Thursday, February 6, 2014

Bridges Guide Shows Historic Bridges in and out of Salem

Today there will be lots of talk about future bridges, not all of it happy to consider.

Lucky for us, ODOT just published a book on historic bridges and it's a fine distraction!

You might remember Chris Bell as the perennial winner of the "Brian Reynolds Distance Award" for highest mileage during the Bike Commute Challenge in years past. Especially during the summer, Chris has regularly commuted by bike from Portland to Salem!

Column detail Michael Goff
When he's not biking he's an ODOT historian and you might also remember hist talk on the "the Pineconian Order," a column style on some historic bridges he needed to reproduce.

Along with Rebecca Burrow and Chris Leedham, Bell has authored the Oregon's Historic Bridge Field Guide (it's big! 386pp, about 80mb pdf).

From the release:
The collection presents 334 bridges ODOT considers to be of historic value to the state, as of publication, organized by county. Some of the information may seem technical, but Oregonians and visitors to the state will also find it compelling. For example, the 1929 Alder Creek Bridge on old U.S. 30 is one of the few remaining from the original construction of the Old Oregon Trail Highway. Interstate 84 replaced most of the highway and its bridges, leaving the Conde McCullough-designed Alder Creek Bridge isolated.

“If you have ever read the milepoint-by-milepoint ‘Oregon for the Curious’ by Ralph Friedman, and liked it, this is your kind of fun,” said Chris Bell, ODOT historian and one of the book’s authors. “We have sought to create a tactile resource for our maintenance and bridge crews, but in doing so, we feel there is something for Oregonians in almost every part of the state, who undoubtedly cross one or more of these bridges on a regular basis.”

The new compilation is helping ODOT prioritize preservation efforts on a statewide basis while providing a guide to its crews who maintain these vital historic links to Oregon’s heritage.

“Bridges are the very fabric of our transportation network, but more than that, they serve as an object lesson in Oregon’s transportation history, physical geography and the evolution of engineering,” Bell said.
Unfortunately, the historians missed an opportunity to highlight the role of bikes!
Also beginning in the 1890s was the Good Roads movement, which demanded smooth-surfaced, allweather roads. As a result, the federal Office of Road Inquiry was created in the United States Department of Agriculture in 1893 to investigate, educate, and distribute information on road building. (In 1916, this agency became the United States Bureau of Public Roads, the antecedent of the current Federal Highway Administration.) In Oregon, the efforts of this movement were evidenced by the rapid construction of a number of major highway spans, especially in the Portland area
The League of American Wheelmen and people who biked started the Good Roads movement! The first autos didn't arrive until the early 1900s, and their adoption didn't speed up until the 19-teens and 20s.  This is a way that history, intentionally or not, is normalized to our current autocentric standards.

Besides that quibble, the bridge inventory is interesting. A lot of the bridges are outside of cities, but there's more than a few in Salem.  Just south of Market and Front is what might be the oldest existing road bridge still in use in Salem.  The Front Street bridge over Mill Creek was part of the Oregon Electric line, and built in 1913 - that makes it a peer of the Union Street Railroad Bridge
There's also a section on our City bridges that have been informally identified as "of the school of Conde McCullough."

According to Bell and all, they're not just "school of" and even have a name to attach to them:
The designer, R.A. Furrow, was a graduate of Iowa State a few years before Conde McCullough and often worked for McCullough and the state on state projects. As a result, the many bridges share a common appearance with those bridges built by the state during the same period. In recognition of their prominent positions in an urban setting, the bridges feature a number of decorative details, including: ornamental precast bridge railing similar to state standard Type D, arched girders with bush-hammered panels, ornate soffit brackets, and a number of different accommodations for pedestrians, including staircases and viewing areas.
On the recently demolished Commercial Street Bridge over Pringle Creek at Boise and the Civic Center, you can see the initials "R.A.F." on drawings that McCullough ultimately approved.

The material on Salem is interesting - remember, all those old railings around town are "Type D"! - but there's a lot more on bridges you might cross as you are out riding. The second oldest bridge in Marion County that's discussed is the Gallon House Bridge, a covered bridge from 1917 just north of Silverton. So the guide is a resource for touring the countryside as well.

Type D railings, viewing area, and lanterns on Church Street Bridge
Check it out!

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