The first South Park bridge, a wooden swing bridge spanning the Duwamish River, opens on September 3, 1915.

  • By Priscilla Long
  • Posted 7/04/2010
  • Essay 9471
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On September 3, 1915, the first South Park Bridge, a wooden truss swing bridge spanning the Duwamish River (called Commercial Waterway No. 1), opens. The bridge enables residents of the Seattle neighborhood South Park, located on the west bank of the river, to cross over to the east side where lies most of the rest of Seattle. The bridge, known as the 14th Avenue South Bridge or Bridge 982A, is owned by King County. It has a wooden plank deck and approaches (444 feet long and 20 feet wide) supported by cedar pile trestles. The wood swing span is 295.5 feet long and 20 feet wide. The swing span is fixed to a center pier. The bridge opens by swiveling its swing span on this center pier. When open, the span parallels the waterway, allowing tugs, log booms, and various boats to pass. The bridge is built at the same time the river is being dredged and straightened to make a commercial waterway. The structure will remain in constant use and cause bridge engineers constant trouble until 1931 when it will be replaced by a new South Park Bridge, located about 100 feet farther south.

South Park: A Seattle Neighborhood

South Park, located on the west side of the Duwamish Waterway, was originally home to Duwamish peoples and was described in 1853 by an early European observer as a "bottom land, covered with white maples, cottonwood, alder and crabapple..." At the time the river meandered in big oxbows. Farmers settled the area and industrial development tended to occur in Georgetown, located farther north (closer to downtown Seattle) and on the eastern bank of the river. South Park remained bucolic and idyllic. The town of South Park was platted in 1889. By the turn of the century Italian and Japanese farmers cultivated much of the land. After 1907 they sold their produce at Pike Place Market in downtown Seattle. A renowned South Park farmer was Giuseppi "Joe" Desimone (1881-1946) who began acquiring property at Pike Place and by 1941, owned the Pike Market Company.

On July 8, 1905, South Park voted to be a city of the fourth-class. S. J. Bevan was the first mayor. The all-male electorate voted to annex to the city of Seattle on March 24, 1907, 186 to 36. South Park's population was 1,500 and the largest employer was Newell's Mill. There was an ever increasing need for neighborhood residents to get across the river.

From River to Commercial Waterway

A major transformation was visited upon the neighborhood in 1913 when the straightening out of the Duwamish River began. This work was in progress on August 7, 1914, when the King County Board of Commissioners resolved to get permission from the United States government (via the War Department) to build the bridge. This permission was obligatory since the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was responsible for the dredging and rechanneling of the river. The War Department granted permission on October 21, 1914.

The process of drafting plans and building the bridge began. The bridge was virtually identical in overall design to the Riverton Bridge, built upriver in 1903. The county bridge engineer responsible was Charles D. Cally. The bridge was built by the Manhattan Contracting Co., which began work on March 8, 1915.

To Build a Timber Bridge

The various memos circulating from contractor to bridge engineer to county commissioners shed light on the materials and procedures of building the bridge. A hole had to be dug for the center pier and 1,100 cubic yards of earth were removed from the center pier hole. Live (meaning just cut and not seasoned) yellow or red fir lumber was brought in to build the temporary scaffolding and falseworks from which the actual bridge would be built.

Piles were made from cedar logs and were sent to the Colman Creosoting Works to be creosoted. Cast iron spikes and bolts were ordered as well as cedar logs for the bulkhead, tie and anchor logs, and pipe rail.

Planking had to be installed for the wooden deck. The "turning machinery" was oiled and the bridge was painted with Rainier Outside White purchased from the C. M. Buck Hardware and with No. 9 Red Oxide paint (made of red oxide pigment and boiled linseed oil) purchased from W. P. Fuller Co.

The bridge was nearly done by July 1915, but had to wait for waterway dredging to be completed before the finishing touches could be accomplished.

Troubles with Trestles and Trusses

James Agnew was the first bridge tender. He began work on September 1, 1915. From December 1, 1915, to September 1, 1916, a period of nine months, the bridge tender swung the span 353 times or about 40 times per month. The job must have been a chilly one because the following year King County built a small house for his use.

Repairs and failures of bridge elements began within the first year. In 1923 a sidewalk was built on the west side of the bridge and the deck planking was replaced. The years 1923 and 1925 saw a series of episodes in which tugs handling log booms failed to clear the piers and broke or carried away piles. In 1926 an automobile drove through the railing. All of this had to be repaired.

By 1927 bridge inspector T. P. Blum reported that the wood swing span was worn and rotten and that the top chord of the truss had failed. He also noted that the cedar trestles that supported the approaches were worn and rotten. He reported that the sidewalk was too narrow and when two trucks passed there was no room for a pedestrian:

"A number of school children pass this way every day; this walk affords them a dangerous passage. Before the time that a new bridge can be built this present bridge will have to be repaired so as to make it safe. It is recommended that this bridge be repaired immediately" (T. P. Blum, Inspection report for "Bridge No. 982 A").

A New Bridge for South Park

Inspections, troubles, and repairs continued until King County built a new bascule bridge, commonly known as the South Park Bridge. The first South Park Bridge, which came to be known as the Old Timber Bridge, stayed in service until the new bascule bridge opened.

On October 10, 1931, King County engineer Thomas Hunt wrote to the King County Board of Commissioners to report that the Mason Construction & Engineering Co. had finished removing the 14th Avenue South Bridge, also known as "Old Timber Structure."

Sources: Resolution by Board of Commissioners, August 7, 1914, Folder 1, Box 1, Record Group 295, King County Archives, 1215 E Fir Street, Seattle; W. E. Humphrey, U.S. House of Representatives, to Arthur P. Denton, King County Engineer, October 8, 1914, and Telegram, October 21, 1914, Folder 1, Box 1, Record Group 295, King County Archives; Manhattan Contracting Co. to Arthur P. Denton, May 18, 1915, Folder 1, Box 1, Record Group 295, King County Archives; Manhattan Contracting Co. to Arthur P. Denton, County Engineer, June 29, 1915, Folder 1, Box 1, Record Group 295, King County Archives; Bryon Phelps, King County Auditor, to James Agnew, September 1, 1915, Folder 1, Box 1, Record Group 295, King County Archives; Bryon Phelps to Mr. Calley, County Engineer, June 29, 1916, Folder 1, Box 1, Record Group 295, King County Archives; Arthur P. Denton to Board of County Commissioners, September 7, 1916, Folder 1, Box 1, Record Group 295, King County Archives; T. P. Blum, Inspection report for "Bridge No. 982 A," Bridge and Wharf Record, King County Engineer's Office, January 17, 1927, Folder 1, Box 1, Record Group 295, King County Archives; Thomas D. Hunt to King County Board of Commissioners, October 10, 1931, Folder 57, Box 16, RG 295, King County Archives; "14th Avenue South Bridge," Historic Bridges of the U.S. website accessed July 1, 2010 (; Craig Holstine and Richard Hobbs, Spanning Washington: Historic Highway Bridges of the Evergreen State (Pullman: WSU Press, 2005), 155-156;, The Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Seattle Neighborhoods: South Park -- Thumbnail History" (by David Wilma), (accessed July 4, 2010).

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