Built in 1917, the McKee Covered Bridge is one of Oregon's oldest covered bridges. Also known as the Applegate River Covered Bridge, the 122 foot covered Howe truss designed bridge is also one of Oregon's tallest covered bridges, spanning some 45 feet above the Applegate River deep in Southern Oregon. Other features of the McKee Covered Bridge include flying buttresses, open day-lighting windows at the roof line, and a shingle roof. The McKee Covered Bridge not only marks the gateway to Applegate Lake and the Red Butte Wilderness to the south, but is also a window to the history of this corner of Jackson County, Oregon. The rustic looking covered bridge, just eight miles from the California border, was built in 1917 by contractor Jason Hartman along with his sons Wesley and Lyle Hartman on land donated by Adelbert "Deb" McKee.
The McKees lived on a ranch south of the bridge site and their home served as a stage station and halfway point between Jacksonville, Oregon and the Blue Ledge copper mine and town just over the border into California. Lindsay Applegate, for whom the Applegate River is named, prospected the area on the way to the mines in California. The discovery of prosperous mines caused the development of a north-south route in the area, and the covered bridge along with the McKees' ranch were used as a rest stop, due to its location roughly halfway between Jacksonville and the Blue Ledge Cooper Mine to the south. Horses were kept at the ranch for the six or eight horse teams that were 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. Eventually, Jackson County did away with the fords by building the Eastside Road. Though the new road was an improvement, the road was treacherous depending on road conditions. If you explore the McKee Covered Bridge, you will be able to see remnants of the old road leading up to the Eastside Road.
Finally, in 1917, two wooden covered bridges were built, McKee and Cameron, located about 4 miles downriver along the Applegate Road. This diverted traffic to the west side of the Applegate River, bypassing the hazardous area. The original structure had no openings on the sides, and after a collision it was realized that there was a need for openings on the south side wall so that traffic on the bridge or those approaching from the south could see each other on the single lane bridge. The McKee Covered Bridge was used from 1917 to 1956, originally serving the local mining and logging traffic. In 1956, the bridge was declared unsafe for vehicular traffic. As a result, a new concrete bridge was built nearby and the McKee Covered Bridge went to fallow for a while.
It was not until 1965 when the combined efforts of the Talisman Lodge, Knights of Pythias, Upper Applegate Grange, and the Jackson County Court restored the roof after damage caused by flooding in 1964. This kept the aging bridge open for pedestrian use. However, little upkeep followed, and by the early 1980s, Jackson County officials were worried about the strength of the bridge, which led to Jackson County ceasing financing ongoing inspections and repairs in 1985. During the summer of 1985, more than $40,000 in labor and materials were dedicated to repair the bridge and keep it open for pedestrians. Jackson County officials then announced that future county investment in the bridge would be impractical, and has looked to private efforts for ongoing preservation of the McKee Covered Bridge, which led to the community forming the McKee Committee in 1989, and later, the McKee Bridge Historical Society. Any bridge restorations are now funded by grants and fundraising.
Getting to the McKee Covered Bridge is easy to get to, just follow the Upper Applegate Road south about 9 miles from OR 238 in Ruch. There is a picnic area next to the covered bridge for passive recreation and the Applegate River is used as a local swimming hole near the bridge. The picnic area is a facility operated by the Rouge River-Siskiyou National Forest. In order to protect the wood for the covered bridge from graffiti, message boards have been placed inside the bridge for visitors to leave their mark in a way that doesn't detract from the bridge's condition, integrity and beauty. The year that the bridge was built is stamped on the entrance way of the covered bridge, adding to its uniqueness among covered bridges in Oregon and elsewhere. I checked out the McKee Covered Bridge one spring morning and had a wonderful, relaxing visit to this charming covered bridge that holds a special place among the covered bridges of Oregon.
|Looking at the side of the covered bridge.|
|The north portal of the covered bridge.|
|Inside the covered bridge. Here you can find interpretive information about the covered bridge as well as a few message boards.|
|Inside the covered bridge.|
|McKee Covered Bridge historic marker outside the bridge.|
|Sign inside the bridge commemorating the restoration of the bridge's roof in 1965.|
|McKee Bridge historical interpretive sign.|
|Looking north at the Applegate River.|
|Looking south towards the Siskiyou Mountains and the Applegate River.|
How to Get There:
Sources and Links:
Bridgehunter.com - McKee Covered Bridge 37-15-06
Oregon.com - Applegate River (McKee) Covered Bridge
Applegate Valley Connect - McKee Bridge Historical Society
McKee Bridge Historical Society - McKee Bridge & the Upper Applegate Valley
What to Do in Southern Oregon - McKee Bridge Swimming Hole and Covered Bridge Day Trip
President, McKee Bridge Historical Society