Guest Speaker: Peg Willis – Building the Columbia River Highway

Come hear author Peg Willis Sunday, May 18, as part of the museum’s ongoing speakers series. Willis, a retired teacher from Oregon, has had a life-long love affair with the Columbia River Highway. Years of research have culminated in her new book, Building the Columbia River Highway, which was recently published by The History Press of Charleston, SC.


“When 900-foot ice age floods carved the Columbia River Gorge through the Cascade Mountains to the sea, little space was left for man to form a highway of his own,” according to a news release by the publisher. “It took an artist-poet-engineer extraordinaire to conquer this reluctant piece of real estate and produce the nation’s first scenic highway.

“Meet Sam Hill, the mover and shaker, and Samuel Lancaster, the polio survivor, who turned modern engineering on its ear to create a ‘poem in stone.’ Today, Oregon’s historic Columbia River Highway is hidden among the trees, where it meanders past spectacular waterfalls and dramatic views. Ride along with Peg Willis as she explores the beginnings of this miracle highway and the men who created it.”

Willis said, “The highway was more than just a way to get from one place to another, it was a playground and an adventure.” Since retiring from teaching, she said she has pursued a longtime dream of becoming more intimately acquainted with this historic beauty, its origins and its secrets. Her search has led her to volunteer with the Vista House and the Friends of the Historic Columbia River Highway. Her work has been published in a number of magazines and regional newspapers.

Willis’s presentation will be at 2 p.m. in the DeGroote Theater on the mezzanine level of the museum. Her talk is free with paid admission to the museum. She has agreed to autograph copies of her book, which will be for sale at the museum store.