Foot Bridge ca 1920
Foot Bridge ca 1995
K. P. Biller, designing engineer, Oregon State Highway Department
Pacific Bridge Company, Portland, Robert L. Ringer, subcontractor
U.S. Forest Service, Columbia River Gorge National Scenic
A reinforced-concrete arch pedestrian bridge over the Lower
Multnomah Falls. One of the few bridges constructed on the
highway strictly for pedestrian use.
FALLS (BENSON) FOOTBRIDGE
Lancaster once wrote of Multnomah Falls that, "the setting
is ideal. It is pleasing to look upon; and in every mood,
it charms like magic, it woos like an ardent lover; it refreshes
the soul; and invites to loftier, purer things." Lancaster
and his associates believed that the site was one of the most
significant destinations along the planned route of the Historic
Columbia River Highway. The falls lie within a sheer- walled
geologic alcove, formed by repeated freezing of waterfall
spray which seeped into cracks in the columnar basalt walls
and broke loose small rock fragments. Because the wall is
north facing, it retains moisture for much of the year and
is covered with lush vegetation
claimed that Multnomah Falls was at least 1000 feet in height:
and popular literature of the early 1900s ranked it as second
tallest in the United States. In 1916 the U.S. Geological
Survey calculated that Multnomah Falls had a total drop of
620'. The main falls of 542' drops over three basalt flows.
A fourth flow causes the 69' lower falls (there is 9' vertical
distance between falls). Taken together they are the fourth
longest waterfall in the U.S. Lancaster and his colleagues
believed Multnomah Falls, along with the surrounding landscape,
required special attention for developing it as a destination
one knows for sure who named these cascades "Multnomah
Falls." Meriwether Lewis of the Lewis and Clark Expedition
and other nineteenth-century explorers mentioned the falls
in their journals, but none gave them a name. Lewis A. McArthur,
in his Oregon Geographic Names suggested that a S. G. Reed
may have been the first to apply a name to them with the idea
of trying to popularize points along the Columbia for steamboat
excursions. "Multnomah" comes from a sub-group of
American Indians of the Chinookan tribe and also is the name
of the county in which the falls are located. For years prior
to construction of the Multnomah Falls Footbridge, at least
as early 1883, a timber bowstring truss bridge spanned the
falls at the present bridge's location. No doubt it was a
favorite stop for passengers traveling on the nearby Oregon-Washington
Railroad and navigation Co. (OWRN) main line running east
from Portland, or on steamboat excursions up the Columbia.
By at least 1891, the bridge was reinforced with additional
timber bracing and cables but it vanished by 1899.
day while out at the site with Simon Benson Lancaster remarked
to the wealthy Portland lumberman and good roads enthusiast,
that it would "be nice if there were a footbridge across
the lower waterfall, with a path up to and across it so that
look up at that magnificent waterfall
above, then without moving look down on the lower one into
the pool below." Benson asked what it might cost and
Lancaster calculated the figures on the back of an envelope.
Benson then wrote out a check for the amount and directed
Lancaster to build it. The resulting footbridge is a 45'-0"
reinforced-concrete deck arch, 105' above the lower Multnomah
Falls. The location provides a spectacular view of the upper
falls. Benson later purchased nearly 1,000 acres along the
Columbia River, including 140 acres around Multnomah Falls
which he gave to Portland for a city park.
1914, the Pacific Bridge Company of Portland received the
contract to construct the Crown Point Viaduct and several
bridges along the 16-mile-long "waterfalls section"
of the Historic Columbia River Highway, from Shepperds Dell
Bridge to Horsetail Falls Bridge. As was common practice,
the firm subcontracted portions of the work to other companies.
Robert Lee Ringer, who previously completed an electric fountain
on the state capitol grounds in Salem and had just completed
the reinforced-concrete portions of the 500' viaduct at Crown
Point subcontracted work on the Multnomah Falls Footbridge.
Ringer reminisced in 1967 that the Pacific Bridge Company
"was too large to be concerned with the little bridge
over the falls, especially at the end of the season."
As a "small-time contractor" who picked up "some
lesser jobs along the highway" Ringer was ready and able
to construct the bridge and finished it in the fall of 1914.
Larch Mountain Trail
January 28, 1915, Lancaster recommended to the Progressive
Business Men's Club of Portland that someone should build
a trail from the base of Multnomah Falls across the footbridge
and then to the top of Larch Mountain, a distance of seven
mites because it afforded a beautiful view of the region.
The Club raised several hundred dollars to finance the trail,
and Simon Benson and his son Amos S. Benson pledged another
$3,000 for the fund. The United States Forest Service appropriated
$1,500 and agreed to survey and build the trail as well as
construct a lookout on the top of Larch mountain.
Forest Service sent out locating crews in April 1915, but
Bridal Veil Lumbering Company and Crown-Willamette Paper Company,
who owned land surrounding the proposed trail, protested its
location on the grounds that bringing people into the forests
increased the risk of fires. Nevertheless, Forest Service
officials assuaged the lumber interests fears by convincing
them that the trail actually facilitated fire fighting and
could help lessen timber. In July 1915, the companies granted
right-of-way for the trail. By early October, the trail was
dedicated at the Larch Mountain lookout.
Simon Benson, purchased several tracts of land along the Columbia
River's south bank to preserve them for recreational use.
On Labor Day 1915 he donated land including Multnomah Falls
and Wahkeena Falls to the city of Portland, and the parcel
that later became Benson State Park. Still, land at the base
of Multnomah Falls, near an OWRN siding, was out of his reach
because the rail company held title to it. Finally, Portland
Parks Superintendent C. P. Keyser persuaded the OWRN to donate
the land for public use, but with the understanding that the
city would build a lodge on the site.
June 7, 1916, Multnomah Falls was the scene of what historian
Ronald J. Fahl called "an elaborate and idealized pageant
commemorating the history and lore of the Columbia Gorge and
dedicating the highway itself." The Multnomah Falls Footbridge
was part of the backdrop of the natural amphitheater in front
of the falls that served as the setting. A crowd of 10,000
participated in ceremonies featuring the Portland Rose Festival
Queen and her royal entourage of King Joy, Miss Columbia,
maids-in-waiting, crown bearers and the like. Promoters, politicians
and other dignitaries from throughout the Pacific Northwest
participated in the HCRH's formal dedication.
Multnomah Falls Lodge and Footpath
the Historic Columbia River Highway opened in the Multnomah
Falls section in 1915, it attracted concessionaires who catered
to motorist's needs. In addition, some amenities were available
at the nearby OWRN station house. Yet many early HCRH motorists
wanted more. They were accustomed to having Sunday dinners
of chicken, rabbit, or salmon at several places along the
highway. These included Chanticleer Inn, Crown Point Chalet,
Latourell Falls Chalet and its successor, Falls Villa, Bridal
Veil Lodge, and Forrest Hall. Some even kept a few rooms for
road weary travelers. So, in 1925 the city of Portland commissioned
local architect A. E. Doyle to design a structure. Doyle had
already completed several structures in Portland, including,
the Multnomah County Central Public Library, the Meier and
Frank Department Store, the U.S. National Bank Buildings and
the Benson Hotel. He created a 2-1/2 story rustic masonry
lodge for a site below the falls and near the highway. The
firm of Waale-Shattuck constructed it for $40,000.
lodge exterior was in the "Cascadian" style, using
native split fieldstone laid irregularly and varying in shades
from black and gray to brown and red. Its encounter English's
form includes a steeply pitched cedar-shingled gable roof
with dormers and massive chimneys. It was completed in 1925,
and provided both meals and lodging for travelers (WEBMASTER'S NOTE: There may be some confusion over the Multnomah Falls Lodge and the Multnomah Lodge. I think Dr. Hadlow is wrong, and that the lodge at the falls was always a day lodge. There was a Multnomah Lodge at the base of Mist Falls, about a mile west of Multnomah Falls, that, I think, did offer lodging. There is information on the Multnomah Lodge here http://www.ashcreekimages.com/GorgeFireplace1.html and here http://www.ashcreekimages.com/Historic/Multnomah-Lodge.html). By 1927,
the building was enlarged, and in the next 65 years has undergone
several remodeling, both inside and out, but still retains
its original charm and character. Since World War II, it has
provided meals ranging from simple snacks to elegant dining,
and houses a gift shop: public restrooms and an interpretive
center. The lodge is by no means "rustic" in the
same sense as Civilian Conservation corps and Works Progress
Administration buildings constructed in the gorge in the 1930s.
Instead it has a sense of restrained elegance that catered
to wealthy Portlanders who ventured out of the city in their
motor cars to "rough it" the country
lodge marks the beginning of the footpath that takes travelers
to the Multnomah Falls Footbridge, to the top of the falls,
and eventually another 6 miles to the top of Larch Mountain.
The area between the lodge and the footbridge, along with
adjoining stone walks, benches, and interpretive displays,
has been remade and remodeled continually since the 1920s.
Beginning in the late 1980s, Multnomah Falls Scenic Area came
under the jurisdiction of the newly organized Columbia River
Gorge National Scenic Area, with planning strategies for its
future coordinated with similar U.S. Forest Service activities
at other sites in the gorge.
Multnomah Falls Footbridge is a reinforced-concrete structure
consisting of one 45'-0" parabolic barrel deck arch anchored
into rock cliffs. Curtain walls are made of spandrel columns
topped with arched curtain walls. Railings are constructed
of precast cylindrical balusters and beveled rail caps. The
height from deck surface to top of balustrades is 3'-6".
The top end of each 5"-diameter baluster is formed with
halves of elliptical arches so that when assembled they created
a course of miniature arches that echoed the spandrel walls.
In addition, balusters were cast with additional collars,
or astraddle, near their ends for added detail. Total length
of the structure is about 52'.
designs for the Multnomah Falls Footbridge called for constructing
a Melan arch over Lower Multnomah Falls, consisting of a light
steel frame surrounded by concrete. It was an advantageous
alternative because the structures construction made centering
unnecessary. Nevertheless, those involved in its design found
upon further investigation that the cost of the steel frame
was considerably higher than simple reinforcing. Further,
the advantage of not having to erect falsework was reduced
when plentiful free lumber became available after completion
of the nearby West and East Multnonah Falls Viaducts and the
Multnomah Creek Bridge on the Historic Columbia River Highway.
Ringer, the subcontractor, wrote that "the bridge had
to be built 135 the subcontracting, wrote that bathe bridge
feet in the air above the base of operations at the foot of
the lower falls. It was straight up a rocky cliff" he
added with "water dashing over one side of it. It was
a wild tangle of Nature and we had to climb on our hands and
knees to reach the building site. We installed an aerial trolley
operated by horses to put up all the materials." He fashioned
a simple a wooden trussed arch bridge to suspend the formwork
for the footbridge.
added, "one day when the job was nearly completed, Mr.
Benson Jr. (Amos S. Benson) visited us; and I asked him if
it would be all right if I put my name on the bridge in the
concrete as is done on famous projects. He readily gave assent."
But, "when the bridge was completed, Mr. Benson, some
friends, and the engineer of the Pacific Bridge Co. visited
the site and we had a general jollification and everybody
was happy except the bridge company engineer." The company
representative "concealed his wrath from the guests,
but he was furious to see my name on the bridge. After all,
I was only a sub-contractor." Ringer had not yet been
paid for his work and to assuage the engineer's anger he agreed
"without any fussing to cement over the offensive letters."
But when he "was alone and attending to the last chores.
(He) cleaned up the lettering and smeared it lightly with
wet clay--to which cement will not adhere permanently--and
carefully troweled the place over to match the rest of the
deck." Ringer did not again visit Multnomah Falls and
the footbridge for two years. Baby that time the winter frosts
had done their Work and routed out the inscription, which
reads-"R. L. Ringer, 1914."
designer, K. P. Billner, used a combination of steel lacing
and plates for the arch reinforcing and steel bar for the
deck, spandrel columns and the railings. His skeleton for
the barrel arch consisted of five ribs of lacing forming the
vertical components of four compartments. The intrados surface
of the arch, or bottoms of these compartments consisted of
"3 Rib hybrid" plates, while the extrados surface
was made of steel straps. Glenn S. Parson, Bridge Engineer
for the Oregon State Highway Department speculated about the
reinforcing in the spandrel columns in 1944. He wrote that
"the 'two-rib' and 'three-rib' studs shown (in a construction
drawing) as reinforcing for the spandrel columns are undoubtedly
a Truscon Steel Company product." He went on to write
that "about the time this bridge was built, thin partition
walls were quite the fashion in building construction, and
they often used an expanded metal vertical stud on which metal
lath were attached and then plastered over." He suspected
that the spandrel column reinforcement in the Multnomah Falls
Footbridge Were these studs.
also designed the Multnomah Creek Bridge, a reinforced-concrete
road bridge at Multnomah Falls. Unlike the other reinforced-concrete
arches on the HCRH that take the form of ribbed deck arches
with spandrel columns, this 67- foot span is a barrel arch
both solid spandrel galls. Both the road bridge and the footbridge
receive heavy use at what is one of the most popular scenic
areas in the state of Oregon.
records on the Multnomah Falls Footbridge are incomplete through
the mid 1930s. In July 1937, there was some concern over the
unstable nature of the handrails on the span, and a year later
they were repaired. On 29 July 1939, the city of Portland
relinquished its land holdings and by 1943 its buildings in
the Columbia River Gorge. It deeded Benson Park to the state
and gave all land south of the OWRN right-of-way to the U.S.
Forest Service. This included Multnomah Falls, the Multnomah
Falls Lodge, and the footpath. They became additions to Columbia
Gorge Park, which the Forest Service had formed in December
1915. In 1944 Assistant Regional Forester James Frankland
corresponded with Oregon State Highway Department personnel
concerning the U.S. Forest services plans for some repair
work on the bride's handrails and spandrel columns. Maintenance
on the Benson Bridge from then to the present is unknown,
but it has been regularly looked after as indicated by its
generally clean appearance and evidence of recent deck work.
from Historic American
Engineering Record, Multnomah Falls Footbridge (Benson Footbridge),
Robert W. Hadlow, Phd., September 1995.
Transmitted by: Lisa M. Pfueller, September, 1996.