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story.lead_photo.caption Sandra Taylor Smith on Thursday places information cards around photos taken during the construction of the Broadway Bridge. An exhibit on the bridge opened Friday at the Heritage Center in North Little Rock. - Photo by Rick McFarland

Parades on both sides of the Arkansas River, bridge queens and an estimated 50,000 people marked the grand opening of the Broadway Bridge between Little Rock and North Little Rock on March 14, 1923.

With the bridge now scheduled for demolition and replacement next year, the North Little Rock History Commission is looking back at the bridge's 92 years with the exhibit, "Give Our Regards to Broadway."

The exhibit opened to the public Friday in North Little Rock's newly renamed Heritage Center, at 506 Main St., formerly the History Commission building. The free exhibit will continue into late August.

"We thought it was appropriate to commemorate the history of the Broadway Bridge while we still can," Sandra Taylor Smith, the North Little Rock History Commission's executive director, said of the exhibit.

The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department has scheduled the current Broadway Bridge to be closed to traffic starting May 27, with a replacement bridge to be opened at the same location by Nov. 27, 2016.

Work leading up to the closure is underway under and beside the bridge or off-site.

The $98.4 million project will reroute the bridge's average daily traffic of 24,000 vehicles to alternate routes during the six months the span is closed.

When the bridge opened in 1923, the final construction cost was $971,000, according to a bridge history by the Highway Department.

The History Commission's exhibit displays items and photographs from its own collection or on loan from the Arkansas History Commission, the Highway Department, and other groups and individuals, Taylor Smith said.

Displays include photographs and paintings of the bridge, the 1919 engineering drawings, engineers' tools and instruments and newspaper articles from the bridge's opening events.

"It's a wonderful compilation, and we're grateful for the community coming together to help us put this all together," she said.

The exhibit is still evolving as more items about the bridge are found or loaned for display, said Suzanne Jackson, chairman of the North Little Rock History Commission.

"If anybody has anything they can share, maybe they'll send it to us," Jackson said.

The exhibit was Jackson's idea, Taylor Smith said, and grew from a series of photographs by Greg Davis, whose scenic photos of the Broadway Bridge and other pictures are often posted on the Arkansas Pictures page on Facebook. Davis, a Benton resident, works at Union Pacific Railroad in North Little Rock.

Several of Davis' photographs of the Broadway Bridge are prominently featured in the exhibit.

"The idea started with Greg's photos," Jackson said.

At the 1923 grand opening, U.S. Sen. Joe T. Robinson was the featured speaker, addressing a reported crowd of 10,000. An estimated 50,000 were reported to have lined the streets of Little Rock and North Little Rock for parades that crossed the bridge from each city. The 21/2-mile parade started as two parades, with North Little Rock's beginning first. People marched across the new bridge to combine with Little Rock's waiting parade participants.

"It was a big deal," Taylor Smith said of the 1923 celebration. "They had parades on both sides of the river. Each side of the river had a queen -- a Broadway Bridge queen."

The commission's exhibit includes photos and information on each queen. Frances Ann "Fannie" Ashley Johnson, the married granddaughter of former U.S. Sen. Chester Ashley, served as Little Rock's queen. Lucille Skipper, a North Little Rock High School student, was North Little Rock's queen. There were also 28 "princesses" in the queens' courts, representing 28 counties.

But it was the Union County princess, Ruby Gibson of El Dorado, who had the honors of christening the bridge, smashing a bottle of oil, not champagne, that came from the Busey discovery well, the 1921 Union County well that was the first to produce oil, according to exhibit information.

"You all better look out for yourselves," the former Arkansas Gazette reported Gibson as saying. "This might splatter."

Metro on 06/21/2015

Print Headline: Broadway Bridge's past on display

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