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Historic Arch Bridge a vision in gumdrops


by: PHOTO BY ELLEN SPITALERI - Jean Welch describes how she used to try to walk over the arch of the bridge to Sue Warren, Liz Elsasser, Carol Watts, Sally Woehrle and Opal Blackburn.The folks at Somerset Lodge Independent Living in Gladstone wanted to do something special with gingerbread this holiday season, and a regular gingerbread house just wasn’t the ticket.

So Sue Warren, the activities coordinator at Somerset Lodge, came up with the idea to build a replica of the Arch Bridge that links West Linn and Oregon City over the Willamette.

After Myra Matthews, the facility’s assistant manager, took a photo of the bridge, Somerset’s chef, Rebecca Schaefer, made a styrofoam skeleton, complete with the bridge’s distinctive arch dating from 1922.

Then the residents took over, Warren said. About 16 people, ranging in age from 56 to 95, worked on the replica, covering it with a powdered sugar and water concoction.

“It was like working with putty, like Silly Putty,” said Carol Watts, who led the project.

The residents also constructed a gingerbread version of the West Linn Police Station, and added embellishments like a rescue boat and other boats under the bridge, and a Somerset Lodge bus crossing the bridge.

The roadbed of the bridge is covered with foil, to look like “a glassy surface,” Warren said.

The finished product, just completed last week, makes the bridge look like it is covered with snow, and sports light fixtures made from colorful gumdrops.

“This is the way we think the bridge should look at Christmas,” Warren added.

One unexpected benefit that resulted from the construction of the replica is that “people remembered things they did as kids on the bridge,” Watts said.

“I grew up in Willamette and knew the bridge as a little kid; my sister and I would try to run up that arch,” Jean Welch noted.

Sally Woehrle, Opal Blackburn and Liz Elsasser also helped build the replica, attaching gumdrops and decorating the trees.

Elsasser said she most enjoyed the companionship that resulted from doing the project.

When they see the Arch Bridge replica, most residents have said, “Wow, it looks so like the bridge,” Warren said.

She noted that the project involved the entire Somerset Lodge community, including the culinary and activity department and the residents.

The parent company for Somerset Lodge sponsors a company-wide gingerbread structure contest this time of the year, Warren said, and she is excited about taking a photo of the bridge replica to enter it in that competition.

“The deadline is Dec. 21, and then there will be the judging,” she said. “We should know something after the first of the year.”