Oldest bridge in San Juan County to receive second lease on life

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CEDAR HILL, N.M.- San Juan County is home to a historic gem, the Cedar Hill Bridge that was built around 1913.

“There are not too many bridges in the country that are 110 years old,” public works director for San Juan County, Nick Porell said.

The bridge is nearly as old as the state of New Mexico.

“Purchased by the San Juan County Road Board at around the time of statehood in New Mexico,” Porell added. “It was purchased from a catalog, I guess at the time you could purchase a bridge from the Montgomery Ward Catalog.”

Once it was built, it was used by stagecoaches and later vehicles.

“As late as the early 90s, obviously it is nearly a 100-year-old structure at that time, with a wooden bridge deck, no real engineering records for how it was built and for what capacity,” said Porell. 

But it remained open for pedestrians until 2017, when it became too dangerous.

“At that time there was a huge amount of citizen comment, we used this for our whole lives, our kids grew up swimming here, we walk this path every day, we really want to see it repaired and remain open,” Porell said.

Porell added the bridge’s tie to the community always resonated with the San Juan County Commission. So, during their last meeting, they decided to use $600,000 of county capital reserves to restore a piece of history.

“Repairs which include replacement of the abutments on either side which is the largest scope of the work and some minor tweaking to the bridge structure itself,” Porell said. “It is in surprisingly good shape for a bridge that is 110 years old.”

Once it’s brought back to life, it will be part of a two mile walking loop along the Animas River.

“It’s a beautiful scene you’ve got canyons on one side farmland on the other, it’s uniquely New Mexican,” said Porell. 

Porell said optimistically, the bridge could reopen as soon as this summer however, that estimate is dependent on the weather.