The mission of the McKee Bridge Historical Society is to preserve and maintain the bridge in a safe and usable condition for pedestrian use and to educate the public about it’s history and the history of the Applegate area.
McKee Bridge is the 4th oldest covered bridge in Oregon, and also the highest above the water, at 45 feet. It was built in 1917 by Jason Hartman and sons Wesley and Lyle, contracted with Jackson County, on land donated by Mr. and Mrs. Adelbert “Deb” McKee. They lived on a ranch south of the bridge site and their home served as a stage station and halfway point between Jacksonville and the Blue Ledge copper mine and town, located above the Joe Creek drainage in the Elliot Creek fork of the Applegate River. Relief horses were kept at the ranch for the six or eight horse teams hauling ore from the mine and lodging and board were provided for travelers.
When the Blue Ledge Mine opened in 1906 it created an extensive amount of traffic on the Applegate Road. There were two river crossings at the time, Nick Wright’s Ford about three miles upriver, and John Wright’s Ford about five miles downriver. These fords were difficult for the horse driven wagons with their heavy loads of ore. The County did away with the fords by building the East Side Road. Though this was an improvement, the road was treacherous depending on road conditions and a particularly steep, narrow section now called Dead Horse Hill was named after a horse drawn wagon went over the bank there.
There was such a great need for the copper ore, which after arriving by wagon in Medford, was shipped north to Seattle for smelting, that Medford city elders and investors in 1916 made plans to put a rail line from Medford to the Blue Ledge Mine. Part of the support for the rail line was to have come from a lumber mill and box factory which would be built in the Applegate. None of this came to pass.
So finally, in 1917 (only two years before the mine closed at the end of WWI, when the need for the ore for munitions declined) two wooden covered bridges were built, McKee and Cameron, located about 4 miles downriver. This diverted traffic to the West side of the river, bypassing the hazardous area. The bridge was opened to traffic in 1918. The original structure had no openings on the sides, and after a short period of time it was realized that there was a need for openings on the South side wall so that wagons on the bridge or those approaching from the South could see and be aware of each other, since the bridge is single lane.
Since then, the bridge has had numerous restorations to keep it functioning. But by 1956, it’s usable life for vehicular traffic had ended and it was considered unsafe, except for pedestrian use. A new concrete bridge was built a short distance upriver. Since then various community groups have come together to keep the bridge open for use. The roof was restored in 1965 (after the bridge was damaged during the flood of 1964) by Talisman Lodge, Knights of Pythias, the Upper Applegate Grange, and the Jackson County Court. It was restored again in the 1980’s by Friends of McKee Bridge, a group of neighbors and locals.
MCKEE BRIDGE HISTORICAL SOCIETY
In 1999, the McKee Bridge Historical Society was formed to oversee the maintenance and restoration of the bridge. The Society is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization relying on dues, donations and fundraisers to do their work. However, when the bridge was closed to even pedestrians in 2011 after a regular inspection, the Society was able to secure grants from Preserving Oregon and the Kinsman Foundation to be part of matching funds for a large National Historic Covered Bridge Restoration Grant. Once again the community came through to help out in raising the additional matching funds. A State Highway Grant was also required to cover overage, coordinated by Jackson Roads and Parks.
Work on the major bridge restoration began in late 2014 and was completed in time to celebrate McKee Bridge Day with the bridge open again in June of 2015. In June, 2017 a large celebration was held to celebrate the Centennial of this important piece of our local history.
MCKEE BRIDGE DAY
A celebration of the bridge is held annually on the second Saturday of June at the bridge and the adjoining park. Barbequed tri-tip, root beer floats and other goodies are available to eat while listening to good music or checking out the displays of local artists and vendors and the historical displays at the bridge and at our museum trailer. Antique cars and steam engines are available to view. It’s old time fun and a great annual community gathering under tall trees with the Applegate River gurgling nearby.
LOCATION AND DIRECTIONS
View the interactive map for visual placement. By road, take Highway 238 to Ruch and turn on Applegate Road (known locally as Upper Applegate Road). Travel about 9 miles south to McKee Bridge Road on your left. Enjoy your visit and sign our visitor log which has logged people from all over the world. Graffiti boards are placed inside for visitor use, preventing abuse of the bridge itself.
By mail: MBHS, P.O. Box 854, Jacksonville, OR 97530
By phone: Paul Tipton at 541-846-7501
By email: firstname.lastname@example.org