OZARK, MISSOURI- Ten years ago at this time, the community of Ozark, Missouri, with the help of many dedicated pontists from all over the US and Europe, came together to save a historic gem of a bridge, which had spanned Finley Creek at Riverside Drive- a product of the Canton Bridge Company of Ohio, built in 1909. An organization was formed in 2010 to save the two-span Pratt through truss bridge and to this day, this organization has almost 3000 members. The bridge was one of the main attractions of the 2011 Historic Bridge Weekend in August, together with the bridges of St. Louis and Kansas City, as well as the Gasconade Bridge and the now demolished structure at Enochs Knob. It was where old friends from high school reunited and new friends were made, some of which we are still in contact to this day.
It was through these efforts that the Riverside Bridge was restored in its place and reopened in 2013. It took another challenge through a monstrous flood in 2015 and the knee jerk reaction of the special road district officials and the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) to turn to removing the bridge because of damage to the piers and parts of the bridge deck.
Enter Bass Pro and Finley Farms who fell in love with the bridge and decided it would be a wonderful accessory to their facility. Since March 30th, 2021, the truss bridge is up and over Finley Creek again, yet in a new home 1.3 miles from its original location. Crews lifted the two-span bridge onto new piers, one truss span at a time, in a ceremonial event which brought friends, families, locals and bridge lovers together, including Kris Dyer, who heads the organization devoted to saving the historic structure, and Johnny Morris, the owner of Bass Pro and Finley Farms who made it happen, not just through money and power, but with dedication and love.
Once the decking is put into place and the path is in place, the bridge will serve as key connection between Ozark Mill- a grain mill that dates back to the 1830s- and the wedding chapel. It will be a popular attraction not only for weddings and other formal events, but also for tourists who want to see the entire Finley Farms complex, with its historic buildings and experiencing living history including the local delicacies. The Riverside Bridge will have the company of another two-span through truss bridge that was built 13 years later (in 1922) by the Pioneer Bridge Company and features Baltimore spans. For a true pontists, a day trip to Ozark Mill and to the two bridges will be well worth it. For families, it is an experience with lots of memories! 🙂 ❤
From a columnist’s point of view, the restoration of the Riverside Bridge would not be possible without the support of locals, historians and people who wish to keep the bridge and consider its value as a tourist sttraction. We have seen many structures disappear because there was a lack of support among the public and connections through businesses and the local government. Speaking from personal experience, having the interest in the bridge’s history, let alone a plan on how to reuse the structure once its days as a vehicular crossing, are keys to winning the support needed and making the efforts to saving the bridge possible. It takes a lot of marketing efforts, wit and especially patience to pull it off. If one party says it’s impossible, the other has to counter with not only a why, but also a reason why restoring a bridge is possible. One can learn from the experience of those who have been successful in their efforts but also those who tried and failed for whatever reason it may be (mostly, they are political).
The Riverside Bridge represents a classic example of a bridge that got the love and support of the local community to save but also connections and a good plan to make the preservation happen. When we started on the campaign in 2010, we had a lot of ideas on how the bridge could be kept into place and shared lots of success stories with Kris (Dyer) and others involved to give them ideas on how it could be done. We did fundraisers and even produced some shirts dedicated to saving the bridge, two of which I bought and are still at home in Germany. 🙂 After the Historic Bridge Weekend in 2011, the local government stepped in, realizing that the bridge was indeed a valuable commodity to the community, and the bridge was subsequentially restored and reopened to traffic.
The flooding of 2013 put the bridge in danger again due to damage to the piers and there was doubt that it could ever be restored because it would have required the bridge to be raised to meet certain flood level requirements. Also, the historic Riverside Inn, which had been closed for many years, had to be removed as part of the plan to have a flood plain. That area is now a park next to the replacement structure, opened to traffic last year.
Still, the love for the bridge did not wane and thanks to our efforts in 2011, new actors came in with a plan to not only save the bridge but also find a new home for it. While buying a bridge for a buck ($1) is the easiest way to save a structure, that’s just the start. A good plan for moving it or even converting it to a park just off the road where the replacement structure is needed as well ensurance that the bridge is safe for use. In the case of Riverside Bridge, the idea of showcasing it in an area flanked by a mill and nearby parks was the best idea and the safest way to preserve the structure and prevent its ultimate doom. What is needed is a bit of love, creative ideas and also back-up plans in case plan A failed to bear fruit. Most importantly, it needs the support from the community and businesses who are willing work with the project to ensure future generations will enjoy it. The Riverside Bridge, who is up for its second Bridgehunter Award in the Category Best Example of a Restored Historic Bridge this winter, represents just that.
When there is a will, there is a way. The slogan for saving the bridge, for a second time. While many historic bridges have met their doom despite efforts to save them, there are others that are still in the fight to be preserved and reused for future generations. There’s a lot to learn from the Riverside Bridge experience, something that can be used for other projects. And if there is a doubt, Ozark is in southwestern Missouri near Springfield. Have a look at Finley Farms and its new accessory and you will see success in historic bridge preservation right in front of you. 🙂
Article and website in connection with the event:
Finley Farms: https://finleyfarmsmo.com/
Quick Fact: This will be the third home of Riverside Bridge, yet as it was built at the Ozark Mill site in 1909, it’s a welcome home celebration. It had first served the mill until the Baltimore truss bridge replaced it in 1924 and it was relocated to the site at Riverside Dr.
The Author would like to thank 407 Drone Imaging for use of the photos, plus to Kris Dyer, Bill Hart, Todd Wilson, Nathan Holth and the community of Ozark and Christian County for many years of efforts, ideas and all for making it happen not only once but twice. Also a shout out to the heavens to James Baughn, who is probably watching this right now with the Lord at his side, enjoying some shots and a good beer. This one’s for you, bud. 🙂