Photo of Sam Hill courtesy of United States/Canada Peace Anniversary, Inc.
Yes, Sam was a real guy. Now that we at Living Gold Press have started investigating old US99 through the northwest (which will be the subject of Ribbon III, due out in 2002) his is a name that keeps popping up.
As it turns out, he was an early champion of the Pacific Highway, as Highway 99 was generally known before (and even after) it was assigned its number in 1926. He was a man with a vision.
Of course it takes more than one man's vision to build a highway, or any huge involved public works project for that matter. All along the line, in each of the states that this road was to pass through, it took men with imagination and energy to bring the dream to reality. Sam Hill was the man in Washington state and later in Oregon as well.
Mr. Hill's background was in railroads. His father-in-law and employer was head of the Great Northern Railroad. The Hill family came out from Minneapolis to take up residence at the railroad's terminus in Seattle in the late 1800s. It wasn't long before his road ideas began to take shape.
Now if it seems that roads and railroads are incompatible, that was not the case very early in the century. It is true that eventually the two became rivals, and the highways won out. But back in the wet and muddy turn of the century northwest, people could not even make it to the railroad stations unless the roads were improved! And the country would not grow (which was what everyone wanted back then.)
Inspired by a 34 mile road trip that was short in distance but long in hours, he vowed that he would build a hard-surfaced highway from the Mexican border to the Canadian border, and all the way up to Vancouver, BC. So Sam Hill organized the Washington State Good Roads Association in 1901. Their goal was to build an organized system of hard surfaced roads, for what already existed was a messy, unsigned, unsurfaced confusing assortment of private, city, and county roads. And, no road in the planned system was to exceed a 5% grade, no mean feat in this mountainous country. What would become Highway 99 was part of the planned mix.
Photo of The Peace Arch courtesy of United States/Canada Peace Anniversary, Inc.
Sam Hill was not just passionate in his efforts to get the roads built. He experimented on his own in how to build them as well. On the grounds of his Columbia River gorge estate, Maryhill (now an art museum ) he built ten miles of road (not to mention a replica of Stonehenge). At Maryhill Sam experimented with different road building techniques and surfacing materials. Those were the first paved roads in Washington!
As if all of this wasn't enough, Sam Hill left an even greater legacy. He is the man who proposed and spearheaded fundraising efforts to build the International Peace Arch at the US/Canadian border alongside the Pacific Highway.
The pretty white monument honors the longstanding peace along this border and between Canada and the United States. It was dedicated in 1921.
The 40 acre Peace Arch Park also straddles the international boundary. It can be enjoyed by citizens from both sides of the 49th parallel without the formality of clearing customs. And enjoy it they must, for besides being home to 200 perennials, 55,000 annual flowers are planted there every spring.
all this before the autoban of Germany or the Eisenhower interstates