This history of Lyle, The Song of the Rivers, was written in 1968 by Elizabeth D. McDowell for the Lyle Pioneer Days celebration for that year.  The history of Lyle is divided into the sections listed below for faster loading.  Please click on the section that you would like to view.



Listen, my heart, to the Song of the Rivers,
The Song of the Ages behind and before;
Hear the wild echoes of Time and Creation
Of dreams and of labors along the bright shore.

Hark to the voices that speak in its laughter,
Weep with its tears for the days that are gone,
Hope with its tales of joys that come after,
For the Song of the Rivers will go on and on...

Rolling and tumbling from heights beyond knowing,
Moving and murmuring softly today,
The Song of the Rivers, flowing and flowing,
While all else succumbs to change and decay.

Oft through my dreams I can hear its clear singing,
The music of earth, of humanity's will,
Seeking and finding, taking and bringing,
Nevermore ceasing, nevermore still.

Then I know in my heart that Life is Forever,
That dreams will come true and nevermore cease,
That man will lay down his long labors never,
And the Song of the Rivers is of Eternal Peace!

---Elizabeth D. McDowell


As the ages of the earth unfolded, many millenniums ago, and the continents rose majestically from the sea, waters bubbling up through the earth's refining crust filled the high depressions and started on their sometimes long journey back to the sea.

Such was a lake high on an extinct volcano in the Canadian Rockies, which would some day be named "Lake Columbia",
whose overflow wound northward around its parent mountain and then turned southward through descending levels until turning to the west and the Pacific Ocean. As the water ran, it sang, and its song was lightsome and gay, telling of sunlight and shadows, of great fishes and clever men, and of gigantic rocks and mountains which would guide its course seaward. It was a wild, free song, lusty and unafraid.

As the ages passed, the adventuring waters carved out a regular channel to pursue. They bit deep into the rocky course, year after year, forming beautiful lakes and gorges along the way. Other rivers, also unnamed, poured their floods into its lower level, and now the Song was many songs rolled into one---The Song of the Rivers.

It told of strong, coppery men who came from the sea to fish in the streams and to hunt in the forest-depths across the territory; of camp-fires and tepees and bark canoes, and of arrows and tomahawks and blood spilled in battles. Of graves along its banks and in its cold depths. Whereas the stream had been born nameless, the coppery men called it "Chiwana".

One day, a white man--Robert Gray, the first American to circumnavigate the globe--sailed into the mouth of the great river and gave it its first American name, "The Columbia", after the name of his own ship. This was in 1792; three hundred years after Columbus had discovered the American continent. The Song of the Rivers took on a new note, telling its dreams of a new civilization to be built by men with fair skins and with courageous eyes which also held dreams.

Thirteen years later, in 1805, two such white men came from the American East to explore the river and its surrounding territories, seeking a navigable course to the Pacific Ocean. Their names were Meriweather Lewis, a secretary under Thomas Jefferson, then President of the new United States of America----and William Clark--a brother of General George Rogers Clark, Revolutionary hero who later became the Governor of Missouri Territory. Theirs was the famous Lewis and Clark expedition, which opened up the West for its future pioneers.


The Lewis and Clark Expedition, begun in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1804, had as its guide the Indian woman, Sacajawea, called in English, "The Bird Woman". The Indians were the red-skinned race which first inhabited the land and considered it to be their own, as indeed it was until the white men came. Sacajawea was the first link between the Indian and the white man along the great Columbia River.

During the winter of 1805 the Expedition reached the mouth of the Klickitat River where it empties into the Columbia. There, they found the Klickitat Indian tribe encamped and made their own camp there, bartering goods for the delicious smoked salmon which the tribe prepared. During their two-day stay they referred in their records to the location as "Klickitat Landing", and the future settlement which was later to be known as "Lyle" was thus given its original name.

The Klickitats listened to the voice and gestures of Sacajawea and did not molest these brave explorers. But if they had also listened to the Song of the Rivers, they might have grasped the portent of the white man's first visit to Klickitat Landing.


A number of decades passed after Lewis and Clark had come and gone with Sacajawea before James O. Lyle came across the Columbia River, in 1865, and stopped at Klickitat Landing. Near the mouth of the Klickitat River on property now occupied by Jim Starr, James Lyle built his first home and he and his family settled here. Others came also, and the settlement grew rapidly. 

When the house first built by James O. Lyle was recently torn down, newspapers dated in 1871 were found attached to the
inside wallboards. James O. Lyle had come from Iowa in 1863, stopping first at Rowena, Oregon, across the Columbia, and thereafter crossing to make his home in Klickitat Landing two years later. 

It is said by Frank Lyle, one of his living sons in the Laurel Community, that another white man, James W. Williamson, then living at Klickitat Landing with the Indian tribe, that it was from Mr. Williamson that James O. Lyle bought the land upon which he built his home. However, little else can be discovered about James W. Williamson, other than that he later served for one month as the first postmaster of Klickitat Landing. 

As the settlement grew, permission was sought from the U. S. Postoffice Department for installing a postoffice to handle the settlers' mail. In 1876, the first postoffice was established in Klickitat Landing, and as said, Mr. Williamson served for one month as postmaster before turning the job over to James O. Lyle. That first postoffice was located in the Lyle home, according to Bill White who tore down the ancient structure. 

Meanwhile, as trading was done by riverboat, several of the first settlers erected buildings along the riverbank on the Columbia, near where the Tim Wall residence now stands. A dock was built, and later a ferry landing. 

In 1893, Kamma Sorensen Clark and her two sisters and one brother arrived from Copenhagen, Denmark. The oldest of these was Henrietta, who had married John Kure in Copenhagen. In 1914, the Kures built the old Riverside Hotel, which later burned. Next was Van who married Edith Clark, and whose son Kenneth formerly operated Sorensen's Cash Grocery in a building built and operated by the early day Tol Brothers. 

Kamma married the late Byrd J. Clark, an early settler also related to the Sorensen family. A second sister, Alrona, was married several times. Van died in the late forties, and Henrietta died at 95, was married to Oscar Mogren of Hood River. 

According to Kamma Clark, the post office was located, at the time of the sisters' arrival (1893), in the house now owned and remodeled by the Ernest Hamiltons. The name of the settlement had been changed from Klickitat Landing to "Lyle", in honor of James O. Lyle who in reality founded the settlement. The postmaster at that time was Mrs. Edith Hensel, who lived in the same house. Old documents later found on the Henry Leis property refer to that post office site as the location of Lyle.

The Sorensen sisters first lived on Fisher Hill, and their only "neighbors" at that time were the Klickitat Indians, still encamped
above the rapids. In that same year came also Adam Hylton, the father of Stanley Hylton who still resides in Lyle. 

But as trade on the Columbia increased, numerous settlers moved down near the docks, and eventually the post office was also moved to the present location of the Jesse Jewell home, and the location of Lyle became established there. Still more settlers were attracted to the thriving settlement along the Columbia, business increased and Lyle soon became incorporated as a town.

The house first built by James O. Lyle changed hands a number of times, and around the turn of the century was bought by a
Lord Balfour of England who lived there for a number of years and had a retinue of servants, some of them Japanese houseboys. One of the recent owners, Bill White, of this community, tore down the ancient structure. 

Meanwhile, Klickitat County as a whole had also grown and the question of locating a County Seat was raised. Several towns, including Lyle, were lively and vociferous candidates, and the contest narrowed down to Lyle and Goldendale. But at last, Goldendale emerged victorious, and has developed to its present status as the largest town in the County. 

In 1905, it was determined to construct a railroad line between Lyle and Goldendale, along the banks of the Klickitat River. According to Frank Bradford, the settlers built that railroad themselves, practically "by hand", building up the roadbed, laying the ties and rails in place. At the Lyle end, the tracks terminated near the riverboat dock where transfers from train to boat were effected. Part of the old roadbed is still in evidence, there. In 1908, the main Line from Portland was built through Lyle north of the old town. 

Around 1910, two combined sheepsheds were built on the south side of the railroad tracks and operated by a man named Hopkins, who came from Yakima. About 1915, Art Bohosky purchased Hopkins interest. They had a capacity for 30,000 sheep, which were winter-fed, sheared of their wool in the spring and shipped out by rail to various markets. Lyle became, for the next decade, an important point in the sheep and wool industry of the Northwest. Later, during the winter of 1921-22, a heavy snow fell and one of the sheepsheds collapsed. The industry could not survive the loss, and dwindled away. In 1968, the remaining sheepshed was burned as a public service.

But, at some time after 1912, a tragic and devastating fire occurred in "old" Lyle and many buildings and homes were
destroyed. Rebuilding was done, by mutual consent, to the north of the railroad tracks on Lyle's present location. 

River trade still continued but its functions were largely taken over by the railroads. The Song of the Rivers, unabated, now spoke of changing times, of wars in other lands, and of a new generation arising from the old to continue the life of the town to which the Rivers had given birth. It was a proud Song, albeit a little sad, as the copper-skinned men drifted away to the Reservations and the original Pioneers stepped back to let their children carry on the old traditions and establish new ones. 

"Old Lyle" was over and gone, reduced to dust and ashes, with the exception of only a few structures which would themselves also succumb to the ravages of time.  


Old-timers who cross the railroad bridge, in town, and walk on down the dusty roads to the Columbia River, may still "see" Old Lyle in memory, but at present only one of the old buildings yet stands, the house occupied by the Jesse Jewell family. To the east also stands the Tim Wall home, and the old railroad bed which once extended its rails to the riverdock. 

The following accounts; quoted or taken from papers printed in the Lyle High School editions of "The Lyle Cub Reporter" for February 28 and April 1,1963 and written by Mrs. James E. (Muriel) West and her daughter, Zena Houdesheldt; tell the story of the Lyle of the 1920's and 1930's, with certain additions. 

The James Wests and their daughter came to Lyle from Roosevelt in 1920, when James West purchased the old Columbia Garage from D. E. Witt. Much of the present townsite north of the highway was planted to prune orchards put in by the earliest settlers, and the hillside north of town to grape vineyards. 

A few of the old prune trees still remain, in 1968, five on the Houdesheldt property, one on the McDowell property and a few others about town still bearing prolifically although they must be nearly one hundred years old. A rumor, told with relish by some and disdained by others, has it that some residents of Old Lyle engaged in winemaking in the early years. An old barn possibly built by a man named Burroughs who once owned the property, and still standing on the McDowell property, had in its upper story a huge iron vat, when the McDowells took possession, which may have borne testimony to that early-day pursuit. 

Lyle at that time (1920) supported two stores, two garages, a bank, three hotels, a livery stable, a machine shop, two sawmills and a drug store. Prior to 1920 there was also a printing office. 

One of those stores was the old Lyle Mercantile, a general store which occupied the Snider Building, on the present site of the Lyle Tavern. It was a two-story building with apartments upstairs. Below, drygoods were sold in the front half and groceries and hardware in the present remodeled living quarters, by the owners, Franzen and Norris. 

The other store was the Tol Brothers Grocery, first located at the top of the wooden steps to the railroad depot, where the Ray Bertschis now live. When the Tol Brothers Store enlarged, they built and moved into the store building still owned by Kenneth Sorensen, who recently went out of business. 

Homer James, who was to live to become one of Lyle's most distinguished and beloved older citizens, until his death in 1967, came west from Indiana and bought out the Norris interest in the Old Lyle Mercantile. Shortly thereafter, Franzen and James moved the store to the Crane building, occupied by the Walter Smith family until recently when they moved into the Edith Sorensen house. At that time, the Walter Crane family lived upstairs and owned and operated the Lyle Telephone Company. 

In 1927, the Oregon-Washington Telephone Company bought it out, and the office was moved to the location of the present Stanley Krusow residence. It was operated by Susetta Murray Tol until around 1956 when the present dial-system was installed. Lyle was one of the first towns in the Northwest to have access to Direct Distance Dial service. 

At the site of the present Lyle Mercantile, operated by Delmar Kendrick, once stood the Lyle Garage. It was operated by Adam Hylton, the father of Stanley Hylton, who resides here. It included also the space later occupied by the old Elkhorn Tavern, now vacant. The living quarters of the tavern once housed the meat market of Harry Johnson, now resided in by Mrs. Alda Smith. 

Across the street stood the Columbia Garage, owned and operated by James E. West until 1927. It also housed a Delco electric plant which provided Lyle with its first electric lights. Used for lighting only, it was turned on at sundown and off at 10 p.m. Later, the front part of the Columbia Garage burned. Only the back part of the building was saved, and became the present Jim's Richfield station, operated by James Curl. This station recently underwent a "face-lifting" operation which made it what it is today. 

Many of Lyle's former business affairs were conducted through the Columbia State Bank, which occupied the corner building next-door to the old Crane Building. The president and manager was Ralph Coppick. The building is now owned by the American Legion which meets there. Prior to 1920, a Real Estate, Title & Abstract Company was in the rear part of the building. 

The Woman's Club House is the remodeled service-station section of the old Lyle Garage, which was moved there to make room for the present Lyle Mercantile Store. The men of the Lyle Commercial Club built on additional space and the Woman’s Club modernized the kitchen. The clubhouse was recently repainted and the porch and steps were renewed. 

Two of the three hotels burned down, shortly after 1920. One was the Dillabaugh Hotel, near the Tim Wall residence. A livery stable, formerly operated by John Daffron, father of Frank Bradford, also burned. It was near the burner of the old Buck sawmill. The other hotel, the Riverside, was used as a residence at the time of its destruction by fire. The Lyle Hotel was still in business, then, and did not cease until after the completion of The Dalles Dam in the late 1930’s. 

The old school building, which burned several years ago while it was being demolished for scrap lumber, was built in 1912 after the previous school burned. Later a gym was added, which also burned and was replaced by the present Old Gym. The present Lyle High School, home of the "Lyle Cougars", is located north of town on The Hill, where a small community of leading citizens occupy modern dwellings. The new Lyle Grade School houses the Junior High School, and the grade-students attend the Dallesport Grade School via school bus. 

East of the sheepsheds was the Daggett & Havener Apple Warehouse, where apples from many orchards on Fisher Hill were sorted, packed and shipped each fall. After the apple harvest the building was used as a dance hall all winter. Around 1930 it burned and was never rebuilt. 

The machine shop stood where the Louie Ellises now live, and the Claude Johnston home, formerly occupied by Anna Omeg, was once a stable for the teams of horses used to carry the mail by Carl Stump, father of Mrs. William (Madeline) White. 

Sawmills were once an integral pert of Lyle; Frank Cox started the first one, between Bradford’s and the Goldendale railroad. He sold it to U. S. Buck who operated it until he retired. Soon after selling to Buck, Mr. Cox started another mill, which changed hands several times before it was last owned and operated and later abandoned by a Mr. Thoren. It is still referred to as "the old Thoren Mill," although only faint traces of it remain. 

The old printing office was first located near the site of the present Texaco Station, operated by Louie Ellis, but was later moved to the present location of the Oak Grove Motel. Prior to 1918, when it went out of business, it published and printed a newspaper, "The Washingtonian", last edited by a man named Goff. 

Before the railroads came, transportation was via river steamer or on horseback. The old road to White Salmon crossed Major Creek, and the Goldendale road wound through High Prairie, Warwick and Centerville. The Dalles was reached only by river steamer, until a road was built on the Oregon side of the Columbia and a Mr. Pearson instituted the Lyle-Rowena Ferry. Many fond memories of "the Ferryboat" remain in the hearts of many old-timers. 

Thus the "second" Lyle came and went, to the ceaseless Song of the Rivers. A rapidly changing modern civilization approached, paused briefly and went on by. It saw the coming of the automobile, the aeroplane, electricity for home use, radio and then television and the Nuclear Age--seeing these through half-closed eyelids as it dreamed mostly of past glories of a vanished day. Occasional "booms" came and went with the building of the old road to Bingen, the construction of Bonneville and The Dalles Dams and later, the John Day Dam, with the building of the highway east through the tunnel-bore. 

But after each, Lyle settled back into its customary apathy. New businesses grew discouraged and drifted away, some of the old ones ceased operations.  Lyle was only a "quiet village."


As the town has dwindled in size and enthusiasm, many of the sons and daughters of the pioneers, as well as some of their grandchildren, have grown up and married and moved away, there being little but sentiment to hold them in the near-dying community. Aging and broken in spirit, the older residents have settled into a lethargic nostalgia for previous days and have kept Lyle barely in existence. Those of their descendents who remain ply various trades to meet the community's needs, and life goes on softly. 

Newcomers come occasionally and are received graciously, and some have settled here and remained. The ranchers and farmers of the surrounding area also keep some elements of trade in existence--the grocery store, three service stations and garages, a farm-equipment agency, a tavern, a cafe and, from time to time, a barber shop.  

"Greater Lyle" includes Appleton, Klickitat Heights, Hartland and High Prairie. Also, in some ways, it includes the Dallesport-Murdock communities, some of whose citizens shop in Lyle and attend Lyle churches. Lyle sends its younger children to the Dallesport Grade School. Glenwood to the north is also a "part" of Lyle, since many Lyle families are related by blood to Glenwood families. Claus Staack, the father of Muriel West, first settled in the Glenwood community in earliest times. The Hathaways of Glenwood also have relatives in Lyle, and Frank Lyle, a descendent of James O. Lyle, now lives in Glenwood community.  

Thus Lyle is really many communities, related on a larger scale to many more, in neighborly Klickitat County, enjoying the regard and goodwill of all. Threads of kinship with a shared past knit them into one.  

No story of Lyle is complete, however, without mention made of Frederich Balch, a young writer of the mid-19th Century, author of "The Bridge of the Gods", his best remembered work. Genevieve Whitman, his young sweetheart who died at an early age, was also the subject of another of his works, "Genevieve." He spent some time in the James O. Lyle home. At the age of 30 years, he died and was buried in the Lyle-Balch Cemetery which still bears his name. By his request, his grave marker is of a native, local stone. The Balch School, now abandoned and standing on the Marshall Hamm property west of Lyle, was also named in his honor. Frederich Balch did not live here long, but he left a lasting imprint on Lyle. 

A roster of those who have died in Lyle during the present century is also revealing of its history. Even more revealing is a list of the remaining Pioneers-sturdy stock, which tell much by voice and by implication of how the West was built of the raw earth.  

One of the staunchest of those is Frank Bradford. Then, there is Kamma Clark, who was born in Denmark. Frank Hewett and Frank Jewell remain, as does Mrs. Homer (Lola) James, Mrs. James E. West (Muriel), and Dessie Hewett, once a teacher in the old Balch School and postmaster of Lyle for a time. Dessie is Frank Hewett's aunt, now living in Goldendale, and his sister, Ethel Gaddis, lives in Portland. Two of Frank's brothers also are living, Archie and Harry, and, another aunt, Lula Hewett. The grandparents, Ellis and Esther Hewett, came to Lyle in 1879. 

It would be impossible to cite the history of everyone in Lyle, but many were raised here and can tell of the old days from experience or family hearsay. Many descendents of the original Pioneers abound in numbers. The Sorensen families and relatives comprise a large number, for example. 

The Song of the Rivers tells the names of the dead with loving reverence. James O. Lyle, Ellis and Esther Hewett, Henrietta and Oscar Mogren, Byrd J. Clark, Homer James, Alrona Davies, Edith Sorensen, John Daffron, Adam Hylton, Russell and Grace Niblock, Olaf Baker, George Cox, Claus Staack, Carl Stump, Emma Axtell, Anna Omeg and many others, some of whom died here and others who drifted away to die elsewhere. Their names tell the History of Lyle, in themselves. Names like Buck and Thoren and Sorensen and Coppick and Tuthill and White and Witt and Burroughs are also woven into the story; Rutledge and Baker and Hoover and Krall and Wall and McNabb, to name a few more. Ralph Hamm and his wife came down from Pendleton to ranch on land west of Lyle. I. A. DeBois settled by Rowland Lake. The list could go on and on. 

The Song of the Rivers is subdued, now, since the mighty dams have quieted and contained it. The copper-skinned men still fish in the waters, but even that is being curtailed by the white men. There is a tragic sadness in the once wild and free song known so well to ages past. But there is much more in the Song then the memories of the years. There is also hope for the future, and faith that the children of the Pioneers will carry on their work, faith and Lyle.


Even as the Old is recorded, the new rises brightly over the horizon. A new generation has arisen, ready to take over the task of perpetuating Lyle, as the older folks depart for another world.

Hopes for another prosperity boom have arisen with the announcement of plans to construct a new Harvey Aluminum plant some thirty miles upriver to the east. Unlike the construction booms, this one would be lasting. New jobs will be opened up, new workers will move into the area and facilities will be expanded. Lyle very much desires to enjoy a part in this new industrial development and the prosperous days it may bring.

Other industrial plants may then also be attracted to the immediate area, with happy results in the finances end re-population of Lyle. It could go on from there in growth and importance and good reputation. Certainly, the "quiet village" will be changed, and will eventually join the past with its sad-happy memories. 

A future Lyle Park to be located on the banks of the Columbia--and perhaps of the Klickitat, as well--is now in the planning stages. The Lyle Commercial Club, a lively organization with the future of Lyle in its hands and heart, is always planning new and more modern installations, despite the habitual apathy of some, which threatens at times to engulf it. 

There are some who say that Lyle is sunk in a coma which usually precedes death, but that is not necessarily true. It cannot remain forever on the mere fringes of the Modern Age. The world will pick it up, in passing, and incorporate it with the bustling growth of commerce and industry common to all. 

The future of Lyle is told also in the Song of the Rivers, but only those who dream of it can hear its notes as they sing their way past. In that Song are also tales of great sea-going vessels, of new commerce and of the ceaseless changes of condition and circumstance which will cone, along the great river. One of the greet cities of the earth may some bay still bear the illustrious and beloved name of Lyle, Washington! 

And the names of those who lived and died here from its beginning will live on in the archives of man's history, by means of this small book.


On this occasion--the 1968 Lyle Pioneer Days Celebration--it is fitting that we pause to pay tribute to those who first came
here and built the town.

The purpose of the Pioneer Days Celebration is somewhat more than just to give those who come a good time, of course. It
is also to honor and salute the brave Pioneers, living or dead, who braved hardships, danger and the hazards of the unknown, to people the West with enterprising, hard-working folks who made it what it is today. We try to show what it was like in the "old days", and to imitate briefly the fine people who lived through that time. 

For, they were the backbone of our beloved America, the sturdy stuff of patriotism and devotion and human kindness which have become a part of our own lives, and we are grateful to them. We find them a joy to those who recall the past, and an inspiration to those who look to the future, through strain and crises and confusions almost as difficult as those which they encountered. They, too, had their dangerous enemies, their difficult choices and decisions as to future leaders and a bewildering confrontation with changes to things new and unfamiliar. Those are the reward of free men, and we would like to keep it that way.

The builders of Tomorrow salute the former builders of Today, with reverence and admiration, and our hearts touch theirs across the long decades. Well Done, Pioneers!
The End



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