The Applegate Pioneer Bridge, painted in Oregon green, was dedicated to the pioneers of the Applegate Valley June 23, 1934. - Bill Miller

Crossing the Applegate River

Marshall Baldwin's bow was scratching out a pretty lively tune on that old fiddle, and the dancers' quick steps sure were heating up Rose's hall, when suddenly, the door blew open and the storm poured in.

"Bridge is out! Washed away!" yelled the drenched man standing in the doorway.

Baldwin stopped fiddling and watched the couples surround the man, full of questions and wondering how they were going to get across the river and back home.

Baldwin loved to tell that story. Old timers said that whenever he did, there always was a big grin on his face. He'd pause for effect and then say, "Many a dancer did not get home that night."

The devilish twinkle told you "not getting home" wasn't really a problem. The dancers found their own ways to enjoy that dark and stormy night.

Thomas Mee's hand-hewn log bridge had stood strong across the Applegate River for 13 years before being replaced in 1886. But now, in February 1890, a few hours of ravenous water was all it took to shred the replacement from its pilings.

Nearly every bridge in Jackson and Josephine counties was gone, the flash flood splintering years of hard labor into shards that just floated away. New bridges came as quickly as time and money could allow.

In 1892, a new, durable, covered bridge crossed over the Applegate, sturdy enough to last until the summer of 1934.

"That was the best meal I've had in months," "Pop" Gates told the crowd at a picnic lunch that kicked off a dedication ceremony for a new steel bridge that was built just downstream from the old covered bridge.

Standing in front of 11 Applegate pioneers, Gates, a former Medford mayor, popular car dealer and one-time member of the State Highway Commission, said he hoped the bridge would one day become the main road leading to the Oregon Caves and, eventually, all the way to the Pacific Coast.

As each pioneer was introduced, they were given a chance to remember the "early days."

Logan Wooldridge, 79, had lived in the Applegate longer than anyone at the event, and with a keen sense of humor he kept the crowd laughing with his joke-filled memories.

"I've kept myself healthy by following the Golden Rule," he said. "Always vote Democrat!"

Pointing to the pioneer ladies, Wooldridge said he was enjoying himself at the dedication.

"I've always liked sitting by a good-looking girl."

Mary Mee, 72, remembered when her father built the first bridge. She had seen the dedication of the Jacksonville Court House and she remembered the 1890 flood, although she didn't say whether she had been dancing that night.

The formal opening of the Applegate Pioneer Bridge came when — sitting in a chair — frail Louisa Ray, 87, pulled out her pocket knife and cut the white ceremonial ribbon.

That evening, there was a celebration dance at the Grange hall. The weather was good, and this time dancers had a bridge to cross when they made their way back home.

Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at

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