Take a virtual trip through Grays River Valley. Today's stop:
Pillar Rock (also known as Pilot Rock) was an early and important landmark along the Columbia River. The rock itself was a large, roughly almond-shaped basalt bolder that originally rose some 25 feet above the river. The native Chinook people had a number of stories mythologizing the origins of the rock, while for the newcomer Europeans and Americans, it was a landmark that would help prove who had really been through the mouth of the Columbia River and who had not. It was an important landmark for William Broughton, Robert Grey, Louis and Clark, and the early pioneers of Grays River Valley.
Having learned the secret to entering the Columbia River from Captain Grey, the British were the first Europeans to exploit the trade potential of the Columbia River. The Hudson's Bay Company already had a strong presence in the western states as fur traders, and to strengthen their position they built and manned the trading post known as Fort Vancouver on the Columbia River.
The fort required provision, and that provision had to come from local supplies, or else be shipped all the way from Britain around South America to the west coast of what would become America. The Company traded for food with the native Chinook people, built and maintained a farm in the Mill Plain area of East Clark County, had a lumber mill in what would become Fishers Landing, and a saltery for salting fish near Pillar Rock.
In 1877, John Harrington built a cannery on the site, ready to pick up a share of the lucrative and growing salmon business. He entered into a business partnership with Sylvester Farrell the next year with a Chinese packing crew. It became a very successful business.
During his lifetime Harrington made multiple trips back to England and was known there as the "Laird of Pillar Rock." He sold the cannery in 1910 and retired to his beautiful mansion home in Alnwick, England. He passed away in 1915.
Pillar Rock Packing Company continued its success under various owners through the next forty some years. Among those who worked for the company, and/or supplied fish, were the men and women of the Elliott clan, the influential local family who were the descendents of the great Chinookian Chief Concomly and who homesteaded the area known as Dahlia.
In 1987 Marilyn Gudmundsen of Grays River traveled with her son John to Northern England so that he could have the experience of three months in an English high school. They stayed at a bed and breakfast and got to know the proprietors well. It was months after her return that she was looking through Carlton Appelo's pamphlet on Pillar Rock that she realized that the bed and breakfast where she and John stayed had been the very Harrington Mansion that once belonged to the one and only "Laird of Pillar Rock."
Pillar Rock today is used as a navigational point along the Columbia River, and its features have changed. The top portion of the rock was flattened in order to set in a navigational beacon. Though Pillar Rock no longer stands in its original magnificence, there are a number of other basalt outcroppings along today's Altoona Pillar Rock Road that are beautiful enough to inspire modern mythologizing all their own.
See Carlton E. Appelo, Pillar Rock, 1969.