The Hawthorne Bridge


The Hawthorne bridge has gone through many changes over the years, but has always had the goal of bringing together many different modes of transportation.

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1909 drawing of the proposed Hawthorne Bridge

Built in 1910, The Hawthorne bridge replaced the fire damaged wooden Madison Street Bridge and was designed by the same fellas that brought us the Steel and Interstate bridges. The bridge was named after Dr. JC Hawthorne, who co-founded the Oregon Hospital for the Insane in Salem and was a major proponent for a new bridge.

The bridge was originally only 63 feet wide, painted black, and although it was mostly made of steel and concrete as a cost saving measure the bridge's deck was made of wood. The railing height was chosen because it was seen as the perfect height to prevent a horse from going accidentally swimming in the Willamette. Other features included 5 ft sidewalks and streetcar tracks on the outer lanes.

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During construction the bridge was still being called the Madison Street bridge.

One year after it was open to the public, construction on improvements had already started. Unfortunately those improvements did not include replacing the wooden deck. It caught fire in 1914, when the fire spread to the lift section it became unbalanced and the counter weights crashed onto the bridge. All of this damage was repaired and despite the previous danger the high cost of steel and concrete meant the bridge still featured a wooden deck until 1945. The streetcar lanes were moved from the outside lanes to the inside lanes in 1931 and in 1964 the bridge changed from black to yellow.


In 1998-99 the bridge went through a major renovation, this widened the sidewalks from 5 ft to 10 ft, this gave more room for pedestrians and cycles to share more safely. This renovation also included replacing the old steel decking with new open steel grating removing the old streetcar tracks. Even though the old tracks are gone, officials were already thinking of the future. The new decking on the outer lanes is designed to be strong enough for possible use by modern, heavier streetcars or light rail trains. Although, it is unlikely to be used in this manner because of the new Tilikum Crossing. The bridge was stripped of all its former lead based paint and was painted its current green color with red trim.

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Hawthorne Bridge's 100th birthday celebration in 2010 - complete with real grass.

Aaron Rogosin took lots of great photos and a timelapse of the entire event!


Drone footage:

In an effort to continue to improve the bridge and increase its accessibility in 2001 the sidewalks were connected to the Eastbank Esplanade. In 2013 an automatic bicycle counter was donated to the city and installed (the first such counter in the US).

Hawthorne Bridge Traffic Stats:

  • Motor vehicles per day:  35,000 +
  • Cyclists per day: 10,000 +
  • TriMet buses per day: 800. Carrying 20,000 + riders


Fun Facts:

  • Each of the counter weights is 420 tons
  • Original cost was $510,000
  • There are over 200 lifts per month
  • The Hawthorne bridge was added to National Register of Historic Places in 2012

Jazzy Winston was a Visual Designer at Fat Pencil Studio from 2019-2021.