Largest Collection of these Historic Structures in the West
Covered bridges, usually associated with the eastern United States, were also built by the hundreds in early-day Oregon. Those that remain are photographers’ delights.
There are few prettier sights than the sun breaking through the mist over the Mackenzie River and shining on the pristine white span called the Goodpasture Bridge. That is unless it’s the Gilkey Bridge over Thomas Creek where kids in cut-off jeans wade in the water while cattle graze in the pasture beyond.
To tell the truth, almost everyone who has seen them has a favorite among Oregon’s covered bridges. More than four dozen of these intriguing examples of folk art are scattered throughout the Beaver State.
Utilitarian to Neo-Gothic Bridge Styles
Their names read like a litany of pioneer place descriptions – Bear Creek, Fisher School, Gallon House, North Fork. Their styles range from no-nonsense, unpainted slats with pitched roofs to neo-Gothic white with arched windows and entryways.
The first of Oregon’s covered bridges were built in 1847 between Oregon City and Island Mills but was swept away by a torrent six years later. From that time on, whenever a covered bridge was carried off like Noah’s Ark, detractors ridiculed the foolish extravagance of spending up to $600 for the covering But the proponents of investing extra money to prevent the spans from rotting won out more often than not, so that at their high point, there were an estimated 450 covered bridges in the state.
Remaining Covered Bridges in Oregon Include Gilkey and Thomas Creek
In 1936, 300 were still standing, but each year growing numbers of the bridges have been replaced by concrete and steel, or county roads have been bypassed and the bridges haven’t been maintained. By 1973, their numbers had dwindled to 60. Today there are 51.
Though the bridges aren’t as architecturally sophisticated as their counterparts in the East, time’s weathering plus backdrops of evergreen and rock-splashing water make them well worth seeing.
Thomas Creek Bridges
The largest concentration of covered bridges, including Gilkey, is around the mint and strawberry farming communities of Crabtree and Scio (approximately 15 miles east of Albany). Barn-red Shimanek and Weddle are other Thomas Creek Bridges, while Hoffman Bridge crosses nearby Crabtree Creek. The most accessible group in a small area is off Interstate 5 near Cottage Grove, with five bridges within ten miles.
Gallon House Bridge
The oldest covered bridge still standing is the Gallon House Bridge over Abiqua Creek in the Silverton area. The bridge, which was built in 1916, got its name during Prohibition because of a house nearby that dispensed bootleg spirits by the gallon. The most recently built bridge is the Shimenak, constructed in 1965.
Office Bridge, over the north fork of the Willamette River, at 180 feet was the longest of the covered bridges. Specifically designed to accommodate logging trucks, the structure is the height of a two and a half story building and connected a lumber company sawmill to administrative offices. Its pedestrian walkway along one side as well as triple-structured members made the bridge one of the state’s most unusual. The area has been made into a park and the offices are now a Bed and Breakfast. The most spectacular of them all is the Goodpasture. Twenty miles upriver from Springfield, Oregon, the bridge is well worth the drive off the freeway.
Oregon Covered Bridges Removed to Other Places
Some bridges no longer span creeks and rivers. The Ritner Creek Bridge has been moved 300 feet to the east of its original location and is now used as a wayside rest, complete with picnic tables. Volunteers in the town of Staten moved the Jordan Creek Bridge and reassembled it in the city park. A third covered bridge was moved to the middle of Eagle Point where it’s now a pedestrian bridge for children, who formerly had to cross the highway to get to school.