Image ca. 1900
Public Domain: Published Prior to 1923
BH Photo #357859
Rossland’s Le Roi mine was the site of British Columbia’s second big copper strike of 1892. Spokane shortline baron Daniel C. Corbin proposed building the Columbia & Red Mountain Railway, a seventeen mile branch line from Rossland which would connect with the Spokane Falls & Northern’s mainline at Northport, Washington where a smelter would be constructed. It took Corbin nearly three years to obtain the necessary charters and financing to begin construction of the Columbia & Red Mountain in the meantime Rossland’s ore was carried by horse drawn wagons down the Sheep Creek trail to the Columbia and ferried across to the Spokane Falls & Northern.
Construction of the Columbia & Red Mountain began in May of 1895 and was completed on December 10, 1896. The finished line’s average gradient was a steep 2.74%. More than half of it was curves and five large bridges, each over 200 foot long, were required to ford mountain canyons over fifty feet deep. Cars of the Columbia and Red Mountain were ferried across the Columbia until the Northport Bridge was completed a year later.
A contract for construction of the Columbia & Red Mountain Railway’s Northport Bridge was awarded to the San Francisco Bridge Company on January 15, 1897. Canadian Hugh Cooper left Dominion Bridge to supervise the project for the firm’s American parent company. Work on the piers and abutments began immediately after legislation allowing construction of the bridge was signed into law by President McKinley on January 27th. Cooper was hoping to repeat his successful wintertime completion of the Waneta bridge piers and was under pressure of a contractual obligation to complete the structure in five months. The bridge builder’s luck ran out in May when high waters swept the falsework out from under two partially completed spans and all work had to be suspended until the next low water period in September.
The wood and steel combination bridge consisted of three Petit trusses, each 250 feet in length, and three Howe trusses, each 150 feet in length and 650 feet of earth fill approaches. The trusses rested atop seven piers of concrete encased in riveted steel and capped with granite bearing blocks. The total cost of the crossing was $136,000. It opened on October 12, 1897 as was duly noted in the Spokane Spokesman Review -
“Amid the strains of the Northport band and the tooting of whistles, the big bridge over the Columbia river carrying the Red Mountain tracks to Rossland was tested and opened for traffic yesterday afternoon. The bridge was tried by backing three loaded coal cars and four flat cars of stone pushed by the 100 ton engine, No. 3, over to the reservation side. The engines then returned, and later in the evening the freight train from Rossland came direct into the yard over the new bridge. The passenger train from Rossland today came in on time, leaving Rossland half an hour later than hitherto, owing to the saving in time of the bridge over the ferry…”
The end of World War I was accompanied by a worldwide drop in the copper market and forced the closure of the Rossland mines in 1919. The railroad was abandoned in 1922 having sustained losses of over $60,000 per year in the wake of the mine closures. The bridge was turned over to Stevens County. The rails were removed, the deck planked and the span reopened as a highway bridge in 1923. It served in that capacity until being condemned on January 27, 1947. Construction of a new highway bridge took four years and was plagued by the same ice and flooding problems encountered by the builders of the original Red Mountain bridge. Cars and trucks made the Northport crossing on a state operated ferry during this period. Several spans of the old bridge, no longer able to support their own dead weight, collapsed and fell into the river with a thunderous crash before the remains of the structure were finally demolished in 1950.