BHC Pic of the Week Nr. 139: Tribute to James Baughn

Our next Pic of the Week takes us to Booneville, Missouri. The city is located on the Missouri River in Cooper County, yet the city was famous for saving this prized railroad bridge. The Booneville Bridge is a multiple-span through truss bridge with a vertical lift span, all of the spans are polygonal Warren with A-frame portal bracings. This bridge is the third crossing over the Missouri, having been built in 1932 replacing another multiple-span truss bridge with a swing span that was built in 1896 by the American Bridge Company of New York. The first crossing had been built in 1874 by another American Bridge Company, but one in Chicago.

Union Pacific Railroad (UP) used to operate the structure until the bridge and the line were abandoned in 1992. That is where the problems started. The railroad company wanted to remove the tracks and subsequentially the bridge. The community of Booneville, plus bike organizations and preservationists wanted to save the bridge and incorporate it into the KATY Trail. There were petitions, phone calls and the like, but UP ignored every plea and started arrangements to demolish the bridge, with the backing of the US Coast Guard and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which saw the bridge as a hindrance towards navigation. This was where one person stepped in and halted the plan: Jay Nixon.  As Attorney General, he took on the DNR over the bridge before extending the lawsuit to UP in 2005-06. Yet his ascension to governor of Missouri in 2009 sealed the deal and with that, the defendants stepped down and UP handed over ownership to the City of Booneville.  Rehabilitation followed and the bridge reopened in 2016.

Fast forward to 2021 and we see the bridge open to the public. It’s still not part of the KATY Bike Trail as of yet because of technical issues involving the lift span and the expenses involved to repair and renew them. But that’s no stranger as this was seen with the rehabilitation of the Stillwater Lift Bridge in Minnesota, which has been open to traffic since May 2020. But it is hoped that the problem will be fixed and there is a chance that the trail is relocated to the historic bridge from the highway bridge, to reduce the risks of accidents and personal injury. Nevertheless, the bridge is still a monument that can be accessed with a newly constructed bridge deck and has a great observation deck viewing the Missouri River and the city’s skyline.

James Baughn, who photographed this bridge in 2005, documented the bridge story quite well in his bridge profile, one that is ripe enough for a book on the trials and successes in saving and restoring the Booneville Railroad Bridge. It is hoped that when the bridge is finally in use as a bike trail crossing that the story is updated and someone, like Jay Nixon, whose state park is named after him, will write about it, let alone tell us about how he saved the bridge.