Thursday, August 18, 2011

Irish Bend Covered Bridge- Historic once again

In 1979 the Oregon SHPO approved a thematic study, a multiple property submittal, to list 46 of Oregon’s then 56 covered bridges on the National Register.  That document brought not only new appreciation for these quaint structures, but eventually access to funding through the Federal government and the Oregon Department of Transportation.  One of those 46 structures, the Irish Bend Covered Bridge, located outside Monroe, Oregon, was already in trouble.  The bridge, built in 1954 from 1920s plans, had been bypassed by a new road and the portion of the Willamette Slough that it traversed in this rural, agricultural, area had been shunted through a culvert.  Hardly romantic, but certainly functional and easy-to-maintain.

Benton County, which could no longer maintain the bridge with road funds, tried to find a good use for the span as interest in covered bridges grew.  They offered it to the City of Albany, which considered moving it to Bryant Park, and then to Multnomah County, who as Oregon’s most populous county felt disadvantaged by their lack of a covered bridge.  Neither offer came to fruition.  After what the Covered Bridge Society of Oregon termed “14 years of uncertainty,” the Irish Bend Covered Bridge was disassembled and the pieces were stored at the Benton County Fairgrounds.  Oregon’s State Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation did what such committees do when a resource is dismantled with no assurance it’ll be saved; they removed the bridge from the National Register in May 1989.

They may have acted precipitously.  Spurred by the situation, the Covered Bridge Society approached Benton County’s Board of Commissioners with the idea of rebuilding the bridge as part of the Campus Way bike path at OSU.  The location was perfect, crossing Oak Creek, out on the western end of the campus near the agricultural college’s barns.  It’s about as rural a location in the middle of college campus that you can imagine.  The County said “sure,” and offered to pony up a third of the funding (and the bridge) if the community could raise the remainder.  OSU agreed to the idea, funding and volunteer hours, much of it from off-duty Benton County Public Works employees and OSU staff, brought the bridge back to life, rebuilding the trusses, and replicating the damaged pieces carefully and accurately.  The rebuilt Irish Bend Covered Bridge was rededicated on November 13, 1989.

While the story has a happy ending, the bridge hasn’t been formally considered “historic” since May 1989.  As part of a project to better protect the bridge and do some minor work on it, Benton County is now going ahead and submitting a new nomination to again list the Irish Bend Covered Bridge on the National Register.  Oregon, today, has only 50 remaining covered bridges.  It will be good to see one more recognized by the National Register.

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