The covered bridges of the Oregon Coast are fabulous spots of romance and history that are worth a visit. I'm not sure what it is about these wonderful bridges that draw people to them, but there is definitely something.
Maybe it's the feel of being taken back to a simpler time, where life moved a little bit slower. Maybe it's the taken-care-of feeling you get as you cross over a bridge in a rainstorm.
Maybe it's the seclusion of cuddling up to your better half, out of view from the rest of the world. Maybe it's all of those things and different ones for different people. I'm not sure. The fact remains that the covered bridges are romantic spots for lovers and are affectionately known as "kissing bridges."
Pioneers began building the covered bridges of Oregon sometime in the 1850s. A bridge that was covered would tend to last 80 years or so because of the fact that it kept the bridge's truss dry, as opposed to a 9 year life span of one that was left uncovered and at the mercy of the elements.
There was a lack of steel and an abundance of Douglas Fir in the West at the time, so that is what was used to build these tremendous structures. To cover construction costs, the builders would often charge a small toll to cross: 3 cents for a sheep and 5 cents for a horse and it's rider.
The state of Oregon currently boasts 52 covered bridges. That's actually a stark contrast to the 450 the state of Oregon had between 1905 and 1925. By 1977, the bridges in existence had slowly dwindled to 56. The cost of lumber had simply gotten too expensive.
Concrete was found to be more durable and took less maintenance, thus the slow demise of the covered bridges. To make room for larger roadways, the wooden structures were set on fire and demolished. Very sad, in my opinion.
The character that these bridges add to communities just can't be replaced with some monstrous steel or concrete span. Think about it. Would you rather have a nice painting of a covered bridge or a steel one? Yeah, me too. There's something almost magical about them. Fortunately, the state has the Covered Bridge Society of Oregon to look after and preserve what is left.
Local bridge names often were inconsistent, so the World Guide Number system was created in the 1950s by Betsy and Philip Clough to give each bridge a unique identifier. The system was adopted by the National Society for the Preservation of Covered Bridges. Each bridges World Guide Number is the combination of a state, county and bridge identifier. Here's how it works.
Since Oregon is the 37th state in the nation, that dictates the first two digits in the identifier number. Each county is assigned it's own numbers, in alphabetical order. Those make up the second set of numbers. The third and final set of numbers are made up of the bridge's location. Since numbers are not reused if a bridge is destroyed, there are some numbers missing. A combination of numbers and letters signify a bridge that does not has a true truss, but is covered nonetheless.
The Oregon Coast has five of these 52 bridges in Oregon: four in Lincoln County and one in Coos County.
Chitwood Bridge - Lincoln County - World Guide Number: 37-21-03
Built in 1926 by Otis Hamer, this covered bridged served the small community of Chitwood. The town once was made up of a post office, dance hall, telephone office and a few homes. Logging was a big industry then, keeping the town's financial security intact. In the 1900s, it became an important stop for the steam locomotives that traveled from Yaquina to Corvalis. The trains would stop to refuel, take on water, and pick up any passengers and freight. Although the rails are still there, the trains no longer run through Chitwood. It's basically a ghost town now.
The bridge was built using the Howe Truss design. After years of use, it was rebuilt in 1983-1984 by Aubrey Mountain Construction. The same design was used in the rebuild with the flared sides, semi-elliptical portal arches and barn-red color.
With a 8 ton weight limit, the Chitwood covered bridge still makes itself available to traffic traveling from Highway 20 to places across the Lower Yaquina River.
To get to the bridge, from I-5, take the Corvallis exit (228) west 38 miles through Philomath on US 20. The bridge adjoins Highway 20 near milepost 17. Alternately, travel east from Newport on Highway 20, and proceed 17 miles to Chitwood.
Yachats Covered Bridge - Lincoln County - World Guide Number: 37-21-08
The second and last bridge built by Otis Hamer, the Yachats Covered Bridge, was put together in 1938. This is the bridge that was Queenpost Truss style and is the shorted covered bridge in Oregon, spanning only 42 feet long. It has flared sides and ribbon openings, allowing the sunshine to peek through in the center. On December 6th, 1989, Two G's Construction rebuilt the bridge. The major reconstruction included new concrete piers and footings, updated construction techniques and zinc strips for the roof, which keeps the moss from taking over. The bridge is open to traffic, except for large trucks and RVs. The total weight allowed is 15 tons.
To get to the covered bridge, from Yachats drive east seven miles on Yachats River Road. Turn left just beyond a cement bridge. Then drive for two miles up the north fork of the Yachats River and you will come to the bridge.
Fisher School Bridge - Lincoln County - World Guide Number: 37-21-11
One of Oregon's oldest covered bridges, the Fisher School Bridge (also known as Five Rivers Bridge) was built in 1919 and was placed on the National Historic Registry in 1976. It is 72 feet long and built with a Howe Truss. Design features include semi-elliptical portal arches, narrow ribbon openings under the side wall eaves, flared side walls and wood piers. Originally costing only $2,500 to build, the restoration and re-dedication on June 4th, 2005, ran around $700,000. Quite the difference! The reason for the two names given is because the bridge spans a fork of Five Rivers and is also located next to the Fisher Elementary School.
To get to the bridge, from I-5, take the Corvallis exit (228) west 38 miles through Philomath on US 20. Follow Highway 34 southwest through Alsea and continue 20 miles west to the Five Rivers-Fisher Road (Forest Service Road 141). Turn south at the fork at Siletz Road. Continue left past Buck Creek Road about one mile to the bridge. Alternately from Yachats, travel east on Forest Service Road 1560 about 20 miles. This route is not recommended because the road is extremely rough and steep. Note: Forest Service Road 141 connects to the Deadwood Bridge in Lane County.
Drift Creek Bridge - Lincoln County - World Guide Number: 37-21-14
Built in 1914, this is the oldest covered bridge in Oregon as is actually privately owned now. The bridge was destroyed by a flood and then rebuilt in 1933 by Toledo resident, JV Curry. In 1997, the Drift Creek was going to be demolished for safety reasons and any state funds to save and renovate the bridge had dried up. Determined to save this lovely piece of history, locals Kerry and Laura Sweitz proposed to the Lincoln County Commissioners that they would be willing to move the bridge, board by board, to their Rose Lodge property, which was 8 short miles away. Coincidentally, they already had a concrete span over Bear Creek that matched the dimensions of the bridge exactly. Over the course of the next 4 years, with the aid of fundraisers and the sweaty brows of volunteers, the bridge was moved and rededicated on July 14th of 2001. To this date, the Drift Creek bridge is a popular place for weddings and receptions, as the Sweitz's were kind enough to keep it open to the public.
The bridge has a Howe Truss and is 66 feet in length.
To get there, from Lincoln City, turn east onto Hwy 18. From the Williamette Valley, drive west on Hwy 18 towards the coast. At milepost 4.9, turn south onto Bear Creek Road. After approximately one mile you will see the bridge on the left-hand side. The bridge is on private property; visitors are asked to park along Bear Creek Road and walk the rest of the way to the bridge. Please be considerate of the Sweitz's privacy.
Sandy Creek Bridge - Coos County - World Guide Number: 37-06-09
The Sandy Creek is so named because of the fact that it spans the Sandy Creek. Genius, huh? Built in 1921, it runs 60 feet in length and uses a Howe Truss. Until it was bypassed in 1949, the wooden bridge allowed thru traffic on Oregon Highway 42. In 1981, the proposal of building a park at the bridge was made, using the covered section as a picnic area. The Myrtle Point Lions Club took on the project in 1982 and began clearing brush, replacing the roof, replacing boards and structural pieces and giving it a nice, new coat of white paint. The new park was dedicated in 1984 and now includes a tourist information center.
To get there, from Roseburg, travel west on Highway 42 approximately 31 miles to Remote. Sandy Creek Bridge is on the north side of Highway 42, 1/4 mile west of the Remote exit.
If you have the time on your next visit to the Oregon Coast, grab your camera and take a drive around to visit all of these very special bridges. Bring an umbrella and take a leisurely stroll. Pack a picnic basket and find a nice spot with a great view of whichever bridge you're at. Enjoy the beauty and history of the covered bridges of the Oregon Coast. To discover more terrific information about Oregon Coast bridges in general, download "Spanning the Oregon Coast." (508K )
The Covered Bridge Society of Oregon hosts the annual "Celebration of the Historical Covered Bridges in Oregon." For more information, visit their web site.