Where We Live: How the Marquam Bridge got its name

Attorney Philip Augustus Marquam was born in 1823

Philip Marquam, for whom the Marquam Bridge is named (KOIN)
Philip Marquam, for whom the Marquam Bridge is named (KOIN)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Nearly 140,000 vehicles cross the Marquam Bridge — which spans the Willamette River — each day. It’s arguably the most important bridge in the City of Bridges.

“You have a bridge here that connects up to everything,” Robert Hadlow, an ODOT historian, said. “Interstate 5 South, Interstate 5 North, Interstate 84, Interstate 405, the Sunset Highway. It was key — it was ground zero for all those to come together.”

An undated photo of Philip Marquam. (Courtesy photo)

But who was Marquam and why is he so important to the city’s history?

Attorney Philip Augustus Marquam was born in 1823 in Baltimore, Maryland. He followed the Gold Rush to California in the mid-1800s and moved to Portland in 1851.

He became a Multnomah County judge, an Oregon legislator and a transportation advocate. Marquam was instrumental in establishing the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company, which is now part of Union Pacific.

He purchased hundreds of acres on what is now Marquam Hill — where the Oregon Health and Science University and the Veteran Affairs Medical Center sit.

According to ODOT, it’s more accurate to say the bridge is named for Marquam Gulch, the land on the west side of the river where the bridge passes over.

The Marquam Bridge opened in 1966 and cost $14 million (Courtesy: City of Portland)

“It’s fitting in a way that — you might argue — that the bridge is named after the gulch that’s named after Philip Marquam,” Hadlow said.

The bridge opened in 1966 and cost $14 million — equivalent to more than $100 million today. The Marquam Bridge was a critical piece in Gov. Mark Hatfield’s vision to complete Interstate 5 in Oregon. It was also one of the first bridges to use what’s now common technology.

“They used computers to help complete their calculations — computers the size of rooms,” Hadlow said.

Marquam died in 1912 at the age of 89, but his name is forever preserved by the bridge that ties Portland together.

While the bridge isn’t very attractive and stifles development on the east side of the river, ODOT said there are no plans to move it.

Philip Marquam isn’t the only Marquam to have his legacy live on. There’s a town in Clackamas County named Marquam after Alfred Marquam — Philip’s nephew.