Despite Civil War turmoil, progress was bravely pushing Westward, leading into the Gilded Age of substantial growth in population and wealth. Cantonment Wright and Hell Gate
In November 1861, John Mullan established Cantonment Wright just across the Blackfoot River to the east of here. The little camp consisted of six crude log cabins from which he planned the next year's construction program while his men built a bridge across the Blackfoot River. The camp was located near a trading post established by Frank Worden and Christopher Higgins in 1860. Called Hell Gate, it was one of the toughest settlements in the territory. Over its four year history and a permanent population that never exceeded twenty people, nine men met violent ends, including four hanged by vigilantes in 1864. Mullan clearly did not like the area, which he called a "cold and bleak place" and the camp an "abode of not over much comfort." Mullan's men built the bridge during the winter, completing the 235-foot structure in March and then abandoned Cantonment Wright two months later. Described as a "picturesque piece of architecture," the bridge carries wagons and pack trains over the Blackfoot for only a couple of years before high water destroyed it. Mullan's bridge was the first of may bridges that would span the
Clark Fork and Blackfoot rivers here.
The Black Bridge
1896 — Missoula County builds a bridge across the Blackfoot at the site of the old steel bridge just to the north.
1908 — A devastating flood significantly damages the 1896 bridge. Due to cost, the bridge is repaired just enough to remain open and useable.
1919 — The Montana State Highway Commission agrees to fund half of the cost of a new bridge. The County raises the money to pay for the other half of the structure.
1921 — Billings, Montana-based Security Bridge Company begins construction of the new bridge.
1922 — At a cost of nearly $110,000, the new bridge is completed. It was the most expensive bridge built in Montana up to that time. It carries traffic on U.S. Highway 10 for the next three decades.
1950 — A new bridge is built downstream after engineers declare the bridge "quite dangerous."
2008 — Long closed to traffic, Missoula County and the local Save Our Bridge committee successfully raise money to rehabilitate the old bridge and save it from demolition. The bridge's two original spans are combined into one longer span to negate the need for a concrete pier in the Blackfoot River. The rehabilitated Black Bridge is just over 56 feet longer than the original bridge and once again serves as an important crossing of the Blackfoot River.