Chambers Bridge: Historic span to be knocked down - and built back up

By Hayden Atkins

The Chambers Bridge in Cottage Grove has outlived fires, floods and even some of its neighboring Cottage Grove citizens.

For 94 years the bridge has stood tall, a symbol of the old world, the last covered railroad bridge west of the Mississippi. But like all things, its time is coming to an end. And in the next couple months, the historic Chambers Bridge will be knocked down -- and reconstructed.

Mayor Gary Williams said the bridge was originally built with oversized materials in order to support the weight of a fully loaded log train. The heavy-duty materials that helped to prolong the bridge's 94-year life have slowly begun to wear down.

In 2008, the city of Cottage Grove was able to get a grant through the National Historic Bridge Preservation Program for $1.3 million. The program was specifically made to help projects such as the Chambers Bridge. The City's plan was to give the bridge a face-lift starting in the summer of 2010.

Two months ago, a strong windstorm hit the already aging bridge and tilted it upstream. Mayor Williams acted fast, declaring the bridge an emergency, and expediting the legislative process to start work on the bridge early this month. Today it is dangerously leaning upstream and crew officials are worried that if the bridge were to fall into the river, it could ram into a newer bridge just 200 feet upstream.

Last week crews from OBEC began work on the bridge reconstruction by removing trees and brush. The first phase of the project is to knock down the old bridge carefully and salvage any materials that are still useful. Then the bridge will be re-erected incorporating both new and old materials. Finally it is planned for the new bridge to include a bike and pedestrian path over the river.

Construction on the building of the actual new bridge is set to begin this summer. But for now, crews will work as quickly as possible to try and salvage the crown jewel of Cottage Grove.