History of the Society

The Upper Applegate community has always pulled together when our beautiful bridge needs help.  In 1927 a spectacular flood flushed massive trees down the river that took out the approach and dislodged the siding.  For the next year, to reach the Beaver Creek school, students living west of the river scaled a 40-plus foot ladder from the river bank to cross the bridge.

Ad hoc groups and established civic organizations have stepped up over the decades to repair the roof (1965), do general restoration (1989), and fumigate the massive beams and replace the cedar siding (1995).  Jackson County owns McKee Bridge – even today it is a “road” under the jurisdiction of the Roads Department.  After spending $45,000 in 1985, the County announced that it would cease financing future work to keep the aging structure open.  The community formed a Preservation Committee, governed by directors appointed by the County.  The funds raised by the Committee were placed directly in a County account until 1998 when the process of establishing an independent nonprofit corporation began.

On January 7, 1999, key community members met at the Palmer Creek home of Evelyn and Clarence Williams and voted to incorporate.  Evelyn shared her dream of forming a historical society that would do more than bridge maintenance; she envisioned a true museum to curate and display artifacts of the Applegate’s past.  This website is a step toward turning that dream into reality.

Membership to MBHS opened in the Summer of 1999.  Annual dues were $10 for an individual, $15 for the entire family.  The Society enrolled 94 memberships reflecting over 200 supporters in its first year.

The inaugural McKee Bridge Day on Fathers Day, June 20, 1999, attracted around 300 Oregonians to the bridge and picnic grounds.  The guest of honor was Albert Hackert, husband of Dorothy McKee, the youngest of the 12 children of Deb & Leila McKee.  Dorothy was born and raised at the stagecoach stop just a few yards west of the bridge, and passed away in 1990.  Albert followed her in 2001 at age 99.

In 2004 an inspection revealed that the bridge needed more major repairs.  The bridge was closed for a time; the repairs cost over $30,000.  After this drama, celebrating the 90th birthday of McKee Bridge in 2007 was a big deal, with proclamations by government entities and officials and, of course, a big party.

But as the 100th anniversary approached, MBHS received bad news: inspectors deemed the bridge unsafe for pedestrians.  Jackson County put the bridge entirely off-limits.  Saving the bridge was possible, but would require the hefty sum of $610,000.  The County was able to get a grant from the Federal Highway Administration to cover a lot of this, but MBHS needed to come up with at least $56,000 more.  This goal was surpassed when MBHS members and supporters made generous donations, and the State Historic Preservation Office and Kinsman Foundation extended grants.  McKee Bridge was declared safe and ready to reopen in time for McKee Bridge Day 2017.  Happy 100th birthday indeed!

You’ll find more details and photos of the 2014-15 restoration project here.

MBHS volunteers continue to care for the bridge, removing debris and graffiti, stocking the rack cards and visitors’ log, and posting information and photos in the display cases.  The Society will pay for a detailed engineering inspection in 2021, which is expected to cost over $6000.  Hopefully, the bridge receives a clean bill of health, but the Society maintains reserves to handle less-than-major repairs.

MBHS volunteers also work to fulfill our chartered objective to preserve and promote the heritage of the Upper Applegate watershed.  The Facebook page launched in 2020 has over 500 followers who enjoy daily posts of tales from the Upper Applegate’s past.  Volunteers clean grave markers at Logtown Cemetery and prepare displays at the Ruch Library.  We have scanned, organized, and annotated Evelyn William’s extensive collection of photos and relics and incorporated Applegate-oriented items from other sources.  MBHS Members can browse or search this Virtual Museum  in our For MBHS Members section.

Have you or a friend or family member played a role in saving McKee Bridge?  Please check out this Who’s Who Timeline – we are enormously grateful to the many people who have promoted and protected Oregon’s most beautiful covered bridge.