Monday, July 30, 2018

Third Center Street Bridge Opened 100 Years Ago

100 years ago today, on July 30, 1918, the third Center Street Bridge opened.

Center Street Bridge of 1918, photographed in 1945
Union St RR Bridge in background
(Salem Library Historic Photos)

Four of the columns are about World War I,
three about the bridge
July 30th, 1918
There was a great piece on it a week ago in the paper, so rather than duplicating that, we'll focus on some things that had to be left out or simplified because of word count and space limits.

Last week's piece
The first topic has to be the war. It is the context for everything. Maybe you will know more about the war history, but the Battle of Soissons involved in total around 28 divisions and 400-some tanks. There were over 100,000 casualties on the allied side.

"Fighting is fierce along front of fifty miles"

A map from the start of the offensive, July 22nd, 1918
Epernay and Rheims are in the heart of Champagne
Earlier in the year the City had ended street festivals. The war itself was grim and the general mood was anxious, focusing on thrift and restraint. There was a deficit of celebration and joy, and the bridge opening was a civic ritual and sanctioned kind of carnival. Even as celebration, the wartime mood permeated most every aspect of it.

June 17th, 1918
Even the library closed for it!

July 27th, 1918
Many were attracted to apocalyptic readings of Christianity and the war. There was a big tent revival earlier in the month.

July 19th, 1918
We should understand the festival for the bridge opening in this total context of the wartime mood. Indeed, the speeches took place at the Armory, there was a military parade originating from there, and pennants from the Battleship Oregon flew from the bridge. Military symbolism was everywhere.

Esther Pohl Lovejoy
was second speaker
In the paper's account, after telling about the auction for first passage, and then about State Representative Frank Davey's dedication, the second speaker highlighted is physician and administrator Esther Pohl Lovejoy. The remainder of the article is devoted to her talk. And while this probably is partially a consequence of the afternoon print deadline for the paper, and the fact that she was the last thing before the deadline, it's still reflects the importance of her talk.

She was a big deal! But Ben Maxwell's account here, as well as last week's story, omits her.

And, again, the context is the war: Red Cross work. She also touched on refugees, family-separation, the prospects for rape, and the industrial role of women making armaments.

There were certainly elements of wartime propaganda in her speech, but it is also not merely local cheering for the bridge.

July 26th, 1918
Another topic is funding and debt. Neither the first bridge of 1886 nor the second bridge of 1890 had been paid off when the third bridge of 1918 was completed. The City was still paying for non-existent structures and paying interest on the principal! This latest bridge, however, seems to have been fully paid for.

The headline in our current paper, "Modern bridge ushered in new era of traffic," is not exactly wrong, but it is an expression of autoist triumphalism.

October 16th, 1916
Traffic counts from just two years earlier on the old bridge show lots of non-auto travel: 700 autos, 343 buggies and carts, and 462 motorcycles and bikes and people on foot.

Vick Bros Fordson Ad, November 30th, 1918
It's true that there were a lot more autos owned in Oregon, but they were still very expensive, and we should not erase other kinds of travel and traffic. There were lots of people who didn't have cars or trucks! The growth of auto travel and auto ownership was more gradual and not stair-step function like the headline might suggest. The celebration featured cars so things looked fully "modern," but they were also what the well-to-do had. Remember that the first passage was auctioned off for $500!

More interestingly, that vehicle was not a car, but was a Fordson Tractor! The Vick Bros had arranged a deal for 1,000 of them to sell at about $900 each in the coming year, and the crossing was advertising for them. (1,000 seems like a lot and like so much puffery, but that's what the July news stories say. Maybe next year we'll come back and see how many they actually sold. Also, note in the ad what appears to be a woman driving the tractor.)

The bridge was very much about agriculture and farming, bringing things to the Salem canneries, and also about stimulating, even creating, demand for tractors, trucks, and cars. (This is a kind of induced demand!)

July 26th, 1918
Finally, also on July 26th, just before the opening, the paper recorded the first instance of vandalism.

Previously here:

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