If you love crossing historic bridges, head for Oregon. Ruth and I admired many of them as we traveled south from Astoria to Brookings. More than 200 of Oregon’s total bridges qualify for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places, and several are on its 5 Compass Coast.
The sleek Alsea Bay Bridge, about the only coastal one completed fairly recently, opened to traffic in 1991. At its south end is a fine, easily overlooked tourist attraction, the Alsea Bay Bridge Interpretive Center. In addition to a large amount of general Oregon Coast information, the Center contains a detailed museum devoted to the spans of the world with a serious focus on Oregon’s coastal bridges.
Mary Davis of the Waldport Chamber of Commerce was on duty the day we dripped in, and she helped me to correctly interpret the information and to pronounce Alsea. It’s Al see, not Al see uh, and named after a Native American tribe.
The museum is also a memorial to Oregon’s greatest bridge builder, Conde McCullough, who designed bridges in Central America too. A college educated engineer, which was rare back then, McCullough came to Oregon in 1916 and eventually became this State’s official bridge engineer. Using Gothic, Tudor, and Art Deco details, he designed hundreds of Oregon bridges over 16 years, tackling the Coast during The Depression. In 1931, for example, he used European concepts to design the 1st concrete tied-arch bridge in America near Tillamook. Thirteen of McCullough’s best bridges were on the Oregon Coast and twelve remain in use. The Alsea Bay bridge is the exception. His design, one of the finest concrete bridges in the United States, was affected by hostile weather that caused deterioration to its steel reinforcements.
An Oregon Coat bridge builder faced special problems. Several wide and important rivers like the Rogue and bays like Yaquina (yah kee nah) demanded complex spans and McCullough was up to the task. In 1936 alone he completed 5 major bridges including the original Alsea Bay span at a cost of slightly over $5 million for all 5.
After a while Ruth and I recognized his style as we approached his bridges on our driving trip down this incredible windswept, rainy coast that would have been less scenic without McCullough’s genius. That trip was also enhanced by a stop at Waldport’s Interpretive Center.