Steel Bridge, Org. Lot 1017, OrHi 54434, ba011760.

Photo by Kristen Seidman, Artslandia.


n celebration of recent industrial process innovations, the second span across the Willamette River (and the first for rail passage) took its name from its newly viable construction material: steel. Completed in 1888, the original Steel Bridge was a double-deck swing-span bridge, meaning the center span pivoted open for boat passage. However, for several reasons, the structure became obsolete in only 24 years, necessitating a replacement in 1912. The new bridge, which is still in use today, retained the moniker and double-deck design of its predecessor. Car, bus, light rail, bike, and pedestrian traffic travel on the upper deck, while heavy rail rumbles across the bottom. In 2001, a cantilevered sidewalk added to the lower deck provided a safer option for bike and foot traffic. The telescoping vertical lift system – in which the lower span can raise independently of the top, or both decks can lift together to allow for greater clearance – is the only one of its kind in the world. Renovations over the decades have updated the approaches to suit surrounding urban development, but the original steel structure remains. A 2017 analysis declaring the bridge “structurally deficient” suggests that major rehabilitation or renovation is needed.


Historic photographs for this series are provided by the Oregon Historical Society, a museum, research library, archive, and scholarly asset located in the heart of Portland’s Cultural District. View more photos of historic Portland on the new OHS Digital Collections website here.

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