Washington's Historic Sunset Highway

The Sunset Hwy at Snoqualmie Pass 1916


Early East - West routes across Washington prior to 1915

The Snoqualmie Pass wagon road

The National Parks Highway

The Yellowstone Trail

Seattle to Fall City via Redmond

Seattle to Fall City via Bothell

Seattle to Fall City via Renton

Fall City to North Bend 

North Bend to Snoqualmie Pass

Snoqualmie Pass to Easton

Easton to Cle Elum 

Cle Elum to Wenatchee via Blewett Pass

Cle Elum to Wenatchee via Vantage

Wenatchee to Waterville

Waterville to Coulee City

Coulee City to Davenport

Davenport to Spokane  

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The Historic Pacific Hwy in WA

The Historic Sunset Highway

In the mid 1800’s as settlers were arriving from the East to start a new life in the Pacific Northwest, there rose a need for a route from Spokane to Seattle . This early route began as a rough wagon road and has evolved over a hundred years into today’s Interstate 90. This website will attempt to document the early autoroute of the Sunset Highway from Spokane to Seattle before the interstate was built.

Sunset Highway through Snoqualmie Pass is dedicated on July 1, 1915. HistoryLink.org Essay 7114 by Cassandra Tate, November 02, 2004

On July 1, 1915, Washington Governor Ernest Lister (1870-1919) dedicates the Sunset Highway as the state's first passable route through the Cascade Mountains at Snoqualmie Pass.

The highway essentially followed the route of a wagon road that had been constructed between Seattle and Ellensburg in 1867 (a route that, in turn, followed a trail that Native Americans had used for centuries). Seattle pioneer Henry Yesler led one effort to improve the original road in 1875, by offering his sawmill as the grand prize in a state lottery. About $30,000 worth of $5 tickets (roughly $1.1 million in 2004 dollars) were sold before the courts declared the lottery illegal. Yesler reportedly kept nearly all the money despite efforts by the Territorial Legislature and the commissioners of King County to salvage at least some of the funds for road building.

Interest in what Yesler had called "a great road" linking Seattle and Eastern Washington waned after the completion of the Northern Pacific Railway through the Cascades in 1883. Most passengers and freight moved on the railway. The Seattle & Walla Walla Trail & Wagon Road Company, based in Ellensburg, maintained the original wagon road for a few years, but it gradually fell into disuse.

In 1909, a transcontinental automobile race, planned as part of the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle , led to new efforts to improve and extend the road. The commissioners of King and Kittitas counties appropriated enough money to clear the roadway of fallen logs and rebuild a few old grades and bridges. Eventually, about 150 cars used the route to travel to the fair. The project convinced state legislators to finance the construction of a new highway, designed for automobiles, not ox carts.

The highway, later designated Primary State Highway 2, was officially opened on July 1, 1915. Clarence B. Bagley, author of a 1916 history of Seattle, pointed out that Gov. Lister traveled to the dedication "in a high powered automobile," making the journey from Olympia to Snoqualmie Pass in a matter of hours (Bagley, 220). In contrast, when the original wagon road opened in 1867, Territorial Governor Marshall F. Moore (1829-1870) had taken days to travel the same distance by horseback.

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