Riverside Bridge in Christian County, Missouri: The attempt to preserve it for the next generation

Photo taken by Daniel Shortt; Used with permission

Each county has its own history regarding its bridges, regardless of who built them during its infancy, the types that were built, and the local history surrounding them. The only variant the exists is that each county is losing its own historic bridges more rapidly than when they were built so that in the end, the landscape consists of only modern bridges constructed between 1980 and the present. But not every county is neglecting its historic bridges to a point where they end up becoming a pile of scrap metal to be used for other future purposes. There are some groups who find a unique value in a historic bridge and would stop at nothing to ensure that it is preserved and reused for recreational purposes.

Take Christian County, Missouri, for example. The county is touted as being the fastest growing region in Missouri and one of the fastest growing counties in the US with a population of over 75,000, a 66% increase since 1990. Yet with this development, changes in the landscape and the way places of historic interest are being used have to be considered. It is logical that with this fast growth that the infrastructure has to be updated to suit the needs of the residents, which would explain why many historic bridges have been replaced since 1995. Of these, four metal through trusses have been taken down in favor of concrete bridges, and one, the Riverside Bridge (shown in the photo above) may be the next in line.

This two-span pin-connected Pratt through truss bridge, with A-frame portal bracings and beam strut bracings has been closed since 24 September, is facing an uncertain future as plans are in the making to replace this 274 foot long superstructure, which was completed in 1909 by the Canton Bridge Company of Canton, Ohio, one of two major players in the bridge building business during that time (the other major player was the Pioneer Construction Company of Kansas City). Whether this bridge will be spared demolition remains to be seen. However, there is one group that is vying to save the bridge and convert it into pedestrian traffic, even if it means having a new bridge built on a new alignment and having the group bear responsibility for the truss bridge.

The Save the Riverside Bridge Committee was founded by Kris Dyer, and has been working with the county and the public on finding ways to preserve the bridge for pedestrian use. Despite the fact that recent inspections by the Missouri Department of Transportation revealed that the structure is in critical condition and should be replaced instead of rehabilitated, there is hope that the bridge can be saved and reused for recreational purposes, so that the public can not only utilize the structure, but also learn about the bridge’s history, let alone the history of the Canton Bridge Company and its connection with Christian County and American architectural history. Already inspection reports conducted by Matthews Engineering in May 2010 revealed that the total estimated cost for a new bridge on a new alignment plus repairing the truss bridge would be $3.2 million, with $1.65 million going for the new bridge plus repairing the truss bridge, the rest going for realigning the road.  The bridge was listed in the top 10 of the Most Endangered Places by the Missouri Preservation Committee in May and a presentation on the efforts to save the bridge took place at the Missouri Conference in Washington in October. Thanks to the effort of Nathan Holth of the HistoricBridges.org website (based out of Michigan), the bridge was listed as elgible for the National Register of Historic Places, meaning that in order for the bridge to be removed, it would have to go through the Section 106 Process as stated by the Historic Preservation Act of 1966, which means cultural and environmental impact surveys will have to be carried out, and alternatives to demolition will have to be presented. Since 15 November, the fundraising drive to save the bridge has begun, and there is hope that people from all aspects of life will contribute a small portion of their money to help save the truss bridge. The channels to use for this purpose are enclosed at the end of the article and the donations are tax deductable in the US.

Whether or not all of this will be successful in saving the Riverside Bridge will depend on the latest situation. First and foremost, there is the issue with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and its restrictions with regards to the funding available for bridge replacement. This is in connection with the county’s purchase of land west of the bridge where the Riverside Restaurant was located, using FEMA funds. While there is a possibility to use funding to purchase land next to the bridge to construct a new structure next to the old one, according to correspondance between FEMA and Dyer, it is unclear whether the county will take advantage of that approach. Given the current circumstances, it may be difficult if not impossible to build a new bridge next to the old one using FEMA funds. Next is actually finding a place where the new alignment could be constructed without creating an adverse effect on the environment. And lastly, it is unclear how much money can be raised to offset some of the costs for saving the bridge.

In either case, the Save the Riverside Bridge Committee is optimistic that there will be enough support to make the dream of converting the once serviced roadway bridge into a pedestrian one come true. There are many examples of such bridges that have been preserved and renovated in place for reuse, including the War Eagle Bridge in neighboring Arkansas, which the Committee is using as an model. Other examples worth noting and could be used as a guidance include the Chain Suspension Bridge in Youngstown, OH (2007), Coffee Street Bridge in Lanesboro, MN (2002), Maple Street and Cherry Rock Bridges in Sioux Falls, SD (1990s) and the Anamosa (IA) Bridge (1975), just to name a few examples. All but the War Eagle and the Youngstown Bridges were converted to pedestrian use only.  Whether or not the Riverside Bridge will join the ranks will depend on not only the financial availability of funds for the project but also the interest of the people in saving the bridge, which can not only be done from within Christian County nor from the historic bridge community, but from people who are interested in seeing another piece of American history saved for the next generations.

Photo taken by Daniel Shortt. Used with permission.

To donate to the Riverside Bridge Project, there are two options at your disposal:

Link: https://ssl.4agoodcause.com/cfozarks/donation1.aspx?id=1

Type in “Save Riverside Fund” under Fund/Program and you should be there. Credit card payments are acceptable.

Mailing address:

CFO
Attn Save Riverside Bridge Fund
425 E Trafficway
Springfield MO 65806

USA

More information on the activities of the Committee can be found through facebook here:

http://www.facebook.com/saveriversidebridge

Sources on the bridge:

http://ccheadliner.com/news/article_16350788-cb23-11df-92ca-001cc4c002e0.html

http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=444403848323&set=a.444397033323.257727.250666613323

http://www.historicbridges.org/bridges/browser/index.php?bridgebrowser=missouri/riverside/

And:

http://www.bridgehunter.com/mo/christian/riverside/

(Note: the other bridge examples can also be found in this website).

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