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News arrow Community arrow History of Brookings arrow Bridge collapse marks towns fresh start

Bridge collapse marks towns fresh start Print E-mail
May 17, 2001 11:00 pm
The Chetco River Bridge collapsed in 1925 without warning. ().
The Chetco River Bridge collapsed in 1925 without warning. ().

On Monday evening, June 4, 1925, about six o'clock, a terrific crash was heard on the Chetco River between Brookings and Harbor. Nearby residents rushing to the place were appalled to find the whole west span of the county bridge in the river.

Several months ago the bridge was condemned by the state bridge inspectors and County Commissioner Bud McVay had done considerable work in reinforcing the floor of the bridge. Probably no one realized that the bridge was in so dangerous a condition, even the state inspectors themselves. Traffic, under regulations, has been very heavy and constant and numerous cars had passed over the bridge just a few minutes before the crash. Motor stages, filled with human freight, had passed and repassed several times daily, but still the rotten timbers held until they could hold out no longer, the bridge of its own weight crashing into the river when there was neither a car nor a pedestrian aboard -- probably a miracle at the hands of Providence ... Gold Beach Reporter, June 4, 1925

Reminiscences of Alva Harry, an early Curry Stage Driver

Near the bank at the last pier of this bridge, the water underneath was about 40 feet deep, though now it is a gravel bar. At this time as I crossed the pier I saw a gap that I though was about a foot wide. I was going fairly fast and didn't notice it until bump, bump, I went across it and I thought somebody had stolen a plank out of the bridge.

Just about the time I got on shore I heard a terrific crash. I stopped, and looked back and there wasn't any bridge there. It just disappeared -- dropped down into the water and went clear out of sight. It was all held up with timbers and cross rods. if that had gone down while I was on it I would have helped fill up the river right there." Curry County Historical Society Bulletin, August, 1973

Immediately after the bridge collapsed, mail and passengers were conveyed across the river by means of rowboats. It was planned that the old ferry up by the Ferry Ranch, which had been unused for some 10 years, would have to be used again while the bridge was being repaired. Instead, a temporary bridge was constructed at water level down river from the fallen bridge. Then a steel structure was built on the original piers.

A Fresh Start

Brookings finally shook off the ashes of despair in the 1930s. The C&O Company set up the Brookings Land and Townsite Company to sell the company's holdings within the platted town area, except for the mill and the wharf, and also some adjoining lands. W. J. Ward, longtime employee of the Brookings Timber and Lumber Company and then of the C&O Company, was its agent. That was good news for Brookings residents and encouragement for Harbor and for Gold Beach.

As early as 1926, Ward had been making inquiries, developing plans, deciding upon his possible future course of action as his typewritten report on the history of Brookings Indicates:

The platted area of the town is divided into 30 blocks, with a total of 584 lots, on which more than 150 homes and business properties have been erected. The streets are wide, on easy grades, well graded and surfaced. An excellent sewer system, with outfalls adequate for a city of many thousands, has been constructed.

The water system is one of the finest in the state. The water is piped to the town from 16-inch mains that supplied the sawmill. This main is more than two miles long and the water comes from an uninhabited watershed in the hills back of the town, where a 12 million gallon storage reservoir is located, some 300 feet higher than the town. The water system is utilized for both domestic service and for fire protection.

The fire protection is of the best, there being 17 fire hydrants located at advantageous points throughout the town.

Located in Brookings is a modern, efficiently managed high school, built at a cost of $50,000, containing good classrooms and equipment, with a very fine auditorium for school plays, lectures and exercises. All grammar grades are taught. The buildings are located away from the much traveled highways, amid beautiful surroundings. This school boats of two graduates where now students of Leland Stanford University.

The clime of Brookings is delightful. The site of the town, on the promontory between river and ocean, gives the temperature the modifying influence of the water. The warm Japanese current strikes closer to the coast in this section than elsewhere in Oregon Thus Brookings basks in the reputation of having the warmest climate of any of the towns that report to the U.S. Weather Bureau.

The Chetco River

This beautiful stream rises in the coast range of hills some 50 miles to the east and winds through a rough and rugged country on its way to the Pacific Ocean ... (it) is well stocked with trout and steelhead. The Oregon State Game Commission (now the Oregon Department of Fish and Game) plants thousands of fish in this stream every year ... Trout fishing is legal all the year round in the tidal waters of the Chetco which extends some two or three miles back from the mouth. These trout will rise to fly anywhere on this stream. The Chetco is one of the most beautiful streams and all along the banks are wonderful spots for picnicking, camping and bathing ...

Brookings Harbor

Brookings has a harbor, which can not be surpassed for accessibility and shelter form storms. The water at the end of the present wharf is 25 feet deep and with the extension of another 200 feet of the wharf, ships will ride in 50 feet of water. Ships of several thousand tons capacity have frequently docked at this wharf in the past.

Last but not least, is the wonderful possibilities of making Brookings a mecca for tourists and vacationists. With the Pacific Ocean gently rolling into a long sandy beach, and the clear water of the Chetco River, with an equally attractive beach bathing in the ocean, then in the river, gives a thrill beyond description. The headlands to the west of town protects the beaches at the mouth of the river, making the beaches safe for bathing. In addition to bathing, the visitor has boating, sailing and fishing at his very door. Then again, within easy reach, is riding, hiking, hunting and the lure of the wild, such as few people know.

This persuasive account was attested on Nov. 2, 1932, by W.A. Swanson, who concluded that:

The future of Brookings looks exceedingly bright, particularly under the guidance of W.J. Ward and associates. Mr. W.J. Ward is ... a man who has been closely identified with the development of Curry County since 1905, and a man of good business judgment and sterling character. Yes, the future of Brookings is indeed bright.

During the next two decades, an increasing number of people came here to live.

Gardening and bulb growing proved successful. Mining was underway in the back country. Commercial and sport fishing attracted both professionals and recreationists. Brookings and Harbor were headed in new directions.

The Great Depression of the early 1930s brought a temporary setback. During those years numbers of itinerant job seekers wandered into town. There was, of course, no public welfare, no Social Security, no unemployment benefits. To provide minimum shelter for such men, the old company bunkhouse was fixed up a little. Half a dozen of its 20 or so four-man sleeping units were equipped for transients with a small stove for heating and limited cooking, and a kerosene lamp. Collections were taken among townspeople to provide wood and kerosene, so the men would not roam the streets nor beg at houses. As long as they stayed in the "Hoover Hotel" they were not bothered.

 

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