Crossing the Waters
Before the bridge, the only way to get to Mercer Island was by passenger boat. Soon after the end of World War I, developers realized that Mercer Island’s potential was mostly untapped, owing to the lack of automobile access. The closest distance to the mainland was on the northeast section of the island, and plans were drawn up for a wooden bridge that would last for 10 to 15 years.
Driving to the island from Seattle meant going the long way through Renton, but the 22-mile trip was still preferable to a passenger ferry. Construction began on a 1,200 foot-long bridge that was only 20 feet wide. A swing truss span in the center allowed boats to pass underneath.
Land on Enetai Point in Bellevue was mostly underdeveloped but the landing on northeast Mercer Island was owned by Joseph Jenott, who had purchased 1,000 feet of waterfront property in 1911. Although island residents benefited greatly from a new bridge, the Jenott family lost out.
Joseph Jenott had made his money in the Yukon Gold Rush in 1897. After moving to Seattle, he chose to buy property on Mercer Island that allowed sweeping views of Lake Washington and the Cascade Mountains. He cleared most of the land, but made sure to save the best trees for landscape.
He first built a sheltered dock and a cabin, while continuing to live in Seattle with his young daughters (his wife had died years earlier.) Work began next on walls, a lawn, and an orchard. By the time he started excavation for a grand colonial home, talks began on the new East Channel Bridge. Jenott stopped building.
The bridge would land on the island right where Jenott’s house was planned. King County took the land, and Jenott was forced to move his cabin. A marvelous tree stood where the road approached, but neighbors and ferry passengers signed a petition to save it by moving the road 20 feet to the north. The road foreman agreed to save the tree, but one day while he was gone, a supervisor chopped it down anyway.
Jenott was heartbroken and moved off the island. Later his brother and sister moved onto his land, built small homes and raised families.
Open and Closed
The opening of the bridge was feted with much fanfare, with many of the islands 2,500 residents attending. Speeches were given by County Commissioner William Gaines, County Engineer Major Beeman, and prominent island resident Raymond Ogden. Following the opening, a luncheon party was held at Fortuna Park where a new ferry schedule from northern Mercer Island was announced that provided for 12 ferry runs a day.
As expected, the bridge opened up the island for development. Throughout the 1920s, more and more people began moving to Mercer Island. By the end of the 1930s, it was apparent that another bridge was needed, and work began on the Lake Washington Floating Bridge, which connected the island directly to Seattle.
By this time the East Channel Bridge was at the end of its lifespan and was in disrepair. School bus drivers made children get out to cross the rickety bridge by foot, where they would re-enter the bus on the other side. The swing truss had long since rusted shut, and boats had to detour around the western side of the island.
Soon after a second East Channel crossing was built right next to the first, the old bridge was demolished in 1940. The Jenott family lost more property in the process. In the 1960s, the family lost even more land when new supports were added.