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Overview Before the Bridge Bridge Fever! The Great Bridge Scandal Gustav Lindenthal Construction and Dedication Need for Replacement River View Cemetery

Before the Bridge: The Town of Sellwood
and the Spokane Street Ferry

"Sellwood is, without a doubt, one of the most pleasantly situated suburban towns on either side of the Willamette. Though younger than any of her sister towns across the river, Sellwood enjoys a very prosperous present and looks forward to a future as bright and encouraging as any in the whole county."

- The Oregonian, April 7, 1887

In May 1882, a real estate company led by Henry Pittock purchased 321 acres from the Rev. John Sellwood and filed a plat for a new development. The firm named the community "Sellwood" after its former owner. At the time there were no bridges across the Willamette River, and to attract potential buyers the Sellwood Real Estate Company provided a free passenger ferry between downtown Portland and Umatilla Street.

Sellwood incorporated as a city in 1889. At that time, there was high demand for additional river crossings and expanded streetcar lines. The growth of the electric streetcar contributed to the rapid development of neighborhoods on the east side of the Willamette as well as the decline of steamboat traffic. When Portland’s first bridge, the Morrison, opened downtown in 1887, Sellwood had "almost 100 homes, three stores, a church and school.” In contrast, by 1890, “Sellwood had added two hotels, three shoemakers, two grocers, a blacksmith, bookbinder, bookkeeper, two saloons, a druggist, dressmaker and a brewery" (Fitzsimons).

The Sellwood streetcar line was completed in 1892 and the improved transportation further facilitated the urbanization of the community. In the spring of 1893, Sellwood was officially annexed into the City of Portland (Fitzsimons).

Spokane Street Ferry

To satisfy the ever increasing desire for additional river crossing options, Portland voters held an election in 1903 to fund the development of a public ferry at Sellwood, asking the City Council to appropriate $15,000 for the service (The Oregonian, March 7, 1903). The ferry John F. Caples would operate across the Willamette River from the east side at Spokane Street, one block north SE Tacoma Street, until the opening of the bridge.

The ferry John F. Caples

The ferry John F. Caples
(Image courtesy of the
Oregon Historical Society)

"The Royal Bakery wagon, a laundry wagon and several other wagons with drivers were patiently waiting Monday morning for the chance to cross the river on the Spokane Avenue ferry, when one of them exclaimed impatiently, 'What is needed here is a bridge. It’s the only logical place for a bridge around here, and I tell you, the people will see to it that this slow-coach ferry is knocked out of commission by a bridge.'"

- The Sellwood Bee (June, 1912)

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