Columbia River at Wallula.
"It was the idea of linking the continent with a travel route for wagons and settlers and military and other elements from the society," said Dan Clark, a Walla Walla Sesquicentennial organizer.
Built by U.S. Army Lt. John Mullan between 1859 and 1862 with a crew of about 100 soldiers and 100 civilians, little can be seen today of the Mullan Road's starting point in Wallula.
"You have to look under the water because it was flooded by Lake McNary when they built McNary Dam," Clark said, explaining that the actually confluence of the Snake and Columbia rivers was about a mile offshore and closer to Port Kelly, Wash.
From Wallula to Walla Walla, Mullan's crew continued building northward, where 13th Avenue and SR 125 are currently located.
The Mullan Road would continue north, eventually reaching the confluence of the Palouse and Snake rivers, and traveling in the vicinities of the communities of Washtucna and Ritzville.
The Mullan Road then went through Spokane, Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, and into Montana, ending at Fort Benton.
A small portion of the original road still exists between the communities of Benge and Washtucna, Wash.
"The road itself was difficult to keep open, and many parts of it have become parts of highways and railroads ... There is a lot of our history that you don't really read that is important in Walla Walla," Clark said.
The Walla Walla Sesquicentennial Committee is proposing a landscaping design of 13th Avenue from Rose Street to Reese Avenue that will include a historic interpretive history site, road signage and artwork.
"This is really high time that Walla Walla is getting around to honoring Capt. Mullan (promoted after building the road) and his crew," Clark said.
The Sesquicentennial Committee is planning other commemorative activities this year, including producing a sesquicentennial coin, a historical book and offering historical tours of downtown this spring.