Cottage Grove

Centennial Covered Bridge a grand start

The Centennial Bridge is lowered into place on March 29, 1987, as a crowd watches.PHOTO Courtesy Cottage Grove Historical Society. (Photographer unknown)

Editor’s note: Part II in recounting how two old covered bridges evolved into a new one, designed to celebrate 100 years of formal government for Cottage Grove.  Read part 1 here

The Centennial Covered Bridge’s creation represents another wrinkle in the history of a town as it sought to recover from the bad economic times of the 1980s while looking forward to its next 100 years (see last week’s edition). 

If you have never, or at least not recently, taken a walk over the Coast Fork via the Centennial Covered Bridge, please do so. What you will experience is the result of a grassroots, all-volunteer, community effort to make a statement while celebrating 100 years of Cottage Grove.

This is a historic crossing. The Applegate Trail ran along what is now known as River Road and at one point this intersection was a line of legal demarcation of two separate cities, Lemati and Cottage Grove (aka Slabtown). There have been several bridges at this juncture connecting the east and west sides of the Grove. The current concrete span replaced the wooden structure just to the north of the current Pioneer Bridge. Since the current bridge was built beside the old bridge, the concrete supports of the old bridge were left in place right next to it. This proved providential for the project.

Leading up to the 1987 Centennial Celebration, in an attempt to rebrand itself, Cottage Grove had embraced the Covered Bridge. Having lost the fight to save the Brumbaugh Bridge, it had won the title to its bones, plus as an added spoil, the Meadows Bridge as well. 

The Downtown Restoration Association had commissioned a study that had suggested moving the Chambers Railroad Bridge downtown, making it a ‘“Showpiece.” Association members DeRoss Kinkade, Mayor Jim Gilroy, City Manager Bruce Williams, and chairman Doug Lund, weighed the feasibility of moving the massive structure and decided it really wasn’t practical.. Leaving the meeting, Kinkade made a jesting remark to Chairman Lund that they should just make a scaled-down version of that bridge. “A week later Doug called me up and asked me to chair the committee to build a covered bridge for the Centennial Celebration on the old Main Street Bridge supports,” Kinkade said.

Timbers from the Brumbaugh and Meadows covered bridges have a new life in the Centennial Bridge. DANA MERRYDAY/PHOTO

So began a quest to wrest a bridge out of two others. As Kinkade took on the project, he had his son Kevin as one of his key partners. Kevin was looking for a service opportunity to earn his Eagle Scout rank, and the downtown covered bridge became his project. Kinkade put out an appeal for volunteers, particularly for millwrights, carpenters, and even requested aid from the local National Guard.  

Engineer Roger Sinclair had the bridge plans done by early September 1986. At a committee meeting it was decided to build the bridge away from the busy downtown and have it trucked to the site and placed by cranes. The scaled-down bridge was to be six-feet wide, 10 feet tall and have an 84-foot span over the river. The next steps were to inventory the existing material from the old bridges, get a more accurate cost estimate, start some fundraising, and to seek approval from the City Council.

Originally it was anticipated to have the pedestrian bridge ready for the opening Centennial Celebration in February, 1987. But Kinkade was dealing with no budget, an all-volunteer crew and lots of legal hoops to jump through, so that time window proved too short. 

Not one to stand around, Kinkade had already launched the “Buy a Brick” campaign. He unabashedly confessed to having stolen the idea from a fundraising effort for the Hult Center, nevertheless citizens stepped up and in the end bought 441 bricks at $25 each, raising over $10,000 during the campaign. Donors’ names or messages were put on the bricks which would be incorporated into the walkway on the eastern entrance. Names of residents from old Cottage Grove stock such as Veatch, Dugan, Booth, Daugherty, and Mosby joined those of more recent arrivals along with names of businesses and personal messages such as “Peace” and “Just Say No to Drugs.”

One of the first physical acts was a work party trip, October 11, to Florence to disassemble the Meadows bridge stored at a county yard. Lane County hauled the timbers to Cottage Grove, staging them at the site for building the planned bridge, the Oregon Pacific & Eastern rail yard on S. 10th Street where Bohemia Park is today. 

Next, the Kinkades, DeRoss and Kevin and others took apart the Brumbaugh Bridge and laid out what they had with timbers from the Meadows Bridge, and also the metal bridge hardware. 

Since this pedestrian crossing was to be a scaled-down, three-eighths version of the Chambers Railroad Bridge, that meant the salvaged timbers had to be cut down to scale as well. John Wilson & Sons sawmill stepped in admirably to do the resawing and Grables cut and threaded the massive bolts used to tie the bridge together. Using these repurposed materials gave the new bridge a “historic character”.

The permit for putting up the bridge was green-lighted by the city planning department in October of 1986, along with the good news that all the permit fees were waived.  

Starting in early January a small but dedicated crew started meeting every Saturday from 8:30 a.m. until dark. The Kinkades, Mike Michaelson, Roger Sinclair, and Steve Beranek formed the core of a group of volunteers that put in some long work sessions that were not without sacrifice, sweat, blood, splinters, and often under cold, wet, working conditions. Sinclair, who had designed the bridge, was a faithful participant, even after having recently taken a job in Roseburg. According to Kinkade, the engineer was essential to the overall success, “We couldn’t have done it without Roger.”

As the bridge took shape the community’s enthusiasm for the project began to grow also. The work parties picked up volunteers, particularly local carpenters, and by March it was starting to look like a bridge. 

There was still a journey across town for the structure to make. Loading the Bridge onto a trailer would bring its height to 16’ 8” feet, so the roof trusses and rafters would have to wait until after it had snaked its way under the traffic lights and wires along the moving route.

Having received a bid to transport and crane the bridge into place for $2,050 from William Gilliland Construction out of Dexter, and with construction far enough along, the date of March 29, a Sunday, was set for the big move. 

To prepare the new site, a Poplar tree had to be removed along with some other tree limbs and an easement through Veterans Park arranged with the VFW. Facilitating the move required notices of road closure, cones, flags and Boy Scouts to help. Pacific Power & Light crews traveled with the bridge, lifting wires to allow the bridge to pass under the low ones.  

Moving day started close to sunrise as two cranes lifted the 17-ton structure onto a trailer at the OP&E Yard. There was that tricky corner at South 10th and East Main, but Levitt’s Freight out of Springfield, with their steering trailer, negotiated that turn, then took it nice and easy up Main, bringing the bridge to its final home. Once stopped on the Main Street Bridge, volunteers nailed the roof trusses and cross beams into place and by noon the cranes were in place to lift it onto the old bridge supports.  

At a time of the year known to be dicey weatherwise, the bridge moving party caught a day of balmy sunshine and there was a small crowd gathered to witness the aerial bridge ballet, which burst into applause as the bridge touched down.

Though lacking a roof and the approach ramps, the crew of volunteers who built her couldn’t resist taking a test walk on their handiwork. Pronouncing the bridge as “solid,” Kinkade added “The local support for this bridge has been tremendous, it built up as it went along and made for a great community effort.”

Even though the bridge was now in place there was plenty of work still to do; the roofing, ramps to build, the setting of the donor bricks into a walkway at the east end, and to name the new structure.

After soliciting suggestions from community members as to what to call their new bridge, Grovers were left in the dark as to the result as the dedication approached. A Register-Guard headline announcing the Friday, June 26 dedication stated that Cottage Grove was adding “Drama” to the event by keeping the bridge name under wraps.  

The Bridge’s dedication was scheduled for 4 p.m. and included words by Councilor Betty Hovarth (who also served as Centennial Committee Chair), Lane County Commissioner Bill Rogers, Mayor Jim Gilroy, and probably the happiest man in Cottage Grove that day, Bridge Project Coordinator DeRoss Kinkade. Freshman Congressman Peter DeFazio had originally been scheduled to formally dedicate the bridge but was called to Washington at the last minute, leaving Commissioner Rogers to unveil the new name, “The Centennial Bridge,”well chosen and maybe not that dramatic after all.

At the same ceremony the Centennial time capsule was buried at the east end of the bridge and is waiting until the year 2087 to be opened. Along with items bearing the CG Centennial logo, other contemporary items placed in the capsule included the only known copy of a video of the February 11 opening ceremonies (will they be able to find a VCR player in 2087?). Former Mayor Gilroy remembered his message that day, nearly 35 years ago, “I wanted to make sure that when our citizens open up the capsule, in 2087, they would understand the local community’s desire for world peace. It was my hope for the future of Cottage Grove, a small corner of the globe.” Gilroy, the father of small children at the time, had them and future generations in mind when making this hopeful message. He also remembered referencing the new Centennial Bridge in view of the efforts by the Downtown Restoration Association,” We don’t need to reinvent ourselves, just continue to clean and improve our downtown like we have been for the last ten years.”

DeRoss Kinkade wanted to remind us that the project was an all-volunteer effort from the get-go and widely supported by the community. With the final accounting the Centennial Bridge project cost a little over $6,000 and $10,000 was raised. “It is rare for a project to come out with extra money and that speaks to the buy-in from the community!” The extra money was donated back to the Downtown Restoration Fund, he noted.

What can’t be properly fitted into the balance sheet were the thousands of volunteer hours and material donations that went into creating this useful memorial to the Centennial of Cottage Grove, and at its heart, the bones and spirits of the Brumbaugh and Meadows bridges that live on at ground zero of the Covered Bridge Capital of the West. Thank you all!

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