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April 08, 2010
Plans surface to resurrect McKenzie Gateway Arch
|Flood waters in 1927 sunk the arch that welcomed people to the Gateway to the McKenzie. A new group is promoting a plan to bring it back.|
MCKENZIE BRIDGE, Oregon (STPNS) -- SPRINGFIELD: St. Louis, Missouri, marked the start of westward expansion with a 630-foot stainless steel Oregon Trail Gateway Arch in 1965. Now a new group near the other end of that emigration route hopes to resurrect another symbol that hasn’t been seen since the Roaring Twenties – an arch that gave Springfield, Oregon fame as the “Gateway to the McKenzie.”
Today the only vestige left of this heritage is a small, somewhat inconspicuous sign on Pioneer Parkway which welcomes people to town, informs them it was incorporated in 1865 and adds, “Gateway to the McKenzie River.”
“Springfield deserves something with more ‘oomph,” according to Tom Lincoln, who along with Patrick Hurley and Carl Mosen, has been doing research on the Gateway Arch.
The great arch, once stood in Glenwood, the former West Springfield. A flood destroyed it in 1927. Details are hazy. Organizers report nobody seems to know what happened to the old Arch or why it was never replaced.
They have determined it was financed in 1920 by a group of women known as the Springfield Ladies Civic Club. The ladies conceived it as a tribute to Springfield and a good way to welcome tourists. Details about the Ladies Civic Club, also known as the Ladies Civic Improvement Club, are a little sketchy.
Articles in the Springfield News indicated they were a very pro-active group, interested in public affairs and in promoting the city. They invited “ladies who have the welfare of Springfield at heart” to their bi-weekly meetings and initiated all sorts of projects such as a city Christmas tree, a viaduct, cleaning up town eyesores, establishing a volunteer fire department, building a park and keeping teens off the streets at night. Springfield’s population in 1920 consisted of just 1,855 souls, compared to today’s population of some 60,000.
“It isn’t clear how they raised all the money for such things, but it is known that they held quilt and bake sales and very likely solicited contributions from businesses. Surely their most impressive accomplishment was the building of the arch,” notes Lincoln.
Supporters of the revival see some similarities between the St. Louis and Springfield archways. They may be different in scale, but not different in kind. “St. Louis was the conduit for the Oregon Trail, which opened up the West. Springfield is the conduit for the McKenzie Highway, which opens up possibly the most magnificent 80 miles of river anywhere in the country. Springfield’s Gateway Arch preceded St. Louis’s Gateway Arch by some 45 years, yet nothing has put St. Louis on the map as visibly as that arch,” Lincoln added.
The trio has been drumming up support for a revival by pointing out that Springfield’s failure to resurrect its own arch has been a missed opportunity for both notice and tourism - that has waited far too long for someone to stand up and do something about it.
“People who live in and around Springfield tend to have a lot of love for the McKenzie River. We’re drawn to her majestic beauty. We drink her waters.” Lincoln said. “We fish her waters and raft down them. We marvel at places like Sahalie Falls or Belknap Springs. There is even a campground on her banks called Paradise.”
Supporters say they believe that by restoring the Arch, re-building it - either as it was or with a more contemporary design - would make Springfield a city of focus. Other reasons given for the rebuilding include publicity surrounding the resurrection of the Arch would lead to increased tourism, as well as restoring “a certain luster and romance to the city that is it’s natural birthright.”
They also see regional impacts, with new businesses coming in time, but feel the fruits of increased tourism would be more immediate.
“Restaurants, gas stations, motels, grocery stores, resorts, campgrounds, golf courses, river guides, Mom and Pop stores and retail shops of all kinds in Springfield and up and down the river would benefit economically,” Lincoln believes “The money they bring in would, in turn, be redistributed locally.
A backer has already commissioned a $5,000 study for the design of a new arch. New ideas that might be incorporated are a McKenzie River drift boat and possibly a water feature. The organizers say the preferred site for a new arch is the beginning of the McKenzie Highway at around 76th Street in east Springfield. The advantage of that location is that, for eastbound traffic the arch will act as the “Gateway to The McKenzie.” Westbound traffic will see it as a welcome to Springfield and a Gateway to the West.
Committee members are confident private funding is available for building a new arch - which may cost in the neighborhood of $1 million. People interested in learning more about the project can contact The Committee For a New Gateway Arch: Patrick Hurley, 541-221-2106; Tom Lincoln, 541-726-1817; or Carl Mosen, 949-715-7749.
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