Monday, October 1, 2012

‘The Foot Bridges of Inner Marion County” Vol. 1, No. 1: The Knapp Place Bridge

This is one of a series of short posts about the pedestrian and bicycling bridges in Salem, Oregon. Many of these spans are hidden gems of urban accessibility, occasionally with colorful history.

You might say Salem is the Venice of Oregon, except that this would be an exercise in short-sheeting in a metaphor. Let’s just say that there are a number of streams flowing through downtown and quite a few bridges over them. 

The grid of auto bridges renders many of these streams fairly invisible, but in the quiet residential neighborhoods along their banks these watercourses can make it difficult to move around. So, over time, a crop of pedestrian bridges have been built. Some have required rebuilding due to decay. Others were torn apart by floods and had to be completely replaced. A few are well-known, but others are quite retiring. Many serve their neighborhood in exemplary simplicity, providing passage for pedestrians as well as cyclists. Let’s explore some of these quiet servants of urban livability.

Knapp Place Bridge

Crossing Mill Creek a few blocks before it empties into the Willamette River, the Knapp Place Footbridge connects Church (to the east) and High (to the west) streets. It is a steel bridge, with the structural elements running along the sides of the bridge at deck- and handrail-level, tied together with x-shaped reinforcements. The deck is fashioned of wood planks over a framework of steel elements--making for a very drum-like sound when being ridden over at any speed. The concrete abutments are well set into the bank and have withstood some significant forces in recent years. Mill Creek at this point carries its maximum volume and occasionally floods its concrete-walled banks (most recently last January). Evidence of this is still visible with piled sandbags at nearby residences.

This bridge is accessed on the east by an opening in a metal-railed sidewalk along Church Street. Bicycle access is from either a nearby residential driveway or a curb-cut where D Street and Church meet up. There is no curb-cut for wheeled access directly from the eastern terminus of the bridge to Church street, but the curb here is pretty low and so it isn't too difficult to negotiate, especially when traveling east, coming off the bridge. Due to foliage, much of there year there is restricted vision on the Church Street end of the bridge, so the lack of a curb cut is probably understandable--but regretted by those cyclists who use it.

The western end of the bridge comes out onto Knapp Place NE, a small residential neighborhood tucked off the busy northern reach of High Street—just before it becomes Broadway.

This bridge is apparently known to some as the “Hobo Bridge,” though I have yet to learn about the reason for this. I have not met any hobos on this bridge when I have used it; I haven’t met any homeless  folks here, either (the only person I've ever met here was a resident, who greeted me with a loud "Howdy!")…but I would think it makes a popular short-cut in this area for “all sorts and conditions,” as the old prayer puts it. There aren’t any other ways across Mill Creek for some distance either direction and so this would be an attractive way to avoid some additional walking or biking.

When the trees are in full leaf, this is an easily-missed bridge. With its utilitarian, rust-colored sides and weathered plank decking, it doesn’t call attention to itself. Like a number of these bridges in town, it is simple and honest.

Crossing this bridge often means a break in negotiating some interesting traffic on High Street (with good bike lanes on this stretch but a lot of cars at various times during the day), or transitioning to or from the rather peaceful traffic levels in the Grant Elementary School neighborhood.

While from a cycling standpoint this bridge doesn’t make for a particularly significant way through the Broadway-Commercial-Liberty-Front Street cycling barrier in this part of Salem (a barrier which helps render the wonderful Union Street Pedestrian Bridge much less useful than it might be), it does allow for some additional choices, especially at low traffic volume times. I tend to use it on my way back from crossing the river to connect with D Street by biking on Union Street, turning left on High, and then turning right onto Knapp. Its value, I imagine, is chiefly found for residential access to shopping, entertainment venues, and perhaps employment in this section of town.

When I use this bridge, it always seems like a brief respite from the pulse of traffic and a singular example of thoughtful urban connectivity.

What do you know about this bridge? 


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks, SBOB. Now to begin on the promised (?) "Fall Foliage" series. Too bad I'm not a photographer!

  2. Virginia Green writes that the street name may be "a reference to Mabel Lucille Knapp, the daughter of a prominent Salem business family: her father and mother Wallace and Mabel Moore. As a widow, her mother sold Mrs. Knapp property including the Moore Building on Court Street."

    The 1926 Sanborn map shows a smaller footbridge on a private lot just north of the Knapp right-of-way.

    It would be interesting to learn more about when the bridge was built and what prompted it and a few other metal bridges of similar style and age around town. Maybe you or a reader will turn up that info eventually!

    This is a great quest!

  3. That is wonderful, Virginia! Thank you for giving some background to this. This is just what I was hoping for in launching this series.

    One of the next bridges I'm going to detail was pointed out to me by a parishioner who remembers crossing it as a boy in the early 1940's. He told me it had been through several "incarnations" since then, due to rot and floods. I suspect there will be a lot of this found as I sift through the history of these bridges.

    A number of the bridges do seem to show a common design. I'm wondering if there was a combined update on several in the 1970's or 1980's. I don't know where to go to find this out, though. Do you have any ideas?

    Thanks for visiting this blog and sharing some of your exceptional knowledge of Salem's history.