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.
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, from 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."
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.
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
Thank you for your interest in keeping this historical bridge alive!
This bridge is located 7 miles northeast of Rogue River on East Evans Creek Road (turn right on Covered Bridge Road)