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Goodbye, Old Bridge

November 2010, marks the first anniversary of Wickenburg’s new bridge across the Hassayampa River. With it came the two roundabouts and the U.S. 93 Bypass. For better or worse, Tegner Street is now a much quieter and pedestrian friendly place. Now, of course, all we need are pedestrians.

Aerial Shot of Bridge

Photo 1, November 2009 photo of new bridge and south roundabout. The old north bridge is seen partially demolished. Photo courtesy of Flying M Air.

Wickenburg has seen several bridges come and go during the past 120 years or so. Unfortunately, the “going” part has occasionally meant they were carried away by floodwaters. February 22, 1890 was by far the most catastrophic event, when heavy rains and melting snowpack caused the upstream Walnut Grove dam to fail. One hundred twenty-eight people in Wickenburg and other points along the river died in that event. In Phoenix, the Salt River rose 17 feet in 15 hours from the same winter storm.

Wickenburg’s first concrete bridge was completed in 1914, but it did not survive long. Three days of intense rains in January, 1916 caused major flooding on the Hassayampa watershed. By the time the rains ended there wasn’t much left (see Photo 2).

1914 Bridge

Photo 2, Flood of 1916 destroyed the 1914 bridge. Archive photo.

For reasons that remain obscure, the bridge had still not been replaced after two years. In 1918, some enterprising Wickenburg residents constructed a cable suspension bridge across the river, providing much needed relief for foot traffic.

Cable Bridge

Photo 3, Cable foot-bridge built in 1918. Archive photo.

Wickenburg residents must have been a patient lot in those days, for the next bridge across the Hassayampa was not completed until 1926. It was designed specifically for motor vehicles, but remained in service for only ten years, until the north bridge replaced it.

While drilling shafts in the riverbed, construction crews discovered the remains of two, much older, bridges. One of them, built in the late 1800’s, was made of wood pilings and served as a telegraph bridge. The second, constructed with rock and mortar, dated to the early 1900’s. It was used for horse and carriage traffic, but was either destroyed in flooding or demolished and replaced by the 1914 bridge (shown in Photo 2).

On December 4th, 2009 the last support column for the old north bridge was pounded into rubble, bringing to a close the life of a bridge that served Wickenburg residents and countless travelers for seventy-three years. Demolition began at the west end the week before Thanksgiving and the jack hammer finally reached the east bank on December 3rd.

Bridge Demolition

Photo 4, Demolition in progress.

As bridges go, it was not spectacular in any sense: It was not an architectural “statement”; but it did its job reliably, surviving even the flood of February, 2005, which caused major damage along Jack Burden Road.

Pedestrian Bridge

Photo 5, The west end of pedestrian bridge, as seen from near the Wishing Well.

Thankfully, town officials and the Arizona Department of Transportation saw fit to retain the old south bridge for pedestrian traffic. Structural modifications (including raising the height) have been complete for several months now, but other landscaping touches remain unfinished. For example, boxed shade trees and a few benches would be attractive and encourage pedestrians to linger in the area.

One day, perhaps soon, this will be a place where community events will be enjoyed by residents and visitors alike. For now, at least, bring your own shade and folding chair.

Last 5 posts by Allan Hall

3 comments to Goodbye, Old Bridge

  • J Mill

    Thank you for your history lessons. I have lived in and loved the Sonoran desert for 20 years and enjoy all the perspective I can get from those who know and dedicate themselves to preserving the wealth of history here. We live in Wittmann on acreage and crave the knowledge of those who came before us.

  • Doug Butler

    I want to thank all the residents and travelers for the great honor in helping build this new bridge.It was truly a fun project to be a part of and I will allways remember the time I spent hauling many loads of concrete to put it all the together.
    And also I was there the day they found the old rock and mortar remains of the old bridge footing. It was one tough thing to remove! Doug from Hanson in Wickenburg

  • Carolyn Johnson

    Thanks for the article on the bridges. I lived in Wickenburg from 1988 -1998 on Thurber Rd. (Sky Thurber’s place). I loved it & I miss being there.
    What do you mean by the “north” bridge & the “south bridge”? I only remember one bridge.