Do You Know the Hawthorne Bridge?

By Jan Caplener

In 1845, a young entrepreneur named James B. Stephens purchased a 640 acre site on the east side of what would eventually become Portland. This tract of land cost $200 and was bordered on SE Stark and Division extending from 20th to the river. At the time, the Portland town site consisted of a few log cabins and a dock being built by developer Francis Pettygrove.

James Stephens saw the future opportunity to start some form of river crossing. He began his river crossing with just a rowboat and envisioned a ferry service in the coming years. As Portland grew the ferry service expanded.

By 1855 James had created the Jefferson Street and Stark Street Ferries and they were large enough to carry wagons and livestock. By 1856, new residents of Mt. Tabor were shipping large quantities of produce (especially apples) to California during the Gold Rush. Exports of apples totaled over 20,000 boxes which sold then for almost $2 per          pound.

In 1880 the east side of Portland experienced a building boom. Many residents supported building a bridge across the Willamette River and the Morrison Street Bridge construction began. As settlers faced greater development, the eastside began to transition from an agricultural area to a suburban one. The Madison Street Bridge was completed by 1891 and allowed streetcars to commute from SE Portland into downtown. This bridge was poorly built and was replaced by a wooden structure in 1900 by another wooden bridge.

Then in 1902, a fire that started downtown caught the bridge on fire. The damage was so extensive that a steel bridge was commissioned. Waddell and Harrington were hired to build the bridge and construction began to build the most advanced vertical-life bridge in America.

On December 19, 1910 the Hawthorne Bridge opened for traffic. The success of the Hawthorne Bridge design set the standard for bridges built around the world.

Recent water color painting by Mila Raphael. Part of Hawthorne Bridge art collection owned by Jan Caplener

Interesting facts about the Hawthorne Bridge:

1. The bridge was named after Dr. JC Hawthorne. He ran the Oregon Hospital for the insane in SE Portland and was major proponent for a new bridge

2. Cost of the Hawthorne Bridge: $510,000

3. The original color was black. It was repainted yellow ochre in 1964 and in 1989, was repainted current day green with red trim

4. Added to National Register of Historic Places in 2012.  It’s a Portland Historic Landmark

5. Motor vehicles per day:  35,000 plus

6. Cyclists per day: 10,000 plus

7. TriMet buses per day: 800. Carrying 20,000 plus riders

8. Lifts per month: 200 plus

9. Total length: 1.382 feet. Longest Span: 244 feet

10. Oldest vertical lift bridge in operation in the United States

Do You Know the Hawthorne Bridge?

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