ON CADRON CREEK -- The old bridge was out there somewhere, but hard to find in the dense woods and driving rain.
The Springfield-Des Arc Bridge has spanned Cadron Creek between Faulkner and Conway counties since it was built in 1874. Closed for years, it’s in danger of falling down. The Conway City Council recently approved moving the bridge to a city park, a process that is expected to play out this year and next. The distance between the bridge and the park is about 12 miles.
The Yancopin Bridge in Desha County is the last bridge across the Arkansas River before its confluence with the Mississippi.
A pickup was parked on a turn-off. Where's the old bridge? That way, the driver said, on the path. Right, the path ankle-deep in brown water.
"Take a stick. For the water moccasins."
No snakes, but a short walk from Springfield Road, a couple of miles west of Arkansas 285, the Springfield-Des Arc Bridge spans muddy Cadron Creek. On this side is Faulkner County; on the other, Conway County.
The bridge looks something awful. Worn out and weathered. The boards rotten or burnt. But the iron truss superstructure of the bridge, built in 1874, remains.
Not for long.
"It's in danger of falling down," Bob Scoggin says in his office at the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program. "It's eroded to the foundation. I wouldn't give it more than a couple of years, given the flooding."
Good news. A few days after Scoggin's observation, the Conway City Council approved the moving of the bridge to a city park.
More about this later.
The Springfield-Des Arc Bridge is one of 10 bridges in Arkansas, most of them on the National Register of Historic Places, that constitutes what Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism describes as a tour of historic bridges in the state.
Not that this tour could be done in a day. The bridges are in Northwest Arkansas, southeast Arkansas, south Arkansas, central Arkansas, and all the way across the Mississippi River to Memphis. They carry a variety of traffic, from vehicles and pedestrians to none.
"We've talked informally about an architectural tour of the state," Joe David Rice, the state tourism director, says. "This is sort of an offshoot of that, for people who are photo bugs to get out and take pictures."
As for the bridges, "we tried to find the most appealing from a visual and photographic angle, that were accessible and had historical ties as well. They're a basic part of our culture and a way to connect with the past."
Here's more good news for people who love bridges. The Harahan Bridge, which connects West Memphis and Memphis, will reopen, but only to bicycle and pedestrian traffic, in the fall.
So says Terry Eastin, executive director of Big River Strategic Initiative of Memphis, a nonprofit corporation developed and funded by philanthropists there.
The newly named Big River Crossing, she says, was five years and roughly $40 million in the making, "a whole lot of it private donations."
"It's almost two miles long," Eastin says, "because the bridge extends about a mile on wetlands on the Arkansas side of the river."
Opened in July 1916, the Harahan Bridge was "the original automobile bridge across the river connecting Tennessee and Arkansas. It was closed to traffic in 1955 when the Interstate 55 bridge opened."
A similar future could be in store for the Yancopin Bridge near Watson, built in the early 1900s across the Arkansas River, the last bridge before its confluence with the Mississippi. Union Pacific Railroad closed the bridge in 1992 and donated it to Arkansas along with 73 miles of right of way that now constitute the Delta Heritage Trail.
"We're intrigued by the possibility of the Yancopin Bridge," Rice says. "We hope to open it to pedestrian and bike traffic. We've done the 20 easy miles on both ends. What's in between is about 30 miles of elevated track on trestle and bridges."
Is there a time frame? "No, not yet. That's quite an expensive undertaking."
He shouldn't have, but Randall Houp of Booneville has been on the Yancopin Bridge since it was closed.
"You're not supposed to get on it," he says, "but I waited for a holiday weekend and walked all the way through and explored it. Nobody ever knew I was there." The views, he says, "oh, gosh, are phenomenal. I thought about sleeping there."
Houp is big on bridges. He has been to every one of the bridges on Parks and Tourism's list, and "to every highway and railroad bridge in the state." He's an amateur historian, "because I don't make any money doing it. I've been doing historical research for 40 years." He's also a contributor to a website, bridgehunter.com, that has information and photos of bridges all across the country. Each of the bridges on the Arkansas tour are included.
Bridges are so interesting because of their historical value, Houp said.
"I'm one of those Americans who loves seeing things made in America. You don't see Made in China or Made in Mexico on these bridges. I'm fascinated with the fact of how they built these bridges, fascinated with how the heck they could do that back then."
Here are the other historic bridges, after which the rest of the story of the Springfield-Des Arc Bridge.
• R.M. Ruthven Rainbow Arch Bridge at Cotter. The reinforced concrete rainbow arch bridge, the largest known to exist today, was dedicated in 1930 and renovated in 2004.
• Beaver Bridge over the White River on Arkansas 187, 11 miles northwest of Eureka Springs. Built in 1949, it's a one-lane, wooden and wire-cable suspension bridge.
• Ben Laney Bridge in Camden dates to the 1940s. The steel Pratt truss bridge was built to carry traffic across the Ouachita River on U.S. 79. It was subsequently bypassed by a new bridge, but is still used by local traffic on U.S. 79B.
• Stephens, in Ouachita County, is home to the Arkansas 57 Bridge. The pony truss bridge over a railroad track was built in the 1920s and has a pedestrian sidewalk. It's now closed to traffic.
• Edgemere Street and Lakeshore Drive bridges are on Lake No. 3 in North Little Rock's Lakewood neighborhood. Built in 1926 and 1939, they have stonework known as giraffe masonry, whose irregularly sized rust-colored stones and white mortar look like the hide of a giraffe.
• Perry County's Fourche LaFave River Bridge, on Arkansas 7, is one of 12 reinforced concrete arch bridges in the state made from designs by Daniel B. Luten. Combining concrete with bendable iron rods made bridges such as this lighter and more cost efficient.
The bridges are on the National Register of Historic Places, excluding Yancopin and Harahan.
OLD BRIDGE, NEW HOME
Ken Barnes, a professor of history at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, is on the board of the Faulkner County Historical Society. He has been instrumental in the plan to save the Springfield-Des Arc Bridge.
"Ken Barnes is kind of our hero on this thing," says Jack Bell, chief of staff to Conway Mayor Tab Townsell. "He's been very passionate about it."
Historic Preservation contacted the historical society, Barnes says, "to ask if we might get things moving to save the bridge. They said if it [wasn't] preserved it would go down into the creek within five years. Part of the problem is that the bridge is in a beautiful location, but it's remote and so it's easily abused and vandalized."
The solution: "We should move it so that it can be in town where it can be protected and used by the public. We're somewhat hesitant for it to be moved, but that's better than to keep it where it is."
On May 24, the Conway City Council voted unanimously to proceed with a federal grant of $300,000 from the Transportation Alternative Program to move the bridge. Conway will be responsible for 20 percent, or $60,000, of the grant, Bell says. Faulkner County and Conway County were also part of the grant process, he says.
A nonprofit organization, Workin' Bridges of Grinnell, Iowa, surveyed the bridge in 2011 and will be involved in the moving and restoration, Bell says. "That's what they do. They're dedicated to historical bridges."
Another organization signed on is Iron Workers, Local 321, of Little Rock. Bell says Best Cranes & Rigging Inc. of North Little Rock will do the lifting at cost.
The bridge will be moved to Beaverfork Lake Park, about 12 miles away, and will span part of the lake.
Timing, Barnes says, "depends on planning and engineering. We'll have to clear the site to lift the bridge from its abutments. It depends on the people with the skills, but within the next two years."
"The cool thing is it's the oldest bridge in the state of Arkansas by a long shot and one of the oldest if not the oldest, bridge of its type still standing in the country," Barnes says. "It's on the early edges of iron bridges. It's historically significant for Arkansas, but significant even beyond that in the United States because it's so old for its type."
Before working at Historic Preservation, Scoggin worked for the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department in the historic bridge program. He was, he says, a salesman.
"It's hard being a historic bridge salesman, because nobody wants to buy your product." Cities and counties are concerned about the long-term cost of owning and maintaining a historic bridge, he says.
Newport had, and declined, an opportunity to take over the Arkansas 367 bridge over the White River. The bridge is set to be demolished, according to the Highway Department.
It's easy to understand why a historic house should be saved, but a bridge, not so much, Scoggin says. "It's an industrial piece."
Historic bridges, he says, "connect us to the past, and to how we built this state. They represent the hard work of the people of Arkansas."
"And they're going fast."
More information on the state's historic bridges is available at the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism website, arkansas.com.
Style on 06/12/2016
Print Headline: Spanning history