Columbia City’s location on the bank of the “Mighty Columbia River” made it a link in development of River transportation. The steamboat navigation was started on the Columbia River by the building of the combination sail and steam sidewheel ship “Beaver” launched in 1834 at London, England, for the Columbia and Willamette River traffic by the Hudson Bay Company. On its first voyage up the Columbia River to where it was to be based at Fort Vancouver, it would have gone by the sight that is now Columbia City. All that was here then was an Indian fishing village, which they called “Cumahi.” There is no way to tell how it was spelled for the Indians did not have a written language.
Steam navigation continued to aid in the River development. The Caples Brothers of Columbia City owned and operated the Sternwheeler “Metlako” and ran it on a passenger and freight schedule from Portland to Woodland, Washington, and waypoints. The Graham Brothers owned and operated the Sternwheeler “Ottawa” out of early Columbia City. Later the Caples Brothers owned and operated the steam-powered propeller-driven “Victor.” The three-foot diameter four-blade propeller of the “Victor” is now on display at the Caples House Museum.
The McVey house was built in 1871 as a store with a residence on the second story. By 1891 the building was also used as the Post Office. This was the only boat landing in the City, and River traffic stopped to pick up passengers and refuel—many of the River-going vessels burned wood for power. This house is a historic landmark and still stands at 2040 The Strand.
The Caples House was built in 1870 by Doctor Charles Caples, a doctor in the area. The house was presented to the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1959 and is open to the public. The facility consists of the Main Museum (which is the original house), the Carriage House (which has been converted into a Costume house and Children’s Attic with vintage dolls and toys), a Country Store, a Pioneer Tool Shed, and the Knapp Social Center (which contains an assembly room, kitchen, library, and caretakers’ living quarters).
During World War I the Sommarstrom Brothers built a shipyard with four bays – to build four ships at once – in the South part of Columbia City where River Club Estates is now located. They hired a large crew and built wood ships for the U.S. Government. When the war ended, the ship contracts were cancelled.