Saturday, September 06, 2014

Seufert Viaduct

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A few months ago I did a series here on historic bridges in the Columbia Gorge. Since then I've tracked down another, very obscure one. The Seufert Viaduct (1920) crosses Fifteenmile Creek just east of The Dalles, near the Dalles Dam and right next to I-84. The design's credited to Conde McCullough, the state highway department's famed chief bridge designer during the early 20th century. He's famous for his bridges on US 101 along the Oregon Coast, but examples of his work pop up all over the state. Actually I've never been entirely clear on whether he did all of this design work himself, or whether he gets credit thanks to being in charge of the state's bridge design unit.

In any case, it's listed as one of his, and as a significant historic bridge it has the usual Bridgehunter & Structurae pages. A forum thread at American Road Magazine points out that this once carried US 30, the Old Oregon Trail Highway, which was the stretch of highway east of The Dalles. Officially only the stretch west of The Dalles was called the "Columbia River Highway", though I've seen the name applied to surviving historic parts of old US 30 as far east as Umatilla. Thus a page at "Recreating the Historic Columbia River Highway: shows what this area looked like in the 1940s, before I-84 and the dam went in. Today the bridge just carries lightly traveled Viewpoint Road, which dead-ends at an overlook not far east of the bridge. When I stopped by, I was hoping to also get some photos of Cushing Falls, a small waterfall somewhere just upstream of the bridge on Fifteenmile Creek. It turns out it's not visible from the bridge, though, and upstream of here is private land, and I didn't feel like knocking on doors to ask if I could see their waterfall. At least I came away with some bridge photos, though.

A circa-1994 Oregon Inventory of Historic Properties form has a little background info on the bridge:

The reinforced concrete girder bridge derives its name, Seufert Viaduct, from a former train station named for two pioneer brothers who moved to Oregon in the early 1880s. Located on the route of the Old Columbia River Highway, the bridge was designed under the auspices of C.B. McCullough, and constructed by the State Highway Department. The bridge was built under contract in 1920 by the Colonial Building Company. Total length is 222 feet. It consists of one 22-foot span and five 40-foot spans. At one time Arthur Seufert kept the bridge lit with direct current from a Pelton wheel which he operated in connection with Seufert Brothers Cannery.

ODOT's 2012-2013 Cultural Resources Guide (Which I think is their "hey guys, please don't bulldoze this stuff" guide for their work crews) includes a mention of the old Seufert cannery, which sat downstream of the viaduct, partly under today's I-84 and the rest in what's now a city park along the river. It mentions that it was once the most productive Salmon cannery in the world, and the site is considered historic even though very little of the original structure remains.

A 1920 issue of Western Bridge Builder described the upcoming viaduct project, as the state was soliciting construction bids for the job:

One reinforced concrete viaduct near Seufert requiring approximately 580 cubic yards class "A" concrete, 20 cubic yards class "B" concrete, 110,000 pounds metal reinforcement, 425 lineal feet concrete handrail, 250 cubic yards excavation.

The State Highway Commission's Biennial Report for 1919-1920 included a little info on the project, which was nearing completion as the report went to press:

Just south of the cannery at Seufert, about three miles east of The Dalles, the Highway crosses Threemile Creek, at an elevation of some fifty feet above the bottom of the stream bed.

A concrete viaduct consisting of one 22-foot and five 40-foot spans is practically complete for this crossing and will soon be opened to traffic. In order to get a suitable foundation, it was necessary to excavate do a depth of 20 feet below the stream bed, making some of the columns as long as 70 feet.

The contract for this work was awarded on March 32, 1920, to the Colonial Building Company under contract No. 257. It is probable that it will be completed by December 1 and will cost approximately $42,200.00. The expenditures to date amount to $34,284.05.

(Note that the creek seems to have been called Threemile and Fivemile creek in the past. I suppose all of these names are accurate, technically, depending on where you're measuring from.)

Much more recently, a 2003 ODOT bridge evaluation recommended replacing the bridge instead of repairing it, at a cost of around $3M. It's been over a decade since then, though, and they haven't replaced it yet. It was one of the more expensive projects on the list, and Viewpoint Rd. past the bridge only serves a couple of rural houses and the aforementioned viewpoint. So I'd imagine this isn't a top priority, and I'd be surprised if they get around to it anytime soon.

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

I worked on the I-84 Fifteen Mile Creek bridge seen in the background of the Seufert Viaduct bridge in these photos (the brown one). Part of my work involved getting the original plans for the Seufert Viaduct bridge and digitizing those drawings for use in construction of the new bridge.

I recall being stunned to see the name Conde McCullough written on those documents. This was many years ago now, but it sent me down a rabbit hole learning the history of this structure and everything that used to be around it. It was all very fascinating and nobody else on the project seemed to be aware of any of this when I brought it up. You also don't see this bridge mentioned in association with Conde or his career in most articles online or elsewhere.

In your blog you mentioned that it was at one time illuminated, and I do recall seeing very ornamental light posts all along the structure in the original drawings. I wondered at the time if they were removed at some point or if they were never constructed in the first place. Now I'm convinced that they did exist at some point, and I'd love to see a photo of the bridge with the posts on it.