1940: A Scenic Highway in the Evergreen State is Officially Opened

June 16, 1940

The East Side Highway in the southeastern corner of Mount Rainier National Park in Washington State made its debut. The dedication ceremony for this new means of vehicular access to the park was held at the north portal of a tunnel built as a key portion of the route. This event was sponsored by the Southwest Washington Good Roads Association. Park superintendent O.A. Tomlinson, carrying out his ceremonial duties against the backdrop of what the Associated Press (AP) called “the din of dozens of automobile horns resounding within a 500-foot [152.4-meter] road tunnel,” cut a ribbon to officially open the highway to traffic.

The Washington State government had contracted the building of the East Side Highway to several private construction firms, all of which performed their work under the supervision of the federal government roads agency. (That agency was known as the Bureau of Public Roads until being renamed the Public Roads Administration in 1939.) Tomlinson and the members of his staff collaborated closely with federal roads officials and the construction firms throughout the building process to help ensure that many of the scenic features along the new highway would stay intact. The highway, which took about nine years to build, provided the final link in a north-south route across the eastern region of the park. 

After Tomlinson cut the ribbon during the dedication ceremony for the East Side Highway, Mayor Harry P. Cain of the nearby city of Tacoma drove the first automobile to go through the tunnel. Other motor vehicles soon made their way along that stretch of the route as well. “More than 250 automobiles were at and near the southern end of the 13.8-mile [22.2-kilometer] road when it was opened,” reported AP in its news story. “Before the day had ended an unanticipated 4000 people crowded in the eastern section of the park.” The East Side Highway remains in service today as part of State Route 123.

Photo Credit: Library of Congress

For more information on the East Side Highway, please check out wa0351data.pdf (loc.gov)

Additional information on this highway and others built within Mount Rainier National Park is available at National Park Service: Highways in Harmony (Mount Rainier) (nps.gov)

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