Salem has over 100 bridges including those over creeks and
roads, but its most important ones are those over the river
that runs through it, the Willamette.
The history of the bridges over the Willamette River begins
in December 1886 with the opening of the first Center Street
Bridge. It was felt necessary to tie Salem and West Salem
together. Before that time the only river crossing was by
ferry. This was the first bridge over the Willamette anywhere
in Oregon, the Morrison Street Bridge in Portland not opening
until April of 1887. That first bridge cost $49,901 and was
constructed mostly of wood. It was located in the wrong position
in relation to river currents and collapsed with a crash on
February 3, 1890 during a flood.
Salem's next bridge was opened on January 13, 1891. It was
a willowy affair that was deemed unsafe almost before the
paint was dry. It was not replaced, though, until 1918.
This third Center Street Bridge was dedicated in a burst of
patriotic fervor on July 30, 1918. The historical record shows
that Frank Davey delivered the dedication address. Program
Chairman was F.T. Wrightman assisted by W.H. Dancy. Others
helping were Frank Smith, Marshal; Charles Archered was Auctioneer;
and Henry W. Myers, head of the Willamette chapter of the
American Red Cross. The Red Cross was the beneficiary of the
$3000 raised by the various concessions. These included postcards,
lunches, and the privileges of being first. Chas. H. Vick
and Elbert A. Thompson paid $500 to be the first to drive
a vehicle across the bridge. The vehicle in question was a
Fordson tractor. Mr. Vick owned the agency it came from. There
was an afternoon parade that day and the local newspaper reported
that an estimated 20,000 people watched it. (Salem's population
at that time was about that number). Dedication of the bridge
was on a platform underneath the east approach to the bridge.
Following the dedication two Red Cross workers, Miss Catherine
Fowle and Miss Gladys Bartholomew, raised semaphores allowing
traffic to pass. "Little Miss Rowena Eyre" either
scattered flowers on the roadway or pulled a ribbon that released
them. Mrs. William Colder of Polk County paid $100 to be the
first to turn on the lights illuminating the bridge.
Then, on December 14, 1952 a Marion Street bridge was added.
Construction took nearly three years and it was opened without
ceremony. At the time it was the longest bridge of its type
west of the Mississippi. To the south, though technically
not in the city, the Independence Bridge also spans the Willamette.
Governor Douglas McKay dedicated this bridge on December 18,
1950. During the dedication ceremonies Verd Hill, age 74,
died suddenly of heart failure.
Although not a bridge over a river, the 17th Street overpass,
opened in the 1980s, further increased the ability of Salemites
to travel from one part of the city to another. Before this
overpass opened trains on the north-south railroad tracks
occasionally blocked access in an east-west direction. An
abandoned railroad bridge over the Willamette still stands.
The bridges, particularly those over the Willamette, have
helped integrate the City of Salem.
Compiled and written by Dick Lutz
Capital Journal, 2-1-50, 10-7-50, and11-24-52