Travelers across the Columbia River in Kittitas County had a tough crossing in the early 1900s.

In 1910 Willard Van Slyke, burned out of his holdings in Trinidad, rode a sternwheeler down the river 10 miles to a relatively level 80-acre plat that he called a derivative of his name, Vantage. According to a Feb. 5, 1914, article in The Capital newspaper, he divided it into 120 lots with a 20-acre easement down the middle.

A common complaint at the turn of the 20th century was how long it took to travel east. As detailed in “The History of Kittitas County,” Van Slyke addressed the problem by establishing a ferry in 1914, the second on the Columbia River. He and his fourth wife, Luella, continued the operation while further developing the town site.

According to The Capital, Van Slyke drew water out of the river to irrigate his lush alfalfa that grew so well from the excellent riverbottom soil, as well as to provide water for the developing town.

His ferry had a two-car limit since only the chains fastened to the front and back of the car held the vehicles in place, according to “Exploring Washington’s Past: A Road Guide to History.” The primitive brakes on the early cars that used the ferry sometimes failed to hold and frequently a vehicle would roll (sometimes with its occupants) into the river.

In September 1917, Van Slyke deeded the right of way to the state of Washington and in October, the state officially took over the ferry, as described in the bill of sale held in the state archives. Washington bought from Van Slyke the “14 by 48 foot power ferry propelled by a 60 horse power stern type engine.” The state was in the ferry business.

Then there were bridges

Due to the increase in water traffic, which totaled 50,000 people in 1923, according to the Department of the Interior, the ferry was replaced on Sept. 8, 1927, by a 1,640-foot cantilever bridge. The two-lane bridge was built by the state Highway Department, according to “Exploring Washington’s Past.” It was the seventh bridge to span the Columbia River. It carried the Sunset Highway, a mostly gravel road, which was at the time the state’s main east-west thoroughfare, precursor to Interstate 90. The construction of the bridge required the town to be relocated.

Locals predicted that the volume of traffic on one of the “finest stretches of graveled road in the state would increase dramatically and lure many tourists from other cross-state highways.” People from Ellensburg wanted a fast, easy route, according to a Dec. 20, 1979, article in the Daily Record. Then Congress authorized Kittitas and Grant counties to build a toll bridge in 1924. According to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, the contract was to a private builder. But the Federal Government then threatened to withhold funds for the project and after a legal battle the bridge was built by the state at a cost of $640,000, as recorded by the Historic American Engineering Record.

Building underwater

The construction of the 1,740-foot bridge required workers to enter pressurized caissons, or watertight chambers, 70 feet under the riverbed via airlocks. Some workers became seriously ill with the bends from the effects of the pressure.

Its design called for a steel truss framework that was cross-braced above and below the traffic. It had two cantilevers in which the spans extended out on either side of their supports with its height above the river set at only 18 feet above the 1894 flood level, which turned into a major error as far as future development was concerned.

The crossing was more than a half-mile long, according to the Historic American Engineering Record by the National Park Service. When the new bridge was built in 1962, the old bridge was dismantled and stored until used at the Lyons Ferry crossing on the Snake River.

The Stockdale dream

In 1933 TJ Stockdale purchased the town site of Vantage, population 5. The purchase involved an additional 300 acres with 1 1/2 miles of waterfront. He and his wife, Catherine, driving their Model T, moved into a log cabin in July with the temperature at 115 degrees, according to the “History of Kittitas County.”

Stockdale was an entrepreneur, and saw the possibilities of the location. He opened a Chevron gas station while his wife made sandwiches for the hungry travelers. According to an article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, they expanded Vantage into a roadside settlement. They added a repair garage, Standard Oil Bulk plant, two motels of 10 units each, two cafés, a Richfield Station with a museum and gift shop, a horse ranch, cherry, peach and apricot orchards and alfalfa fields. The population grew to 100. Eventually there was a trailer court with 400 spaces and two homes.

At this time, according to an article in the Dec. 18, 1968, Wenatchee World, in what was soon to be called Old Vantage, an S curve through the town conveniently passed all of Stockdale’s businesses. But in 1959 the Wanapum Dam infrastructure and property acquisition was begun by the Grant County Public Utility District downriver of Vantage, according to PUD records. The license they had to construct and operate the Wanapum and Priest River Dams for 40 years was to bring major changes to the town.

Town moves again

According to the article in the Wenatchee World, the formation of Wanapum Lake was going to force the removal of the old, narrow bridge and also force the relocation, for the third time, of the townsite — this time to higher ground to the west to prevent being “inundated, saturated, or caught by wave action,” as warned by the PUD.

Property owners had until June 1963 to finish removal of all structures before the dam’s gates closed. Wanapum Lake was filled in 41 hours. Moving Vantage was more efficient the third time since owners now just pulled out the nails and reinserted them in the same board holes in the building’s new location, as Tom Stockdale, TJ Stockdale’s son and heir, told the Wenatchee World.

The state built a new bridge that featured a “through arch” design that was 2,504 feet long and finished in 1963. To provide room for the lake that would be created, the utility bought almost all of the land below an elevation of 580 feet. The appraisers had a difficult time coming to fair market prices because “there has been little activity in real estate … this condition exists due to … the controlled ownership of the adjoining town of Vantage” as noted in several of the pre-purchase appraisals on file with the PUD.

Population to 2,500

Most of the town was now moved back and upriver from the new bridge and consisted of trailers for the construction workers for the dam and bridge, gradually increasing the population to 2,500. The homes replaced the tents used by the Civilian Conservation Corps, a program initiated by President Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s to provide jobs working on government projects. A large group was encamped south of the old bridge while the Wanapum and Gingko State Parks were being built, according to the Seattle P-I. The gravel highway eventually was paved and use grew until November 1968 when the new state highway section to Ellensburg opened, eliminating the S curves through the town, and marking the final move for Vantage.

By 1968, Vantage was expected to become a dynamic hub for commerce and tourism because of its expected proximity to road, rail, and river as well as its natural beauty. At the time The Wenatchee World interviewed resident Tom Stockdale, then 69.

“They told me when I moved here that I would starve to death. I haven’t missed a meal yet,” he said. “There was no stopping us from here on out. We are ready for barge traffic, too. When the navigation locks open the river to Wenatchee we will be ready to roll.”

It was Stockdale’s dream of the future locks that kept the PUD from buying their mile and a half of land along the river. The plan of barge traffic on the river seemed to be progressing well in 1965, and the Port of Quincy set aside $265,000 in “great interest for the development.”

A Dec. 21, 1965, letter from Buck Bucksman, manager of the Port of Kittitas County, outlined how Stockdale was ready to sell a mile of land along the river for a “water terminus.” The entire plan went from the Rock Island Dam to the Wanapum Dam, then to the Priest Rapids Dam, and finally on to the Ben Franklin Dam whose lake would allow navigation over Priest Rapids and through Hanford Reach.

Locks were to be built at each dam and a 250-foot wide channel would be dug where necessary. The cost of the locks, including dredging and navigational aids with four vertical lifts, would be $108 million, according to the Army Corps of Engineers. The plan would turn the town into a port, increasing the Stockdale coffers. But on Nov. 2,1981, the Army Corps of Engineers announced that it was abandoning plans for the Ben Franklin Dam (vital for the proposal) citing overwhelming public opposition to a project that would have flooded the last free-flowing stretch of the Columbia River. According to Army Corps records, despite the attempt to make the inland harbor idea work, a coalition of environmentalists, tribal officials, fisherman, and the Atomic Energy Commission all were against it.

Tom Stockdale described the remaining 130 residents as an “accumulation of renegades needing less control, less regulation — we want to be free to follow our own lifestyles — to live and let live and to be of service to the traveling public” as he related to the Wenatchee World.

Native rock designs

Continuing his forebear’s vision, Tom’s son, Wayne, required property sales contracts in the town to incorporate native rock into their design, “creating an architectural continuity to give our town a theme like Leavenworth.”

Wayne outlined his ideas in the Wenatchee World. A a golf course was planned with holes on two islands accessible by tethered boats. There would be a motel site by the river that would appear clean and green like an oasis. (This was built but recently burned down).

There was to be a large marina and an airport was planned, too. In the late 1960s, the shoreline was seeded in hay and grain to attract waterfowl. Hunting blinds dotted the perimeter ready to shelter hunters who would pay the fee. Big fish were harvested by anglers in the heavily stocked Wanapum Lake.

Meanwhile Tom’s daughter, Joyce Palelek, created a major Arabian horse ranch downriver from the established bridge. Wayne, who inherited Vantage from Tom, envisioned the town as a “suburban community that will retain its rural atmosphere.”

It was not always easy. He successfully stopped a 1977 move to turn Vantage into a state operated gambling center. Wayne also received all the civic responsibilities of running his dynasty and maintaining some order in a country kingdom without an ounce of authority as told in the Spokane Chronicle, April 1, 1981.

He got all the complaints as unofficial mayor and town treasurer. Even with all of that Wayne thought it “a fun place to live because it offers freedom of lifestyle and freedom from crime,” according to an April 10, 1981, article in the Daily Olympian.

Done moving

The road, bridge and dam are now permanent in Vantage. In March 1984, Wayne’s floatplane crashed into the Columbia River while returning from a trip to Crescent Bar. His death temporarily interrupted the Stockdale leadership in Vantage until 1986 when his son, Bryan, a graduate of Pacific Lutheran University, took over. Bryan’s vision for the town is to have it be a “peaceful place with artisans and their hands-on students renewing their souls.” To help accomplish this goal Bryan used the insurance money from the burned-out waterfront restaurant to build a huge, white, covered tent-like facility that he said he has been working on for three years. The building will be used for motivational speakers and ministers and artists. Vantage is re-inventing itself once more.


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