At this location there was once a natural stone bridge called by the indigenous peoples of the area the Bridge of the Gods. In about 1450 an immense landslide off Table Mountain blocked the Columbia. This natural dam caused water to back up for at least a hundred miles, creating a vast lake. Gradually water eroded the dam away, leaving a bridge at the top. When this bridge eventually fell, it created the Cascades Rapids. Both the stone bridge and the calmness of the river before the landslide are remembered in Indian legend.
The Old Bridge of the Gods
The Indian story of these events, as recounted by the current owner of the bridge, the Port of Cascades Locks, is as follows:
"The People of the Columbia River had great difficulty crossing the Columbia River. Manito, the Great Spirit, was sympathetic and built a stone bridge for them. This stone bridge, called The Great Crossover, was so important that Manito placed Loo-Wit, an old and wise woman, as its guardian.The New Bridge of the Gods
"Over time, the People began to fear that the bridge would wash away, and they appealed to the Great Spirit. Manito agreed to protect the bridge, and the grateful People gave it a new name, the Bridge of the Gods.
"At about the same time, Manito also sent to earth his sons -- three great snow mountains: Multnomah, the warrior (Mt. Rainier); Klickitat, the totem-maker (Mt. Adams); and Wyeast, the singer (Mt. Hood). All was peaceful until beautiful Squaw Mountain moved into a small valley between Klickitat and Wyeast.
"Squaw Mountain grew to love Wyeast, but thought it great fun to flirt with Klickitat, his big, good-natured brother. Soon a rivalry sprang up between the two brothers over Squaw Mountain. They argued, growled, stomped their feet, spat ashes and belched great clouds of black smoke. Each hurled white-hot rocks, setting fire to the forests and driving the people into hiding. Finally, they threw so many stones onto the Bridge of the Gods and shook the earth so hard that the stone bridge broke in the middle and fell into the river.
"Upon hearing this, Manito was angry and in punishment for the destruction of the bridge, he caused a series of huge rapids to form in the river.
"Meanwhile, Klickitat won the fight over Squaw Mountain and Wyeast admitted defeat. This was a severe blow to Squaw Mountain, as she loved Wyeast. Though she took her place by Klickitat, her heart was broken, and she sank into a permanent deep sleep. She is known today as Sleeping Beauty and lies where she fell, just west of Mt. Adams.
"When this happened, Klickitat had a high, straight head, like Wyeast. But Klickitat truly loved Squaw Mountain, and her fate caused him such grief that he dropped his head in shame and has never raised it again.
"During the war, Loo-Wit, the guardian of the bridge, tried to stop the fight, but she failed and fell with it. The Great Spirit heard of her faithfulness and promised to grant her a wish. She asked to be made young and beautiful once more. However, being old in spirit she did not desire companionship. The Great Spirit granted Loo-Wit her wish. He turned her into the most beautiful of all the mountains and allowed her to settle by herself far to the west. She is now known as the youngest mountain in the Cascades, the beautiful and powerful Mt. St. Helens" (Port of Cascades Locks website).
The man-made Bridge of the Gods was planned to improve the North Bank Highway, the first roadway linking Eastern and Western Washington constructed by the Washington Department of Highways. In December 1920, Congress authorized a crossing and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers accepted a bridge plan. However, financial difficulties intervened and after a concrete pier was built on the Oregon side, construction ceased. The Te Wanna (or Wauna) Toll Bridge Company acquired the project and the Puget Sound Bridge and Dredging Company completed it in 1926 at a cost of $650,000. Motorists paid 50 cents to cross.
The structure as completed in 1926 had a cantilever main span of 707 feet, 9 inches. Anchor arms supporting the main span on either side were 211 feet, 8 inches. The total cantilever structure (cantilever span plus supporting anchor arms) was 1,131 feet long and the overall bridge was 1,858 feet long and 35 feet wide. The original bridge had a wooden deck and spanned the Columbia 91 feet above the river.
In 1938, the federal government provided the owners of the bridge with $762,000 to raise the structure in anticipation of rising water following completion of the Bonneville Dam. Concrete was added to the piers and the bridge was raised 44 feet to now provide 135 feet of vertical clearance. The modified bridge was completed in 1940.
Oregon's Port of Cascades Locks acquired the bridge in 1961 and owns it to the present day. It continues as a toll bridge.