Location: Fourth Avenue Bridge
4th Avenue bridge with drawspan open, ca. 1899, Ed Echtle collection, Olympia Historical Society
Fourth Avenue Bridge (Fall Artswalk 2013) photograph by Stuart Reed
The need for bridges from downtown Olympia to West Olympia (then called Marshville) was recognized as early as 1852. However, construction was not completed until 1869. The bridge was termed the Long Bridge to distinguish it from the much shorter bridge spanning Swantown Slough to East Olympia (another bridge further south on the estuary, leading to Tumwater, was also confusingly referred to as the “long bridge to Tumwater” in press accounts). Commercial establishments lined the side of it, and wharves extended to both north and south. At that time, the Deschutes Estuary was quite wide when it emptied into Budd Inlet, and a drawbridge, shown above, allowed ships to enter and leave the estuary. The drawbridge often failed, and worms infested the wooden pilings supporting the bridge, necessitating many repairs and reconstructions.
When the narrow gauge railroad was built connecting Olympia to the Northern Pacific line at Tenino, the track connected to the bridge with a depot just to the north of it. The 1890s-era trolley line to West Olympia went right down the center of the bridge: a typical day in the 1890s would see the bridge as a chaotic mix of trolleys, new fangled bicycles, pedestrians and horse-drawn carriages, with frequent collisions among all of them.
In 1918 the earlier drawbridge was demolished, and a new bridge with three arches over the estuary was erected. The 1922 picture from the Olympia Fire Department, linked below, shows this later incarnation of the bridge going over the railroad tracks; the terracing of Percival Mansion’s lawn can still be seen here. This is the bridge that residents used up until 2001.
In the early 1950s, the construction of Capitol Lake, the Fifth Avenue bridge, and the dam creating the lake, reduced the Fourth Avenue bridge’s span over water. A photograph in the Susan Parish collection (linked below) shows the bridge as it looked shortly after that project was completed.
In 2001, the Nisqually Earthquake badly damaged the bridge, hastening an already-planned reconstruction based on the 1918 design.
Thank you to Jim Hannum for contributing to research about the Long Bridge/long bridge. Thank you to Bob Jacobs for clarifying that the Nisqually Earthquake was not the sole cause of the reconstruction of the bridge.
Digital Archives scan of Olympia Fire Department photograph
Olympia Heritage inventory (of bridge pre-earthquake)
1879 Bird’s Eye View of Olympia
Washington State Historical Society, enter the catalog number in the Collections Search Box: C2016.0.118
Susan Parish Photograph collection (scroll down to photograph)
Copyright © 2022 Deborah Ross