|Last Update: November 12, 2004
The Cottage Grove Sentinel reported reported in November 2005, that the mill property that the bridge is located on has been sold to Kris
Woodard. The site was formerly owned by Alex Madonna of California. But Mr. Madonna died and the property has been up for sale for
Mr. Woodard was able to acquire it recently. The plans for the property are not clear. It could be turned into mix residential, but the important
part is that the historic bridge might be saved. Mr. Woodard told the newspaper that “Hopefully I can integrate it.”
We wish Mr. Woodard luck and we sincerely hope that this extremely important, rare and last piece of historic railroad history can be saved
and possibly restored for future generations to see.
Special thanks to Angela Garvin for passing along this information.
|Also check out my Oregon Pacific & Eastern Railroad Page. This line was located very near here and was part
owned by the JH Chambers Company during part of it's early history.
|This railroad and it's remains has the unique distinction of having the only surviving covered railroad bridge in Oregon
and perhaps the entire Northwest. Today little else survives of the line, except the bridge and the remains of the mill, but
the bridge alone is worth the visit.
I have had a hard time tracking down information on this line, despite it's fairly significant operation. J.H. Chambers built
a saw mill on the Willamette River in the town of Cottage Grove, in the early 1920s to mill logs from a tract of land west of
Cottage Grove. The company was called the J.H. Chambers & Sons Lumber Company. Cottage Grove had dozens of
saw mills during that time because of the vast timber resources in the nearby mountains. The J.H. Chambers & Son
Timber company built a railroad into the hills west of Cottage Grove that eventually extended 25 miles. The mill was on
the east side of the Willamette River. The only way to reach the timber stands was to build a bridge across the Willamette
River. In 1925 (some sources mistakenly indicate 1936 for some reason) a 78 foot long covered railroad bridge was
built. This bridge is the only covered railroad bridge in Oregon and perhaps the entire northwest that survives today.
This makes it one of the most interesting of all railroad bridges that I've been fortunate enough to visit.
Some sources indicate that the rail line to Chambers Mill was abandoned in 1945 (other sources indicated 1943), when
the mill burned down. But other sources indicate that in 1946 the operation was taken over by the Lorane Valley
Lumber Company, which kept the railroad operation in place and going until 1951.
However, at some point the tracks were removed and the mill completely shut down. In the more than 50 years since the
mill burned down, the entire mill property, was essentially abandoned and never developed. The mill and parking
remained empty for decades and became overgrown. In recent years, the remains of the mill was torn down. Today
only a concrete structure that appears to have been the lumber dry kilns, remains. When I visited the site in December,
2003, I noticed that a for sale sign was located on the site.
I was disappointed to find the bridge in relatively poor condition. I had hoped that a larger effort would be made to
restore the bridge. The bridge was inspected under the 1993-95 Covered Bridge Program. The bottom chords show
extensive decay, and in some places three of the four members are rotted. In several places all three members of the
floor beams are rotted. The corbels are decayed and crushed, which makes the bridge lean as much as 12 inches to the
upstream side. At some point, if action is not taken, this bridge will collapse into a pile of wood in the Willamette River.
There are signs of some past efforts to preserve the bridge. The wood roof was replaced by a metal roof at some point
and a sign placed at the bridge entrance. I'm not sure if any repairs have been made, but it doesn't appear so. The
bridge used to be fully enclosed. It's not clear why the lower slats were removed or fell off. Hopefully someone can save
this bridge and restore it. Although it's not located in a prime location (it's basically nestled in neighborhood away from
any main streets) it is such a unique piece of history that it needs to be saved.
The railroad grade, west of Cottage Grove, that this bridge served does exist in several sections. I've yet to explore it
however, and most, if not all of it is on private land. Access may be difficult. Sources indicate that several partly
collapsed trestle sites do remain and I would be greatly interested in visiting and photographing these sites at a future
|These first pictures are from when I visited the site in December, 2003.
|This rare piece of history was first constructed in 1925. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a large percentage of both highway and railroad
bridges were covered. Most were wood truss bridges with the covering designed to protect the wood. In later years, as steel and concrete became more
prevelent, this type of design became outdated. A few covered highway bridges still exist, especially in this area of Oregon, because locals have taken the
time and energy to restore and maintain them. But most covered railroad bridges were replaced with stronger steel bridges by the 1940s and 1950s. And
those that were abandoned were either torn down or fell down. This bridge is the one single exception.
|Note that a metal roof was added at some point helping preserve what is left of the bridge. The tracks are long gone as are some of the timbers and the
lower half of the sides. Why the lower side slats are missing is a mystery. Perhaps destroyed in a flood or removed by vandals. The bridge abruptly ends
at what is today a neighborhood street. The bridge and railroad was abandoned in 1945, when the mill it served, burned down. I had assumed that the
bridge was owned by a local government, but I'm told it's actually privately owned. Perhaps by whomever owns the mill property, which has remained
abandoned and unoccupied since the 1940s.
|In January, 2005, I visited the bridge once again. Not much appeared to have changed, but I took a closer look at the bridge and it's
deteriorated shape, became very apparent. This extremely rare piece of Oregon and Railroad history will not last much longer if
something is not done. I took these pictures in January, 2005.
|The view on the left shows the bridge from a nearby highway bridge that cross the same river. The middle picture is a wide angle view showing the
neighborhood that the bridge resides. Because it is hidden on the back streets of Cottage Grove, it is largely forgotten. The view on the right was taken
directly in front of, while looking away from the bridge. The tracks used to run straight through here, but the grade is long gone, replaced by homes and a
|More views of the bridge. No trespassing signs, prevented me from crossing the bridge and exploring the other side. That's private property that used to
belong to the mill.
|These views give a closer indication of what threatens this historical monument. Vandals and time. Much of the wood is rotten and careless vandals
have clearly made an attempt to burn the bridge down. Although one could only wonder why. If they only knew the history of this bridge or how rare it was,
maybe they would care more, but there's nothing around to tell about this bridge, other than the date it was built.
|This structure will not last many more winters. Much of the wood is rotted and metal supports are rusting away. It's certainly not in a prime location, being
located in a neighborhood, but if it could at least be moved. I just can't believe that no one wants to save the very last covered railroad bridge in Oregon, if
not the entire Northwest. I have heard the current owners actually want to tear it down, but at this point, I'm not sure who the owners actually are, or if
that's actually the case. Email me, if you know more.
|The only remaining structure of the Chambers Mill appears is this concrete and brick building, which I believe is the old dry kiln. The mill burned down in
1945 and the railroad and bridge was abandoned at that time. The entire mill property still exists undeveloped for more than 60 years. Locals told me that
much of the mill structure remained intact until the last few years, when vagrants and crime caused the owners to tear out the remaining structure, except
for what you see here. Apparently the land is for sale. I would assume it's been for sale for some time. These photos were taken in December, 2003.
|These very historical pictures are courtesy of Marc Reusser. They show four of the locomotives that JH Chambers used over the course of the years that the
line, mill and bridge was in operation. Pictures are courtesy of Marc Reusser of steam in the woods.
|If you have any information on this railroad, the bridge or the JH Chambers company, please Email
Me. The JH Chambers Company was also involved in the nearby Oregon Pacific & Eastern Railroad
and you can read a little bit about their involvement in that operation on my
Oregon Pacific & Eastern Page.
|Several JH Chambers Railroad locomotive pictures can be found at www.steaminthewoods.com.
For some interesting period local newspaper articles involving a 1935 strike at the Chambers Mill (among other local
Cottage Grove mills) visit this link. http://www.ccrh.org/comm/cottage/primary/strike1.htm
A link to an interesting locomotive currently undergoing restoration that once served on the Chambers RR for a brief
period of time: http://www.ncry.org/roster/s_03rd/rd3.shtml
This website makes minor mention of the abandoned RR that headed into the hills west of Cottage Grove. I plan to
eventually search out the trestle remains it mentions of. http://westbynorthwest.org/winter00/firerd.shtml
|If anyone has any further information or pictures about the JH Chambers Mill and/or
railroad, please let me know. You can Email me anytime. Thanks.
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|Copyright © 2004, 2005 Brian McCamish, All Rights Reserved
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