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How Portland's Fremont Bridge got its name

Opening in 1973, the bridge shares a name with the Northeast Portland street named for former politician, explorer and veteran John C. Frémont.

PORTLAND, Ore. — The Fremont Bridge has been around for almost 50 years. Opening in 1973, it was considered a design upgrade compared to the Marquam Bridge on Interstate 5.

Painted in a hue of green called celery green, the Fremont Bridge connects North Portland to northwest Portland's Pearl District.

During construction, the bridge's mid-span, which is roughly three football fields in length, was floated down the Willamette River into place from Swan Island.

It took more than two days to hoist the arch 170 feet into the air and when the bridge opened in 1973, 35,000 cars drove across that opening day.

Today, more than 101,000 drive across the bridge daily.

The bridge shares a name with Fremont Street in Northeast Portland; the name Fremont is named after an early Oregon Territory explorer, military officer and politician John Charles Frémont.

Fremont is a common name you may have seen throughout the United States.

There are cities, such as Fremont, Calif. and Fremont, Neb. that bear his name. There's also the Fremont Street Experience in Las Vegas that is named after him. 

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Fremont was an American born to French immigrants. He was an early explorer of the Oregon Territory, California and the southwestern United States.

He was an officer in the U.S. Army, a politician, serving both as a U.S. senator from California and governor of the Arizona territory. He was also the first ever Republican candidate for president.

Fremont made his millions during the California gold rush but later lost it all and died a poor man.

Looking at old telegrams and notes in the Library of Congress archives, Fremont occasionally spelled his name with an accent like Frémont.

"The way it's written, how do you say it?" KGW asked Lynn Santelmann, the department chair of Applied Linguistics at Portland State University. 

"I would say Fremont," Santelmann said, pronouncing it in an English accent. When asked to pronounce the name with the accent, Santelmann pronounced it with a French-sounding accent.

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So we asked the question, are we saying the name wrong and why do we say it the way we do?

"The short answer is because we're English speakers and when we borrow words into a language we want to pronounce it according to the sounds system of that language and the spelling also leads us to do that," Santelmann said.

So are we saying it the wrong way or the right way? Santelmann said yes to both.

"If we were speaking French, it would be wrong or it wouldn't be French, but because we're English speakers it's correct for English," she said.

No matter how you say it, with or without the accent, just know that the next time you cross the Fremont Bridge, that's what's in a name.

The street in northeast Portland was named Fremont first, taking that name back in the late 1800s after the city annexed the city of Albina. Before it was Fremont street, it was Ash.

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