For years, Pacific Railway, Light & Power Co. ferries shuttled people between Vancouver and Portland for the same purposes we cross today — business, entertainment, shopping or dining at a good restaurant.
The near swamping of a passenger ferry headed for the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition in Portland fueled a longing for a bridge spanning the Columbia River.
By 1915, small town Vancouver hankered to hook up with big city Portland. Bridge construction suffered fits and starts, questions about funding and social qualms. In the end, the two counties on either side of the river split the cost proportionally, with Clark paying $500,000 and Multnomah paying $1.25 million to build the bridge. The original Interstate Bridge supported a single span with two lanes. From opening day until 1940, electric cable cars ran across it on dual-gauge tracks.
The 1917 Valentine’s Day opening was a formal, well-planned and festive event with music, pompous speeches, flag-waving and parades on both sides of the river.
On the north bank, Mary Helen Kiggins, daughter of businessman J.P. Kiggins, and Eleanor Holman, daughter of a Multnomah County commissioner, untied a knotted ribbon. Then 200 Vancouver cars motored south and 300 from Portland rolled north. Bands played and flags fluttered on the lift span.
Later a mixed crowd of Portlanders and Vancouverites mustered at Esther Short Park to listen to music. A Portland Police Band concert opened the party playing popular and patriotic tunes. A descendant of Short, Mrs. Fred I. Olson, sang a solo.
Then came a barrage of officials’ speeches. Oregonian editor Edgar Piper shouted, “The old barrier between us has been spanned.” Vancouver’s Mayor Milton Evans bellowed, “The people of two cities are mingling here celebrating an event which means the uniting of the two commercially, industrially and socially.” Afterward, the mass paraded through Vancouver’s downtown streets.
That day, the ferry cruised over the Columbia one last time.
The next, the Oregonian pronounced the opening a “gala day” and a “great scheme of commercial and industrial development of the Northwest.” And commuters crossing the span paid a 5-cent toll.
Martin Middlewood is editor of the Clark County Historical Society Annual. Reach him at ClarkCoHist@gmail.com.