When it comes to intriguing histories, the community of Clark Fork has a tale to tell, and it revolves around its remarkable bridges. Situated in Idaho, this location played a pivotal role during the gold rush years as one of the most accessible routes to reach the northern part of the state. Over time, the construction of bridges became a pressing need for the community, leading to the development of various structures that shaped the town's transportation landscape.
The first bridge to be built in Clark Fork was primarily for the railroad and was constructed around 1891. Prior to that, people relied on a ferry to cross the river. However, as the early 1900s approached, the community recognized the necessity for a bridge that could be utilized by everyone. Local newspapers from as early as 1912 published notices requesting bids for a wagon bridge across the Clark Fork. By 1916, an estimated cost of $88,000 was associated with this "much-needed bridge." If your a local in Clark Fork Idaho, you might recognize these old family names. In 1918, a notice appeared in the papers indicating that W.E. Johnson, John Derr, and others petitioned for the construction of a bridge approximately 1,000 feet long across the Clarks fork River, close to where the present ferry was located. These calls for action gained momentum, leading to the organization of a fair in the fall of 1919 to dedicate the newly constructed bridge. The Northern Idaho News reported that the bridge featured "five steel spans each 200 feet long, resting on six concrete piers designed to carry a load of 20 tons." A sign placed above the bridge displayed an order from the county commissioners (Idaho Statute No. 1392), stating that "for riding or driving over this bridge faster than a walk, a $100 fine or three months in jail" would be imposed.
In 1956, the Northern Pacific Railroad constructed a new bridge specifically for their use, leading them to offer the old railroad bridge to Bonner County for $1,500. The county seized the opportunity and promptly began renovating the bridge to accommodate heavy truck traffic. This allowed the transportation of logs to nearby mills. The one-way bridge had a ten-foot roadway and was designed to bear a load of 250 tons.
While regular traffic continued to utilize the old wagon bridge, it was eventually closed in 1991 due to safety concerns. Consequently, all traffic was redirected to the one-way former railroad bridge. When I first moved it Clark Fork I was staying at an RV park across the river. It was a one lane bridge with boards that would bounce up as you crossed. It was a little unnerving to have more than one car on it at a time. By 1999, this bridge had the lowest safety rating in the state. In 2002, the county secured funding to construct a new vehicle bridge adjacent to the existing former railroad bridge, which was then repurposed as a pedestrian bridge. The original wagon bridge was dismantled, marking the end of an era.
Notably, the pedestrian bridge also forms a part of the Idaho Centennial Trail, a 900-mile trek established as the official state trail in 1990. This trail connects the entire state from north to south and offers an incredible adventure for those who dare to undertake it. However, completing the entire journey remains a feat accomplished by only a select few.
As modernization continues, numerous old bridges across the country are being replaced. Nevertheless, it's worth keeping an eye out for the remnants of history when traversing these waterways. Take a moment to appreciate the significance of these structures and the stories they hold beneath your wheels. Clark Fork's bridges serve as a testament to the community's progress, as well as the profound historical and cultural heritage they embody.