Wednesday, January 22, 2014


 Oregon has the largest collection of covered bridges west of the Mississippi and one of the largest collections remaining in the nation.
Of the covered bridges documented in the following blogs, 18 of them cross rivers, 33 of them cross creeks, 1 crosses a canal, 1 crosses a lake, and 1 crosses a river but has the word creek in its name.  41 of the covered bridges are painted white, 6 are painted red, 1 is both white and red, and 5 are brown or raw wood.  33 of the covered bridges you can drive through, 19 are closed to driving through, 4 are pedestrian bridges, and 1 is a rail bridge.
The number of remaining bridges is left to ones interpretation on what would classify as a historic covered bridge.  I have decided to only visit the bridges west of the cascades, and one's that have a historical significance.
Two covered bridges...Cedar Crossing in Portland, and Rock O' The Range near Bend, are not included in our travels even though the two are acknowledged by the Oregon Covered Bridge Society.
I have also included four non traditional covered bridges...because I liked them.
Most of Oregon's covered bridges were built with the Howe truss design.
 The relatively rare Howe truss, patented in 1840 by Massachusetts millwright, William Howe, includes vertical members and diagonals that slope up towards the center, adding greater strength to the bridge allowing it to support heavy loads crossing.

A railroad bridge is a great example of what a Howe truss looks like when not covered.
Somer were built with the Queenpost truss.

 The Queenpost truss was not as popular, but as affective in Oregon's covered  bridge building days.  A Queenpost truss, mostly wooden, has two principal rafters and two vertical Queen posts with a restraining tie beam at the bottom and a straining beam at the top.
Again, the Queenpost truss is best seen on an open rail bridge.

The Kingpost truss, in its simplest form, is found in frame buildings where there is a need to provide large spaces without columns or load bearing walls.
The Kingpost truss was adapted to support the shorter bridge spans, and is only used on one of Oregon's covered bridges.

The covered-bridge-building tradition in Oregon dates from the 1850s.  Out of necessity, pioneers built with the materials at hand.
 Douglas fir was abundant in western Oregon and well-suited to bridge construction.
To increase their useful life, houses were constructed over the timber trusses to protect them from the damp western Oregon climate.

The heyday of covered bridge building in Oregon occurred between 1905 and 1925 when there were an estimated 450 covered bridges in the state, including one of Oregon's longest covered bridges that once span the North Umpqua River near Glide.
Though this bridge is gone, the concrete pillars can still be seen when crossing the steel bridge that replaced this incredible structure.
By 1977, the number of existing Oregon covered bridges had dwindled to 56.  Currently, Oregon claims to have 52 official covered bridges.  (This number of bridges fluctuates from 49 to 52 bridges depending on which organization you follow.)
Local naming of covered bridges can prove to be inconsistent, and many bridges have more than one name.  So, the World Guide Number system was created.
Each covered bridge has a unique identification called a World Guide Number. This system of identifying covered bridges on a national scale was developed in the 1950s and has been adopted by the National Society for the Preservation of Covered Bridges.
The assigned World Guide Number for each bridge is the combination of a state, county and bridge identifier.  Oregon, being the 37th state alphabetically, dictates the first two digits of the identifier.
The counties are also assigned numbers in alphabetical order. All bridges in Benton County, for example, contain the number 37-02- because Benton County is the second county in the state alphabetically.
The third set of numbers are assigned to the actual bridge location, although the name of the bridge or stream is not a factor in the assignment. Many bridges have been destroyed since the adoption of the World Guide Number. Since the number is not reused or reassigned, some numbers are missing.
A combination of numbers and letters denote a bridge, which does not use a true truss for support but is covered nonetheless.
  Unfortunately, Oregon's covered bridges are still disappearing.  Even before these revelations came to light, Oregon’s covered bridges were already fast disappearing as steel spans and concrete spans seemed more practicable for wider, modern highways.
The photo below is the old covered bridge on Highway 38 crossing Mill Creek, and the junction for Loon Lake.  It is no longer.  What a beautiful bridge and setting this was.  Too bad this bridge was removed and is now just lost history.
Sometimes, the old wooden bridges were simply set on fire to clear the way for a modern structure. For a County Superintendent, decisions are based on economics, but for the area residents, the heart takes over.
Those who lived near these quaint structures have always been quite attached to them.
As more and more of these bridges were dismantled and demolished, people began to realize that a covered bridge represents more than a simple conveyance utility, a covered bridge is part of the character of the communities in which they serve.
They are one of those quality of life resources, which cannot be measured in dollars and cents, and in these somewhat more enlightened times, when a bridge is marked for removal, the community rallies to preserve the structure.
For example, the photo above shows the Jordan Covered Bridge as it appeared in its original location near the small town of Jordan.  Due to deterioration beyond repair, the bridge was going to be torn down.  But in 1988, the nearby community of Stayton came together and raised the money to have the bridge moved to their city park and restored. 

But even good intentions can go horribly wrong...

In the Tuesday, December 27, 1994, edition of The Stayton Mail, the headlines read;
"A community dream in ashes." 
On December 20th, at 2 a.m. the bridge caught fire when Christmas lights ignited the roof.  The structure tragically burned.
Two years later, the new Jordan replica covered bridge was dedicated.
(This time I'll bet Stayton won't be putting Christmas lights on this bridge).
The following nine blog entries take you on a tour of the Oregon Covered Bridges.
In October of 2009, my mother, the four dogs, and I took six weekends to visit all the Oregon covered bridges.  I divided the Oregon covered bridge tour into nine regions.
Enjoy...we sure did.


Brenda on the S OR Coast said...

Very cool, Steve! Thanks for the interesting info on covered bridges in Oregon.

Brenda on the S OR Coast said...

Wow, Steve! I read it all and enjoyed every picture. You put a lot of time into this impressive survey of Oregon covered bridges and their history.

Very nice work! Makes me want to go exploring...

Electric Hospital said...

Thank you for sharing your pictures and stories. I too love to take pictures of our beautiful natural world. Perhaps we will meet on a river or slough some day neighbor. Enjoy your adventures.