Oregon Coastal Notes "A History of Highway 101"

Oregon Coastal Notes
Oregon Coastal Zone Management Association
March 2008
A History of U.S. Highway 101—Onno Husing, Director, OCZMA
U.S. Highway 101 on the Oregon Coast is one of the world’s
most scenic roadways. But, with each passing day, new
demands are being placed on the system.
Over time, will U.S. Highway 101 meet our transportation
needs? Can we take steps to keep U.S. Highway 101 functional?
Are there alternate forms of transportation—rail, air, marine, &
transit—that can be further developed to keep goods and services
flowing to and from the Oregon Coast?
These are all challenging questions. One way to begin charting a
new course for transportation on the Oregon Coast is to tell the
inspiring story about how U.S. Highway 101 was built. In
follow up reports we will turn our attention to the present
and future challenges facing U.S. Highway 101.
Please join us in the months ahead for a conversation
about the Oregon Coast’s transportation infrastructure.
Making Things Happen
The year was 1933. The United States was in the grip of
the Great Depression. Unemployment rates reached
unimaginable levels. Banks were failing. Farm
foreclosures mounted.
On Saturday, March 4, 1933, President Franklin
Roosevelt (FDR) delivered his famous Inaugural address
from the steps of the U.S. Capitol. FDR declared to a
stricken nation, “This nation is asking for action, and
action now!” Seventeen days later, President Roosevelt
sent a message to Congress calling for the establishment
of an ambitious public works relief program to rescue the
Would these and other desperate measures revive the
economy? At the time, no one knew.
Oregon Coast Highway Postcard
Download this newsletter from OCZMA’s web site (www.oczma.org)
McCullough on Isaac Lee Patterson Bridge, Gold Beach (1932)
(Photo Courtesy of John P. McCullough Collection/ODOT)
During this crisis, Oregon was lucky to have a brilliant and capable man named Conde B.
McCullough serving as bridge engineer in the Oregon State Highway Department (OSHD).
McCullough—a dapper, chain-smoking
workaholic, known as “Mac” to his friends—had
the skills required to meet this challenge.
Because of McCullough’s national reputation as a
leading civil engineer and close personal ties with
the Director of the U.S. Bureau of Public Roads
(BPR), OSHD attracted many millions of dollars
from the federal government. These resources put
hundreds of Oregonians back to work and gave
OSHD the resources to complete U.S. Highway 101
by 1936.
McCullough’s Midwestern Roots
Conde Balcom McCullough was born on
May 30, 1887 in Dakota Territory (South Dakota
was not a state at the time of his birth). During the
1890s, McCullough’s family relocated to Fort
Dodge, Iowa.
In 1904, McCullough’s father injured his spine.
McCullough worked odd jobs to support the family.
Not long afterwards, McCullough’s father died. In
October 1905, McCullough (at the age of 18) took
a job on a section gang that maintained portions of the Illinois Central Railroad’s tracks. This
experience spurred him to study engineering at Iowa State College (ISC).
At the time, ISC’s engineering program was led
by Anston Marston who instilled high
professional and ethical standards in his students.
Today, the engineering building at Iowa State
University is named, “Marston Hall.”
After McCullough graduated from ISC in 1910,
he went to work for James Marsh, the owner and
chief engineer of the Marsh Bridge Company in
A year later, in 1911, Anston Marston persuaded
McCullough to join the Iowa State Highway
Commission (ISHC). Seven years earlier, in
1904, the Iowa Legislature established the ISHC
and placed it at Iowa State College. During the ISHC’s first seven years, the ISHC had only one
employee—Thomas H. MacDonald. And, they only had the authority to offer technical advice
on road construction to Iowa’s counties. In 1911, the ISHC was provided the resources to hire a
second employee, Conde McCullough. McCullough set to work drafting plans for small bridges
and culverts for use by Iowa’s counties.
During the early days of highway construction, corrupt and incompetent construction companies
were building substandard bridges, roads and culverts. The waste of taxpayer money became
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scandalous. Things got so bad that in 1913 the Iowa Legislature required Iowa’s counties to
follow road and bridge designs prepared by the ISHC. This mandate on local government
marked a huge step forward for the good roads movement and made Iowa a national leader in
highway development.
Apperson Hall, Oregon State University
On to Oregon!
In 1916, McCullough accepted an offer to become an
assistant professor of civil engineering at the Oregon
Agricultural College (OAC) in Corvallis, Oregon.
Today, the OAC is known as Oregon State University
(OSU). McCullough quickly became a popular
member of the engineering faculty at Apperson Hall.
McCullough, though, only stayed on the faculty for
three years. In April 1919, the Oregon State Highway
Commission (OSHC) asked McCullough to take the
position of state bridge engineer for the Oregon State
Highway Department (OSHD).
McCullough took the job because resources were flowing into Oregon’s highway construction
program. In 1919, Oregon was the first state in America to establish a fuel tax of 1 cent a gallon.
And, under the Federal Aid Roads Act, Congress began providing matching funds to states to
strengthen state highway construction programs.
McCullough moved his family (wife Marie and five-year old son John) to Salem, Oregon. He
kept close ties to the OAC and recruited many of the best engineering students to OSHD.
McCullough also drew some of his engineering colleagues from Iowa to Oregon.
Lobbying for U.S. Highway 101
Photos Courtesy of Lincoln County Historical Society (LCHS)
Understandably, the first major highways
constructed in Oregon were not built on the
Oregon Coast. The priority was completing
the “Pacific Highway” to connect Oregon with
Washington and California and the “Columbia
River Highway.” Before the automobile,
Oregonians traveled to the Oregon Coast
largely by wagon or train. When
automobile ownership became more
affordable, coastal residents and other
Oregonians clamored for highway access
to the Oregon Coast.
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The Father of U.S. Highway 101: Ben Jones
The clear leader of early lobbying efforts to build a highway on the Oregon Coast was Ben Jones
(1858-1925) from Lincoln County. As a young man, Jones
served as a mail carrier on the Central Oregon Coast and
experienced the primitive nature of the roads on the
Oregon Coast. In 1892, Jones led a delegation of coastal people
to the Benton County Courthouse in Corvallis to petition for
road improvements. The Benton County Commissioners denied
the delegation’s requests and joked that coastal people were
“clam diggers” who “didn’t need roads.” Jones famously
replied, “With the help of the clam diggers, we are going to
create a new county.” A year later, in 1893, Lincoln County
was established. The prime motivation for Lincoln County’s
secession from Benton County was the desire to improve
transportation on the Oregon Coast.
In 1919, while serving as State Representative, Ben Jones wrote
the first bill authorizing the construction of the Oregon Coast
Highway (HB 147). The legislation placed a measure before
Oregon voters authorizing the construction of a road from Astoria to the California border. Four
months later, Oregonians voted in favor of the measure by a 2-1 margin. Work began in 1921 on
a new 350-mile north-south road on the Oregon Coast named, “The Roosevelt Coast Military
ODOT Map Adapted from Book “Lifting Oregon Out of the Mud”
When construction began in 1921, only a few
segments of north-to-south aligned roads existed on
the Oregon Coast. On the south coast, the Coos Bay
Wagon Road (completed in 1872) connected Coos
Bay with Crescent City in Northern California. On the
north coast, a road connected Tillamook to Astoria.
Hardly any roads ran north-to-south on the rugged
Central Oregon Coast. And, for the most part, early
roads were rough graded or wood planked or made of
crushed rock. In some places shell material from
Native American middens were used to surface roads.
Today, in some coastal towns, there are streets named
“Shell Street.” Often though, the sandy beach was the
only north-to-south route (Lifting Oregon Out of the
Mud: Building the Oregon Coast Highway
(Joe R. Blakely, Bearcreek Press, 2006).
Of course, the topography was daunting. Some
individuals living near Depoe Bay doubted an
improved road would ever be built to their
The construction of U.S. Highway 101 was a complex
process. Right of ways needed to be purchased.
Enormous Sitka spruce trees stood in the way.
Monumental grading projects had to be planned and
executed. And, of course, countless coastal streams
and rivers needed crossing. The photo of the log
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bridge at Rocky Creek (below) on the north
side of Cape Foulweather in Lincoln County
illustrates how primitive stream crossings
were on the Oregon Coast before work
began on U.S. Highway 101. By 1923
though, road construction was in full swing.
In The Bayfront Book (Oldtown Printers,
1999), Wyatt reports that a Lincoln County
newspaper from 1923 stated, “Practically every
man and boy over fourteen years of age is
employed on this road in some capacity, while
most of the women are milking cows and
doing chores.”
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The two tunnels on U.S. Highway 101 (at Arch Cape and Heceta Head) posed unique challenges.
There’s a story that the Oregon Highway Commission (OHC) grew impatient with the contractor
responsible for the Arch Cape Tunnel. Apparently, the contractor spent more time than expected
preparing the tunnel site, especially on the south side. The OHC threatened to fire the contractor
if work didn’t begin on the tunnel. The job proved extremely difficult because the basalt at Arch
Cape and other headlands on the Oregon Coast fractures easily. Michael Long, a geologist and
Project Delivery Manager at ODOT explained, “The basalt on the Oregon Coast tends to fracture
because millions of years ago, when the lava cooled, it cooled rapidly. That makes these coastal
basalt formations more brittle than other basalt formations. Back when U.S. Highway 101 was
built, workers used a lot of guesswork when they set off dynamite charges. With fractured
basalt, just imagine how hard it was to calibrate how much explosives to use.” In many cases,
the overuse of explosives resulted in fracturing the rock even more.
Even today, with advanced technology, construction delays happen in these challenging settings.
In 2005 and 2006, when ODOT rebuilt the Cape Creek Tunnel, they ran into the same problem.
ODOT determined they needed to seal and stabilize the fractured basalt above the tunnel. When
the contractors began injecting concrete up into the tunnel walls and crown, it took far more
concrete and time to get the job done due to the complicated fracture system in the basalt.
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The First Significant Bridges on the Oregon Coast
In a biography on Conde McCullough—Elegant Arches, Soaring Spans: C.B. McCullough,
Oregon’s Master Bridge Builder (Oregon State University Press, 2001)—Robert W. Hadlow
reports that in his first six years at OSHD, McCullough and his staff designed and built 600
bridges (statewide). Most of the early bridges were short reinforced-concrete spans to cross
smaller streams. By crossing smaller streams first, the OSHD began stitching together miles of
paved roads. The same approach—tackle the smaller streams first—was used to construct
U.S. Highway 101.
The first significant bridge built by McCullough on the Oregon Coast was the Old Young’s Bay
Bridge in Clatsop County, completed in 1921 (Milepost 6.89). The Old Young’s Bay Bridge
spans a narrow section of Young’s Bay a mile-and-a-half south of Astoria (see photos directly
In 1924, a second bridge was completed across the Lewis & Clark River (Milepost 4.78—see
photos directly below) a short distance west of the Old Young’s Bay Bridge. The two bridges on
Young’s Bay established a gateway for automobiles to gain access to beach resorts on the
Northern Oregon Coast.
Northern Oregon Coast.
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Traveler’s Note
The two bridges remain in service today.
However, the bridges no longer carry
U.S. Highway 101 traffic. In the 1950s,
the “new” Young’s Bay Bridge (a
causeway) was constructed between
Astoria and Warrenton. Today, the
Old Young’s Bay Bridge and the Lewis
& Clark Bridge serve local traffic. To
visit these two historic bridges, drive a
mile-and-a-half south of Astoria, along
Business U.S. Highway 101 (see map
to the right with location arrows).
Next, McCullough designed and built a second batch of bridges at Depoe Bay (Milepost 127.61),
Rocky Creek (Milepost 130.03) in Lincoln County and Soapstone Creek (Milepost 6.5)
Depoe Bay Bridge
on Oregon 53 in Clatsop County. The bridges at Depoe Bay and Rocky Creek (150 feet long
deck arches of reinforced concrete anchored upon basalt) were completed in 1927. The bridge at
Soapstone Creek (not pictured), located inland from U.S. Highway 101, was completed in 1928.
The bridge at Rocky Creek was renamed the Ben Jones Memorial Bridge after Ben Jones who
died suddenly of a heart attack in 1925.
Black & White Photo Courtesy of LCHS
Oregon Coastal Notes
Traveler’s Note
Today, the Ben Jones Memorial Bridge is located on the Otter
Rock Scenic Loop (north of Newport) because in the 1950s ODOT
built a bypass up and over Cape Foulweather. To see the bridge,
take the Otter Crest Scenic Loop on the north end of Cape
Page 8
McCullough then set to work building structures at the Wilson River (Milepost 64.73)
in Tillamook County, Tenmile Creek (Milepost 171.44) and Big Creek (Milepost 175.02) in
Lane County. These three bridges, completed in 1931, were specially designed to cross
floodplains with unconsolidated substrates.
Wilson River Bridge
Tenmile Creek Bridge
Big Creek Bridge
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B&W Photo Courtesy of LCHS
A Key Partnership with the Federal Government
America’s economy faltered in October 1929 when the Stock Market crashed. Under President
Herbert Hoover’s Administration, a modest federal public works program was launched to
address the impacts of the Great Depression. The federal program gave the State of Oregon a
great opportunity to accelerate construction of
U.S. Highway 101.
Traveler’s Note
To view the Cape Creek Bridge, turn at
the Heceta Head Lighthouse Scenic
Viewpoint (includes Devil’s Elbow State
Park) entrance at Milepost 178 off of
Highway 101 just south of the Cape Creek
Bridge in the Heceta Head Lighthouse
Working with the federal Bureau of Public Roads (PBR)—headed by McCullough’s former
colleague and friend from Iowa, Thomas H. McDonnell—McCullough designed and constructed
the Cape Creek Bridge 12 miles north of Florence (Milepost 178.35). Cape Creek flows between
two steep-sided coastal headlands (Heceta Head and Devil’s Elbow). At the south end of the
Cape Creek Bridge, OSHD blasted a 700-foot long tunnel through the Devil’s Elbow headland.
McCullough designed a 619 foot long, two-tiered reinforced-concrete arched structure inspired
by a famous Roman Aqueduct (The Pont du Gard) near Nimes, France. The Cape Creek Bridge
was completed in 1932. The federal government shouldered two thirds of the cost of the Cape
Creek Bridge.
In addition, a few miles north of Cape Creek
McCullough partnered with the BPR to build a
bridge across Cummins Creek (Milepost 168.44).
The Cummins Creek Bridge, completed in 1931,
resembles the bridges McCullough built at
Depoe Bay, Rocky Creek (now the Ben Jones
Bridge), and Soapstone Creek.
Traveler’s Note
To see the Cummins Creek
Bridge Arch, park at the
Neptune Scenic Viewpoint
(located 3 miles south of
Yachats, Oregon) and walk
over to the bridge.
Scenic Viewpoint.
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Taking it to a New Level: The Isaac Lee Patterson Bridge
Several years earlier, in 1927, the State of Oregon took over the privately run ferry services that
carried cars and people across the six major river/estuary crossings on the Oregon Coast (at Gold
Beach, North Bend/Coos Bay, Reedsport, Florence, Waldport, and Newport). The state-operated
ferries ran nonstop, 16 hours a day, carrying between eight and thirty-two cars per crossing.
Despite all these improvements—stretches of new paved roads and bridges, improved ferry
service—automobile travel on the Oregon Coast continued to be a time consuming and
unpredictable affair.
Everyone understood that U.S. Highway 101 would never be a real highway until the six major
rivers and estuaries on the Oregon Coast were spanned with bridges. The OSHC chose to cross
the Rogue River first for two reasons: (1) river conditions on the Rogue River made the ferry
crossing at the Rogue River unreliable, and, (2), a bridge at Gold Beach would attract visitors
from California (which would help the economy and boost state fuel tax revenue).
The Isaac Lee Patterson Bridge (Milepost 327.64) across the Rogue River in Curry County is a
stunning 1,898 feet long structure; a series of seven reinforced-concrete arches. Each individual
rib arch spans 260 feet. Like the Cape Creek Bridge, Cummins Creek Bridge, and a number of
other smaller structures, the Isaac Lee Patterson Bridge was a financial and technical partnership
between the state and federal government.
On December 24, 1931, the Isaac Lee Patterson Bridge opened for traffic. Four months later, in
April 1932, a bridge dedication ceremony was held in Gold Beach attended by thousands of
people. Despite the euphoria, the United States was in crisis. The Great Depression, which
began in 1929, was sapping the nation’s strength. Oregon’s state highway fund declined rapidly
because of the downturn. Oregon was losing the capacity to fund new highway and bridge
projects despite overwhelming public support for more improvements. Oregonians, like other
Americans, looked to the federal government for solutions.
B&W Photos of Isaac Lee Patterson Bridge
Courtesy of ODOT
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The New Deal Presents an Enormous Opportunity
When Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) took office
in March 1933, the stars lined up to make the
Oregon Coast a showcase for economic recovery.
Remarkably, McCullough and his staff
designed the five bridges in three months!
Two-and-a-half years later, five bridges—each one a masterpiece—spanned the remaining major
coastal rivers.
From north to south, these bridges are:
• Yaquina Bay Bridge in Newport (Milepost
(141.68)—photo to the left
• Alsea Bay Bridge in Waldport (Milepost
• Siuslaw Bridge in Florence (Milepost 190.98)
• Umpqua River Bridge in Reedsport (Milepost
• McCullough Bridge in North Bend/Coos Bay
(Milepost 234.03)
This astonishing achievement marked the pinnacle of McCullough’s career. Here’s an outline of
key events:
° March 1933
° May 1933
° June 1933
° Sept 1933
° October 1933
° January 1934
° Spring 1934
° August 1934
° Fall 1936
FDR delivers his first Inaugural Speech.
OSHD prepares requests for federal assistance. U.S. Senator Charles
McNary, the Republican Leader in the Senate from Oregon, submits five
pieces of legislation to Congress to build five major bridges on the Oregon
McCullough hires teams of bridge designers. They work in two shifts
from 6:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and from 3:00 p.m. to Midnight.
OSHD submits plans for five coastal bridges to the Portland Office of the
Public Works Administration (PWA).
The Portland Office of the PWA forwards OSHD plans for five coastal
bridges to Washington D.C. for final review. McCullough releases
sketches of the five coastal bridges to calm public fears that Oregon won’t
receive its share of federal relief projects.
The PWA approves a financing package for five coastal bridges. The
$5.1 million package is 30% federal grant, 70% federal loan to the State of
Oregon (the standard PWA cost sharing formula). In early 1934, the
Oregon Legislature approves General Obligation Bonds to assume the
Bids are opened for the five bridges.
All five major coastal bridges are under construction.
All five major coastal bridges are completed within two years.
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The projects were intended to be
labor intensive. When possible,
workers were instructed to use
hand tools instead of power tools. Hundreds of people were put to work. The purchase of
construction materials injected needed resources into the local economy.
In the Bayfront Book (Oldtown Printers, 1999), Steve Wyatt describes the technical challenges
faced building the Yaquina Bay Bridge: “Swift currents posed an incredible challenge in placing
Pier No. 2, which required a 100-hour continuous pour of 2,200 yards of concrete. When a
concrete pour began, it continued 24 hours a day no matter how bad the weather.” Seven
hundred wooden pilings were driven 50 feet below the channel bed to prepare the footings for
Pier No. 3 at the south end of the main arch.
There was at least one controversy. Timber companies lobbied to have the coastal bridges built
out of wood. Thankfully, McCullough prevailed and the five major bridges were constructed of
steel and concrete. In the end, large amounts of local lumber were used to build the “falseworks”
(scaffolding and concrete forms needed to build the bridges).
Yaquina Bay Bridge under construction (top left) &
with workers (top center) Courtesy of ODOT
Alsea Bay Bridge (bottom left) Courtesy of ODOT
McCullough Bridge (bottom right) Courtesy of ODOT
Newport Ferry Photo to left Courtesy of LCHS
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The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), another New Deal program, contributed to the
improvements on U.S. Highway 101. The CCC brought young people from around the country
to the Oregon Coast. Their beautiful stonework can be admired at a number of places including
Neahkanie Mountain in Tillamook County (photo at left below), and at Cape Perpetua and
Heceta Head/Sea Lion Caves in Lane County (photo at right below).
At these challenging settings, workers chiseled U.S. Highway 101 out of cliffs that loomed
high above the Pacific Ocean. The breathtaking vistas are featured on post cards, calendars,
and travel guides to this day.
The Completion of U.S. Highway 101!
Alsea Bay Bridge Dedication, 1936
Photos Courtesy of ODOT
Siuslaw River Bridge, 1936
Photos Courtesy of LCHS/ODOT
On September 6, 1936, the last of the six great coastal bridges, the Yaquina Bay Bridge, was
opened to traffic. The cover of the program for the dedication ceremony (held on
October 3, 1936) proclaimed, “The Completion of the Last Link of the Oregon Coast Highway.”
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The total cost of the five coastal bridges built between 1933 and 1936 was $6 million. The total
cost of building U.S. Highway 101 was estimated at $25 million. It only took fifteen years to
build the highway (from 1921 to 1936). Without federal help, it would have taken many more
years to build U.S. Highway 101.
Photos of Alsea Bay Bridge & McCullough Bridge
Courtesy of ODOT
Yaquina Bay Bridge, Newport (top left)
Alsea Bay Bridge, Waldport (top right)
Siuslaw River Bridge, Florence (middle left)
Reedsport Bridge, Reedsport (bottom right)
McCullough Bridge, North Bend/Coos Bay (bottom left)
McCullough did not attend the ceremonies marking the opening of the Yaquina Bay Bridge
because he was in Central America. In 1936, McCullough took a leave of absence from OHSC
to spend 17 months in Central America to build bridges for the Inter-American Highway (under
the auspices of the BPR).
Before McCullough left for Central America, a banquet was held in his honor in Portland. The
decorations at the dinner featured an ice sculpture of the Isaac Lee Patterson Bridge and model
cars made of ice cream. Many influential Oregonians attended the event.
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McCullough’s Architectural Highway
McCullough’s bridge designs evolved over his career. Even
so, the classic round Romanesque arch remained a constant
theme. The round arch, which dominated his early designs,
enabled McCullough to capture the spirit of the early
Middle Ages in Europe.
A Turn to Gothic Architecture
In 1933, when McCullough designed the five major coastal bridges, he took a dramatic turn to
Gothic Architecture. Gothic Architecture, best known for the pointed arch and its verticality,
first appeared in Europe in the 11th Century.
B&W Photo of
McCullough Bridge
under Construction
Courtesy of ODOT
McCullough, like the master stonemasons who built the Gothic Cathedrals,
bused pointed arches and round arches in these iconic structures.
Why did McCullough “go-Gothic” in 1933? Well, the Brooklyn Bridge,
a Gothic masterpiece completed in 1883, must have been one source of
inspiration. But, we’ve unearthed evidence it was the St. John’s Bridge in
Portland—completed in 1931—that compelled McCullough to “go-Gothic” in
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Here’s what happened. In 1929, Multnomah County commissioned the building of the St. John’s
Bridge (see photos below) across the Willamette River. An open national design
competition was held to encourage the best and brightest designers to submit plans. One of
America’s leading bridge designers, David B. Steinman (1886-1960) from New York City,
entered and won the contest. Steinman, who grew up in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge,
submitted an uncommonly beautiful Gothic steel suspension bridge design. The bridge’s slender
and soaring lines, light green color, and Parisian accents perfectly complements the Northwest’s
scenery. Looking back at his long career, Steinman remarked, “If you asked me which of the
bridges I love best, I believe I would say the St. John’s Bridge. I put more of myself into that
bridge than any other bridge.”
In 1980, John McCullough, Conde McCullough’s son, recalled that his father was deeply
impressed by the design of the St. John’s Bridge. McCullough entered the design competition,
but, like the others, he lost out to Steinman. Thankfully though, through the design competition,
McCullough and Steinman became good friends. Together, they birthed a “Northwest Gothic”
style of architecture.
Following in Steinman’s footsteps, in 1933, McCullough brilliantly incorporated Gothic themes
into bridge approaches, balustrades (the railings) and other components of his bridges. At the
Yaquina Bay Bridge and the McCullough Bridge, towering Gothic arches were used for the main
piers. The cantilevered steel structure of the McCullough Bridge, in particular, nearly mirrors
the aesthetic of the St. John’s Bridge.
Last, and certainly not least, McCullough wove “Art Deco” designs into all six major coastal
bridges. The Art Deco design movement originated in Paris at the turn of the 20th Century. Art
Deco drew inspiration from many international sources. In the late 1800’s, artwork from Japan
—with an abstract quality so different from ornate Western art of the period—proved a
revelation to Paris’ art community. And, bold angular designs of “primitive art” which flooded
into Paris compelled designers to break with the past.
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Perhaps the most celebrated Art Deco design is the sunburst crown of the Chrysler Building in
New York City (completed in 1930). McCullough employed Art Deco design—especially
sunbursts—on pylons, obelisks, piers, and flat surfaces. It gave the bridges a modern, urbane,
streamlined appearance. Poured concrete proved to be an ideal medium for Art Deco. The
quality of the workmanship is amazing. Despite seasonally high winds and exposure to salt air,
the concrete work remains remarkably intact.
Because McCullough was a scholar, he understood he was accomplishing something
extraordinary. At a Rotary Club meeting in Marshfield in 1936, McCullough characterized U.S.
Highway 101 as, “The finest major route in the world.” He referred to the bridges as, “Jeweled
clasps in a wonderful string of matched pearls.”
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There’s plenty of evidence that McCullough had a superior intellect. In the evenings, he earned
a law degree from Willamette University. McCullough was a voracious reader, a good musician
(fiddle and piano), and, an accomplished mathematician. He wrote acclaimed books and
technical bulletins on engineering and engineering law. And, McCullough built beautiful bridges
all over the State of Oregon, not just on the Oregon Coast.
What was he like as a person? All accounts suggest McCullough was thoroughly likable. His
son described him as a “chameleon,” a man who could get along with everyone because, as John
put it, “He genuinely loved people.” And, given McCullough’s engineering/architectural
triumphs, it’s easy to overlook his genius for administration.
Photo Coutesy of John McCullough
The Last Ten Years: The Triumph of Function Over Form
When McCullough returned to Oregon, he learned his job of bridge engineer had been given to
his subordinate, Glenn Paxson. McCullough
was not pleased that he was made an
administrator. McCullough said he was
“kicked upstairs” to the job of Assistant
Highway Engineer.
In his new position, McCullough clashed with
his superior Robert Baldcock. What did they
argue about? A paradigm shift was underway
around the country. The steel-reinforced
concrete construction techniques pioneered by
McCullough and others led to a new
generation of bridge construction designs
—pre-stressed reinforced-concrete girder
Photo Courtesy of
As a result, plain-looking, standard bridge designs
(pre-stressed reinforced-concrete girders) became the
preferred method to build bridges because they were
cheap and effective. McCullough though, still
passionately believed bridges should be customized to
fit their setting, and, when possible, be beautiful.
Denied the creative outlet of designing bridges during
the last ten years of his career, McCullough wrote
books on engineering. He also participated in
developing a master plan for the City of Salem which
changed the face of Oregon’s capitol city.
McCullough Home, Salem, Oregon
After World War II, in 1946, the BPR asked McCullough to return to Central America to
continue work on the Inter-American Highway. Alas, two days before his departure, on Sunday,
May 5, 1946, McCullough suffered a massive stroke and died. He was just shy of 59 years old.
Oregon Coastal Notes
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B&W Photo Courtesy of ODOT
1919 TO 1946
Fourteen months later (on August 27, 1947) McCullough’s favorite structure, the bridge in North
Bend/Coos Bay, was renamed the “Conde B. McCullough Memorial Bridge.” The Coos Bay
Times published a photo of Marie McCullough, John McCullough and John’s wife, attending the
ceremony. A plaque located on the bridge reads as noted above.
New Alsea Bay Bridge Dedication
(Fall 1991) Photo Courtesy of LCHS
U.S. Highway 101 Today: The Vision Prevails
U.S. Highway 101
remains an integral part of
the Oregon Coast’s
landscape. Since the highway was completed in 1936, many additional improvements have been
made. Most notably, the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) built bypasses at many
key locations, which improved travel times considerably.
Only one of McCullough’s major coastal bridges, the Alsea Bay Bridge, had to be destroyed and
replaced with a new structure. The replacement bridge at Alsea Bay, completed in 1991, has a
large graceful arch; a quiet tribute to McCullough. An interpretive center at the south end of the
bridge features an exhibit of the original Alsea Bay Bridge. There’s a viewing area at the north
end of the bridge which displays several of the original Art Deco pylons from the original bridge.
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We still enjoy McCullough’s Bridges because ODOT’s Bridge Section developed a process
known as “cathodic protection.” The innovative process added decades of life to these spans.
History has been kind to Conde McCullough. Today, his bridge designs appear on murals,
logos, business signs, stationery, coffee cups, and magazine covers. Each year, engineers from
around the world travel to the Oregon Coast to see his bridges. And, recently, several books on
McCullough and the coastal bridges have been published.
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The Arch is Back
Photo Courtesy of ODOT
ODOT is once again building beautiful bridges on the
Oregon Coast. The trend began with the replacement
bridge at Brush Creek (see photo to left at Humbug
Mountain State Park in 1998 (Milepost 306.20) in Curry
County. The original bridge was a standard concrete
girder bridge built in the mid 1950s. The replacement
bridge was the first concrete arch bridge built in Oregon
since McCullough’s tenure as bridge engineer. The new
bridge has stainless steel reinforcing and microsilica
concrete (high durability materials).
Cooks Chasm Bridge
Then, in 2001,
ODOT completed a replacement bridge at Haynes Inlet
(see photo to the right) just north of the McCullough
Bridge in Coos County. Three beautiful concrete arches
were constructed below the roadway.
The Cooks Chasm replacement bridge in Lane County
was completed in 2003. ODOT moved the structure
further away from the ocean. The concrete arch structure
uses precast arch rib
halves, posttensioned together
(a first in Oregon). Rather than stainless steel, ODOT
used post-tensioning of the deck to increase compression
and reduce the infiltration of salt bearing moisture.
The latest example is the replacement bridge at
Spencer Creek at the Beverly Beach State Park
north of Newport. The original bridge was built in
1947. The replacement bridge will be placed further inland than the original bridge. A beautiful
arch is being built below the roadway, creating a memorable beach access point for the Beverly
Beach State Park. On March 13, 2007, a groundbreaking ceremony for the new Spencer Creek
Bridge was held. OTC Commissioner Randy Pape (left), Lincoln County Commissioner Don
Lindly (middle), and ODOT Region 2 Manager Jeff Scheick (right), shoveled the first dirt (photo
of groundbreaking above to the left).
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The Final Word
Photo Courtesy of John
McCullough Collection/ODOT
Shortly before he died on May 7, 1946, the Eugene Register-Guard published an editorial written
by McCullough entitled, “Conde B. McCullough—Bridges.” Conde McCullough deserves the
last word about his life and career:
If we engineers had souls, which I doubt,
we might have to take to the back roads
to keep from blushing every time we see
some of the things we have done. But on
the other hand, I’m kinda human like the
rest of humanity, and I’ll admit that
there’s at least one or two bridges I’ve
had a hand in, and when I look at them,
I kinda figure I’ll have some alibi when
I see St. Pete. Not all of ‘em, you
understand, but some of ‘em did come
out so good they make life worth living.
Photo taken by Ed Cooper; Postcard published by Smith-Western, Inc., Portland, Oregon
Oregon Coastal Notes
Page 23
• Special thanks to Robert W. Hadlow, Conde McCullough’s biographer. Hadlow,
wrote an outstanding book on McCullough entitled, Elegant Arches, Soaring Spans,
C.B. McCullough, Oregon’s Master Builder, 2001, OSU Press). He was also generous
with his time and insights.
• OTC Commissioner Gail Achterman offered steady encouragement during this project.
• Pat Solomon from ODOT’s General Files/History Center, provided historic photos
(Black and White—B&W) and original source materials from ODOT’s archives.
• Frank Nelson, Principal Engineer, Bridge Preservation Engineering Manager at ODOT,
explained how ODOT is replacing older bridges on U.S. Highway 101.
• Mike Long, Region 2 Delivery Manager, GeoHydro Division, ODOT for information
on tunnel building and restoring.
• Jodi Weeber, of the Lincoln County Historical Society (LCHS) located important local
historic documents and photos.
• David Godsey of Godsey & Associates from Nehalem. Oregon prepared the map of
U.S. Highway 101 with the Oregon Coast bridges found on the last page of this
• Madeline Lehrer, age 5, composed the wonderful drawing of the Yaquina Bay Bridge
found in the collage of bridge logos on Page 19.
• Georgia York of OCZMA formatted this newsletter and endured endless anecdotes
about McCullough.
• Jack Brown, Depoe Bay City Councilor, graduate of Iowa State University’s
engineering program, and Vice-Chair of OCZMA, shared my obsession for researching
the history of U.S. Highway 101.
• And finally, to the memory of the many men and women who built U.S. Highway 101.
Wesley Andrews Postcard
Oregon Coastal Notes
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Suggested Reading
If, after reading this newsletter, your appetite has been wetted to learn more about Oregon’s
Coastal Bridges, its talented engineer, Conde B. McCullough and U.S. Highway 101, we suggest
the following:
Elegant Arches, Soaring Spans—C.B. McCullough, Oregon’s Master Bridge
Builder, 2001 (Robert W. Hadlow)
Lifting Oregon Out of the Mud, 2006 (Joe R. Blakely)
Images of America—Bridges of the Oregon Coast, 2006 (Ray Bottenberg)
Bridges, Their Art, Science & Evolution, 1983 (Charles S. Whitney)
Note: This newsletter can be downloaded from OCZMA’s web site located at www.oczma.org
(it can be downloaded in two formats—as a single document or in sections)
Disclaimer: The post card images in this newsletter are used under the Fair Use Doctrine
(which authorizes the reproduction of copyrighted images for public information only).
OCZMA does NOT warrant that any of these images are in the public domain.
Oregon Coastal Notes
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Photos taken by Wesley Andrews and
reproduced professionally on colorized
postcards from the late 1930s by
Wesley Andrews Company, Portland,
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Oregon Coastal Notes
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