Canoes to Covered Bridges – Crossing the Old Nisqually

Photo above courtesy of Martin Burwash, from the Eatonville to Rainier website (eatonvilletorainier.com).

The 81 mile long Nisqually River starts as a tumbling, rocky stream off the the end of Mt. Rainier’s Nisqually Glacier, as shown here:

Imagine taking this car on this road to see the Nisqually Glacier and Mt. Rainier, back in those days.  Look at the bridge they just crossed!

1926 nisqually glacier postcard

After flowing west to today’s quaint, quirky, and cool Elbe, the river creates Thurston County’s east border with Pierce County.  It then travels northwest until it  flows into the Puget Sound.

There are now two easy ways to cross the Nisqually.  Upriver about twelve miles west of Mt. Rainier Park’s Nisqually Entrance, Highway 7’s Elbe Bridge crosses the river at the boundary of Lewis and Pierce Counties.

Interstate 5 crosses the Nisqually where it joins Puget Sound, at the Nisqually Estuary.

Crossing the Nisqually in the Old Days

Crossing the Nisqually River in the days before Highway 7 and Interstate 5 was quite an adventure!

This 1905 photo shows Sam P’yelo of the Nisqually Tribe canoeing in the Nisqually River.

Photo from the University of Washington website.
Photo from the University of Washington website.

Early European settlers built the first bridge across the Nisqually at Elbe in 1898.

Photo courtesy of Russell Sachs, from the Eatonville to Rainier website.
Photo courtesy of Russell Sachs, from the Eatonville to Rainier website.

Here is the same 1898 bridge.  This bridge is long gone–they weren’t built to last.

Photo courtesy of Pat Van Eaton, from the Eatonville to Rainier website.
Photo courtesy of Pat Van Eaton, from the Eatonville to Rainier website.

Logging operations began in earnest near Elbe at the beginning of the 20th century, with the building of the first sawmill.  Early railroads transported the harvested timber.

This 1915 sign over this bridge instructs anyone not on foot to travel no faster than they could walk.

Photo from Eatonville to Rainier website.
Photo from Eatonville to Rainier website.

This is a private bridge across Nisqually Canyon.  How on earth did they build it?  Who on earth crossed it?  Would you?  Not me!

Photo courtesy of Beryl Olson. From the Eatonville to Nisqually website
Photo courtesy of Beryl Olson. From the Eatonville to Rainier website

This is Nisqually Canyon in Paradise Park, in what is now Mount Rainier National Park.  Mount Rainier became a National Park in 1899.

Photo from the University of Washington library.
Photo from the University of Washington library.

This is Nisqually Avenue in Elbe, which led to the Nisqually Bridge during those days–a century ago.  Elbe is still peaceful, beautiful and quaint, but the roads are a lot better now!

Nisqually Avenue in old Elbe. Photo from the Mineral Lake website(minerllake.com.)
Photo from the Mineral Lake website (minerallake.com)
covered bridge nisqually river 1960s
Photo courtesy of Marin Burwash, from the Eatonville to Rainier website.

This “modern” photo of a covered bridge at Elbe is from the early 1960s.  Like the earlier bridges, it too is gone.  How wonderful it would have been to cross that bridge!

Can you imagine what it would have been like to cross the  Nisqually River in the 19th and early 20th centuries–and earlier?  Can you imagine the ingenuity to figure out how to get from one side to the other?

-Melissa Genson

 

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