Early Provo Bridges Across the Provo River Kept Washing Out
In the early 1850s, Provo colonists moved eastward from Fort Utah, once located where I-15 crosses the Provo River today, to Fort Provo on the current site on North Park. Surveyors laid out a road running diagonally across what was once commonly called the Provo Bench from Pleasant Grove to the new fort. This road descended the bluff following the basic route of today’s Columbia Lane and crossed the Provo River about where the current bridge crosses the stream.
Settlers spanned the river with their first bridge in 1851; the river promptly washed it out the next year. Since the flow of the Provo River was not controlled by dams, it was not uncommon for the spring runoff to wash bridges away. After a later washout in 1865, Joseph A. Thompson and John Leetham received a contract from Utah County to build a new bridge. Their workmen diverted the flow of the river around the work site to make labor on the new bridge more convenient.
When the bridge builders finished work on the structure, the general public agreed that it was a real work of art. The major problem was that they couldn’t get the river to flow into it’s old channel and under the bridge. The Deseret News suggested wryly “that if the Provo River were turned under the bridge, it would be an accommodation to the traveling public.”
As matters turned out, it did not much matter where the water flowed. The Provo River washed out the new bridge the next spring.
Archibald Gardner received a $7,000 contract in 1868 to build a new bridge. Gardner’s men almost had the new bridge completed when the spring runoff nearly washed the structure downstream in June. Mayor Abraham O. Smoot cut short the Sunday meeting and called on all of the men present to meet at the bridge and help save it, when they did. When Brigham Young went on his annual trip south that fall, his company crossed the new bridge. Until more modern types of bridges came into use, it remained a constant struggle to keep a bridge across the Provo River.