By Luke Ellington

(Source: City of Bridgeport)

Timeline of Bridgeport

1880sGold rush brings influx of Chinese miners
1883Douglas County established
1886Waterville voted county seat
1891Bridgeport townsite platted by Butler Liversay
1900Approximately 110 residents
1910Bridgeport incorporated with a population around 500
1995Approximately 1,800 residents
2004Approximately 2,100 residents
PresentApproximately 2,400 residents

Founding Family Names

Many families and individuals took part in the formation of Douglas County settlements in the late 1800s. Some names appear in many historical accounts and biographical sketches, while others have been lost to time. These are some of the names which have survived in books about Bridgeport:

DeBolt, Hopp, Liversay, Rowena, Six, and Teter.

A Look Back

As with many areas along the Columbia River, the first non-Indian settlements near Bridgeport were established by Chinese gold miners. Originally known as Westfield, the Bridgeport area was dotted with mining camps during the gold strikes of the 1880s. But as the gold ran out, the early settlers were forced to turn to a more agricultural based economy. A thriving town of wheat, fruit, and cattle began.

(Source: Wikimedia Commons. Image by Unknown)

Story of Chief Moses

It was near the present site of Bridgeport that Chief Moses reunited with his tribe after a trip to the nation’s capital with other tribal leaders. White settlers were pouring into the newly-surveyed Douglas County and an Indian uprising was beginning. However, after seeing the country’s larger cities, incredible numbers of white people, and their technology, Chief Moses performed the following to his tribe: Picking up a handful of sand from the council circle, he threw it at his feet, proclaiming, “Indians!” Then turning slowly to the mountain behind him, the chief pointed to its sheer mass and yelled “white men!” Consequently, a bloody war between the native Indians and white settlers was avoided.

Chief Moses, Sulk-stalk-scosum

(Source: Washington State University Libraries)

On November 30, 1891, the town of Bridgeport was platted by Butler Liversay. The Western Land and Improvement Association from Bridgeport, Connecticut named and bought the townsite for $60,000. When impassable river rapids north of Bridgeport proved to block river travel, the town became the staging point for a vast array of supplies from the surrounding area. Bridgeport became especially important as the hub for grain transfer from the Big Bend area down to Wenatchee. In 1892, the main streets of Bridgeport were graded and a steam ferry was put on the river. The town expected the Northern Pacific Railroad to route trains through, but the tracks never came. Despite financial concerns which arose near this time, the hopeful settlers remained positive. Bridgeport’s children began attending classes in Boyd Teter’s store and no longer had to meet in various homes. That store building had served as the Westfield post office, until being renamed Bridgeport on July 25, 1892. It continued to serve as post office until 1958.

Article from a Bridgeport correspondent in 1892

“The new town of Bridgeport is again on the top wave of excitement. The townsite company dug up a few thousands and paid off the brick yard contractors and hands. The outside walls of the brick hotel are up, about four feet, and a raft of lumber is expected this week. Teams are busy hauling lumber, iron, etc, from Coulee City for the steam ferry boat that is to make daily runs from Bridgeport to Port Columbia, and all around is the busy hum of an embryo city.”

Communal horse trough in front of city fire ball and the bell displayed today

News in 1909

BRIDGEPORT, June 15–Daily mail delivery to Bridgeport has been approved by the post office department, replacing the twice-a-week service it has been getting. A contract for the daily service has been awarded to the Columbia & Okanogan Steamship Co.

When the town was incorporated in 1910, Bridgeport was a thriving hub of business. With a population nearing 500 residents, Bridgeport was complete with, among other ventures, a bank, flour mill, saw mill, three general stores, two butcher shops, a ferry operation, and the largest hotel in North Central Washington. Feeling on top of the world, Bridgeport held a huge 4th of July celebration in 1910 that brought crowds to the city. In addition to a parade through town, the celebration goers were treated to a daring tight wire act by Bridgeport’s own Orval Davis. Shocking the crowd, Orval walked blindfolded high above the street with no net. Legend has it that he even kept time to the beat of the local band’s music. This feat was probably a relatively simple task for a man whose hobby it was to walk across the 1,400 foot long ferry boat cable to the other side of the river and back.

The House with Eight Sides

Around rural Bridgeport, a high number of homes have been driven in by semi-trucks. Only one, however, is two stories tall, has eight sides, and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The Gallaher House used to be on Dyer Hill before being transplanted behind downtown – a spectacle that shut down local schools in 1993.

octagon house with interesting architectural peaks
Stairway landing with door around at various angles

The Gallaher House with historic community horse trough.

The octagon-shaped home was built near Mansfield in 1914 by James Kinney. This uniquely designed ranch house was built by Kinney to be used by his daughter and son-in-law, Clyde Gallaher. With eight nearly identical bedrooms upstairs, the gift might have been Kinney’s way of asking for many grandchildren. Unlike the Gallaher House’s craftsmanship, the full details of its story have been lost to time. The home was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1995.

In front of the Gallaher House rests a communal horse trough once used in the center of town, across from the tavern. As Bridgeport resident Cecile Allen put it, the men of town would tie up their horses to get water at the trough then “went to the tavern and watered themselves.” The trough was taken out of downtown and buried in the local cemetery to have flowers put in it. When it began to collect more trash than flowers, the trough was given to the Allens.

Bridgeport was not spared from the Great Depression that shook the country in the late 1920s and 1930s. Much of Bridgeport’s commercial district disappeared, yet the town survived. Following the fire of 1936, which destroyed the wooden schoolhouse, the town came together and built the large concrete building currently occupied by the Epic Child Development Preschool. Built in 1937, the structure was intended as a junior and senior high school and had nine classrooms and a library. Additions to the building were made in the 1960s.

arial view of small town with a bridge across water

View from Chief Joseph Lookout

Bridgeport saw fortune again in 1949 when construction began on the massive Chief Joseph Dam, located just north of Bridgeport. Completed in 1980, the dam was a source of jobs and business during its three phases of construction. Originally referred to as the Foster Creek Dam, the dam’s name was changed to honor Chief Joseph of the Nez Pierce Indians, who gave the famous Nez Perce surrender oration in Montana. The lake formed behind it was named for Rufus Woods, to honor the publisher of the Wenatchee Daily World newspaper whose many efforts assisted Columbia River development. Today, Chief Joseph Dam generates over $200 million in power annually and is owned and operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It is their most productive power source and is third amongst the top hydroelectric producing dams in the United States, behind Virginia’s Bath County Pumped Storage Station and Washington’s Grand Coulee Dam.

dam with water flowing out of it

(Source: Panoramio. Image by Chris Metz; Attribution-No Derivative Works License; no changes made)

A piece of Chief Joseph’s famous surrender oration, recorded by Lt. Woods

“Tell General Howard I know his heart. What he told me before, I have in my heart. I am tired of fighting… Hear me, my chiefs; my heart is sick and sad; from where the sun now stands Joseph will fight no more forever.”

Chief Joseph, Hinmatóowyalahtq̓it, at Nespelem Creek

(Source: Washington State University Libraries)

For all its hard times, Bridgeport has never given up the fight. This town on the river has remained vibrant despite the numerous abandoned and boarded up businesses and buildings around town. Large grassy parks seem to be around every corner and almost always active with laughing children. Berryman Park behind town offers something for everyone. There is a summertime pool, playground equipment, courts for sports enthusiasts, and even a war memorial filled with military machinery. The Bridgeport Days parade in June offers a chance to see some of the machinery in action.

fighter jet, rockets, and small tank on display
play structure with basketball hoop close by near a grassy area

War Memorial and Playground in Berryman Park

(Source: City of Bridgeport)

Bridgeport’s schools are the pride of the town. The Elementary school has earned “Washington State Title 1 Distinguished School” awards multiple years. These awards recognize outstanding improvements in teaching fundamentals. US News and World Report deemed Bridgeport High School a Gold Medal High School in 2012 and ranked it in the top 2% of high schools in the nation. Some years back, in partnership with the Douglas County PUD, Bridgeport’s schools were able to send computers home with nearly every student in the middle school and provide instruction for parents. With the high-speed internet access the PUD has brought into the town, Bridgeport has been able to look toward the future. It is with Bridgeport’s children that the future of the town lies, and the leaders of today work (as the town’s early settlers had) to ensure their future is even brighter than the present.

Bridgeport Today (from “About Us” section of city website)

Nestled between beautiful hills along the Columbia River, Bridgeport’s main area industry is agriculture with apple and cherry orchards in and around the City. Outside of the City wheat fields are prevalent.

The area, rich with outdoor recreation opportunities and beautiful scenery, is a popular destination for anglers, hunters, kayakers, boaters, photographers and other outdoor enthusiasts. Locals and visitors, alike, enjoy the sun in the summer and the snow in the winter.

Citizens enjoy a slower-paced way of life without the usual stressors of a larger city. People who live and work within Bridgeport enjoy an easy commute with no traffic signals and no rush-hour or gridlock. Bridgeport boasts a lower cost of living than the State average and the lowest power rates in the country, making it an affordable place for many to live or own vacation homes.

Bridgeport’s Annually Anticipated Events

  • Opening Day of Fishing Season: April
  • Bridgeport Days: June
  • Opening Day of Hunting Season: October
  • Christmas Bird Count: December