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History flows through the Willamette

River connects communities yesterday and today

The new transit bridge will soon be part of the human history of the Willamette River—a history that dates back at least 10,000 years.

Tens of thousands of Native Americans lived and traveled along the Willamette, then called the Multnomah. Most were from the many Kalapuyan nations, including the Tualatin, Santiam and Yamhill. Other tribes from the region, including the Clackamas at Willamette Falls and the Molalla from the Cascades, traded with the Kalapuyans along the river.

Native peoples were the first of millions of people to rely on the Willamette for food, transportation, recreation, trade and more. Captain William Clark entered the river in 1806, followed by more than 50,000 fur traders, pioneers and missionaries.

By the 1840s, Milwaukie, Oregon City and Portland had sprung up along the Willamette. Wheat, produce and even gold flowed down what quickly became a vital river of commerce.

Today, nearly seven in 10 Oregonians live within 20 miles of the Willamette River, which continues to serve as a center for commerce, as well as recreation and transportation.

What's in a name?

Bridge names reflect communities and culture

Bridges are more than just cables and concrete. They're engineering wonders that connect people, provide safe passage, and become city and state icons because of their influence on communities—and because of their names.

Bridge names can evoke historical moments and provoke conversation. They can remind us of the names of noted community leaders, or suggest the beauty, wildness or wonder of an entire region.

Consider these bridges over the Willamette, and the unique origins of their names:

Abernethy Bridge (1970)
Named after store owner George Abernethy, the governor of the Provisional Government of Oregon beginning in 1845.

  • Fun fact: The bridge was going to pass through a famous elm tree planted near the end of the Oregon Trail by Abernathy's wife, but the Oregon Department of Transportation moved the bridge south after realizing the tree's significance.

Morrison Bridge (1887, 1905, 1958)
Named after John L. Morrison, a Scottish immigrant who served as a lieutenant in the Oregon Rangers, the first military organization in Oregon.

  • Fun fact: The Morrison Bridge was originally a toll bridge that carried horses, drivers, sheep and hogs at prices ranging from 5 to 20 cents.

Broadway Bridge (1913)
Named after the connecting street, which is a common name for main streets across the U.S.

  • Fun fact: This was the longest double-leaf bascule bridge in the world when it opened in 1913. (A bascule bridge is often called a drawbridge; the Broadway Bridge has a double leaf, meaning two parts of the span can swing open for boat traffic.)

Oregon City Bridge (1888, 1922)
Named for Oregon City, which was named by Dr. John McLoughlin of the Hudson's Bay Company.

  • Fun fact: The bridge is encased in sprayed-on concrete, or shotcrete, to protect it from corrosive fumes released from nearby paper mills.

Burnside Bridge (1894, 1926)
Named after David W. Burnside, a pioneer and millman.

  • Fun fact: This is known as one of Portland's three Roaring Twenties bridges, along with the Ross Island and Sellwood bridges.

Ross Island Bridge (1926)
Named after the three-island group located south of the bridge.

  • Fun fact: The Ross Island Bridge is the heaviest traveled of Portland's non-freeway bridges.

Fremont Bridge (1973)
Named after the connecting street, which was named for explorer and U.S. Army Major John C. Fremont.

  • Fun fact: The main span of the bridge is 1,255 feet, making it the longest bridge structure on the Oregon state highway system.

Sellwood Bridge (1925)
Named after the town of Sellwood, which was named for Rev. James Sellwood, the original settler who later sold his 321 acres to a Portland real estate company.

  • Fun fact: Currently being replaced, this is the busiest two-lane bridge in Oregon.

Glen L. Jackson Memorial Bridge (1982)
The bridge was named for Glenn Jackson, the chairman of the Oregon State Highway Commission and later the Oregon Economic Development Commission.

  • Fun fact: During his career, Jackson directed the planning and construction of 700 miles of freeway and more than 800 bridges in Oregon.

Steel Bridge (1888, 1912)
The name reflects the fact that the bridge is built of steel—a novelty in the late 1800s, when wrought iron was more common.

  • Fun fact: This is the only double-deck vertical lift bridge of its type in the world.

Hawthorne Bridge (1910)
Named after Dr. James C. Hawthorne, who helped establish Oregon's first mental hospital, the Oregon Hospital of the Insane.

  • Fun fact: Originally called the Madison Bridge, the Hawthorne Bridge is the oldest vertical lift bridge of its kind in the U.S.

Marquam Bridge (1966)
Named after Philip A. Marquam, an early transportation advocate and landowner.

  • Fun fact: This was the first bridge in Portland designed with the help of a computer.

St. Johns Bridge (1931)
Named after the nearby community, which was named for settler James Johns.

  • Fun fact: This is the Willamette Valley's only suspension bridge.

Origins of a few other regional names

Did you know?

  • "Wal-lamt" was an Indian word, designating a place on the Willamette River near Oregon City.
  • "Tualatin" is probably an Indian word meaning "lazy or sluggish," which describes the character of the river's flow.
  • Beaverton received its name because of the existence nearby of a large body of beaver dam land.
  • Gresham is named after a postmaster. A local store owner offered to use his store as a post office and name the city after Postmaster General Walter Q. Gresham if the post office was granted.
  • Clackamas County is named after the Clackamas Indians who lived along the Clackamas River.
  • Portland was named via a penny toss. Two of the city’s founders—Francis Pettygrove from Portland, Maine, and Asa Lovejoy from Boston, Mass.—both wanted to name the fledgling site then known as The Clearing after their respective hometowns. The coin toss was decided in 1845 with two out of three tosses.

Source: "Oregon Geographic Names" by Lewis L. McArthur

Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Transit ProjectPamplin Media Group

The Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Transit Project is a partnership of
Federal Transit Administration, Clackamas County, Metro, City of Milwaukie, Multnomah County, The City of Oregon City,
The Oregon Department of Transportation, Portland Development Commission, TriMet