Washougal is a small community in SW Washington State and is situated just east of the City of Vancouver on the north banks of the Columbia River. It is named after a tributary river that flows into the Columbia and the name means “rushing water” in the Chinook dialect. The Washougal area has one of the oldest histories in the region, dating back to the time when all of the surrounding land was occupied by the Chinook tribe.
Early History Of The Region
Until the late 18th century the only human inhabitants were native Americans who used the Columbia River as their major food supply. Salmon, steelhead and other trout were primary sources of nutrition for these people, along with the numerous wild berries and edible greens. In 1792 the fur trader Robert Gray explored the area and hearing of this venture, the British explorer George Vancouver later sent one of his lieutenants, the young William Broughton, on an upriver investigation. Broughton named Mt. Hood, OR after a prominent British admiral and camped at what is now the present site of the town of Washougal.
Later explorers and fur traders would become acquainted with the Chinook residents and a good deal of supplies were traded between the natives and visitors. In 1805 the Corp of Discovery led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark arrived at the site on their way to the Pacific. The following spring they again camped in the vicinity and made notes on the terrain, the fertile land and the availability of salmon and other fish in the rivers.
Fort Vancouver And Population Growth
In 1825 the Hudson Bay Fur Company established Fort Vancouver downstream from present day Washougal and the British seaman Richard Howe was one of the first settlers to occupy a cabin near the mouth of the Washougal River. He married the daughter of one of the local chiefs and the two both lived well into their 90s. Today their graves can be seen at the local Catholic cemetery and several of their descendants are still living in the region.
After the Oregon Trail became a popular route to the Willamette Valley the nearby confluence of the Willamette and Columbia Rivers was developed and is now the site of present day Portland. The increasing population in the area meant the need for lumber, fresh fish and local crops. The area around Washougal slowly transformed into a multi-industry region, and David C. Parker, who had arrived in the area in 1845, quickly filed a land grant after the Oregon Territory dispute between the U.S. and England was resolved. This large parcel became known as Parker’s Landing and is often regarded as the oldest incorporated settlement in Washington State. However another community begun a mile further upriver was more suited to the loading of boats with farm and dairy goods, and this would become the actual site of what is now the city of Washougal.
Today Washougal is a distant suburb of Portland and has a population of about 13,000. It is governed by a mayor and city council, has several small museums and theater groups, and is considered one of the gateways to the Columbia Gorge. Hiking, rafting the gorge and windsailing on the Columbia River are all enjoyed by residents and visitors.