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Link to Web site for Wicked Portland: The Wild and Lusty Underworld of a Frontier Seaport Town z

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A shallow-draft riverboat of the type pioneered by Uriah B. Scott, on the river at Albany around 1900 or so.

Turns out the 'ignoramus from back east' knew what he was doing.

The big steamboat outfits laughed at the crude, ugly riverboat Uriah B. Scott was building ... until he used it to eat their lunch. Here's how.


The gravestone of Ame, who despite having died 10 years after the Civil War, was still considered a slave.

sHE DIED AROUND 1874. SO WHY DOES THE GRAVESTONE SAY SHE WAS A SLAVE?

Ame came over the Oregon Trail from Missouri. But when the North won the Civil War, her status as a slave didn't change. Here's what happened.


Ray V.B. Jackson in a booking photo from the Oregon State Pen, in 1896. Four years after this photo was taken, he was teaching grade school in Silver Lake.

Is this the face of oregon's first serial killer?

Like an "angel of death," ex-con Ray V.B. Jackson just happened to be at the scene of at least five Central Oregon homicides. What are the odds? Here's the story (in two parts).


The four-masted schooner North Bend, stranded on a sandy spit, 'sailed' through two and a half miles of sand and relaunched itself on the other side.

The stranded sailing ship that salvaged and re-launched itself.

The North Bend was the last tall ship ever built on the West Coast. When it ran aground on Peacock Spit, it just kept on sailing through the sand, crossing two miles of sandy beach to reach Baker Bay. It took over a year. Here's the story.


The Sagebrush Symphony Orchestra on its 'giant violin' float, after riding it through the town of Burns in the Fourth of July Parade, 1915.

america's first youth orchestra came out of tiny sagebrush town.

The Portland Youth Philharmonic says it was founded in Portland in 1924. Actually, it's older than that -- and much more rural. Here's the story.


Vaudeville's famous Klondike Kate became a Central Oregon legend

central oregon's most fabulous homesteader ever.

Homesteader Kitty "Klondike Kate" Rockwell, retired from the bright lights of Vaudeville, often wore full costume just to weed the garden. Here's the story.


Goal of Oregon whale hunters: Grow fur coats, and put a man on the moon.

helping put a man on the moon, one dead whale at a time?

Whale oil is special stuff, and NASA needed it for the space program. So an Astoria group launched a whaling venture in the early 1960s. Here's the story.


Shipwreck ended Astoria's 1840s bid to become the Nantucket of the West Coast

astoria could have become a mecca of whale hunting ...

... had it not been for the Columbia River Bar, which wrecked the only whaling ship that ever dared try to cross it with a full cargo hold. It was a total loss. Here's the story.


Early Oregon 'holy roller' cult ended in murder, suicide, insanity

THE holy-roller "NAKED LADIES' CULT" IN CORVALLIS and waldport.

It started out as a church seeking perfect holiness and Godliness. It ended in murder, insanity and chaos — and, yes, rumors of naked ladies. Check out the full story (in two parts).


The Glenesslin, under almost full sail, grinds against the rocks at the base of Neahkahnie Mountain.

mariner's spooky nightmare came true the next day

In his dream, the first mate of the German barque Mimi saw seaweed covering all but three shipmates. The next day, all but three drowned in one of Oregon's worst-ever salvage disasters. Here's the story.


Florence's famous exploding whale: A highway engineer didn't know how much dynamite to use, so he guessed ... and guessed wrong.

Whale explodes: Details at 11.

The highway department guy didn't know how much dynamite to use, and said so on camera. But he still thinks the operation was a success. Check out the story of Florence's famous exploding whale ...


The Glenesslin, under almost full sail, grinds against the rocks at the base of Neahkahnie Mountain.

was this shipwreck insurance fraud or just drunken incompetence?

On a beautiful clear October day, astonished beach-goers watched a big windjammer simply turn and sail straight into the side of a mountain. Why would her crew do such a thing? Here's the story.


.44-caliber Colt Dragoon revolver, designed in 1848.

gold-rush bandits hunted down and killed ... but where was their loot?

No one has ever found it — or if they have, they've been awfully discreet. The Triskett Gang had stolen it hours earlier from the assaying depot in the town of Sailors' Diggins. Here's the story.


US Coast Guard 47-foot motor lifeboat takes on a heavy sea off Cape Disappointment.

tired of seeing mariners die, lighthouse keeper took action.

In 1865, Joel Munson watched 17 sailors drown on the Columbia Bar. But when their lifeboat washed up near his lighthouse, it gave him an idea — an idea that lives on today in the U.S. Coast Guard. Here's the story.


Delake Rod and Gun Club as it appeared in 1960.

mysterious mansion was haunted only by olympic medalist's dream.

OSU Wrestling legend Robin Reed, an Olympic gold medalist, was never pinned once in his entire career. But his plan for the Delake Rod and Gun Club ended in defeat. Here's the story.


U.S. Coast Guard cutter Algonquin.

bootleggers save sailors' lives, but get thrown in jail anyway.

In the early years of Prohibition, a Canadian rumrunner entered U.S. territorial waters to save the lives of nine castaways — and got caught and sent to jail anyway. Here's the story.


Bobbie the Wonder Dog

Bobbie the wonder dog's 2,400-mile odyssey.

Left behind in Illinois, the big collie dog walked home to Silverton, Oregon. It took him six months. Here's Bobbie's story.


A modern reproduction of a classic Concord Stagecoach.

a few legends of buried gold and treasure ...

Some of them might even be true. Here's a selection of them — as far as we know, the loot from any of them has never been found.


This crater marks ground zero in the Roseburg Blast. It's about 60 feet across.

a nuclear strike
in downtown roseburg?

No; it was "just" an exploding dynamite truck. But the mushroom cloud was big enough to fool a passing airline pilot. Here's the full story of the legendary "Roseburg Blast."


Part of the historic entry to Portland's Chinatown.

he dressed in rags like a beggar, so no one would know ...

To avoid getting robbed and murdered, Chinese couriers dressed as beggars while carrying thousands of dollars in gold from the fields. This is the story of one of these men, and the woman whose life he saved.


Steamer Admiral Evans, f.k.a. Buckman, which the two would-be pirates tried to hijack

THE dumbest would-be pirates in the history of the universe.

Their plan: Hijack a passenger steamer (that's it, in the thumbnail above), run it aground and sneak off into the bushes with 3 tons of gold. Do I need to mention that it didn't work out? Here's what happened.


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THE SHIPWRECK VICTIMS WHO THOUGHT THEY WERE GONERS ... UNTIL A TRAIN SHOWED UP.

Usually when something steams out to sea to rescue shipwrecked sailors, it's not a railroad train. Here's the story of the one (and probably only) time it was.


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Far-out guru "enlightens" Central Oregon.

What happens when a colony of acolytes of an East Indian guru move in, then try to take over Wasco County? Check out the four-part story of the rise and fall of Rajneeshpuram ...


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this oregon youth went on to save half a billion lives...guess who?

A local Willamette Valley teen-ager named Bert Hoover, an orphan sent from Iowa to live with his uncle, went on to save millions of lives and become a singularly ill-starred U.S. president.


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oregon's most spectacular shipwreck ever.

The steam schooner J. Marhoffer was almost brand-new when, burning fiercely from stem to stern, it piled onto the rocks near Depoe Bay. It's the remains of this fiery shipwreck that gave Boiler Bay its name ...


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the gallant rescue of portland's floating brothel.

Maritime madam Nancy Boggs kept her bordello on a barge floating in the river, until a police raid cut it loose. But the captain and crew of a sternwheeler came to save the day. Here's the story.


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take off to the province of oregon, eh?

Few people know how close Oregon came to officially becoming a British possession under the treaty that ended the War of 1812. Only the presence of a handful of scattered, starving survivors from Astor's fur enterprise prevented it. Here's how.


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timberline lodge could have been a glass skyscraper

Calling the plan a "profit-making eyesore," a Forest Service manager nixed 1920s plan for a modern steel-and-glass structure with an aerial tramway. You can read about it right here.


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pixieland: an edgy, vanished amusement park

Built in the late 1960s as a "fairy-tale history of Oregon," the amusement park lasted just a few years before slipping into receivership. Today, all that's left of this odd and uniquely Oregonian story is a dilapidated guardshack.


Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

Oregon's distinctive bridge style is Conde McCullough's legacy

Legendary engineer's genius was in making gorgeous architecture cost-effective; his spectacular bridges on the Oregon Coast highway are nearly tourist attractions in their own right.

Oregon City-West Linn bridge, shortly after construction in 1922. This bridge was made of concrete-coated steel, unlike most of McCullough's bridges, which tended to be steel-reinforced concrete.
Conde McCullough’s Oregon City bridge, built in 1922, as seen shortly
after it was opened. [Larger image: 1800 px wide]

Anyone who’s done much driving around Oregon — especially the more scenic parts — knows the state’s bridges have a particular and distinctive style. Especially the older ones.

Not every bridge you’ll see in the state fits that style, of course. It’s a big state, and there are a lot of bridges in it.

But chances are pretty good that if you stumbled across a photograph of, say, the Yaquina Bay bridge, or the bridge over the Rogue River at Gold Hill, you’d instantly notice that it looks like an Oregon bridge.

There’s a reason for that. Dozens of bridges large and small around the state, including the spectacular chain of bridges built on Oregon Highway 101 during the Depression years, are from the pen of one man:  Conde McCullough.

Many people considered this the best-looking of McCullough's Oregon Coast bridges, which, as you likely know, is saying something. It's gone now. This was the bridge across Alsea Bay at Waldport, which crumbled due to the use of salty beach sand in mixing the mortar of which it was built.
This 1960s-era postcard image of the old Alsea Bay Bridge shows one
of the few Conde McCullough bridges that don’t survive. This bridge,
by the 1980s, had deteriorated in the salty air to the point where
chunks of concrete were spalling off and falling, threatening the boats
passing beneath. It was replaced in the late 1980s with the bridge
that is there today. (Image: Mike Roberts Productions, Berkeley,
Calif.) [Larger image: 1800 px wide]

Now, if you happen to be a structural engineer, you can probably stop reading now; you surely know all about McCullough. But for the rest of us, well, here’s the story.

The huckster-buster

McCullough grew up in the state of Iowa, and after graduating from college there quickly became one of the state highway department’s rising stars.

During those early years, McCullough got busy making a name for himself as the worst nightmare of fly-by-night bridge company salesmen. In those years before the First World War, Americans were clamoring for better roads, and a cadre of slick characters was diligently trying to turn that desire into profits by barnstorming the country pitching “patented” bridge projects to county commissions and city councils. Frequently they’d sell a design that they had a dubious patent on to politicians with no clue about engineering, then install it whether it worked on the site or not. Some of these bridges failed in a matter of months as floodwaters washed out their footings; for others, the adaptations necessary to make them work cost more than the bridge itself. One Iowa bridge that crossed a county line turned out to have been fully paid for twice — each county had gotten, and paid, the full bill.

The short-but-gorgeous bridge across the channel at Depoe Bay. This bridge is like a hidden treasure; it looks utterly dull and pedestrian from up on its deck; you have to step off and look at it to appreciate it.
The bridge at Depoe Bay is one of McCullough's smaller bridges, and
many visitors never step off the deck to look at what's beneath.
[Larger image: 1200 px]

As part of the Iowa highway department, McCullough helped county governments stop these practices, and in 1914 essentially put one of the hucksters out of business after the poor sap sued one of Iowa’s state contractors for patent infringement, claiming ownership of some design concepts that went back to the 1800s. When the case reached the court, the judge read McCullough’s 600-page report and invalidated nearly all of the plaintiff’s patents.

Moving to Oregon

Conde McCullough moved to Oregon from Iowa in 1916. His career was starting to really take off in Iowa at the time, and it’s not clear exactly why he decided to leave his job there and move to Oregon. But it can’t be an idle coincidence that the historic Columbia River Highway — peppered with bridges following the style he favored and created with an eye toward enhancing rather than suppressing the scenery it traversed — had just been built. Perhaps McCullough saw this project and thought, “Here’s a state that looks at highway engineering the way I do.”

Conde McCullough's swing-span bridge across the Umpqua River at Reedsport.
The McCullough bridge across the Umpqua River at Reedsport. The
green arch in the middle is the painted steel swing section of the
bridge. [Larger image: 1800 px]

In any case, he and his family settled in Oregon and, following three years teaching as a professor in civil engineering at Oregon Agricultural College (now OSU), McCullough started working for the state’s fledgling highway department.

The high cost of a cheap bridge

McCullough brought a very distinctive philosophy to his new job as Oregon’s top bridge man. First off, he felt that in most cases, cheap bridges were strictly for suckers. A bridge made of lumber might be slapped across a river for a quarter of the cost of one of his reinforced-concrete designs, but it would last just a few years and look awful in the process. By the time that bridge had been replaced a few times, the government agency responsible for it would have paid, in maintenance and replacement costs, far more money than it would have cost to do the job right in the first place.

He had a deep appreciation for scenic beauty, and felt that a good bridge ought to harmonize with its surroundings. Aesthetics were very important to him. But McCullough also felt that economy was one of the most important factors, possibly the most important factor, in bridge design. And it was an aspect that was, then as now, left out of many civil engineering textbooks.

The 'Caveman Bridge' over the Rogue River at Grants Pass is a very distinctive structure. It's named for the highway it carries, which leads to the Oregon Caves.
An image of Conde McCullough’s “Caveman Bridge” over the Rogue
River at Grants Pass, from a hand-tinted postcard mailed in 1936.
(Image: Wesley Andrews, Portland) [Larger image: 1800 px]
 

What McCullough realized was that if a bridge didn’t make sense economically, it wouldn’t be built. If a beautiful bridge cost more than an ugly one, the caretakers of the public treasury would be unlikely to pay the premium for it.

Luckily, though, the most elegant design is often also the least expensive in the long term. And that was McCullough’s particular genius: Figuring out how to make the most gorgeous soaring arches and architectural lines cost less, rather than more, to build and maintain.

At this, he was unequaled.

The bridges

There is no truly typical Conde McCullough bridge; McCullough knew that picking just the right design and material for each project could save huge amounts of money, so each bridge he built was different — sometimes radically different — from the next. But in general, he preferred to build bridges in reinforced concrete, using clean and elegant arches, sparely decorated with a nod to Gothic cathedral architecture or possibly art-deco skyscraper design.

One of the few Conde McCullough bridges executed in steel rather than reinforced concrete, the Dr. John McLoughlin Memorial Bridge over the Clackamas River linking Oregon City with Gladstone was awarded the Annual Award of Merit for Most Beautiful Steel Bridge by the American Institute of Steel Constructors in 1933.
The prize-winning McCullough steel bridge over the Clackamas River
north of Oregon City in the early 1930s. [Larger image: 1800 px]

McCullough’s first major bridge for the state was the Rock Point Bridge over the Rogue River, in Jackson County, in 1920. Two years later, he’d designed five more bridges, including his first multi-arch bridge in Myrtle Creek and the remarkable soaring concrete-covered-steel arch bridge that links Oregon City with West Linn.

Other major bridges he was responsible for include the “Caveman Bridge” over the Rogue at Grants Pass; the Santiam River bridge just outside Jefferson; and the McLoughlin Bridge over the Clackamas River north of Oregon City. Once you’ve seen, and associated his name with, several of his bridges, you’ll likely find you can pick them out of a lineup pretty easily.

He’s most famous for the bridges he designed for the Roosevelt Military Highway — now known as Highway 101. These include the bridges at Gold Beach, Reedsport, Florence, Newport, Depoe Bay and — the mile-long piece de resistance that bears McCullough’s name today — Coos Bay. These classic art-deco-influenced bridges are, today, almost as much a part of Oregon Coast’s attractiveness to visitors as are the beaches.

McCullough’s death and legacy

McCullough died abruptly of a brain hemorrhage while gardening in 1946. He was just a few days shy of his 59th birthday. And while it was perfectly clear to everyone that the state had lost a true treasure, McCullough set the tone for bridge design in Oregon in ways that go far beyond the relatively few bridges he designed personally.

Even the most plebian culvert today is designed with his concepts and philosophy in mind. And when one of his most loved bridges had to be replaced — the one at Waldport, which had been built with salty sand from the bay — it was replaced with a clean, elegant arch structure that clearly shows McCullough’s design influence.

(Personal note: That new bridge at Waldport that I mentioned — I actually had a part in building it, a very small part. I had a summer job at Western Coatings in Eugene while going to college as an undergraduate. My job was to feed the pieces of rebar used to reinforce the concrete of the bridge into a powder-coating machine that would protect it from the corrosive salts of the bay. It was a very boring job, and I really couldn't wait for the summer to be over so I could go back to school -- but today I'm actually kind of proud of it. Every time I drive across that bridge, I think, "I helped build that!" — fjdj)

(Sources: Hadlow, Robert W. Elegant Arches, Soaring Spans: C.B. McCullough, Oregon’s Master Bridge Builder. Corvallis: OSU Press, 2001; Smith, Dwight & al. Historic Highway Bridges of Oregon. Portland: OHS Press, 1989. Thanks to Dale Greenley of Myrtle Creek for the story idea.)