Morrison Bridge | A Bridge to Portland’s Growth

By Jazmine Kelly ::

Photography courtesy of The Portland City Archives. 12/31/1961  City of Portland (OR) Archives, A2005-001.466.


On May 24th, 1958 the Morrison Bridge, Portland’s understated landmark opened. But this wasn’t the first construction of the bridge—it was actually the third time the bridge had been revised. The Morrison bridge has witnessed Portland’s growth over the last century. Interestingly enough, every time the bridge was rebuilt there has been a surge in Portland’s population.

A view of the first Morrison Bridge, looking east during the 1894 flood. The river is sitting at a high level not far from the bridge’s deck. City of Portland (OR) Archives,  A2004-002.695

Built in 1887 and supervised by Charles F. Swiget of the Pacific Bridge Company, the first iteration of the Morrison bridge was also the first bridge span on the Willamette. As Portland’s population soared in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, neighborhoods on the eastside of the bridge developed including Albina, Sunnyside, Woodstock, and Tabor Heights. The original construction style was a wooden swing bridge that earned it the distinction of being the longest bridge west of the Mississippi. However, the bridge had to be reconstructed several years later and this rebuild would also flow into another wave of people coming to Portland.

The city rebuilt the bridge in 1905, the same year the Lewis and Clark Exposition was held. Portland officials anticipated that the expo would bring in more people and ignite positive representation for the city. The exposition was an attempt to replicate what was done at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. This second version of the Morrison’s frame was also a swing span of iron and steel and allowed streetcars to cross. The city’s residents doubled from about 90,000 to 200,000 people in roughly five years.

Due to problems with the mechanics of the bridge it was rebuilt for the third time about 50 years later. This time the design and building was done by Moffat, Nichol & Taylor, Servdrup, Parcel, Manson construction and the Portland Office of American Bridge Company. All of whom were local to the Pacific Northwest. The style of the bridge is Chicago-type double-leaf bascule, described as a very modern “minimalist architecture” form.

As the bridge opened for the third time, Portlanders continued to sprawl into the suburbs. The Morrison bridge gives us a peek at Portland’s first urban development plans put into place in the 60s. An example of some of this was the construction of the Memorial Coliseum. The Coliseum was built in an area that housed minority communities and city officials argued over whether or not to put the Coliseum on the west or eastside. When construction began where the coliseum stands today, the neighborhood was demolished. This event is an historical reflection of what is happening today in Portland’s neighborhoods that face gentrification.

Morrison Bridge during the day and colored LEDs highlighting the bridge piers at dusk. Wikimedia Commons.

On November 14, 2012, the Morrison Bridge  was added to the National Register of Historic Places as “the city’s first trans-Willamette bridge alignment…[and] an important link within the Portland street system” connecting the west and east side business and residential communities. Over time, the Morrison Bridge helped shape Portland’s neighborhoods. Today, its sleek modern style blends into the metropolitan landscape, supporting about 50,000 community members and counting.

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Music Used
Aretha Franklin, “Bridge Over Troubled Water”
Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Feasting on the Flowers”
A Trip Down Market Street with Sound! 1906

Jazmine Kelly, Production Manager
Tanya Monthey, Contributor
Michael Mata, Contributor
Kim Andrews, Fact checker and editor