December 2010. The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles was in its infancy when I received a call for help from a woman in Missouri whose bridge was in danger of being torn down by the county. Myself and my fellow pontists jumped into action and helped her and her community save her bridge. It was our centerpiece of the 2011 Historic Bridge Weekend Conference in Missouri, organized by the late James Baughn, myself, Todd Wilson and others. It received a lot of support from locals, as well as interested people in the US and beyond. And it became the symbol of the need to preserve historic bridges and their histories as they were disappearing quickly in front of our eyes. The bridge became our turning point for everything that had to do with historic bridges and preservation.
The Riverside Bridge in Ozark, a product of the Canton Bridge Company in Ohio, had its own odessy over the years. It was restored on site, was threatened with flooding and just before all hope had disappeared to saving it, it was restored again but not before having been relocated. This courageous efforts by the community resulted in several accolades including four awards from the Chronicles: winning the then Ammann Awards in the category Best Example of a Restored Historic Bridge in 2013, and three silver medals in last year’s Bridgehunter Awards in that same category, plus Bridge of the Year and for this particular lady, Lifetime Achievement.
That person was Kris Dyer. I had a chance to interview her about the bridge and the journey to save her twice with the bridge now being a great dining attraction at Finley Farms/ Ozark Mill recently and she decided to produce a speech about this double achievement. You can read about it here. It also includes a time line of events that started with the launch of the campaign all the way to it being saved and restored for the now aforementioned purpose. Enjoy the speech. 😎🌉
January 7th 2010 changed the trajectory of my life. That was the day that I read in the local paper “County to tear down, replace Riverside Bridge”. I couldn’t believe what I was reading and wondered if anyone was going to do anything about it. It felt like I was going to lose an old friend and cried. I decided right then and there that I couldn’t just sit by and do nothing so I did what I do best and I started researching. In my research I found bridge preservationists around the country and world and emailed all of them asking how to save a historic bridge. I quickly formed a team with Nathan Holth from historicbridges.org, James Baughn with bridgehunter.com, kitty Henderson with historicbridgefoundation.org, Todd Wilson with bridgemapper.com, Jason Smith with The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles, and Bill Hart with Missouri Preservation. They told me what to do and I did it.
I immediately made a Facebook page called the Save Riverside Bridge Initiative and that really got the word out and I started getting calls from the press for interviews. I started this initiative thinking that someone else would take over and be the leader but that never happened. So here I was just a person who loves local history not knowing anything about how to save a bridge and all of a sudden I was the leader of this grassroots movement. With the help of my new pontist friends and preservationists I just did everything they told me and the first thing on the agenda was to apply to get the bridge eligible for the National Historic Register and we got that on May 10th 2010. I attended County meetings, gave speeches to anyone that would listen, and continued to keep the Riverside bridge in the news so that no one would forget it.
A pivotal change was in July 2012 when the Ozark Special Road District (OSRD) went to Christian County and demanded that they had rightful jurisdiction of the Riverside Bridge so the County gladly gave it over to them. OSRD submitted plans to the public to replace the Riverside Bridge with a low water crossing bridge. My team quickly contacted the Corps of Engineers and next thing we knew OSRD announced that they would spend the money to repair and open the Riverside Bridge for vehicle traffic once again. On Aug 23rd 2013 OSRD had a ribbon cutting and the bridge was saved!
On March 6th 2014 the Save Riverside Bridge Initiative was invited to the Missouri State Capital Rotunda to receive the 2014 Missouri Preservation Preserve MO Award for our efforts saving the Historic Riverside Bridge. We also received the MO House of Representatives and MO Senate proclamation awards. I gave an acceptance speech on behalf of the Save Riverside Bridge initiative and it was an amazing experience.
Sadly, July 10th 2015 a 100 year major flood damaged the Riverside Bridge and OSRD blocked it off and said they would not repair it again. At that point I was worn out and really didn’t know what else to do. Many years of hard work to save it the first time and to see it damaged again was incredibly difficult but I never gave up hope in God and prayed that he would work miracles. It was shut down for almost 3 years and during those years the city of Ozark got involved trying to get approval from FEMA to be able to build a new bridge on the land there where the Riverside Bridge was located and it ended up going to President Trump for approval and from there the plan was to replace the Riverside Bridge and build a new bridge.
Because the Riverside Bridge was eligible for the National Historic Register then they had to go through the Section 106 process for the replacement. I along with Kitty Henderson from the Historic Bridge Foundation signed up to be a part of the Section 106 process and that meeting happened on May 10th 2018. A miracle happened! There were 2 proposals for the Riverside Bridge. One was from Noel Challis from Riverside Missouri and they only wanted one span for their trail project but not the other. The other proposal was from Megan Stack that represented Bass Pro Shops. Megan wanted to save the bridge and have it as a part of their Finley Farms project located right next to where the Riverside Bridge was originally was built! I knew if they were chosen then it would essentially be like the bridge was going home. The bridge was originally built northeast of the Ozark Mill in 1909 and it was moved upstream to its current location in 1922.
My dreams came true on July 18th 2018 when the official press release announcement from Bass Pro Shops came out that stated “After reviewing multiple submissions, the Ozark Special Road District selected the nearby Ozark Mill site, which is currently being restored and developed by noted conservationist and Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris. As part of the partnership, Morris and Bass Pro Shops will restore, relocate and install the bridge alongside the Mill pending Army Corps of Engineers approval.”
On March 30th 2021 the Riverside Bridge was dedicated and lifted into place Southeast of the Ozark Mill and I was invited to speak at the event along with Megan Stack with Finley Farms and Mary Cromley with Ozark Greenways. I could barely get through my speech and was very emotional but I pushed through. I was humbled and honored to be a part of such a momentous occasion to celebrate our history. Now I enjoy taking walks on the bridge and sometimes I stop and lay my hands on it and thank God for what he did. It was worth all the hard work to now see people enjoying it today and it will be there for generations to come. We just had a flood and the Riverside Bridge stood strong! Im so thankful to everyone who voted for the Historic Riverside Bridge for this prestigious award and to receive second place in three categories is incredible. Congratulations to all the winners. Seeing a historic bridge is a win win for everyone.
To summarize on how the Riverside Bridge was saved not only once, but twice, I’ve enclosed a timeline for you to take a look at, to give you an idea when and how we accomplished this feat. If there is a lesson behind this, it is this: There are many ways to save a piece of history. All it takes is the will of the community and help from outside to make it happen. After all, your bridge matters. ❤️🇺🇸
January 7, 2010 – Christian County Headliner article read “County to tear down, replace
Riverside Bridge”. I immediately took action and started the Save Riverside Bridge Initiative
Jan 12, 2010 – Save Riverside Bridge Facebook page created
May 5 2010 – Riverside Bridge approval to be eligible for the National Historic Registry
May 18 2010 – Missouri Preservation named Riverside Bridge as one of its Most Endangered
Historic Places for 2010.
May 24 2010 – The county commissioners formally contracted with Mathews & Associates, Inc.
to handle the Riverside Bridge project.
Sept 13, 2010 – Missouri Preservation toured the Riverside Bridge
Sept 21st 2010 – County Commissioners closed down the Riverside Bridge for vehicle traffic
Oct 21st 2010 – Riverside Bridge Initiative invited to the Missouri Preservation educational
conference to speak about our efforts in their historic bridge conference session.
November 9 2010 – Riverside Bridge fund opened with the Community Foundation of the
Ozarks to start fundraising
Nov 18 2010 – Riverside Bridge presentation at the Ozark Chamber of Commerce luncheon
Dec 5 2010 – Bridgehunter.com announced the Top Twelve recipients of the first-ever TRUSS
Awards (Top Ranked Unique Savable Structures). The Riverside Bridge was awarded one of the
Jan 2011 – New County presiding Commissioner Lou Lapaglia took office
March 24 2011 – County Commission put up fencing on both sides of the Riverside Bridge to
block pedestrians and bicyclists from the bridge
April 3 2011 – Attended Ozark Greenways membership meeting and had an opportunity to tell
everyone about our efforts to save the Riverside Bridge
May 6 2011 – Texas Roadhouse fundraiser for the Riverside Bridge
May 20 2011 – Save Riverside Bridge Initiative chosen as a top 100 finalist in the nation for the
National Trust for Historic Preservation for the “Why This Place Matters campaign”. We came in
43rd out of 100.
June 8 2011 – Missouri Preservation named Riverside Bridge as one of its Most Endangered
Historic Places for 2011
July 14 2011 – County Commission new ordinance – no parking within 500ft of each no parking
sign along Riverside road next to the bridge.
Aug 1 2011 – Riverside Bridge new website http://www.saveriversidebridge.com
Aug 13 2011 – 3rd annual Historic Bridge Conference held in Ozark Mo at the OC. Special
speakers including James Baughn from bridgehunter.com, Jason Smith with
The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles, and Todd Wilson with bridgemapper.com. We also held a silent
auction and fundraiser for the Riverside Bridge.
Oct 5 2011 – Meeting at MoDot office about Riverside Bridge with all parties associated with the
bridge there including the Save Riverside Bridge Initiative
March 2012 – County Commissioners end contract with Matthews Engineering and began the
search for a new engineer to take over the plans to build a new bridge to replace the Riverside
June 12 2012 – Riverside Bridge placed on the Missouri Preservations Most Watched List for
July 12 2012 – Christian County Commission meeting – Commission voted to accept Great River
Engineering as the new engineer for the Riverside Bridge replacement project. Ozark Special
Road District presented that they have the rights to the Riverside Bridge
July 25 2012 – Ozark Special Road District had a public meeting to discuss their plans for the
July 28 2012 – I submitted my letter to the editor saying that we will work with whatever party is
determined by law that owns the Riverside Bridge and that our goal is only for saving the bridge.
Oct 2012 – Save Riverside Bridge Flea Market & Cider fundraiser across the street from the
Ozark’s Craft Fair.
Summer of 2013 – Riverside Bridge repair work announcement
Aug 23rd 2013 – Ozark Special Road District ribbon cutting and opening of the Riverside Bridge
for vehicular use.
March 6th 2014 – Save Riverside Bridge Initiative was invited to the Missouri State Capital
Rotunda to receive the 2014 Missouri Preservation Preserve MO Award. We also received the
MO House of Representatives and MO Senate proclamation awards. Kris Dyer gave an
acceptance speech on behalf of the Save Riverside Bridge initiative.
July 10th 2015 – Major flood damaged the Riverside Bridge and Ozark Special blocked it off and
said they would not repair it again.
April 25th 2018 – Kris Dyer and the Save Riverside Bridge team signed up to be a part of the
upcoming Section 106 committee meeting to decide the fate of the Riverside Bridge.
May 10th 2018 – Section 106 meeting where 2 proposals were introduced from Megan Stack
with Bass Pro and Noel Challis from Riverside Missouri. Also in attendance was representatives
from the Save Riverside Bridge Initiative, Christian County, City of Ozark, Ozark Special Road
District, Great River Engineering, Missouri State Historic Preservation Office, and MoDot.
July 18th 2018 – Official press release announcement from Bass Pro Shops that stated
“After reviewing multiple submissions, the Ozark Special Road District selected the nearby
Ozark Mill site, which is currently being restored and developed by noted conservationist and
Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris. As part of the partnership, Morris and Bass Pro Shops
will restore, relocate and install the bridge alongside the Mill pending Army Corps of Engineers
Aug 1st 2018 – Press conference located in the Finley Farms Workshop to announce plans for
Finley Farms and the Riverside Bridge. Megan Stack invited Kris Dyer to give a brief speech
about the Riverside Bridge. We also toured the Finley Farms property.
Dec 31st 2018 – Bass Pro started the process of taking the Riverside Bridge apart to move.
March 30th 2021 – Finley Farms Riverside Bridge raising. Speeches given by Megan Stack with
Finley Farms, Kris Dyer with the Save Riverside Bridge Initiative, and Mary Cromley with Ozark
Greenways. The bridge was put in place and welcomed home.
Sept 18th 2021 – First event held on the newly renovated Riverside Bridge. Kris Dyer gave a
speech about the history of the bridge and how it was saved. The event was called the Sunset
Soirée put on by the James River Basin Project.
Author’s Note: Special thanks to Daniel Shortt and the Save the Riverside Bridge organization for the use of the photos.