Bridges of the Ship Canal: Part 1

By foot, by trolley, by train...by golly

The other day my wife and I walked around Lake Union, which got me thinking about the many bridges that span and have spanned the gap along the route of the Ship Canal. Here’s my history of them, part 1, bridges 1-7 on map below. I’ll post part 2 next week.

1.    Great Northern Railroad Bridge (aka Bridge #4) - Opened 1914, it replaced the lower GN bridge near 14th Avenue. The bridge utilizes a 500-ton counterweight to lift the span.

2.    Ballard Bridge (15th Avenue) – Funding for the bridge was approved in a March 1915 vote and work began in September. Designed by City Engineer Arthur Dimock and architect F.A. Rapp, it opened on December 16, 1917, as a steel bascule bridge with wooden approaches and blocks of creosoted wood. By 1932, complaints about inadequacy of the bridge (slippery when wet, fire hazard) led to the wooden deck being replaced in 1934 with steel mesh. Three years later an ordinance passed to reconstruct the bridge. The new Ballard Bridge reopened in 1940 with “giant pilings that engineers say will last forever.” In 1967, an estimated 10,000 starlings were roosting under the bridge, which was a trifle problematic, due to poop corrosion. (Bridge deck 44’ is above water.)

3.     Northern Pacific Railroad Bridge/ Seattle and Montana RR bridge - The Sanborn fire map of 1905 shows two wooden, railroad trestles crossing Salmon Bay just west of a bridge at 14th Avenue, or Railroad Avenue as it was then called. By 1905, the S & M bridge was owned by Great Northern Railroad.

4.    14th Avenue Bridge - At least two bridges have crossed over Salmon Bay at this point. The first, made from split logs with smooth faces, was built in 1889 and rose and lowered with the tide. It survived till it rotted and was replaced by a more substantial bridge, which had a draw in it. It had to be raised in 1916 with flooding of Salmon Bay and was eliminated in 1918.

5.    Northern Pacific high Bridge - A steel Strauss bascule bridge completed in 1914 as a permanent and rapid acting type required by the war department,” it was taken down by dynamite on December 10, 1976. This is the same type of bridge as the Great Northern RR.

6.    Ross Bridge (Ross Wagon Bridge) - A small, wooden bridge built pre-1903, when it was damaged in a flood. Unclear when it closed but it does show up on the 1912 Baist map.

7.    Seattle Lake Shore and Eastern Railroad Bridge/Trestles (later the Northern Pacific RR)- The trestles were built sometime between 1887 and 1890 to cross the first cut between Lake Union and Salmon Bay, which was excavated by the Wa Chong construction company. They were still in place in 1912 but were gone by the time the canal opened in 1916.


September 25 - I will be leading my very fun and entertaining and educational Too High and Too Steep walk for The Field Trip Society. We’ll cover about 2 miles (practically no elevation gain because the hill is gone) and take about 90 minutes to explore the story of the Denny Regrade.