July 28, 2012 in Features

Forgotten towns

Videographer is on a quest to uncover the stories of communities flooded by construction of Coulee Dam
By The Spokesman-Review
 
What happened?

When Grand Coulee Dam was being built in the 1930s, about 400 isolated farms and 10 small communities – with a total population of between 3,000 and 4,000 – were forced to relocate from areas that would be flooded by the dam. The dam inundated ancient villages, fishing spots and burial grounds. It displaced about 2,000 members of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation and about 250 members of the Spokane Tribe.

Source: Cassandra Tate at HistoryLink.org

Tell your story: If you lived around or near the upper Columbia River before and during the construction of Grand Coulee Dam and wish to participate in this oral history project, contact Grady Knight at (509) 732-1359 or email ggknight@gotsky.com

Grady Knight, a Colville-area video producer, is looking for Spokane and North Idaho people in their 80s and older who grew up on the upper Columbia River before it was tamed into Lake Roosevelt by Grand Coulee Dam.

The dam was completed in 1941, but relocation happened throughout the late 1930s. Some of the families moved into new towns named after their old towns, such as Kettle Falls. Some families moved to Spokane and Coeur d’Alene.

“For them to qualify, they have (to have) knowledge of that time and that area,” Knight said. “They have to have memories of the time around 1937 to 1940. So they need to have been born before 1930.”

For three years, Knight – owner of g2 Video Service – has been collecting oral histories from the women and men who once lived along the upper Columbia River. The National Park Service, with funding from the Bonneville Power Administration, has made the project possible.

“Before Grand Coulee, there was no electricity. Many kids rode horses to one-room schoolhouses,” Knight said. “It was the Great Depression. Food was hard to find. Only dad went to town for supplies because everyone else had work to do. A rare day of swimming at the river was the only entertainment besides weekend dances at the Grange Hall.”

Knight has completed 36 interviews; he’s hoping for a dozen more. If funding continues in 2013, there will be additional interviews. Oral histories from tribal members displaced by the dam are being collected in a separate project led by tribal members, Knight said.

Ray DePuydt, archeologist with Lake Roosevelt Recreation Area, said the oral histories will be used in continuing research.

“We’re trying to find out as much about these town sites from people who remember before the lake was developed,” he said.

DVD copies of the interviews will be available to researchers and others at various Northwest agencies, organizations and museums. And some will be available online at The Heritage Network, www.theheritagenetwork.org.

Knight has expanded the interviews to include a person’s history before and after the dam-building years, preserving stories for families – and for history. Both DePuydt and Knight believe the interviews will be especially valuable for people studying Grand Coulee Dam 50 to 100 years from now.

As DePuydt put it: “They will hear history straight from the people’s mouths rather than from academics writing about it.”


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