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Kettle Falls

Kettle Falls, on the Columbia River, is below the mouth of the Kettle River. It was an important salmon fishing place for Indian tribes until 1939, when the falls were flooded out by the construction of the Grand Coulee Dam. French-Canadian fur traders called the falls Les Chaudieres (The Kettles) as boulders revolving in the current had worn huge, kettle-shaped holes in the stream bed below the falls, and Americans changed the name to English. The Indian name was reported as Ilth-koy-ape, a Salish phrase meaning “net of tightly-woven baskets” which were used to catch salmon below the falls. An Indian name more often given, and somewhat more plausible, is Schwan-ate-ku, meaning “the place of the deep-sounding water.”

Until 1941, this was a thriving town with broad main street, modern hotels and business buildings and an airfield nearby. When citizens of Kettle Falls learned their town was doomed to be flooded by the backwaters of Coulee Dam, they asked Meyers Falls, a village of approximately 100 people about four miles north to consolidate and retain the Kettle Falls name; a majority of the populations of the two towns approved. Kettle Falls then annexed a 6o-foot strip of land completely surrounding the town of Meyers Falls and moved its citizens there.

Located just south of town is an interpretive site where historical markers tell the story of Meyers Falls and the first water power mill in the Pacific Northwest area, begun here in 1816.


Ca. 1935 view of the Kettle Falls Bridge.

Source: Crossroads on the Columbia Collection, Washington State Digital Archives.

1940 site of Old Kettle Falls.

Source: Washington State Archives

Points of Interest Points of Interest icon

Kettle Falls District

This archaeological district encompasses 19 sites, most now partially submerged beneath the waters of Lake Roosevelt, formed when Grand Coulee Dam was constructed by the Bureau of Reclamation. The area around Kettle Falls attracted human occupation over thousands of years because it provided a particularly fine setting for harvesting of the abundant salmon runs in the Columbia. Tribes from a large area now encompassing southern British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest gathered at Kettle Falls annually to fish, trade goods, and interact. The district includes prehistoric camp and village sites and fishing locales, some with artifacts dating back 7,000 years.  Because tribes gathered at Kettle Falls, in the early nineteenth century the Catholic Church established St. Paul’s Mission and the Hudson’s Bay Company established the Fort Colvile fur trading post at the location. For 30 years, Fort Colvile and St. Paul’s Mission represented the largest European settlement between the Cascade Mountains and the Rockies. The historic district is located within the Grand Coulee National Recreation Area, managed by the National Park Service. St. Paul’s Mission is maintained by the National Park Service as a visitor destination.

St Paul’s Mission

St. Paul’s Mission is the oldest church building of any faith still standing in the State of Washington. This church was built in 1847 and served the region almost without interruption until 1869. During a smallpox epidemic in 1853–54, the fathers of the church, working under great difficulty, saved the lives of many Native Americans and early settlers. In the days of the fur trade, St. Paul’s, in addition to its religious importance, was also a center of culture on this frontier. Nearby is the portage used by the fur traders in their journeys North and South around Kettle Falls, now covered by the Coulee Dam backwaters.

Columbia River Bridge at Kettle Falls

The Columbia River Bridge at Kettle Falls was completed in 1941 and connects Ferry and Stevens counties. The structure is significant in several ways: This steel truss bridge crosses one of the most historic features in the region, the Kettle Falls of the Columbia River, now inundated. Waters behind Grand Coulee Dam (Lake Roosevelt) cover the falls where Native American peoples gathered to fish and trade for thousands of years. What was once a destination point is now a crossing on two of the state’s major highways: State Route 20, traversing the Okanogan Highlands and the North Cascades, and U.S. Route 395, connecting southern British Columbia with Spokane and points east and south. In addition to its historical significance, the bridge is also important for engineering and design features, such as the use of sloping struts to provide longitudinal support to resist weight and pressure induced by massive fill. This represents the successful realization of innovative design concepts.

Hudsons Bay Gristmill Site on Colville River

This is the location of one of the oldest grist mills in the Western United States. The site has been used continuously as a source of water power since 1826, making it one of the oldest known industrial sites in the Inland Empire and possibly in Eastern Washington. It was an integral part of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s commercial enterprises, doing a brisk trade with settlers and Indians covering a vast area of the Pacific Northwest. In 1866 the mill produced a cereal locally reputed to be the first farina sold commercially in this part of the country. This was accomplished during the ownership of Louther W. Meyers, founder of the town of Meyers Falls and an important early pioneer of Northeast Washington Territory.

Meyers Falls Power Plant Historic District

The abandoned and operational properties included within this district represent a continuity of properties related to hydroelectric development in northeastern Washington State during the period of significance (1903–present). Collectively, these resources illustrate the evolution of hydroelectric technology in Stevens County in the beginning decades of the twentieth century. In addition, the properties that comprise the present Meyers Falls hydroelectric plant are representative of a well-preserved example of a small-scale, high-head plant. Essentially unaltered from its original design and workmanship, the Meyers Falls hydroelectric plant has operated continuously since its construction in 1915. Together, these properties possess a significant linkage of structures and buildings related by physical development to the progress of hydroelectric development in Stevens County. The historic properties within the District admirably convey a sense of their association with social, economic, and technological advances important in the history of Stevens County and to the region of northeastern Washington, and illustrate the evolution of hydroelectric development at that location.