Books and Bridges: Our love of the historic Willamette River bridges

Librarian delivers books to a bridge tender, 1963

The relationship between Portland librarians and their bridges has always been a strong one. The library’s 1920 annual report  highlighted a new book delivery service to the bridge tenders (Broadway, Hawthorne, and Morrison, and later the Steel and Burnside bridges):

 

 The reading philosophy of one of the bridge tenders is of interest to more than librarians. In stating his reasons for wanting books for his waiting hours, [one bridge tender] said that, though not an educated man, he was greatly interested in reading for as he grew older he observed that the only people who seemed to be contented in their declining years were those who had formed the acquaintance of great characters in books. These characters were often the only friends left after life’s friends had passed us on the journey to the Great Beyond (Library Association of Portland, Oregon Fifty-seventh Annual Report,1920, 36-37).  

 

     In 1956, the library’s annual report stated that librarians hand-delivered 672 books to isolated bridge tenders.  This special delivery service continued until 1975 when only the Burnside Bridge remained as a deposit station. Some of the bridge tenders’ favorite subjects included travel stories, history, archaeology, and horses.  You will agree with the 1944 Oregonian article that stated, “librarians often find they are supplying books to persons whose life stories would make as interesting reading as the books they receive...Such a man is P.J. Hyde a Spanish-American war veteran and one-time sailing ship adventurer” (Books Taken Bridge Men: Library Offers Delivery Service, Oregonian, October 8, 1944, 19).

 

What woud you request from the library to wile away the quiet and isolated hours as a mid-20th century bridge tender?  Here is an imaginative list to get you reading back in time; Multcolib Research Picks: Mid-20th century bridge tenders book club.

 

But what if you want to read books about the bridges?  Are you an aspiring Bridge Pedaler? Do you have a third grader going to a Portland Public School? Are the bridges part of your daily commute? Or are you simply in love with our Willamette River bridges?

 

 

Architecture! History!  Engineering! And Beauty!

 

Take a look at our picks of the best bridge books out there; Multcolib Research Picks: For the love of  Willamette River Bridges. We also have a wide range of bridge materials that are part of the Oregon Collection and can be viewed at the Central Library upon request.  In addition to books there is a wealth of resources available online.  Check out a curated list of the most useful websites, including both historical resources and beautiful photography; Multcolib Research Picks: The best online Willamette River bridges resources.

 

In the 20th century, library staff delivered books across narrow catwalks to lonely bridge tenders. Today in the 21st century, library staff have also walked on a bridge and visited with the bridge tender but this time (sadly!) we brought no books, only questions and an innate librarian curiosity. The Multnomah County Bridge Section staff recently offered a special tour of the Bridge Shop and the Morrison Bridge (virtual tour link) for library staff. The tour was led by Multnomah County engineer Chuck Maggio and included both a visit to the Morrison Bridge tender’s station and a special view from underneath the bridge as the double-leaf bascule draw span swung upwards during a routine bridge opening. I have included a few favorite images from the tour.
  

 

 

Advancements in technology have changed the way the bridge tender stations are staffed, there is not time for reading, contemplation, and handicrafts.  Librarians no longer deliver books to the bridges.  That being said, I’d like to think that our bridge tenders are still readers in their private lives and I know that Multnomah County Library staff still treasure and hold dear their local bridges.   

 

May the love of the Willamette River bridges continue!

 

 

 

 

 

 

* Image from 150 Years of Library Memories Collection. Physical rights to this item are retained by Multnomah County Library. Copyright is retained in accordance with U.S. copyright laws. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. 

Comments

The librarian's name is Joe Kling--a long time MCL librarian.

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