The Historic Tumwater Falls Bridge

The bridge over lower Tumwater Falls.
The bridge over lower Tumwater Falls.. Photo courtesy: Olympia Tumwater Foundation
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Submitted by the Olympia Tumwater Foundation

In early July, the Olympia Tumwater Foundation closed a section of the trail, including the lower falls footbridge, at Brewery Park at Tumwater Falls (formerly Tumwater Falls Park). A recent bridge inspection identified elements of the western section of the bridge and stairway to the viewing platform that are in need of repair. These were closed for public safety. The work is expected to be completed by early fall 2022.

History of the Tumwater Falls Bridge

The Tumwater Falls bridge—its iconic silhouette part of the Olympia beer logo, situated in the middle of a horseshoe—connects the trail on each side of the Deschutes River to form a loop.

old footbridge over the lower falls in about 1885.
The old footbridge over the lower falls in about 1885. The Horton Pipe factory is in the foreground and Gelbach flour mill in the background. HHM582. Photo courtesy: Olympia Tumwater Foundation

We are often asked how old the bridge is. The answer is: pretty old. For decades before the brewery was built, mills, factories and a tanning business existed along the riverbanks. A footbridge has crossed the river near that location since the 1860s. The bridge with the iconic shape we’re familiar with today was built right around 1890, before Leopold Schmidt opened the Capital Brewing Company in 1896.

In 1962, when the park was under construction, renovations were made “diligently following every detail” of the 1890 bridge.

The footbridge, circa 1890, with Tumwater homes and businesses in the background.
The footbridge, circa 1890, with Tumwater homes and businesses in the background. HHM584. Photo courtesy: Olympia Tumwater Foundation

From the November 1962 issue of “It’s the Water” News:

“For many years brewery employees used the bridge daily. A path on the east bank led directly to the original brewery. On Sundays the bridge site was a popular place for family picnics. Tables were provided in the shade of the river where lunches were spread and children romped the rugged terrain and threw stones in the rushing Deschutes River.

Later a stairway was built at the east bank leading to a trolley spur which had been constructed to transport Olympia Beer to market. A single electric globe hung from a post at the top of the stairs and as it gently swayed at night, created nervous phantom-like shadows across the bridge.”

An early label of Olympia beer with the bridge in the center.
An early label of Olympia beer with the bridge in the center. Photo courtesy: Olympia Tumwater Foundation

In December 1995 during a windstorm, a tree fell on the eastern section of the bridge necessitating a lengthy closure. The following spring, the section was rebuilt and then put in place by helicopter.

Brewery Park hosts hundreds of thousands of visitors per year and we appreciate everyone’s patience as we work to get the trail open again.

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