Nestled between the Columbia River to the south, and the mountains and basalt cliffs of the Gorge to the north, the City of Stevenson offers a welcome respite from the noise and congestion of large cities. Take a stroll and explore the riverfront and downtown Stevenson. Visit our unique shops, restaurants, pub and delicatessens. You’ll discover a friendlier, laid back lifestyle-reminiscent of earlier decades.
Strategically located just above the rapids known as the Upper Cascades, the Stevenson area has been home to Native American settlements for thousands of years. Their villages were focal points for commerce and social gatherings as they came to trade and fish along the riverbanks. Later the first explorers and missionaries (Lewis & Clark, David Thompson, Dr. Spaulding) used the Columbia River to penetrate the Cascade Mountains on their way to the Pacific Ocean. In 1843 the Oregon Trail brought the first of a great wave of settlers past our shores. Pioneers portaged around the Cascade Rapids on their way to the Willamette Valley.
Some of these pioneers chose to stay. The Stevenson family, who settled in the Gorge in the 1800′s from Missouri, founded the town of Stevenson on the old Shepard donation land claim. Under the auspices of the Stevenson Land Company, George Stevenson purchased the original town site for $24,000 in 1893, building the town along the lower flat near the river. Settlers expanded the original dock to serve the daily arrivals of sternwheelers unloading passengers, cargo and loading logs.
By 1900, many merchants established businesses. Locals could wet their whistles at the Iman or the Charles Thayer saloons. Travelers stayed at the Valley Hotel and Stevenson Hotel, and dined at the Hickey and Key Restaurant. Settlers shopped for staples at Totton’s General Store and Mitchell’s Drug Store that also housed the post office, courthouse, print shop and local jail.
Late one night in 1893, in a dispute over rental fees, a suspect crew transported the county records from the town of Cascades to Stevenson. Stevenson became the county seat overnight. In 1908 the town was incorporated and the SP&S Railroad arrived, pushing the town up the hill away from the river. Streets were graded, wooden sidewalks constructed and the city asked residents to keep their cows from roaming the streets. Huge piles of logs were stacked along the waterfront to fuel the sternwheelers.
Mills and logging camps peppered the hillside, with flumes and skid roads to carry the logs to shipping points. Saloons flourished until prohibition went into effect. With the construction of the State Highway, and later construction of Bonneville Dam, the town moved further up the hill as portions of the original town site were flooded by the Bonneville Pool.
Today, you can stroll along Stevenson’s riverfront parks where giant fish wheels once plied the Columbia River’s waters for salmon. Witness the myriads of colorful kiteboarders’ sails, as they jump and twist on the Columbia’s swells. Watch the ducks, geese and other waterfowl nesting at Rock Creek Cove. Browse through gift shops, antique stores and art galleries. And visit the Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center to explore Native American legends, petroglyphs and artifacts telling the story of the Gorge. Return to a quieter time. Return to Stevenson.