Europe may have its great cathedrals, England its chiming “Big Ben” and Holland its dikes and iconic windmills, but here in post-colonial America, we still have our indomitable (if endangered) covered bridges. I grew up with them in New England, caught glimpses of some in Iowa and elsewhere, but rediscovered them (in spades!) in Oregon, where a mind-boggling 450 of them once spanned that state’s twisting and near-uncountable rivers, creeks and streams.
Wooden bridges in a moist and rainy climate are apt to rot out in twenty years, but once covered with a well-designed roof they can last eighty years and more. Gifted with some of the continent’s most productive forests and tallest trees, Oregon’s pioneer settlers and those who followed did what came naturally – they built covered bridges, often with timbers of extraordinary length and girth. Situated astride the green and well-watered Willamette valley, Lane county lays claim to 18 of the state’s 50 or more surviving covered bridges, and it was there we hit architectural, historical and photographic pay dirt.
If there is a personal favorite for me from among more than nine examples of the bridge-builder’s art near the town of Cottage Grove, it is the Currin, named for an early settler’s family and spanning the Row River. Built in 1921 to replace an older one dating back to 1883, it utilizes a Howe truss construction and has a span of 105 feet. It is the only Oregon covered bridge to feature white portals and red-painted sides. It will stand out in my photo file for its camera-friendly backdrop and the delicious wild blackberries I will always associate with the hour I spent in its shadows. (In the World Guide system it is number 37-20-22).
Notable both for its unique double-lane design and its size, the Office Bridge at 180 feet is Oregon’s longest covered bridge, connecting the verdant banks of the North Fork of the Middle Fork of the Willamette River in the timber town of Westfir. Westfir was once a “Company Town”, anchoring a mill site supplying huge timbers for the WWII War effort to the small town embracing its office and resident housing. Floored over with heavy oversize planks set on hand-hewn timbers of unusual dimension, the entire extra-tall structure was designed to accommodate trucks loaded with huge logs and features the only triple-truss Howe design I have ever seen. The second and separate bridge lane was to facilitate the constant and safe foot traffic between mill and office – thus the name. We will long remember the tiny town’s obvious affection for their bridge as we were greeted by volunteers pushing rakes and wheel barrows as they kept it presentable for any visitors who might come along to their remote community with its neat homes and general store. (World Guide number 37-20-39).
At some point in the near future, it is inevitable that we will extend our search to Oregon's Lynn and Douglas counties where another dozen or so historic covered bridges are waiting.
Al Cooper Photos