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The Heron Bridge

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Ferries, rowboats and "cages:" remembering when crossing the Clark Fork to Heron was a little more complicated

Most of the people living in the Heron area are “Newcomers.”  I asked at a recent gathering how many of the people present had been in the area over 50 years. Everyone looked at me as if I were crazy.

Any who have lived here 50 or more years will remember what it was like before the Heron Bridge was put in.   

The river was crossed in a variety of ways and by rowboat was one. There was also a “cage” on a cable put in by the Lauderdale Shingle Mill to take bolts of shingles across the river to the railroad at Cedar Spur. The shingle mill was up Blue Creek, supplied by a fine stand of cedar trees.

The cage was used by the neighbors as a way to get across to Highway 10-A, which is now Montana 200. They would leave their vehicles on the north side of the river and use the cage to get across and walk home.

The ferry was in place; I’m not sure when it was built. The ice flow took it out in the early 1930s. There was a suspension footbridge across the river also, which was made with two cables above, one on each side, and two at the bottom to hold the boards in place. The sides were made of heavy netting between the upper and lower cables. You could look between the boards to see the river rushing below. One neighbor rode his motorcycle across and another used his bike to get to Heron. With the building of Cabinet Dam, the footbridge site was flooded.

The route of travel on the north side was a winding county road until 1934 when the “new” highway was put in. On the south side the road to the west followed the river and the railroad on what is called Harker Road. It was dusty in summer and rutted and muddy during the spring and fall. I don’t know about winter.

Harry Behmerwahld remembers riding in their car when the river was flooding near Clark Fork. His dad would remove the fan belt so it wouldn’t flip water on the engine. If you opened the doors, the water would flow right through.

Going east was not any better. When you got to Quinn’s Cut the hill was steep and winding and dangerous. The school bus, driven by Marinus Jensen, was a Model A Ford bus. It had benches along each side instead of across. The exhaust pipe came up through the floor behind the driver, went the full length of the bus and out the back. It was the heater. It had a guard on it to keep the kids from getting burned. They would sit with their feet on it to keep warm.

So now the Heron Bridge has been in place for 50 years, since November 1952. The bridge itself was brought from Metaline Falls. There was a shortage of steel after WWII so we got a used bridge. It has been a great part of the community all these years.

The bridge was placed where the Heron Rapids were located in the river. The county commissioners at the time were M.C. Sutherland, H.E. Smith and Ed Hazelton. We all should be grateful for these men because without the bridge, I’m afraid the little town of Heron would not survive.

Nan Compton is a Heron resident and one of those people who often serve as the "memory" of a community. She's also related to those Compton boys from that area - she mothered them, in fact.


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Elinor "Nan" Compton Elinor "Nan" Compton a former nurse, is an area native who lives in Heron, Mont.

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