Monday, October 4, 2010
Bridging Oregon's Coast
I began to think we were traveling in circles. Driving south on our way to Coos Bay, Oregon, we passed over an attractive bridge in Newport. It’s graceful arches spanned more than half a mile across the bay and, in the middle of the bridge, spires pointed to the sky, like miniature castles. Now, as we approached Waldport, we drove over another familiar-looking bridge. “Didn’t we just do this?”
What we were to discover is that along Highway 101, a stretch sometimes called the Oregon Coast Highway, a series of bridges look similar, and for very good reason. The same man, Conde B. McCullough (1887 - 1946) built most of the bridges linking the coastal highway. In the waterfront town of Waldport, we visited the historic Alsea Bay Bridge Interpretive Center to learn more about these fascinating structures.
Though McCullough designed hundreds of bridges in Oregon, it was not the quantity of bridges that made him famous, it was the quality and innovative graceful arches, pylons and spires.
Using the most advanced techniques of the day, McCullough built bridges with a combination of function, form and grace. He served Oregon’s State Highway Department from 1919 to 1946. Remember, in those days there were no design tools like computers or even calculators. Everything was done by hand. A display at the interpretive center shows a replica of McCullough’s office with its drafting table, wooden file drawers, a clunky typewriter and surveyor hand tools.
After World War I, the United States’ military encouraged the completion of the highway as a means of national security. With the popularity of automobile travel, the tourism industry added impetus to completing the highway. Up until that time, channels along the coast had to be crossed by ferry.
Many of McCullough’s bridges are eligible or have been listed on the National Register.
If you have a chance to visit Oregon’s spectacular coastline, be sure to take special notice of these inspiring structures.