The Morrison Bridge in Portland

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Leaving the Montage, my wife and I head over the bridge back to West Portland. I’m lost in thought, remembering the stories my father told me about the building of this bridge when he was a little boy in the late 50’s.

The bridge is named after John L. Morrison, a mysterious Scottish immigrant and carpenter who built the very first house on Morrison Street.

The Rose city is lazy tonight, and I take it in. There’s a woman jogging with a stroller; a large bearded man with a chocolate lab, scowling his way towards the water front; a group of teenage hipsters standing in line at the Crystal Ballroom for a concert. They live, work, and breathe in this city, but do they understand it? Have they ever heard of John L. Morrison?  Did they give any thought to the man behind the name of the bridge they likely crossed to get there?

I wonder what the man himself was like. Would he fit into present-day Portland? Certainly he was bearded, which would peg him as “normal” in the heavily bearded Portland community.

Would he be pleased that his bridge is one of the biggest and most reliable bridges in the city; never closing and offering convenient access to I-84, I-5, downtown, the Hawthorne District and Mt. Tabor? I like to imagine him standing on the bridge, which spans the glorious Willamette River, awestruck by the fuel tankers (which were steam ships in his day) travelling slowly beneath the bridge.

I drive smoothly across the bridge, the impressive skyscrapers of downtown lying ahead. Art Deco dwellings, stone fronted stores with luxurious, yet affordable dwellings atop and soft, yellow lights emitting from Victorian-esque lampposts. In the mid 1800’s, when Morrison built his home on Morrison Street, could he have envisioned sky scrapers, trains, concert venues, and an entire city of books (the amazing Powell’s Bookstore)?

Did he envision the charm of Goose Hollow? The luxury of the Pearl District or the hidden gems of the Industrial District? Would he have shopped at Nike Town or gone to poetry slams at Backspace on Sunday Nights? Would he have known that someday a bridge bearing his name would allow others to do so?

The Morrison Bridge allows me to drive home safely with my wife at our own comfortable pace. We leave the city and arrive at our little 1970’s Bungalow in Cedar Hills. It’s quiet here, and safe. I’m thankful for the historically enigmatic figure named John Morrison and the bridge named after him.

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