With the Oregon Covered Bridge Festival happening in Cottage Grove this weekend, I thought it would be fun to explore the history of one of our local bridges, though admittedly, I don’t know if it was ever covered.
At the turn of the previous century, the Bohemia Mining District was booming and a railroad was needed to take supplies up to the mines as well as bring gold and silver out. In 1902 construction began on the Oregon & Southeastern rail line running from Cottage Grove up the Row River Valley. According to the local newspaper, Cottage Grove became “crowded with strangers” as crews arrived and one thousand tons of rails were set to be delivered that week (see the May 9, 1902 Bohemia Nugget for the full story). Besides laying track, numerous railroad bridges needed to be constructed, including Currin’s Bridge over the Row River. Only two years later, by April first 1904, 18 miles of rail line were in operation.
Unfortunately roughly 5 years later, on June 5, 1909, a home-bound O&SE train crashed through Currin’s bridge and many passengers were seriously injured. A good description of the wreck can be found in the June 6, 1909 Sunday Oregonian (though, you will note that they misspelled Currin as Kern). As you can see from these photos by the Cottage Grove Historical Society, the engineer was able to keep the engine from following the rest of the train into the river, probably preventing additional injuries to the people below.
The bridge was obviously replaced and as far as I have been able to determine, this is the bridge that replaced it, the photo was taken in 1910. Seriously, I can’t image going over that in a train!!
Back in the day, many railroad bridges, like horse/car bridges, were also covered to protect them from the rain. While today only the Chambers Covered Railroad Bridge remains, there is photographic evidence that the railroad bridge at Mosby Creek (just a mile down the track from Currin’s Bridge) was also covered and that makes me wonder if Currin’s Railroad Bridge was covered too.*
In the mid-1940s the wooden bridges along the O&SE rail line were replaced by steel. Today these steel bridges are part of the Row River Trail. Currin’s Bridge now looks like this, and most people probably know it as a great place to stop along the Trail to watch the Row River pass beneath you and to catch sight of the Currin Covered Bridge just downstream.
Through the years, I’ve noted some confusion about the “Currin Bridge.” References in the Nugget and elsewhere seem to refer to both the pedestrian/horse/car bridge (which we know today as the Currin Covered Bridge) as well as the railroad bridge as “Currin’s Bridge.” Close reading is important because these are obviously two very different bridges. Unfortunately, I occasionally see references to the train wreck when people discuss today’s Currin Covered Bridge as if they were the same bridge and they are not.
* Update December 23, 2014 — The book “A Century of Oregon Covered Bridges: 1851-1953” by Lee H. Nelson has this to say about the Currin Bridge collapse: The bridge was a 90-foot unhoused truss…… It was fairly new, about seven years, and “the newness of the truss concealed signs of rot around the joints.” The railroad commission noted “this was an uncovered bridge and had been built less than seven years. If it had been covered it would have lasted 20 years.” All bridges on the line were covered after the accident.