Lee Anderson | Lehi Historical Society
After the first settlers came in 1850, Lehi quickly grew. The citizens looked to the surrounding hills, canyons and mountains for materials to build homes and businesses. Those traveling to the west found the Jordan River a formidable obstacle.
The only way to cross it was to find a shallow place to drive their wagon through. One such place was Indian Ford, located west of Thanksgiving Point’s Ashton Gardens. Depending on the level of the river, these crossings were sometimes dangerous. James Harwood and David Clark found that out one day when they were en route to Pole Canyon for a load of poles. The river’s current caused them to lose most of their supplies and nearly a wagon.
In 1853, a group of Lehi citizens obtained permission from the territorial legislature to build a toll bridge across the Jordan River at 1500 North. The site was in the middle of the horseshoe bend in the river, about 100 yards south of present Main Street. Thomas Ashton was contracted to build the bridge out of cedar pilings and pine poles with boards fastened on the deck with wooden pegs. No nails were used.
Tolls for using the bridge ranged from a few cents for sheep, hogs and foot passengers to 20 cents for a vehicle drawn by two animals. A speed limit was strictly enforced, with fines for going over the bridge faster than walking speed ranging from $5 for a single animal to $15 for a team and wagon. The tollkeeper’s house was located around 100 yards east of the bridge, primarily used by citizens traveling to and from Lehi.
The original bridge remained in service until 1871 when Utah County built a new wooden bridge next to the old one. When the new bridge was complete, the old one was dismantled. The new bridge did not require a toll and was well-used.
Hyrum Evans recalled an experience on the bridge that really scared him. He and a few other boys were on the bridge when Porter Rockwell drove up in a buggy pulled by a span of horses. The other boys saw Rockwell coming and promptly got off the bridge. Hyrum remembered, “I stayed on as the horses came up. They shied. Then Porter, who had a funny sort of a rough voice, looked at me and said, ‘Get off the bridge, or I’ll stir the sugar in your coffee.’”
Hyrum found the quickest way off the bridge by jumping over the side.
The second bridge was wearing out after more than 30 years of use. On the evening of Apr. 19, 1907, Eugene Briggs drove his team and wagon across the bridge, followed by Jesse Comer. When Jesse was about midway across, the bridge gave way and dropped his team and wagon into the river. Jesse grabbed onto some of the planks and stayed out of the water, but his team and wagon were less lucky. Thankfully, Eugene was on hand to help, and with great effort, they got the horses out, but the wagon and its contents remained in the river until the next day.
The old bridge was repaired temporarily until the Chicago Bridge Company could build a new 90-foot steel bridge later that year. This bridge was used without incident for more than 20 years until there was a significant increase in automobile traffic. The problem was not with the bridge but with the approach to the bridge. The road on the bridge’s east side was nearly 90 degrees from the bridge. This sharp angle made it hard for traffic on the road to see anything on the bridge. It also made the bridge hard to see in the dark.
On July 28, 1934, a lumber truck ran headlong into a team and wagon driven by Wayne Bushman. His horse was severely injured, but Wayne escaped harm.
In 1937, a group of teenagers were on their way home to West Jordan after dancing at Saratoga. As they approached the bridge, their car’s steering malfunctioned, and they drove through the wooden guardrail into the river.
Tragically, one of the girls was killed when she was impaled by the guardrail and trapped in the submerged car. Three years later, in 1940, Cedar Fort resident Ralph E. Smith drove through the guardrail in the same spot on a dark, foggy night and drowned. The city added lights to each end of the bridge to make the curve more visible until a more permanent solution could be implemented.
In 1947, a new steel and concrete bridge was constructed, along with a new approach due west from Main Street, intersecting with Redwood Road. The obsolete 1907 bridge remained in place until 1985, when it was dismantled in preparation for the Army Corps of Engineers’ river dredging project.