The South Jordan River Bridge by Lee Anderson
After the first settlers came to Lehi in 1850, the community quickly began to grow. The citizens looked to the surrounding hills, canyons, and mountains for materials to build their homes and businesses. Those traveling to the west found the Jordan River a formidable obstacle. In those early days, the only way to cross it was to find a place shallow enough to drive their wagon through it. One such place was Indian Ford, (located west of Thanksgiving Point’s Ashton Gardens.) Depending on the level of the river, these crossings were sometimes quite dangerous. James Harwood and David Clark found that out one day when they were en route to Pole Canyon for a load of poles and tried to cross the river at Indian Ford. They ended up losing most of their supplies and nearly lost a wagon when it was carried away in the current.
In 1853, a group of Lehi citizens got together and obtained permission from the territorial legislature to build a toll bridge across the Jordan River. The site chosen was in the middle of the horseshoe bend in the river about 100 yards south of present Main Street. Thomas Ashton was contracted to build the bridge out of cedar pilings, and pine poles with boards fastened on the deck with wooden pegs. (No nails were used in the structure.)
Tolls for using the bridge ranged from a few cents for sheep, hogs and foot passengers, to twenty cents for a vehicle drawn by two animals. A speed limit was strictly enforced with fines for going over the bridge faster than walking speed ranging from five dollars for a single animal, to fifteen dollars for a team and wagon. The toll keeper’s house was located around 100 yards east of the bridge. The bridge was primarily used by citizens traveling to and from Lehi. (The army camped at Camp Floyd typically crossed the river at Indian Ford.)
The original bridge remained in service until 1871, when Utah County built a new wooden bridge next to the old one. When it was completed, the old bridge was dismantled. This new bridge did not require a toll and was well used. Hyrum Evans recalled one experience that happened on that bridge that really scared him. He and a few other boys were on the bridge when Porter Rockwell drove up in a buggy pulled by a span of horses. The other boys saw him coming and promptly got off the bridge. Hyrum remembered, “I stayed on as the horses came up. They shied. Then Porter, who had a funny sort of a rough voice, looked at me and said, ‘Get off the bridge or I’ll stir the sugar in your coffee.’” Hyrum immediately found the quickest way off the bridge by falling over the side.
After over 30 years of use, the second bridge was wearing out. On the evening of April 19, 1907, Eugene Briggs drove his team and wagon across the wooden bridge and following behind him was Jesse Comer. When Jesse was about midway across the river, the section his team and wagon was on gave way and dropped into the river. Jesse was able to grab onto some of the planks and stayed out of the water, but his team and wagon were not as lucky. Thankfully, Eugene was on hand to help and with a great deal of effort they got his horses out of the river, but the wagon and its contents remained in the river until the next day.
The old bridge was repaired temporarily until a new 90 foot steel bridge could be built later that year by the Chicago Bridge Company. This bridge was used without incident for over 20 years until there was a significant increase in automobile traffic. The problem was not with the bridge itself, but with the approach to the bridge. The road on east side of the bridge was nearly 90 degrees from the bridge. This sharp angle made it hard for traffic on the road to see anything on the bridge. It also made the bridge hard to see in the dark. On July 28, 1934, a lumber truck ran headlong into a team and wagon driven by Wayne Bushman. His horse was severely injured, but thankfully, Wayne escaped harm.
In 1937, a group of teenagers coming from an evening of dancing at Saratoga, were traveling home to West Jordan. As they approached the bridge, the steering on their car malfunctioned and they drove through the wooden guardrail into the river. Tragically, one of the girls was killed when she was impaled by a piece of the guardrail and trapped in the submerged car. Three years later in 1940, Cedar Fort resident Ralph E. Smith drove through the guardrail in the same spot on a dark foggy night and was drowned. The city added lights to each end of the bridge to make the curve more visible until a more permanent solution could be implemented.
In 1947, a new steel and concrete bridge was constructed, along with a new approach due west from Main Street and intersecting with Redwood Road. The obsolete 1907 bridge remained in place until 1985 when it was dismantled in preparation for the Army Corps of Engineer’s river dredging project.