The Collapse of the Division Street Bridge

A Tragedy Paved the Way for Concrete Bridges

With five men dead, twelve injured, and neighborhoods cut off from gas and electricity, the collapse of the Division Street bridge in 1915 remains one of Spokane's worst disasters. In the wake of the tragedy, city planners began to place bridge safety at a higher priority.

It was a typical winter morning on December 18, 1915, as two streetcars began to cross the Spokane river via the Division Street bridge. When the cars met on the middle of the bridge, steel girders ripped from the bank. One streetcar hung up on the tangle of twisted metal beams, but the other plunged all the way into the icy Spokane River below. Sparking wires and twisted beams made rescue difficult, and five people drowned. Seventeen passengers scrambled and escaped the wreckage.

As conductor Murrow I. Davis later recalled, “In the darkness there was nothing we could do … all of us who made it were lucky to have come out alive.”

Initially, the city of Spokane was reluctant to accept responsibility for the bridge malfunction, with bridge designer Hugh L. Cooper claiming “I do not believe the design was in any way weak.” He instead attributed damages to natural causes and floods. However, a study by a civil engineer from Portland revealed the quality of the steel used for the bridge to be “inferior for the time.”

The scandal dominated local headlines for months, and the public came to agree that a concrete bridge should be the replacement. An editorial in the Spokesman-Review declared, “steel bridges are in the past … we are in the age of concrete.”

By 1917, just two years after the collapse, construction of the new Division Street bridge was completed. Supported by three large arches and over six hundred feet of concrete, the improved bridge served the city until its expansion in 1992 due to increasing traffic.