Fiery bridge collapse leaves history lurking on the bottom of the Snoqualmie River

There’s history all around the Snoqualmie Valley – and as it turns out, I walked right over it.

That piece of history in the river caught my attention and prompted an inquiry to Valley Historian, Dave Battey, who works with the Snoqualmie Valley Historical Museum. His family is what you might call a ‘Founding Family’ of the Valley, with grandparents, aunts and uncles residing in the area since Snoqualmie was founded in 1903 – a time when lumber and farming sustained life.

One sunny morning I was walking over the SR 202 bridge near Snoqualmie Falls when I stopped to take pictures. It was summer and the river was low so I could see the bottom. Then it caught my eye – a large section of what looked like an old road. It was pretty eery.

So I contacted Dave – because Dave knows everything. He said yes – that I had walked right over some serious Snoqualmie Valley history.

It turns out in December of 1933, during a flood event, an oil tanker truck had ended up in the swirling Snoqualmie River and hit the bridge’s wooden abutment, causing the tanker to burst into flames. The abutment caught fire. According to the Snoqualmie Valley Historical Society, the heat of the oil-fed fire burned through the bridge’s steel beams, causing the north end to drop into the river.

Historians say it was a huge event in our tiny small town. The fire and sounds of cracking steel woke residents in the wee hours of the night. A large crowd gathered at Miller’s Corner (now SR 202 and Millpond Road) to witness the spectacle. Eight decades later I had stood right at the spot of the collapse as the haunting outline of that corroding old bridge in the river caught my eye.

Oil tanker truck tangled with collapse north end of the SR 202 bridge in December 1933. Photo: Snoqualmie Valley Historical Museum

Collapse a Huge Impact on Community

The loss of the bridge was a big deal for the upper Snoqualmie Valley. The bridge had just been rebuilt two years earlier and the country was in the depths of the great recession. There was no I-90 back then – so SR 202 was the main route into the area.

There was a plan to raise the damaged bridge from the river and reconnect it, but more flood waters brought a log jam downstream. The jam caught the collapsed bridge’s steel girders and pushed the severed end downstream. The bridge then had to be blasted away to protect the towns of North Bend and Snoqualmie.

SR 202 bridge collapse into Snoqualmie River, Dec. 1933. Photo: Snoqualmie Valley Historical Museum

Detouring around the Town

For a year traffic was detoured on Millpond Road to Meadowbrook Bridge and then back to SR 202, with the small town of Snoqualmie being bypassed. Trucks couldn’t use Meadowbrook Bridge due to weight limits and Millpond often closed due to river flooding. Historians say it was a hard year for Snoqualmie.

In April 1934, after pressure to speed up what had been slow progress, the SR 202 bridge was finally reopened to traffic, but remnants of that fiery December 1933 night still sit right below the surface.

Recent PSE work at the lip of  Snoqualmie Falls, the Snoqualmie River 205 project that helped mitigate flooding in the upper Valley, and sunny, warm summer months all work together to expose the old damaged bridge deck.

Snoqualmie Valley history is everywhere. You just have to look for it.

To learn more about local history, visit the Snoqualmie Valley Historical Society at www.snoqualmievalleymuseum.org or their Facebook page.

86 year old section of collapsed SR 202 bridge sits in the shallow summer waters of the Snoqualmie River near Snoqualmie Falls

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