Benton County honored for War Eagle Bridge preservation

Posted: February 5, 2018 at 1 a.m.

NWA Democrat-Gazette/FLIP PUTTHOFF Workers repair historic War Eagle bridge on Aug. 23. The bridge was closed May 2017 to September 2017. The historic bridge, built in 1907, carries traffic on Benton County Road 98 across the War Eagle River in southeast Benton County.

BENTONVILLE -- Preserve Arkansas recently recognized Benton County's work on the historic War Eagle Bridge as an example of excellence in preservation through restoration.

The bridge was closed for repairs last year from May through September. The work was needed after state inspectors found critical deficiencies during an inspection in 2013. The county budgeted $1.4 million in the budget for the work, according to Brenda Guenther, comptroller. The county was awarded a $500,000 grant to reimburse some of the cost from the Transportation Alternatives Program, a federal-aid program to construct sidewalks and trails for pedestrians, bicyclists and other non motorized forms of transportation.

Historic preservation

The War Eagle Bridge, built by the Illinois Steel Bridge Co. in 1907, is significant as one of six Parker through trusses in Arkansas. The bridge sits next to a reconstructed grist mill, which is the fourth in a series of mills on the same site dating to 1832.

Source: Library of Congress

The nonprofit group also recognized work on the historic 1886 Cane Hill College building in Washington County. Work on the 1929 Lane Hotel building in Rogers for use as a charter school facility by Haas Hall Academy was another Northwest Arkansas project on the group's list of honorees for 2017.

Rachel Patton, executive director of Preserve Arkansas, said the organization was founded in 1981 to advocate for and educate people about the benefits of historic preservation. Historic preservation helps Arkansas and individual communities retain tangible reminders of their history and culture, she said.

She added historic preservation is "the original green movement" since it keeps in use buildings, bridges and other structures that would otherwise be razed.

"It's sustainable. Buildings that were built 100 years ago were built with high-quality materials and craftsmanship you don't see today," she said. "If they're taken care of, they can easily last another 100 or 150 years."

Patton also said saving historic building boosts local tourism.

"People like having a sense of place," she said. "People like to be in an historic area. You know where you are. There's only one downtown Fayetteville, only one downtown Rogers, only one downtown Bentonville. You can find a million areas like the U.S. 71 Business routes."

J.R. Shaw, with Visit Rogers, said projects like the War Eagle Bridge are used to promote historic and cultural tourism efforts.

Jim Dailey, director of the Arkansas Parks and Tourism Department, said some areas recognized the value of historic preservation earlier than others and are reaping the benefits to a greater degree. Dailey, who served as mayor of Little Rock from 1993 to 2007, said some efforts aimed at revitalizing downtown areas resulted in older buildings being torn down.

"The past, in many ways, speaks to us about who we are today and who we're going to be in the future," Dailey said. "Years ago, under the urban renewal programs, there was federal money available to tear down a lot of buildings that were not always in the best shape. In Charleston, S.C., they had a longtime mayor -- Joe Riley -- who would not let them tear down anything. Now people can go there and see the Charleston of the 1700s and 1800s. You can step back in time, stay in historic structures and walk the streets as they were."

Dailey said individual historic sites can combine with others and with other attractions to build a tourism destination. He said War Eagle Mill and War Eagle Bridge, the nearby Hobbs State Park and the Pea Ridge National Military Park draw more people together than a single attraction would.

Johnice Cross is general manager of the War Eagle Mill, a business built around the historic grist mill, the fourth in a series of mills on the site since 1832. Cross said business at the mill was directly affected by the War Eagle Bridge repair work.

"We were down last year with the bridge being closed," Cross said. "We're really looking forward to this year and having it open again."

Cross said the mill, currently closed for work including a new roof, a new heating and air-conditioning system and some repairs of damage from last April's flooding, stresses history as being as much a part of the business operation as selling flour and meals, cereals, jams and jellies, kitchen wares and other gifts.

"We're the only working undershot grist mill in the country," Cross said, referring to the design of the mill. "People enjoy being able to talk to the miller and see the mill in operation. We have a lot of historical artifacts on display and one of the women who works here is a historian who talks to visitors about the history of the mill and the area. She's a really good storyteller and people enjoy hearing about all the history."

Benton County Judge Barry Moehring said the work done on War Eagle Bridge should keep it functional as well as historically significant into the foreseeable future. He said the county is looking to do preservation work on the old Post Office building and the historic County Courthouse in downtown Bentonville when the county completes work on a new courts building.

"I don't believe in tearing down buildings simply because they're old," Moehring said.

NW News on 02/05/2018