The Umpqua River Bridge was completed on April 7, 1936, opened July 2, 1936, and dedicated September 8, 2011.
Here’s the story behind that 75-year lag.
In my research for writing the chapter on the Umpqua River Bridge for Crossings: McCullough’s Coastal Bridges, I discovered after reading through 3 ½ years of Port Umpqua Courier newspapers that the dedication was postponed again and again and then postponed indefinitely. Apparently, the bridge was never dedicated.
Reedsport’s Umpqua Discovery Center was one of the first places to sell Crossings outside of Florence, and after my third visit to deliver books, director Diane Novak asked if I could do a presentation and book signing. I said I would love to; so we agreed on a date and time. Then she started thinking on a larger scale: to invite speakers and involve the Reedsport Ambassadors and have a real celebration––maybe even a dedication.
It all came together yesterday. At 3 p.m., traffic was stopped on Highway 101 to allow the bridge to open. This is the largest swing span bridge built in Oregon and now it’s the only operating one on the state highway system. (The swing span is more commonly seen in railroad bridges.) It opened very slowly and when totally open, a ceremonial ribbon cutting was held with the Ambassadors involved and Douglas County Commissioner Susan Morgan doing the actual cutting. After the bridge was closed but before the highway reopened to traffic, we were treated to a delightful parade of pre-1936 restored cars––real beauties––filled with Reedsport dignitaries and townspeople. Of course the fog chose this time to roll in accompanied by a stiff breeze, but at least 40 people had braved the chilly weather to walk out on the bridge.
Then the group headed to the Discovery Center, where chairs were set up outside on the Boardwalk. Here a much larger crowd heard from Reedsport’s Mayor Keith Tymchuk, Commissioner Morgan, State Senator Joanne Verger, and ODOT Bridge Preservation Manager Benjamin Tang. All had high words of praise for McCullough and the Umpqua River Bridge. The fog backed off, the wind died down, and the sun shone through, which made for a beautiful setting overlooking the Umpqua River during this portion of the celebration.
Afterwards, folks made their way inside the Discovery Center for a piece of cake decorated with the bridge, of course, commemorating its 75th birthday and some hot coffee.
Then it was my turn. I gave my PowerPoint presentation in the theater inside to a full house, and I signed numerous books before and after. I began by reading the section from the Umpqua River Bridge chapter about the dedication plans:
The dedication had been originally planned for June 19 and then moved to July 4, but only a couple of weeks before, it was postponed. The reasons included the chamber of commerce having a very full agenda, it was getting too late to get a prominent speaker, enough housing for a large crowd would be difficult to find, and whatever they did would look like child’s play compared to the gala celebration of only a few weeks earlier for the Coos Bay Bridge, reported the Courier [Port Umpqua Courier]. When rumor reached Reedsport that President Roosevelt would be on the Pacific Coast in September, however, the chamber sent a letter inviting the President to speak at their bridge dedication. It wasn’t long before Mayor E.H. Ford received a response from Stephen Early, Assistant Secretary to the President. The White House had received the letter, the Courier reported. Apparently, West Coast travel plans had not been made yet, but they would keep the letter in mind when they were. So the dedication was postponed indefinitely.
. . . I looked up and said, “Until today!” Then I began my presentation.
Finally, after 75 years, the Umpqua River Bridge received its long overdue dedication and a wonderful 75th birthday celebration!
Crossings: McCullough’s Coastal Bridges can be yours for $24.95 plus $3.99 shipping. Order from Pacific Publishing at www.connectflorence.com or email@example.com. It is also available on the coast in bookstores, museums, and gift shops; in Eugene at the airport, the historical museum, and several bookstores; and in Portland at Powell’s and the Oregon Historical Society.
Judy a part of bridge celebration:.
October 1, 2-4 p.m.—Yaquina Bay Bridge ‘s 75th anniversary celebration panel discussion at City Hall, Newport.
Judy participating in authors/publishers fair:
October 1, 10-4 p.m.—Florence Festival of Books–an authors and publishers fair at the Florence Events Center (715 Quince Street, 1 block east of Highway 101), Florence (Judy leaves for Newport shortly after noon)