Wimer Covered Bridge History

Wimer Covered Bridge Collapse Challenges Community

The bridge was rebuilt in 2008. Here's the history so you can learn more about it!

On a hot summer afternoon, in the quiet community of Wimer, Oregon,
local residents were startled to hear a giant crashing sound coming
from the vicinity of their covered bridge. Customers at the Wimer
Market, only a dozen paces away, rushed out to witness the unthinkable.

The historic Wimer Covered Bridge in Southern Oregon had spontaneously
collapsed into Evans Creek. Those who were the closest also heard
shouts for help coming from inside the rubble and scampered down the
bank, over the shattered shingled roof and lifted broken wooden beams
to rescue a man and his two young grandsons. They were the last
persons to stroll through the old covered bridge on that fateful Sunday.

The July 6, 2003 incident shocked and saddened a community. The
weekly Rogue River Press expressed what many residents felt with the
simple headline in its next issue: “It’s Gone!”

Ironically, the covered bridge was scheduled for a major overhaul.
Engineers had completed blue prints just two months earlier and the
construction project was to go out for bid in September that year.
Jackson County had acquired grants for over a half million dollars for
the renovation that was due to begin in 2004. But the tired old
structure couldn’t wait and gave way in mid stream. Obviously, there
has been a change in plans.

Oregon once boasted a collection of over 400 covered bridges, the
highest count for any state in the country, but now there are barely
over 50. The crash of the Wimer Bridge has reduced that number by one
more. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the covered
bridge was part of our heritage, a treasure to be discovered, off the
beaten path and away from the busy, high-tech world.

The original Wimer Covered Bridge was built in 1892 by J. W. Osbourne
but, in 1927, was totally replaced by Jason Hartman, then Jackson
County bridge superintendent. Over the years the Evans Creek crossing
received numerous repairs, but time and use took its toll on the aging
span. In 1962 attentive residents saved the bridge from destruction
when a citizens effort rebuilt the weakening structure. Load limits
were set at 3 tons with no heavy truck traffic allowed.

The Wimer Bridge was the only covered bridge in Jackson County open to
vehicle traffic. The coveted landmark was the focal point of a
community, a destination for travelers, an attraction for history
buffs, a hangout for kids and a storehouse of memories for many local
residents. Now, with help from a federal grant, county funds and
donations, the community wants to rebuild. Funding for a replacement
is now the focus of a grassroots effort to construct an exact replica.

Memories

Pete Purrier, son-in-law of the late Gladys Boulter, author of a
history book of the Evans Valley, is part of a family that has lived in
the area since 1928. ”Before the mid-’40s, there was one way to get up
where I live,” he said, “and that was through the covered bridge. I
was six weeks old the first time I crossed it in my parents horse drawn
wagon.”

The century-old bridge served as more than a crossing over Evans Creek.
It was the heart of Wimer, a close-knit community seven miles north of
Rogue River. It had become a meeting place, a destination for cycling
groups, old-time car clubs and weekenders out for a drive in the
country. In recent years it served as a wedding chapel for local
couples firmly attached to the bridge. It was a source of community
pride.

Cecil C. Smith, long time resident, moaned the loss. “It had a great
impact on the residents of the Wimer community,” he said. “It has
brought tears and many questions...” Cecil, a school volunteer and
history buff, is going to miss “the enjoyment of driving another
teacher with a fourth grade class through the covered bridge.” His
work team of horses was the last to pull a wagon through the bridge
only two months before the collapse.

In years past the town threw itself an annual summer party. Called
Wimer Days, it hosted a parade through the bridge, local arts and
crafts, country music, a street dance, a bar-b-cue and Fourth of July
fireworks over the creek.

The bridge was a sanctuary for generations of children who used to
climb all over the structure like monkeys, slide down the braces and
carve their initials in giant support beams on the underside of the
deck. They’d hang out under the bridge on hot summer days where it was
cool and shady and linger beside that friendly old building long after
dusk watching the stars come out at night.

“The bridge was the place for kids to meet their friends,” reminisced
Shawna Perry. As kids, “we’d get our sodas or candy and dangle our
feet in the water. The acoustics in the bridge were good, and we’d
make up songs and sing lines back and forth through the bridge.”

At Christmas one year long time resident Cheryl Martin Sund and her
husband donated little white lights to go on the bridge for decoration.
The string of lights highlighted the shape of the bridge house. They
were left there all winter to help guide traffic on foggy nights. “I
loved to see those lights sparkling on the snow that year,” she said.
In 1991 Cheryl and Bruce were married on the bridge where traffic was
stopped and friends gathered. “Just as the bridge was the heart of the
valley,” she said, “the people are the breath of it.”

For Roberta and Larry Menteer, the memory of the Wimer Covered Bridge
is especially meaningful. Their oldest son Jason was one of those kids
who grew up playing on the bridge. Jason and his sweetheart Chelsea
shared their first kiss on the bridge and in of June of 1999 the young
couple was married on their favorite rendezvous. Tragically, only two
months later, Jason met with a fatal industrial accident. The young
man, who identified with his Cherokee heritage, had adopted the totem
White Buffalo. Klamath Indians joined the hundreds of friends who
gathered for the service to celebrate Jason’s life. Juston Menteer
says of his brother, “He was the glue to the family... My parents now
live on only half a heart.”

Along with a dozen other rural properties, the Menteer Ranch is
situated south of Evans Creek off the now dead end Covered Bridge Road.
“Without the bridge,” says Roberta, “we feel isolated and disconnected
from the community.”

Throughout the years locals and visitors painted, sketched and
photographed the picturesque Wimer Covered Bridge numerous times, f
rom different angles, in every season of the year. It was their desire to

from different angles, in every season of the year. It was their desire to
create a personal memento of that beloved “barn over water” as some
would affectionately call it, Now those precious images will help
serve as inspiration to rebuild.

Cheryl Martin Sund concluded, “A replica would be a wonderful monument
to the memories of our bridge.”

Planning to Rebuild

On April 6, 2004 over 120 people from Wimer, Evans Valley and
throughout Southern Oregon, gathered in the Rogue River High School
gymnasium to initiate plans to rebuild the Wimer Covered Bridge. A
half dozen Jackson County officials and engineers presented the Wimer
Covered Bridge Feasibility Study which included architectural drawings,
financial analyses, and six alternatives for replacement. Eighty-three
percent of attendees at the public meeting voted to replace the
original wooden truss covered bridge. For that choice, the financial
analysis broke down like this: Initial Project Cost, $887,000.
Current federal funds from the National Historic Covered Bridge
Presentation Program, $407,000. Current Budgeted County Funding,
$146,000. That leaves additional funding required for the initial
project in the amount of $334,000. If the community is to have a new
bridge just like the old one, it needs to pitch in with fund raising
projects.

The Citizens for Rebuilding the Wimer Covered Bridge, now a
tax-exempt, nonprofit organization, is dedicated and wants to recapture
history. It took a year for the community to shake off the shock of
loosing its beloved old bridge, but now a revised Citizens committee
has a mission and a goal. It is determined to build a new covered
bridge, a replica of the old one. In a letter to the committee, a
Jackson County Commissioner outlined what the community needs to do
before the County can secure the federal portion of the funds for a new
covered bridge: Either the community comes up with a fundraising Plan
to raise the extra money, or the County will proceed with their own
plan to build the least expensive bridge. “That sounds like the County
wants to build a boring old concrete bridge,” complained a Citizens
committee member. “We're not going to let them do that.” Headed by
new Chairman Dan Roberts, a new board of directors and dozens of
volunteers, the Committee has outlined a Master Plan of fundraising
activities to raise its portion of the needed funds.

The bottom line is the community needs to raise $334,000 if it wants
another wooden covered bridge, and already that amount has been
reduced. But the local community has a basic financial challenge.
Half the residences, from Rogue River to Wimer, are made up of
low-income households and the elderly. Additional funds can’t come
from local sources alone, they need to be raised from the outside, from
grants, from public and private donations and from covered bridge buffs
all over the nation who also want to see the bridge replaced.

A New Covered Bridge

In the past, history buffs, tourists and motorists of all stripes took
the path less traveled and drove out to the rural reaches of Evans
Valley to see the old covered bridge. Out-of-town visitors to the area
created their own tradition and purposely went the extra mile just to
drive through the bridge once more before returning home.

With a new covered bridge in place, locals and visitors will, as they
have done before, stop to take pictures, enjoy bar-b-cue at the Wimer
Market, relax in Mae Ellis Park below the span, maybe pick wild
blackberries along the creek, wade in the cool water, and reminisce
about their personal attachment to the area. In time the community of
Wimer will, with a little help, have another covered bridge as its
centerpiece. Their best assets are those among them who have a vision
for the future. They know how it can be again.

2008 the bridge was rebuilt

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