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History of Dallesport

The History of Dallesport, Washington
by Stuart of

Dallesport began it's history in the mid-50’s of the 19th century and since that time it has been known by three other names besides the current one. Dallesport came into being as Rockland while it was still a part of Oregon Territory (Washington Territory did not come into being until 1853). At that time it was the only community in Klickitat County with any white settlement so when Klickitat County was established it naturally became the county seat.

For two decades, Rockland was an important transportation center. At Albany on the Willamette, flour was milled and moved up the Columbia River, transferred to wagon trains, and from Rockland it was sent to the Yakima Valley to supply the bread needs of the people there. In the late 1860’s this flour commerce from Rockland came to an end when Puget Sound became the gateway to the Yakima Valley as it was cheaper to transport the flour from there.

A ferry connecting Rockland and The Dalles was established by James Herman in 1859 and made its first trip on July 9th of that year.

As settlement in Klickitat county increased, Goldendale’s population grew larger and in November of 1878, the people voted to transfer the seat of government there. This was eleven years before Washington became a state.

In the years between 1890 and 1896 a bizarre land-promotion scheme took place involving a Baptist missionary named Orson D. Taylor. Taylor was a minister for the First Baptist church of The Dalles which was located where the courthouse is now at 5th and Washington. He had a home in The Dalles but his plan was to take up a homestead across the Columbia River in Rockland. The settlers at the time were having a hard time scratching out a living so it was easy for him to buy up 2000 acres of land using money which he convinced banks in The Dalles to loan him. On July 5, 1890, he began a company which he called The Interstate Investment Company. He had stock printed and began to sell it at $500 per share. He retained one half of the shares for himself. Not only was he able to sell the worthless shares of stock but he also sold lots to people in Oregon and Washington totaling $40,000. Rockland became North Dalles and Taylor printed brochures showing a non-existent town served by three railroads, streetcar service which could cross the Columbia on a suspension bridge, and 80 blocks of named streets. A beautiful park shaped like a wheel with streets converging into it like spokes was depicted along with factories in full operation. One folder claimed that the new shoe factory could turn out 1500 pairs of shoes per day.

In March 1891, Taylor organized the Interstate Improvement Company in an effort to water the stock of the Interstate Investment Company. The Interstate Investment Company transferred it bonds for a deed given by Taylor and his wife in consideration for notes of $150,000 and stock in the new company. He made himself general manager and sales agent for the new company and issued 4500 shares of stock at $100 per share and putting them on the eastern market. To make it look good on paper, he changed the name of the town from North Dalles to Grand Dalles. He opened offices in Cleveland, Buffalo, New York, and Saginaw, Michigan. In a span of two years, Taylor sold stock and lots for $190,000.

Later in 1891, Taylor created a shoe company known as the Improvement Company, subscribing $10,000 and convincing people from The Dalles to put up the same amount of money. A 3-story building with a high tower was built on the banks of the Columbia River and machinery was installed. For two or three weeks 40 or 50 men were employed and for that time some shoes were made which were reported to be of very good quality. But since the lumber to construct the building was never paid for, the creditors closed the business. The machinery was never paid for either and the men only received a small part of their wages. The shoe factory involved about $14,000 and it stood on the banks of the Columbia River for about 20 years as a memory to Taylor.

In 1893, two men, Dr. Daniel B. Cornell and J.T Rorick came out west to look things over. Rorick thought there was the possibility of starting a newspaper in the prosperous city of Grand Dalles. It is difficult to imagine the immediate disillusionment they must have felt when they arrived to find a rocky, waterless, sand-dune covered land populated mostly by jackrabbits. They had both invested large sums of money in this city of paradise. They cornered Taylor but could not get a straight answer from him so they went to Buffalo and found S.L Skeels, the salesman who sold them the shares of land. Skeels began blaming Taylor for everything, crying that he was only an employee. Skeels did, however, give them all the evidence they needed to have Taylor arrested in July 1895 on 60 counts of embezzlement of $50,000. In December of that year Taylor was sentenced to 6 years in prison, however an appeal was made to the Supreme Court which made Taylor appear he was in jeopardy for the same offense so the court had Taylor released.

Taylor did not pay his lawyers back for the money he had borrowed from them and soon returned to The Dalles to preach at his church at 5th and Washington. Only his family was in the pews to listen to him as the other members of the church formed the Calvary Baptist Church at 7th and Union Streets. Taylor eventually moved to Baker, then to Portland where he died.

The name Grand Dalles continued until 1932. At that time, the name was changed to Northdalles. Then, five years later, on December 1, 1937, it received its present name, Dallesport.