Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Covered Bridge(s) of Chitwood, Oregon

Among the several covered bridge projects at the moment are two in Lincoln County.  As recently as 1963 Lincoln County had a dozen covered wooden spans but, of all parts of the state, the coast is especially rough on wood over water so for a variety of reasons only four covered bridges remain in the county today.  Two are currently in line for some rehab work, one of which is a great span at Chitwood, right off or Oregon Hwy 20.

Chitwood was founded in 1881, as what would become the Corvallis & Eastern Railroad line passed through, roughly following the Yaquina River.  Joseph Chitwood, who had settled here in 1879, set up a town, opened a store, and became the postmaster.  By 1915 Chitwood had 50 residents, and provided service to the larger area surrounding the community.

Getting to Chitwood by rail was easy, since there was a depot.  Getting a wagon across the river required fording and in Spring 1893, the good people of Chitwood approached the County and offered to build a bridge if the county would supply the material.  They did, and the first Chitwood Bridge was completed under the direction of L. T. Pepin in October 1893.  The Lincoln County Leader reported on the young town’s pride in its achievement; “The work is first class and we have the best bridge in Lincoln County…It fills a long need in our community.”  But, wood over water being what it is, that first Chitwood bridge apparently failed and by 1904 the County built another Chitwood Bridge, again under the direction of Mr. Pepin.

Here is where it gets interesting.  The county paid J. Clarence Altree $874 to build a bridge at Chitwood in 1915.  Nobody seems to know much about this bridge, but buried my collection of covered bridge photos I found this one, which looks to be dated in 1923 (though it’s not postmarked).  Is this the Chitwood Covered Bridge that is normally dated at being built in 1926?  The one that is universally credited to Charles Otis Hamar?  Did the 1915 bridge only last 10 years, just like the 1894 and 1904 bridges did?  Is the 1926 really ten years older?  Doe anybody know?

Chitwood, the community, hit its peak about WWI and then slowly declined.  Today’s its often included in reports of Oregon Ghost Towns, but since they tore down the remnants of the store, all that’s really left are few houses and the third (or Fourth?) Chitwood Bridge. 

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