What is it about a covered bridge that captivates our attention, if not our hearts?
Is it the romance of by-gone days?
The attraction of deep-red siding?
The sheer size of the structure?
Oregon boasts more covered bridges than any other state west of the Mississippi River — 52 in all — and while the majority are in the Willamette Valley, four covered bridges are located on the central coast in Lincoln County.
The Drift Creek bridge was constructed in 1914, followed by the Fisher School bridge in 1919, the Chitwood bridge in 1926 and the Yachats bridge in 1938.
All four of these bridges were nearly lost to time and deterioration due to harsh coastal conditions before county officials and citizens came forward with the toil and dollars necessary to renovate, reconstruct and, in one instance, move the entire structure to save it.
Lincoln County's four covered bridges now stand as a stately tribute to the past, and are within relatively modest scenic drives from both the Willamette Valley and the beach.
The very first covered bridge to be restored in Lincoln County was named for the small railroad community of Chitwood (after its founder, Joshua Chitwood), and it spans the Lower Yaquina River near Highway 20 east of Toledo.
The 96-foot long bridge was built in 1926 by Otis Hamer using the Howe Truss design — a method combining iron uprights with wooden supports, patented by William Howe in 1840.
This truss design was also used when the bridge was rebuilt in 1983-84 — with federal and state funding - by Aubrey Mountain Construction. Also retained were the flared sides, semi-elliptical portal arches and barn red color, characteristics found in all Lincoln County covered bridges.
Leading the reconstruction effort for the Chitwood bridge was local resident Sharon Salazar, who now serves as vice-president of the Covered Bridge Society of Oregon.
Today, Chitwood is a ghost town but the bridge still provides access to motorized traffic from Highway 20 to homes across the Lower Yaquina River. The weight limit is eight tons.
The Yachats Covered Bridge, built in 1938 over the North Fork of the Yachats River in south Lincoln County, was also built by Otis Hamer. It was Hamer's last bridge and is one of the shortest in Oregon, measuring 42 feet in length.
The timber construction of this bridge is of Queenpost truss style, and its flared sides result from the buttresses underneath the siding. The Yachats bridge also features ribbon openings under the roofline to allow light to enter inside, at the center of the bridge.
The Yachats bridge was rebuilt to Two G's Construction and rededicated on Dec. 16, 1989. The renovation included updated construction techniques, new concrete piers and footings, and zinc strips on the roof to prevent the growth of moss.
Though open to vehicles, the Yachats bridge is closed to large RVs and trucks.
The weight limit is eight tons.
Drift Creek bridge
Originally constructed in 1914 to traverse Drift Creek, south of Lincoln City, the Drift Creek covered bridge was destroyed by a flood and rebuilt in 1933 by J.V. Curry of Toledo.
By the time the bridge was doomed to demolition for safety reasons by the Lincoln County Commissioners in 1997, local, state and federal funds for renovation had virtually disappeared.
Determined not to lose this piece of history, north Lincoln County residents Kerry and Laura Sweitz came forward and offered to move the bridge — board by board — to their Rose Lodge property eight miles away. There, the couple just happened to have a concrete span over Bear Creek whose dimensions exactly matched those of the covered bridge.
It took four years, many major fundraisers, a host of volunteers, and several more serendipitous events (such as the timber company representative who came to the Sweitz home to inform them of a nearby spraying project then, seeing the pile of timbers near the creek, offered to find the logs needed for replacement beams) before the Drift Creek covered bridge was completely reassembled and ready for rededication on July 14, 2001.
Since the dedication, Laura Sweitz says, nearly 3,000 visitors — representing 28 countries and every state but New Hampshire — have signed a guest book posted at the bridge.
The barn red structure has also become a popular place for reunions and weddings; once, Laura adds, the family returned home one evening to find dozens of square dancers having a little hoedown inside the bridge.
The non-profit "Save the Covered Bridge" group established by Kerry and Laura Sweitz is still in existence today. Laura says of the arduous and painstaking process, "We never looked back. We accomplished things we didn't know how to do through trial and error."
Fisher School (Five Rivers) bridge
The last of Lincoln County's covered bridges to be restored, the Fisher bridge was formally rededicated June 4.
This time there were federal and state transportation funds available for the project, which came to about $700,000.
Originally built in 1919 for $2,500, the Fisher bridge is one of Oregon's oldest covered bridges and was placed on the National Historic Registry in 1976. It is speculated the bridge may have been destroyed and rebuilt in 1927 (thus the date posted on a sign above the portal), but records show 1919 as the original date.
The bridge spans a fork of Five Rivers and is also located next to the former Fisher Elementary School, which is why the covered bridge is known by both names.
June Woosley attended Fisher School in the 1940s. "We had loads of fun on the bridge, it was our playground," she recalls.
Now a resident of nearby Buck Creek, Woosley enjoyed watching the bridge reconstruction. The year-long project involved moving the structure about 50 feet downstream (away from a concrete span built adjacent to the original bridge) and included new pilings, replacement floor beams and deck, stringers, board and batten siding, new shingles on the gabled roof and several coats of paint to get just the right shade of red.
The Howe truss design was also used, and it's a method which fewer and fewer workers are skilled to do, according to Lincoln County Public Works Director Jim Buisman.
"You have to know just the right tension on the rods," he explains, adding a structure using this truss design "is not going anywhere for a long time."
Following the dedication ceremony this summer, Woosley expressed her satisfaction with the finished product, saying, "There are lots of memories on that bridge, and this is helping to keep them alive."
How to get there
Most of the covered bridges were built in out-of-the way places to give residents an alternative to fording local creeks and rivers. Because of their remote locations, the bridges make a picturesque destination to any drive.
Just pack a picnic, and don't forget your camera.
From Newport drive east on Highway 20. From Corvallis drive west on Highway 20.
urn south near milepost 17, drive through bridge to Chitwood.
From Yachats drive east seven miles on Yachats River Road. Turn left just beyond a cement bridge. Then drive for two miles up the north fork of the Yachats River, and you will come across the bridge.
Drift Creek bridge
From Lincoln City, turn east onto Highway 18. From the Willamette Valley, drive west on Highway 18 towards the coast. At milepost 4.9, turn south onto Bear Creek Road. Drive for approximately one mile, and you will see the bridge on your left-hand side. The bridge sits on private property, but visitors are welcome. Visitors are asked to park along Bear Creek Road, and walk the rest of the way to the bridge.
Fisher School (Five Rivers) bridge
From Waldport, drive east on Highway 34. From Corvallis, drive west on Highway 34. Turn south at milepost 20 onto Five Rivers Road. Drive 9.4 miles up Five Rivers Road to Crab Creek Road, where the bridge is located.