Before hydropower, irrigation diversions and commercial rafting, the main commercial use of the White Salmon (and surrounding rivers of the Columbia River Gorge) was for transporting logs harvested along the river corridor. Several “splash dams” were constructed, as far north as the Trout Lake valley. When collapsed, these dams would create surges of water large enough to carry logs downriver to mill off-load sites. Logging and farming were mainstays of the pioneer White Salmon valley economy, as they are to a large degree today.
The scene shifted in 1910 with publication of a US Geological Survey professional paper, which reported on the department’s field assessment of the hydroelectric generating potential of the White Salmon, Little White Salmon, Klickitat and Lewis river basins. That study by John C. Stevens (Water Supply Paper 253) concluded that the basins with the highest production potentials were the Klickitat, followed by the White Salmon and Lewis. Concurrently, Herbert and Mortimer Fleishhacker of San Francisco were seeking ways to power their Crown Willamette Paper Mill in Camas, WA. Harnessing the White Salmon via another of their financial interests, the Northwestern Electric Company, became a possible mode.