Fourteenth Avenue NW Bridge (Salmon Bay Drawbridge) in Seattle is completed on June 14, 1910.

  • By Priscilla Long
  • Posted 1/28/2020
  • Essay 20461
See Additional Media

On June 14, 1910, Seattle accepts as completed a Howe-truss swing drawbridge spanning Salmon Bay between Thirteenth Avenue W and Ballard's Fourteenth Avenue NW. The bridge replaces two side-by-side fixed trestles. The drawbridge is built in the context of the construction of the Lake Washington Ship Canal by the United States Army Corps of Engineers. The ship canal is a federal government right-of-way and the War Department permits the bridge as temporary, to be used until the higher Ballard Bridge is completed. In 1916, with the Ballard Bridge only half-finished, the War Department will order the approaches and drawspan of the Fourteenth Avenue NW bridge to be raised to prevent it from being inundated when the Army Corps raises the waters of Salmon Bay. At great expense, the city will raise the bridge. After the Ballard Bridge is completed (1917), the War Department will order the immediate removal of the Fourteenth Avenue NW drawbridge as an obstruction to navigation. In November 1918 the Seattle City Council will pass an emergency ordinance to comply. The Fourteenth Avenue NW drawbridge will exist for eight and one-half years and illustrates the complexities and challenges involved in creating Seattle's infrastructure.

Ballard at Salmon Bay 

At the crossing where the new bridge would be located, two side-by-side fixed trestles spanned Salmon Bay. These trestles were impassable and would obstruct the building of the ship canal, which was planned to connect Lake Washington, Lake Union, Salmon Bay, and Puget Sound. The trestles had to be removed.

One trestle carried the Northern Pacific Railway (its tracks curved onto Shilshole Avenue instead of ending at 14th Avenue NW). This had been the track of the Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern Railway, purchased by the Northern Pacific in 1892.

Alongside the Northern Pacific tracks ran a wagon-road trestle that also carried the tracks, wires, and poles of the private trolley company, the Seattle Electric Company (later renamed Puget Sound Traction, Light & Power). Beginning in 1900 Seattle had granted this firm, which was controlled by the Boston-based utilities cartel Stone & Webster, a franchise to operate the city's streetcar system.

Not far away, the Great Northern Railway's tracks paralleled these two trestles for about three-quarters of the way across and then curved toward Puget Sound. In addition, there were rotting piles and other debris left from previous trestles and from industrial activity. 

The Salmon Bay Drawbridge (aka Fourteenth Avenue NW Bridge) would not be an entirely new bridge. Parts of the trestles would be used to reconstruct the approaches, and other parts would be disassembled for their lumber and parts. What would be new about the Salmon Bay Drawbridge was that its center span, a Howe truss, could swing open to let vessels pass.

Let the Work Begin

On January 6, 1910, Seattle City Engineer R. H. Thomson (1856-1949) ordered the International Contract Company, which had been awarded the contract, to build the drawbridge. He directed the company:

"to begin work forthwith upon said improvement and to prosecute the same with due diligence .... You are further notified that said improvement must be completed within one hundred and twenty (120) days from the date of this notice" (R. H. Thomson to "Gentlemen," International Contract Co., January 6, 1910).

The Northern Pacific Railway's trestle interfered with construction of the new drawbridge and in December 1909 the Northern Pacific had arranged to instead cross Salmon Bay on the tracks of the Great Northern Railway. On March 1, 2010, the city of Seattle signed an agreement with the railway that the city would construct a plank roadway on this trestle for the purpose of enabling passengers and teams (of horses) to cross the waterway while the new bridge was being constructed. As of March 24, the Northern Pacific ceased running trains across the trestle.

The Seattle Electric Company (renamed Puget Sound Traction, Light & Power) had the franchise to run streetcars throughout Seattle and over the trestle to be replaced. It would have part ownership of the Salmon Bay Drawbridge, paying $6,600 of the ultimate cost of about $17,000. On February 10, 1910, City Engineer fumed that the traction firm had as yet failed to remove its tracks, poles, and wires from the Fourteenth Avenue NW crossing at Salmon Bay:

"At this date ... there has been very little progress made toward getting the wires out of the way. When the weather is bad, the excuse is that you cannot work with the high-tension wires; when the weather is fine you attempt to do the work of about ten or fifteen men with one man and a foreman" (R. H. Thomson to G. A. James, February 10, 1910). 

Thomson informed the Seattle Electric Co. that if this job were not completed by Saturday February 12, the city would proceed to remove them. The contentious relationship between the city and the private firm that operated the city's trolley system is further revealed in the trolley company's response: "[I]t seems to me you are laboring under a little misapprehension in reference to this work..." (W. P. James to C. J. Moore, February 11, 2010). The trolley company informed the city that the wires had been removed.

The relationship between the International Contract Company and the city was also fraught with disputes, which are recorded in the correspondence in outbursts and snippy counter-outbursts. On May 12, 2010, C. B. Fowler, president of the bridge-building firm wrote to Seattle's assistant city engineer:

"We should appreciate it, if you would kindly arrange to deduct the driving of the dolphins [piles positioned ahead of bridge piers to prevent vessels from hitting and damaging the piers] at Salmon Bay, and do this work later yourselves, as it will be impossible for it to be done for some months, owing to several trestles and bridges being in the way, and we are anxious to get this work finished up and forget about it" (Fowler to D. W. McMorris, May 12, 1910). 

 Seattle's assistant city engineer sent this on to the district engineer with a note that this was "a characteristic letter from the International Contract Company" (D. W. McMorris to C. J. Moore, May 14, 1910). On May 26, 2010, the president of the International Contract Company wrote to Seattle City Engineer R. H. Thomson:

"We trust that you are fully advised about the multitude of troubles from light shafting, insufficient bracing, short cross shafts and misfits in general on the Salmon Bay Bridge, so that we will not be blamed for the same, nor for the delay.

"We certainly have grave fears about the operation of the machinery when the electric power is turned on, and think it would be well for both of us to be present at that time" (Fowler to Thomson, May 26, 1910). 

Despite troubles and delays, the city certified the bridge complete on June 10, 1910.

The Ship Canal vs. the Drawbridge

In February 1916, the Army Corps of Engineers prepared to lower the waters of Lake Washington and raise those of Salmon Bay. Since this would inundate the Fourteenth Avenue NW Bridge, and since the Ballard Bridge was only half finished, the War Department ordered the Fourteenth Avenue NW Bridge to be raised. On April 10, 1916, the Seattle City Council passed an ordinance (35942) to raise its approaches and drawspan and appropriated $5,800 from the General Fund for the purpose.

On December 15, 1917, the Ballard Bridge, a double-leaved bascule bridge that spanned Salmon Bay at 15th Avenue NW, finally opened to traffic. At this point the War Department considered the Fourteenth Avenue NW Bridge an obstruction to navigation. On August 15, 1918, the War Department ordered the city of Seattle to remove the bridge, "the work of removal to be commenced within two weeks and to be completed within two months from the date of service of this order" (Keppel to the City of Seattle, August 15, 1918). In order to comply, on November 25, 1918, the Seattle City Council passed an emergency ordinance (38937) directing the Board of Public Works to remove the drawbridge.

Conflicts between the city of Seattle and the Puget Sound Traction, Light & Power had been ongoing and chronic. The city declined to grant the traction company the right to own any part of the new Ballard Bridge, and in 1918, the city purchased the assets of Puget Sound Traction, Light & Power and began to operate its own streetcar system. 


Paul Dorpat and Jean Sherrard, "Seattle Now and Then: Ballard's Bascule Bridge," 2016 (; "The City of Seattle -- Department of Public Works, Specifications for the improvement and construction of a drawbridge ..." October 5, 1909," and  R. H. Thomson to "Gentlemen," International Contract Co., January 6, 1910, and R. H. Thomson (City Engineer) to G. A. James (Seattle Electric Co.), February 10, 1910, and G. A. James (Seattle Electric Company) to C. J. Moore, February 11, 2010, and R. H. Thomson, City Engineer to C. B. McMullin (Superintendent, Seattle Division, Northern Pacific Railway), December 22, 1909, and "Agreement between Northern Pacific Railway Company and City of Seattle, March 1, 1910," and D. W. McMorris, Office of City Engineer to Mr. C. J. Moore, District Engineer, Seattle, March 24, 1910, and C. E. Fowler, president, International Contract Company to Mr. D. W. McMorris, May 12, 1910, and D. W. McMorris to C. J. Moore, May 14, 1910, and C. E. Fowler to R. H. Thomson, May 26, 1910, all contained in Folder 1946, Box 2, Record Series 2615-02 (Engineering Department misc. improvements records), Seattle Municipal Archives; Seattle City Ordinance 22653, passed November 29, 1909, Seattle Municipal Archives; Seattle City Ordinance 22788, passed December 20, 1909, Seattle Municipal Archives; J. R. Wood (District Inspector) to W. F. Paddock (Chief Clerk), September 28, 1911, File: Bridges, Misc., 1910-1911, Box 7, Engineering Department subject files Record Series 2602-02, Seattle Municipal Archives; Lieut. Col. Cavanaugh to "The Mayor," February 19, 1916, Comptroller File 63499, Seattle City Clerk's Office, Seattle Municipal Archives; A. Dimock (city engineer) to H. C. Gill, February 28, 1916, Seattle City Clerk's Office, Comptroller File 63499, Seattle Municipal Archives; Seattle City Ordinance 35942, passed April 10, 1916, Seattle Municipal Archives; F. P. Keppel (United States War Department) to The City of Seattle, August 15, 1918, File: Bridges, Misc., 1912-1924, Box 7, Engineering Dept. Subject files, 2602-02, Seattle Municipal Archives; C. B. Bagley (Department of Public Works) to A. H. Dimock (City Engineer), November 28, 1918 (with Seattle City ordinance 38937 enclosed), File: Bridges, Misc. 1912-1924, Box 7, subject files Record Series 2602-02, Engineering Department, Seattle Municipal Archives;, the Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Ballard Bridge (Seattle)" (by Priscilla Long) and "Fourteenth Avenue NW Bridge/Salmon Bay Drawbridge (Seattle)" (by Priscilla Long), and "Lake Washington Ship Canal (Seattle)" (by David B. Williams), (accessed November 7, 2017); "Ask Removal of 14th Ave. Bridge," The Seattle Times, September 4, 1918, p. 13.

Licensing: This essay is licensed under a Creative Commons license that encourages reproduction with attribution. Credit should be given to both and to the author, and sources must be included with any reproduction. Click the icon for more info. Please note that this Creative Commons license applies to text only, and not to images. For more information regarding individual photos or images, please contact the source noted in the image credit.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
Major Support for Provided By: The State of Washington | Patsy Bullitt Collins | Paul G. Allen Family Foundation | Museum Of History & Industry | 4Culture (King County Lodging Tax Revenue) | City of Seattle | City of Bellevue | City of Tacoma | King County | The Peach Foundation | Microsoft Corporation, Other Public and Private Sponsors and Visitors Like You