By Luke Ellington
Agriculture: Preserve and encourage existing agricultural activities as a viable land use and a significant economic activity within the community. Encourage the historical/cultural use of small tract irrigated agricultural activities to continue to be consistent with best management practices and as viable agricultural uses.
Cultural Diversity: To recognize, support and include all cultural perspectives into the operation, growth and development of the community.
Utilities: Development should occur in conjunction with availability of utilities, including sewer and water systems, power, telephone, cable and/or television service, and individual garbage pick-up. Incentives should be developed to expedite the appropriate extension of said utilities.
Sign at southern entrance to Bridgeport
Gold rush brings influx of Chinese miners
Bridgeport townsite platted by Butler Liversay
Population approximately 110
Bridgeport incorporated with a population nearing 500 Bridgeport Bridge and Gallaher House added to National Register
Population approximately 1,800
Population approximately 2,075
As with many towns along the Columbia River, the first permanent settlements near Bridgeport were established by Chinese gold miners. Originally known as Westfield, the Bridgeport area was dotted with mining camps during the gold strikes of the 1880s. But as the gold ran out, the early settlers were forced to turn to an agricultural based economy. A thriving town of wheat, fruit and cattle began.
View of Bridgeport from a Chief Joseph lookout point
It was near the present site of Bridgeport that Chief Moses reunited with his tribe after a trip to the nation’s capital with other tribal leaders. White settlers were pouring into the newly-surveyed Douglas County and an Indian uprising was beginning. However, after seeing the country’s larger cities, incredible numbers of white people and their technology, Chief Moses acted out the following to his tribe: Picking up a handful of sand from the council circle, he threw it at his feet, proclaiming, “Indians!” Then turning slowly to the mountain behind him, the chief pointed to its sheer mass and yelled “white men!” Consequently, a bloody war between the native Indians and white settlers was avoided.
On November 30, 1891, the town of Bridgeport was platted by Butler Liversay. The Western Land and Improvement Association from Bridgeport, Connecticut named and bought the townsite for $60,000. When impassable river rapids north of Bridgeport proved to block river travel, the town became the staging point for a vast array of supplies from the surrounding area. Bridgeport became especially important as the hub for grain transfer from the Big Bend area down to Wenatchee. In 1892, the main streets of Bridgeport were graded and a steam ferry was put on the river. The town expected the Northern Pacific Railroad to route trains through, but the tracks never came. Despite financial concerns which arose near this time, the hopeful settlers remained positive. Bridgeport’s children began attending classes in Boyd Teter’s store upon its completion and no longer had to cram into various settlers’ homes.
“The new town of Bridgeport is again on the top wave of excitement. The townsite company dug up a few thousands and paid off the brick yard contractors and hands. The outside walls of the brick hotel are up, about four feet, and a raft of lumber is expected this week. Teams are busy hauling lumber, iron, etc, from Coulee City for the steam ferry boat that is to make daily runs from Bridgeport to Port Columbia, and all around is the busy hum of an embryo city.”
Communal horse trough in front Original fire bell today of the original city fire bell
When the town was incorporated in 1910, Bridgeport was a thriving Mecca of business. With a population nearing 500 residents, Bridgeport was complete with, among other ventures, a bank, flour mill, saw mill, three general stores, two butcher shops, a ferry operation and the largest hotel in North Central Washington. Feeling on top of the world, Bridgeport held a huge 4th of July celebration in 1910 that brought crowds to the city. In addition to a parade through town, the celebration goers were treated to a daring tight wire act by Bridgeport’s own Orval Davis. Shocking the crowd, Orval walked blindfolded high above the street with no net. Legend has it that he even kept time to the beat of the local band’s music. This feat was probably a relatively simple task for a man whose hobby it was to walk across the 1,400 foot long ferry boat cable to the other side of the river and back.
The Great Depression that shook the country in the late 1920s and 1930s, hit Bridgeport hard. Much of Bridgeport’s commercial district disappeared, yet the town survived. Following the fire of 1936, which destroyed the wooden schoolhouse, the town was able to come together and build the large concrete building currently owned by Epic Child Development Preschool. Built in 1937, the structure was intended as a junior and senior high school and had nine classrooms and a library. Additions to the building were made in the 1960s.
Bridgeport saw fortune again in 1949 when construction began on the massive Chief Joseph Dam, located just north of Bridgeport. Finally completed in 1980, the dam was a source of jobs and business during its three phases of construction. Today, however, few Bridgeport residents work at the dam. Originally the Foster Creek Dam, the name was changed to honor Chief Joseph of the Nez Pierce Indians, who gave the famous Nez Pierce surrender oration in Montana. The lake formed behind it was named for Rufus Woods, publisher of the Wenatchee Daily World newspaper and strong supporter of Columbia River development. Today, Chief Joseph Dam generates over $200 million in power annually and is owned and operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It is their most productive power source.
Chief Joseph Dam and Pacific Salmon Run maze at Chief Joseph orientation lookout
“Tell General Howard I know his heart. What he told me before, I have in my heart. I am tired of fighting… Hear me, my chiefs; my heart is sick and sad; from where the sun now stands Joseph will fight no more forever.”
For all its hard times, Bridgeport has never given up the fight. This town on the river has remained beautiful despite the numerous abandoned and boarded up businesses and buildings around town. Bridgeport and its citizens seem to have focused their efforts on the future of the town’s children. Large grassy parks seem to be around every corner and almost always active with laughing children. Berryman Park behind town offers something for everyone. There is a summertime pool, playground equipment, courts for sports enthusiasts and even a war memorial filled with military machinery. The Bridgeport Days parade in June offers a chance to see some of the machinery in action.
War Memorial and Playground in Berryman Park
Bridgeport’s schools, which are centralized into a single location, are the pride of the town. Superintendent Schmidt is proud of the awards the Bridgeport School District has been honored with and is projecting 630 students for the following year and is hoping for more. One award the elementary school can be particularly proud of is the “Washington State Title 1 Distinguished School” award, which the school has received two years in a row for outstanding improvements in teaching fundamentals. Some years back, in a partnership with the Douglas County PUD, the Bridgeport schools were able to send computers home with nearly every student in middle schools. The only catch was that parents had to take classes on the computers as well. With the new high-speed internet access the PUD brought into the town, Bridgeport has leaped into the 21st century headfirst. It is with Bridgeport’s children that the future of the town lies, and the leaders of today are making sure that that future is a good one.
Opening Day of Fishing Season: First Week of April (Generally)
Bridgeport Days: First Week of June
Opening Day of Hunting Season: Second Weekend of October (Generally)
Christmas Bird Count: December
Like many Bridgeport residents, when Mayor Jenkins gets a little free time he likes to “head to the mountains.” For the Jenkins family, tracking deer, elk, cougar and bear is a social event that brings everyone together, especially around the holidays. When asked if he planned to re-run for mayor when his 5th term is up, Jenkins replied with a laugh, “I didn’t plan on running the last two times.” He added thoughtfully that it all depends on the state of Bridgeport at the time. Jenkins insisted that “partnerships,” such as those with the PUD, are “how you survive anymore when the economy is tight.”
In the town of Bridgeport, a high number of homes have been driven in by semi trucks. Only one, however, is two stories tall, has eight sides, and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Cecile Allen’s “Gallaher House” used to be on Dyer Hill before being transplanted behind downtown¾an event that got kids out of school to come watch.
Cecile Allen on the porch and inside of “The Gallaher House”
The octagon shaped home in which Cecile currently resides was built in 1914 by James Kinney. As the story goes, the interestingly designed ranch house was built by Kinney to be used by his daughter and son-in-law. With eight nearly identical bedrooms upstairs, the gift might have been Kinney’s way of asking for grandchildren, but those details have been lost with time.
In front of Cecile’s home sits the communal horse trough once used in the center of town, across from the local tavern. As Cecile puts it, the men would tie up their horses to get water at the trough, and “from there they went to the tavern and watered themselves.” When Chief Joseph Dam was built in the 1950s, the trough was taken out of downtown and buried in the local cemetery to have flowers put in it. Later it was moved to a park, but it was used as a giant garbage can, so the city gave it to the Allens. Cecile has since decorated the trough with a wooden horse made by local artist, Laura Lilly. And though Cecile plans to downsize soon and possibly say goodbye to Bridgeport, she spends her days reading books in her “favorite spot,” the front porch of her octagon home.
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