Poor Jaston Hartman. No one seemed to get his name right.

Poor Jaston Hartman. No one seemed to get his name right.

When he was 4 years old and living in Ohio, the census taker said he was Jason. In 1880 he was Jasten. By the time he moved to Jacksonville in 1900, he had become Justin, then Jason again, then back to Jasten in 1920.

Thankfully, he was buried in the Jacksonville Cemetery with his correct name. But when he was honored on a bridge commemoration plaque in the Upper Rogue 33 years later, Jaston had once again become Jason.

Hartman was the first official bridge builder for Jackson County, taking that position early in the 1900s. Until his death in 1936, he built nearly every bridge in the county, most of them made of wood.

Two of his three sons, Wes and Lyal, followed their father into what became the family business.

"My dad, he always showed Lyal and me how to build bridges," Wes Hartman told local historian Kay Atwood in a 1973 interview. "I worked at it 44 years, and it's the only job I ever had. We covered the whole county."

Brother Lyle worked even longer than Wes, setting a county employment record in 1968 when he retired as bridge construction foreman after 50 years.

The boys had started young. Wes was 16 and Lyle 14 when they began helping their father build the McKee Covered Bridge over the Applegate River in 1917.

By the 1960s, the boys were spending most of their time tearing down the wooden bridges they had helped to construct.

"Dad built a bridge across Rogue River, just above where they're building a big dam now," said Wes, "and dad took that out and built the new bridge there in 1909 and we kept it in repair, but tore it down in recent years."

This was the Laurelhurst Covered Bridge, replaced with a concrete bridge in 1961. By 1978, even that bridge was removed to make room for the waters of Lost Creek Lake, which had finally been filled by the U.S. Corps of Engineers.

Laurelhurst was only one of an estimated 700 bridges built by the Hartmans in their more than 125 years of combined service in Jackson County.

In 1966, the Hartman brothers removed a timber bridge they had built in 1952 over the Middle Fork of the Rogue River, just east of Prospect. With that job done, they helped replace it with a new, 250-by-28-foot concrete structure.

Six companies had bid on the bridge with the contract ultimately awarded to the low bidder, TAR Co. of Ashland, for $122,772.

Three years later, County Engineer Robert Carstensen ordered a bronze commemorative plaque dedicated to the Hartmans, from Oregon Brass Works of Portland.

After a lifetime of people misspelling his name, Jaston probably would have laughed at the mistake on the plaque.

Bill Miller is a freelance writer living in Shady Cove. Reach him at newsmiller@yahoo.com.