The Times - Serving Waitsburg, Dayton and the Touchet Valley

By Dena Martin
the Times 

Downtown history lessons

Main Street Bridge and Wait's Mill displays honor Waitsburg's past

 

Dena Martin

Waitsburg's city crew carefully removed one of the lightposts prior to bridge demolition in July of 2017, to be used in the display.

WAITSBURG-History buffs, or anyone interested in learning a little more about Waitsburg's past, need only walk to the north end of Main Street for a mini history lesson.

Main Street Bridge

While the recently replaced Main Street Bridge wasn't a historic structure in itself, the fact that it resided in a historic district meant its replacement came with some specific state requirements. Among those, was a mandate from the Historic Bridge Foundation requiring that, within two years of being replaced, the City must develop an interpretive display commemorating the bridge.

That display now sits proudly before the newly constructed Main Street Bridge.

In June of 2017, as demolition on the bridge began, the Waitsburg City Crew carefully removed one intact light pole for use in the future display. Those who look closely will see that the salvaged pole has the remains of very old penciled graffiti, including one that reads "post no bills."

Windows from the side panels of the former Main Street Bridge flank either side of the pole which stands behind an interpretive sign with photos of six of the previous bridges as well as today's bridge. City Administrator Randy Hinchliffe designed the layout, found the photos and researched the bridge's history. The display includes photos from 1876, an unspecified year in the 1880s, 1893, 1914, 1930, and 2016.

The display reads:

"The first bridge to pan the Touchet River at this location was built in 1867, only to last two years before being washed out in 1869. At least three more bridges were later built here between 1870 and 1893, with the last one persisting until 1924 when the Waitsburg City Council was forced to decide whether to replace the existing Main Street Bridge's failing wood timbers and abutments or build a new bridge in its place. It was decided to replace the bridge, and mayor Charles Shaffer was able to secure help and funding from the Walla Walla County Commissioners through a cooperative cost share agreement. The 1925 bridge was designed by Walla Walla County Engineer L.O. Kennedy, and utilized reinforced concrete and a "Luten" arch for deck support. The construction portion of the project was awarded to George Harding in April of 1925 for a cost of $12,875.50 (approximately $180,000 today). Street lamps were included as a late addition to the design shortly after construction had begun, with Pacific Power and Light providing the electrical wiring and power, and bringing the final cost to about $15,000 (approximately $211,000 today). Construction on the bridge was completed and open to traffic in the mid-1920s lasting until June of 2017 when it was torn down to make way for the new bridge here today."

Hinchliffe estimates that the current bridge cost roughly $2 million dollars when all was said and done. In addition to engineering and construction costs, permitting and historical and environmental requirements added significantly to the bottom line.

The majority of the replacement cost was funded through a $1.7 million 2015 Washington State Legislature appropriation to replace the "obsolete" bridge with an arched bottom which was considered a flood hazard. The Port of Walla Walla chipped in another $150,000 in Economic Development Sales Tax Funds.

Wait's Mill Park

Those who check out the bridge display firsthand, will want to make the walk over the bridge and take a quick right to check out the historical display at Wait's Mill Park.

The village of Delta (later founded as Waitsburg) grew up around a flour mill, built by Sylvester Wait, which began operations in 1865. Sadly, that mill was destroyed by fire in 2009, as plans for renovation were underway.

In 2014, the Waitsburg Historical Society and the City of Waitsburg transformed the mill's surviving vault into an informational kiosk with informational panels that highligh the history of the mill and include excerpts from Lewis and Clark's diary as they camped near Bolles Junction in May of 1806. A large water turbine – warped and bent in the 2009 fire – serves as an art piece at the mill site.

 

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