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1915 bridge collapse

Fri., Aug. 3, 2007, midnight

Spokane had its own bridge disaster, nearly a century ago.

About 6 a.m. Dec. 18, 1915, the north span of the Division Street bridge collapsed into the Spokane River sending two trolley cars into the water, killing five men and injuring 12.

It was not only the icy water that killed the men; a steel girder from the bridge sheared the top off of one streetcar, killing several passengers and pinning others. The other trolley had nearly made it across the bridge when the deck collapsed and it was dragged backward and down, leaving the car at a perilous angle.

Fire and rescue crews responded, but their efforts were hampered by the fact that the bridge carried live electric lines, water lines and gas lines, all of which were broken and tangled in the wreckage.

Those lines served much of the north side of the city, and after the accident, “there was widespread confusion when hundreds of homes suddenly found themselves without water, gas, electric light or telephone service,” The Spokesman-Review reported at the time.

The newspaper reported the day after the accident that both the city and Washington Water Power, which operated the trolleys, denied responsibility. By the next day, a Monday, it was concluded that the bridge failed due to “granulation,” or metal fatigue.

The New York engineer who designed the bridge in 1892 examined the wreckage and blamed it on damage from the 1894 flood, in which a washed-away railway span floated downstream and struck the bridge.

Source: Staff writer Jim Kershner, Spokesman-Review archives


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