In the north-central region of the State of Washington, the first road bridge to cross the Columbia River in the United States was officially opened 114 years ago, on January 20, 1908. Another bridge that crossed the Columbia River in Canada was built earlier.
The Columbia River Bridge (also known now as the Old Wenatchee Bridge) at Wenatchee was built by the Washington Bridge Company over a two-year period. Its primary use was to carry irrigation pipelines across the river to aid apple orchard development.
The Columbia River Bridge also provided an important link between the cities of Wenatchee in Chelan County on the western shore and what is now East Wenatchee in Douglas County on the eastern side.
A description of the bridge and its uses
The bridge is a “pin-connected cantilever truss, 1,600 feet long, with one 200-foot Pratt truss between two 160-foot cantilever arms, with 240-foot side arms and a 60-foot girder span.” When it was built, the bridge carried a 20.5-foot wide timber roadway, with an additional ability to carry a streetcar railway. However, the east approach to the bridge was built at a 6% grade, limiting its potential.”
As a secondary use, the bridge also was designed to accommodate both automobiles and horse-drawn wagons. On the day it opened, the first person to cross the new bridge was long-time Wenatchee blacksmith Jack O’Connor. He drove a horse-drawn wagon to get from one shore to the other. He and others accompanying him in the wagon crossed the bridge at noon.
The bridge quickly lived up to expectations; in 1909 the state legislature directed the State Highway Board to purchase the structure and add it to the Washington roads system. Following the legislature’s directive, the bridge was purchased by the Highway Board for $182,000. The bridge was used for motor vehicle traffic from that time until 1950, when it was replaced by the new Columbia River Bridge down river.
In 1951 the Wenatchee Reclamation District bought the original Columbia River Bridge for $1.00. The water pipes were moved from outside the truss to within. More than 50 years later (in 2007) concerns arose regarding the bridge’s ability to sustain foot traffic. Repairs were made to the bridge in 2010.
The Columbia River Bridge is the oldest steel cantilever bridge still in existence in Washington. It is now part of the area’s Apple Capital Recreation Loop Trail and is used to carry pedestrian and bicycle traffic. The bridge was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.
Senator George Sellar Bridge
As noted above, the new Columbia River Bridge was built in 1950 to replace the older Columbia River Bridge (which was later renamed the Pipeline Pedestrian Bridge). At that time the new bridge opened it carried U.S. Route 2 across the Columbia River. Dedication ceremonies were held for the bridge on November 28, 1950 and it opened to traffic at that time. Its cost in 1950 was $2.8 million.
The steel suspended tied-arch bridge has a main span of 480 feet with 224-foot anchor arms. The suspended portion of roadway is 352 feet long and 54 feet wide, carrying five lanes (originally four) with a median divider strip at a height of 180 feet above the water level. The bridge was recognized by the American Institute of Steel Construction as “the most beautiful bridge of 1950 for spans over 400 feet in length.”
The bridge rests on two concrete piers in the river, with the central arch between them, and cantilever spans extending to concrete abutments high on the riverbanks. The bridge was renamed the Senator George Sellar Bridge after a Washington state senator who served the area from 1971 until his death late in 2000. The bridge now carries Washington State Route 285 after the construction of the Richard Odabashian Bridge, which was built further north and which now carries Route 2. The fifth lane was added in 2009-10. The bridge joined its earlier counterpart on the National Register of Historic Places on May 24, 1995.