(City of Mill City)

Lynda Harrington’s daily walks take her across the old railroad bridge connecting downtown Mill City to Highway 22.

The bridge wasn’t much to look at, she said. Lichen was growing on it, planks were missing pieces and there used to be wires hanging down.

“I thought this is so sad,” Harrington said.

She started a Save Our Bridge committee to restore the bridge five years ago.

“It’s a community focal point in town and I thought we need to try to rehab this before we lose it,” she said.

Now, the city is hosting a photo contest for the bridge’s 100-year anniversary.

There are four categories of photos that have to include the bridge: natural setting, architectural features, community life and seasonal.

All five winning photos will be displayed at a centennial event on Sept. 14, Harrington said.

The deadline for entries is Aug. 14 and winners will receive prize money; $500 for the grand prize and $125 for each of the four categories.

Mill City is a town of 1,885 that sits along the Santiam River between Salem and Detroit. The railroad bridge was built in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania in 1888, then moved to San Jose, California and later Lake Oswego before coming to its final resting place by rail in 1919.

“I thought that was so funny. When they moved it to Mill City I read that they had to cut 40 feet to make it fit,” Harrington said.

The city’s existence is directly tied to the ability to move lumber to local mills, but the bridge hasn’t been used by trains for nearly 50 years.

Harrington said the city wanted to attract some attention to the bridge, so she reached out to Marion County Public Works about a photo contest for professional and amateur photographers.

She has seen it done elsewhere in the county and thought it could work in Mill City, too.

Harrington said the bridge, the only Phoenix Column bridge in Oregon, is rare from an architectural standpoint.

The Phoenix Column, a pin-connected struss structure, was invented in 1862.

By 1900, bridge designs changed again because pins suffered wear and stronger bridges were needed. 

Last year, the city was awarded a $8.2 million federal grant to restore the historic bridge, shore up the vehicle bridge and reconstruct Southwest Broadway Street.

Needed repairs include fixing the underpinnings and upgrading the decking, railings, and lighting. 

Mill City Mayor Tim Kirsch said the bridge needed to be fixed or it was going to deteriorate.

He said getting the grant was a pleasant surprise, because it was considered by most as very unlikely.

“We’re pretty tickled with the results that they’ve gotten,” Kirsch said of the Save Our Bridge committee.

Harrington, who jokes that the committee calls themselves the SOBs, said the community’s ability to raise funds to help restore parts of town shows “little communities can effectuate change.”

She said the town is making some strides to turn around, starting with the restoration of the old bridge.

“Everybody in town is so excited,” Harrington said.

More info about the contest can be found on the Marion County's website.

Have a tip? Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected] or @daisysaphara.

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