For his impact on the Northwest, particularly on the lower Columbia River Gorge, the name of Henry Jonathan Biddle must rank near the top among those who shaped our area.
Born in Philadelphia in 1862, a member of a prominent eastern family, Biddle at an early age decided to carve his career in the West. He was a mining engineer, geologist and naturalist with degrees from Yale and the Royal Academy in Freiburg, Germany.
After working for the Smithsonian Institution in North Carolina, Biddle headed for Oregon, first to Lakeview and then Portland. He then settled on a 360-acre farm along the Columbia River, about seven miles east of Vancouver, which is still known as the Biddle Estate.
Operating from his Clark County home base, Biddle became a world traveler, writing many scientific and botanical papers about areas of the world. His particular interests were farming, botany, archaeology and conservation. He worked on the preservation and identification of the wildflowers of the area in cooperation with the University of Washington.
Biddle’s main concern was for the preservation of Beacon Rock and the Hamilton Mountain area, plus a nearby butte that became known as Biddle Butte. He bought these properties prior to 1920, built trails and picnic areas and maintained them all as public parks. He changed the name of the huge monolith known at the time as Castle Rock back to Beacon Rock, as it had been called by Lewis and Clark.
Biddle also succeeded in building a trail to the top of Beacon Rock, an amazing engineering feat, finishing the task in 1918. This trail still is enjoyed by thousands of hikers each year.
Biddle died in Lakeview in 1928.
Biddle’s son, Spencer, and daughter, Rebecca Biddle Wood, donated Beacon Rock and Hamilton Mountain to the state in 1932 in memory of their father. They also bought Sand Island in the Columbia River just west of Camas to preserve it in its natural state.