Steel Bridge, c1890

A very nicely detailed photo of the first Steel Bridge, circa 1890. The east end, shown here, was at the foot of Holladay street. It spanned the river and met the west shore near the south end of what is now the McCormick Pier Condominiums.

(City of Portland Archives)

12 thoughts on “Steel Bridge, c1890

  1. Is that very high water, or just a really low bridge? 🙂

    I can see it’s a single RR track, but I wonder how many lanes on the upper deck?

  2. Tad…
    The water level also caught my eye…I was wondering if it had something to do with the time of year…heavy rain fall…you know, all that kinda thing!

  3. Considering we can’t see the berm for the swing span, I’m guessing this was at or near flood stage. Are we sure this photo wasn’t taken in 1894?

  4. The original Steel Bridge was built in 1888 as a double-deck swing-span bridge. The 1888 structure was the first railroad bridge across the Willamette River in Portland. The “new” Steel Bridge was built to replace the original and opened in 1912.

    Okay, with a little checking, this is what I found regarding the “level” of the Willamette River between 1888 and 1912…so I think that’ll help in figuring out the date of this photo.

    In early June of 1894, the Willamette River rose to 33 feet, flooding the central business district of Portland. The Columbia River flooded in February of 1890, but did not affect the Willamette River as much as the flood of 1894, as it only rose to 28 feet! In June of 1899, the Willamette River rose to 24 Feet.

    Here’s a thought too…with the historical crests of the river on four dates prior to the design and construction of the original Steel Bridge, one can only assume that those crest levels would have been #1 or #2 on the list of priorities…right?

    Recorded historical crest levels prior to 1888:
    1876-24 ft
    1880-27 ft
    1882-26 ft
    1887-25 ft

    Here’s another little note:
    The “flood” categories of the Willamette River are listed this way:
    Major flood: 28 ft.
    Moderate flood stage: 24 ft.
    Flood stage: 18 ft.
    Action stage: 18 ft.

    Gee…the current Steel Bridge just celebrated its 100th birthday this year…wow! And, before anyone asks, the Hawthorne Bridge was built in 1910 and it’s the oldest vertical lift bridge in the entire country. The Steel Bridge is the second oldest! The Broadway Bridge opened in 1913 and the “train” bridge, (the SP&S Bridge, St. John’s Railway Bridge, the BNSF Bridge and/or the Willamette River Railroad Bridge…whatever you wanna call it) was completed in 1908.

    And all I was originally looking for was the flood stages of the Willamette River prior to 1888 because of Jim’s question about the date of the photo!

  5. The primary engineering problem for a railroad bridge at this location is elevation. There is no practical way to address the issue other than to build at the same level as the union depot. You could gain elevation from the east bank, real estate was and is available but that option is foreclosed by the location of the station at grade.
    There is also the mandated requirement to maintain navigation on the river no matter what.

    A second and almost equally ugly engineering problem is the question of curvature at the east bank, assuming you want to provide for access to the left (North) at this location. Again the solutions are complicated by the location and the need to maintain grade. The best options here would be a tunnel (fraught) or a extensive cut through expensive real estate,

    We see the result here of trying to get cheap solutions to expensive problems. A poor design, poorly sited resulting in very expensive remediation just few years later. Gee I wonder if we could extrapolate.

  6. (Although this bridge lasted over 20 years, which was probably sufficient to pay for itself in light of the alternative… speaking of that, what *was* the previous solution to crossing the river? Was there a train ferry on the Willamette?)

  7. the old steel bridge piers where never fully removed from the river bottom. They are at times of low water an obstruction for ships at maximum draft limits.

  8. The west pier can normally be seen in the water about forty feet from the bank, remains of a stone pier are ON the west bank.

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