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The original highway began as a route for gold miners to follow over the Wenatchee Mountain range back in the 1870's. Initially, it was a series of Indian trails used by miners with pack animals to travel between the mining camps. In 1891, a wagon road was built by the miners connecting the Swauk Mining Camp to the Peshastin Mining Camp. They followed an old Indian trail and used a series of switchbacks to offset the steep grade of the mountain.
This was the beginning of the road we know today as "Old Blewett Pass Road". In 1892, the Blewett Mining Co purchased a major interest in the Peshastin Mines and also assumed responsibility for the road. In 1897, a US Geological Survey was preformed to make the first map of the area.
They called the wagon road over the Wenatchee Mountain Range "Blewett Pass". In 1922, the cross state Sunset Highway was rerouted over the pass. It was constructed as a 2-lane road with one-lane bridges. At this time, the bridge roadway was concrete and the roads were dirt and gravel. In 1925, the first asphalt was laid over the gravel road.
In 1956, the road was realigned through Swauk pass. This marked a change in the name from Blewett Pass to Swauk Pass. The name did not, however, work with the locals as they continued to refer to the pass as Blewett Pass. In 1992, the WSDOT changed the name back to Blewett Pass.
The original highway was known for its large number of curves and switchbacks. The road was very narrow and built into the side of rugged mountainous terrain. There were many roadside signs that read "Caution" for good reason. The grade was steep and turns sharp. There were very few guard rails.
The old highway had 248 curves. The original construction of the highway remains intact in many places. There is a solid white line that divides the narrow 2-lane road. This white line still is visible on the highway today. Most of the single-lane bridges have been dismantled (the approaches and abutments remain as a testament to the quality of construction that took place back in the 1920's.
During this time, the majority of the work was performed by the Washington State Highway Dept. It is unclear if any convict labor was used during the initial construction phase of the highway.
In 1924, the Wenatchee Daily World reported that the final stretch of the Blewett Pass Hwy was finished and open to traffic. It stated that one million dollars had been spent by the Chelan and Kittitas Counties, the state and federal government. The largest amount had been spent by the US Forest Service because almost the entire hwy was located in the Wenatchee National Forest.
In the 1930's, the WPA (Works Progress Association) and the CCC (Civil Conservation Corps) improved the highway (widening the lanes, guard rails, signs, etc).
By the mid 1940's, the highway was becoming outdated. As the automobile traffic increased the narrow curves, switchbacks and singe-lane bridges were becoming encumbrances to road travelers. The highway was also dangerous. Modernization was necessary and planning began for a newer, safer route over Blewett Pass.
As stated above, in 1956 the highway was rerouted east from Blewett Pass to Swauk Pass. This resulted in a more streamline route which reduced the number of curves from 248 down to 37. The new roadway was wider, straighter and free of the many switchbacks. With 4 lanes and shoulders vehicles could travel safer and faster. This also provided passing lanes for cars and slow moving trucks.
In 1964, the current state route system took effect and the stretch of highway between Cle Elum and Dryden became US 97. This assignment remains today.
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