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Headquarters of Seattle City Light construction projects on the Skagit River, this town came into existence when the City of Seattle began development of the power site. The nationally registered historic town is still owned by Seattle City Light and populated entirely by SCL employees that staff the Skagit River Hydroelectric Project. Tours of the nearby dams and other water reclamation projects headed by Seattle City Light start at the Skagit Information Center, located across from the general store on Main St. Seattle City Light was one of the country’s outstanding municipal power projects, a pioneer in municipally owned and operated hydroelectric developments.

Seattle entered the business of hydroelectric power generation in 1902, and a power station was completed at Cedar Falls, 30 miles east of Seattle, in 1905. In the course of the next few years, the plant was expanded on several occasions. With the demand for current during the pre-war period of industrial expansion, the city began to seek a new power site. The late James Delmage Ross, who had become superintendent of the City Light Department in 1911, tried, with his associates, to acquire some satisfactory spot, only to find their efforts blocked by interests who held rights over most of the valuable sites.

In 1917 Ross took steps that led to the acquisition of the Skagit site, long regarded as the best power location in the Pacific Northwest. Lying within the Mount Baker National Forest, it had been held by a private company on a temporary permit from the Federal Government. When the permit expired, Ross filed personally on the Skagit site in the name of the city. (Previously he had requested a permit for the city in a communication to the Federal offices in Portland.) He based his claim on the fact that the company had bought up other sites, while holding the Skagit with no intention of developing it. Later, Ross went to Washington, D.C., to press the claim with David F. Houston, Secretary of Agriculture, and on January 18, 1918, the city was given permission to call for bids on a plant to be built on the Skagit River. After several attempts by the company to re-acquire the Skagit rights had failed, the city was given a permit for the site by the Government, the decision announced in a telegram received in Seattle on Christmas Day, 1918.

The Skagit site underwent rapid development. When President Roosevelt took office in 1932, he summoned Ross to the White House to discuss proposed federal power development. Later, Ross was appointed to a position on the Securities and Exchange Commission. He resigned this office to become administrator of Bonneville Project, a position which he held, as well as the City Light superintendency, at the time of his death in 1939. A crypt, holding the remains of James D. Ross, is located just off the main highway before the Gorge Power Plant.

Points of Interest Points of Interest icon

Gorge Power Plant

Linked to the Newhalem Power House by means of a transformer bank. The Gorge Plant has an installed capacity of 102,413 horsepower and will ultimately produce 320,000 horsepower. Completed in 1924 at a cost of more than $14,000,000, it had yielded revenues amounting to more than $41,000,000 by the end of 1937. This is the first, and lowest, unit of the $86,000,000 “staircase” hydroelectric power development on the river. The entire Skagit River project totaled more than $250 million and took more than 50 years to complete.

Tropical Gardens

Located behind and above the power house, planted under the personal direction of Mr. Ross. With the co-operation of friends of the project, he brought plants, animals, and birds from all parts of the world. In the rock gardens are ferns and mosses, flowers, shrubs and trees, many of which are not indigenous, such as tea, lemon, and grapefruit. An illuminated path leads upward 400 feet past lily ponds, glowing with submarine light, to Ladder Creek Falls, transfused at night with lights in ever-shifting colors. Muffled by the rushing sound of the water, inspirational music flows from loudspeakers concealed in the surrounding gardens. The Gorge Powerhouse Visitors’ Gallery and Ladder Creek Falls are open to the public May through September. The trails through the gardens and up to the falls are not maintained however, and the climb can be challenging.

Gorge Creek High

A temporary wood dam was built over Gorge Creek in 1924. It was the first Skagit River development to generate electrical power that reached Seattle. SCL finally replaced the wooden weir with a concrete combination gravity-arch dam. The 300-foot high Gorge Creek High was dedicated on January 6, 1961.