Crowd bids farewell to Sellwood Bridge
Compared to the colorful, clamorous and rambunctious grand-opening party for the new Sellwood Bridge held on Feb. 27, the opportunity to take one last walk across the old structure on the evening of Feb. 25 was serene and emotionally evocative for those who took the stroll and there were many who did.
The Sellwood Bridge has been deeply woven into the fabric of the community since it opened to traffic on Dec. 15, 1925, superseding the ferry John F. Caples that connected Sellwood to the west bank of the Willamette River for 21 years.
On the day the original bridge opened, bands played, politicians made speeches, and neighbors held a parade across the new steel span.
The crowd that gathered at the eastern foot of the bridge when it closed to vehicular traffic promptly at 7 p.m. last Thursday, looked eager to take a last walk across the bridge but the mood was more thoughtful and reflective than celebratory.
When Multnomah County officials and neighborhood leaders hatched the idea of opening the bridge for one last stroll, they had no idea whether the event would draw a crowd.
But it did. Former Oregon Gov. Barbara Roberts, with megaphone in hand, addressed the gathering crowd soon after the last vehicle cleared the east end of the bridge and the span was closed.
Isnt this a fine sendoff for the old Sellwood Bridge? Roberts asked.
Just think of the history that this bridge, which spans the Willamette River, has seen. It has seen floods, boat races, and eagles in flight.
It has served this community, as it aged in place, Roberts continued. We could live on it, walk on it, drive on it, jog on it, and most of all, we could always depend on it.
For 90 years, the Sellwood Bridge has been our loyal and dependable friend, Roberts said. Tonight, for one final time, all of us celebrate this bridge. We say goodbye to our good and faithful friend, the Sellwood Bridge.
A bagpiper led the procession of well-wishers who walked the deeply rutted pavement, mostly in darkness, between the few streetlights remaining on the old span. The darkness added to the ambience, enhancing the view of downtown Portland.
Second- and third-generation Sellwood residents shared stories passed down to them from their parents, about how the bridge helped the community become a thriving part of the metropolitan area.
Young people also spoke with reverence about the bridge as well.
Ive traveled across this bridge for 25 of the 26 years of my life, said Jonathan Thompson, as he walked the return leg back toward Sellwood. This is a truly iconic bridge. I decided to come out, because I wanted to kiss it goodbye. I feel this is my bridge.
There are no official crowd counts, but estimates rose as high as 2,000 people, sharing Thompsons sentiments as they made their way across and back over the old Sellwood Bridge.