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Our Journey: Lynn and the Grand Coulee Dam!

Our Journey date: 2020-08-13

Hello all, it's Lynn(Sherilyn)! This geographical area I'm going to blab endlessly about is of particular interest to me. The second I learned of Rimrock Meadows, I was hooked on research. Every single time we get a property there, I dig into some form of historical interest for the area. 

The first time I got into it, my focus was soley on the geological formation of the area. Coulees are not terribly uncommon, but few look as magnificent as the ones in Washington. The majority of them are formed by water flow, lava, or natural valleys. In Washington, they are way more intense and ancient. The coulees there are part of what is called the Scablands. The scablands were formed by two things working in tandem, a ton of ice and even more water. See, this wasn't a slow erosion, no these were formed by massive floods of pressurized water. It's esitmated this system occurred between 18,000 and 14,000 years ago meaning these formations are beyond ancient. And that's just what made the newer part of the formations, this doesn't include parts of the area that were carved out millions of years ago by the same system of glacial flooding. Just think of how much water and pressure that would be. Water literally carved the earth like when you change a hose to stream and make a dent in the dirt. That on a 1500+ square mile scale - that's just absolutely nuts.

Here is a map showing where the ice dam would have broken and what would have flooded. This really did change the entire formation and landscape of not just eastern washington, but part of western Oregon as well. So COOL!

In more recent history, the Grand Coulee Dam is a thing. It was built during the New Deal era between 1933 and 1942. I theoretically learned about this in 7th grade Washington state history class but I retained only one thing from that entire class. And no, it wasn't something logical like the formation of the state or it's capital or even something more localized to where I grew up, no it was far more ridiculous. I'm pretty sure Mr. D did this because he knew it would stick with us, but I don't think he realized that was all that would stick with some of us. He wrote on the board "Grand Coulee Dam" and had us say "Grand Coulee Dam Coulee Grand Dam Coulee" and even to this day I'll be making a sandwich and that just starts blaring at top volume in my head. A core memory. Thanks Mr. D! :D 

Me on the first day of 7th grade

Me on the first day of 7th grade

But beyond that fun memory, I have a deeper history with the area. My paternal great-grandfather helped build this dam! That part of my family has a lot of history in Washington state and spent many of their early years on the east side of the state. I don't know much about that period of time with the family as my grandma was quite young and my great-grandparents died when I was very young. Here is a picture of them on the day they got married!

Walter and Janita Casteel

However there is one story of their time there that I do know. Now, I don't know ~exactly~ when my family was there but the timing of this event with my family being there seems to match up with what historical data I have. Side note - if you know where I can look at archive data for those employed at the dam, please let me know where to look. I've spent HOURS looking at census records before, this kinda thing is totally my jam. 

So, if you're not a Grand Coulee Dam enthusiast, which I'm assuming you're not, you've probably never heard of any of the fires that would hurt the community of Grand Coulee. The most famous one was the B street fire which caused over $100,000 of damage to the business district of the community. The fire that affected my family was more than likely not this fire as it affected the housing community, however it was large enough to not be contained to just a single home. 

So, my great-grandfather sees this fire. It's going to destroy the place they were living while he was working on construction of the dam. So the absolute legend that he is packs the family up into the car, runs inside, grabs the freshly baked pie my great-grandmother made, gets back into the car and drives away. He risked his life for a pie! And that is the story my family tells when talking about the family sweet tooth. Because we are a dessert family, that's for sure. They ended up driving back to their hometown of Cheney and never went back to Grand Coulee. 

I'm sure at some point, they might have visited the dam as Moses Lake was a favorite vacation spot of theirs. But the visual of packing up a family, grabbing the pie, and just driving off into the sunset never to return, that is just a movie-like image in my head.

I wish I had pictures to share from this time, but we highly doubt any were taken by my family. It was a rough time to have a family in the US and while they made it out more than ok, I imagine pictures were the furthest thing from their top priority. So instead, take a look at this historic map of the dam area! 

So there's a bit of a brief history of my intense facsination with the Grand Coulee Dam! I spent a chunk of time just flipping through archive pictures of the dam being built and thought, huh, I should definitely share some of this with Smile4u. I know it's not about Rimrock Meadows itself, but it's defintely close by and something you could go see when visiting the area! 

Eastern Washington University (EWU - I almost went there!) and Washington State University (WSU) have some amazing archived information on the Grand Coulee Dam! If you're interested in learning more here's some links:

EWU: The Hubert C. Blonk photograph collection includes over 400 images, primarily documenting the construction of Grand Coulee Dam and other dams in the Pacific Northwest.

EWU: The newsletters from the Safety Department for Mason-Walsh-Atkinson-Kier Company, the contractors, that includes safety notices and what's going on in the community.

EWU: The Otis Freeman photograph collection includes over 500 glass lantern slides, primarily images of the physical geography of the Pacific Northwest, which he used to illustrate his lectures. He served as head of the Physical Science Dept. at Cheney State Normal School (now EWU).

WSU: The Clifford R. Koester Collection who was as a journeyman electrician for the United States Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation, at the Grand Coulee Dam. The primary focus of the collection is the construction and operation of the Grand Coulee Dam.

WSU: The Frank A. Banks Collection, the construction supervisor at Grand Coulee Dam, was A Bureau of Reclamation engineer who supervised the construction of the Owyhee, Grand Coulee and other dams. This Digital Collection consists of project histories of several Bureau of Reclamation projects directed by Banks, The papers were donated to WSU in 1958 by JohnBanks lake is named after him.

WSU: Wallis and Marilyn Kimble Northwest History Database. WSU alumni Wallis and Marilyn Kimble provided a seed gift in 2001 to begin digitizing the clippings of roughly 300,000 newspaper clippings, collected and organized in the late 1930s by the Works Progress Administration to document life in the Pacific Northwest from 1900-1938. Subjects include Bonneville and Grand Coulee Dams, mining, Native Americans, and government.

-Lynn, your friendly neighborhood mapper

Tags: douglas county, grand coulee dam, lynn, washington state