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Four downtown bridges earn historic honors

Broadway, Burnside, Hawthorne and Morrison bridges gained a spot on National Register of Historic Places


by: FILE PHOTO: PORTLAND TRIBUNE - A well-lit Morrison Bridge was among four Multnomah County bridges that have been named to the National Register of Historic Places. The downtown Portland bridges were nominated for the honor in February.Four downtown Portland bridges have been named to the National Register of Historic Places.

The Broadway, Burnside, Hawthorne and Morrison bridges were named to the federal list of historic properties in late October. They are all owned by Multnomah County and are on a 1.5-mile stretch of the Willamette River running through downtown.

“Listing four of Portland’s bridges in the National Register of Historic Places recognizes just how important these structures are for their engineering and for their role in the city’s rich history,” said Robert Hadlow, a senior historian for the Oregon Department of Transportation. “Bridges have connected Portlanders on both sides of the river since the 1880s and helped make Portland the vibrant city that it is today.”

The four oldest county bridges were nominated to the national register in February. It’s an honor that could recognize the bridge’s impact on Portland’s development as the city grew and expanded eastward.

“Many of the 10 roadway bridges that currently span the Willamette in Portland are eligible for the national register, including these four county-owned structures,” Hadlow said. “Formal listing in the national register recognizes at a national level the importance of these bridges and the others.”

Members of the State Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation discussed the bridges’ nomination during a Feb. 10 meeting at ODOT headquarters in Portland. The bridges are part of a multiple property listing that recommends them for historic status because of the way they were built, their design and their impact on the region’s development.

Hadlow said that in 1999, the National Park Service’s Historic American Engineering Record documented the historic significance of the 10 Willamette River bridges. The proposed nomination of the four downtown bridges continues that work.

The Hawthorne Bridge, built in 1910, is the granddaddy of the Willamette River bridges. It was the first built across the river in the modern era of construction that stretched for 63 years, from 1910 to 1973, when the Fremont Bridge was erected.

Free bridges

According to extensive and detailed nomination reports written by Eugene historian George Kramer of Heritage Research Associates, the four bridges were built as ‘free bridges,’ meaning the city eschewed tolls to pay for their construction and maintenance. Each of the four bridges was designed and built by nationally prominent engineers and construction firms.

Portland’s first Willamette River bridge was a privately built wooden bridge constructed in 1887 to link the west side with the separate cities of East Portland and Albina. In 1891, the areas agreed to consolidate into one city of Portland.

Today, the Hawthorne Bridge is one of the oldest vertical-lift span bridges in the world still operating. Waddell and Harrington of Kansas City, Mo., designed and built the bridge.

The Broadway Bridge was completed in April 1913 and is one of the few remaining examples of a railroad-type bascule bridge in the nation. Ralph Modjeski of Chicago designed the bridge.

The Burnside Bridge was completed in May 1926, thanks in part to a city bond measure adopted just a couple years earlier. It was designed by Ira G. Hedrick and Robert E. Kremers, a former Multnomah County bridge engineer.

The Morrison Bridge was completed in May 1958 as one of the last movable bridges to be constructed across the river in Portland. The bridge was designed by Sverdrup and Parcel of St. Louis and Moffat, Nichol and Taylor of Portland.

The process to place the bridges on the National Register of Historic Places begins with the proposed nomination and could take several months before they receive the honor. The National Park Service maintains the history register.

Hundreds of Oregon properties, buildings, sites and bridges are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In some cases, owners of historic property are eligible for tax breaks and a limited amount of grants.