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Monthly Archives: March 2014

Places Matter: Bridges

Katy Bridge, Boonville, MO

Katy Bridge, Boonville, MO

Each year the Missouri Preservation Conference picks a fantastic historical setting for three full days of classes, presentations, and events. The 2013 Conference brought preservationists, historians, and architects from all over the state of Missouri to the grand little town of Boonville. Not surprisingly, we had the pleasure of sitting in on several presentations about the preservation of…bridges. It may seem like an odd, niche topic, but the host city’s recent dealings with saving their treasured Katy Bridge provided the ideal opportunity to start up the conversation. And to say that their story is inspiring is an understatement.

The Katy Bridge – so named after the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, MKT for short – was constructed around 1931-32 as a replacement for another bridge used by the railroads since 1873. The vertical-lift span bridge was the longest of its kind at the time of its construction. More about the history of the bridge and its preservation project can be found here. Although it hasn’t operated since the mid-1980s, the bridge has found use as part of the Katy Trail that caters to pedestrian and bicycling traffic that drives much of Boonville’s tourism. In 2005, though, the Union Pacific Railroad proposed the demolition of this bridge, in turn inspiring locals to rise up together and form the Katy Bridge Coalition aimed at saving and preserving it instead. After 8 years of a campaign to raise funds and building a brand image centered on their beloved landmark, the organization celebrated a major victory when the City of Boonville finally took ownership of the Katy Bridge.

Why did they fight so hard to save this old, rusty bridge? Why does this place matter to them, and why should it matter to us? In fact, why should any bridge be worthy of this kind of attention?

Well, let me tell ya.

  • Tourism potential. Looking at Boonville’s example, it’s easy to see that bridges could become part of outdoor attractions for nature-lovers, bicyclists, Sunday drivers, picnickers, photographers, etc. They may not directly generate revenue, but it has the potential to bring consumers to the surrounding communities.
  • They can be aesthetically pleasing. Take, for instance, this beauty in Washington County, MO, built in 1856. What a treasure! I’m not saying that all bridges are this beautiful, but many historic bridges (particularly those that were built before the mid-twentieth century) are both feats of engineering and works of art.
  • They offer an unadulterated glimpse into our history. Most bridges are left unaltered after their initial construction, save for a few repairs here and there. As a result, they are a blast into the past, showing details not utilized in modern design and engineering.

In the state of Missouri there are 24 historic bridges listed on the National Register of Historic Places – including the Eads Bridge in St. Louis – and another 150 are considered eligible for designation. For a comprehensive list of historic bridges across the nation, and to find one near you, visit Bridgehunter.com.

Liana Twente

Past to Present Research, LLC

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Places Matter: Schools

Picture in your mind the one-room rural school house, with immobile desks, chalkboards lining the walls, a single pot-bellied stove to heat the schoolroom. Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic. No nonsense, rigid in its formality. Don’t forget, too, that these pupils had to walk 10 miles, uphill both ways, in the snow, barefoot, etc. — we all know that story.

Teaching philosophies have changed drastically over time – for example, the environment for learning and what was taught as “core curriculum.” Just as these beliefs and values have changed, so have the way we construct schools to accommodate students in an academic environment. These changes are often reflected in our school building’s style and construction.

Flash forward to the first half of the 20th century, and we find that larger, more urban schools were being formed. Larger facilities were necessary to accommodate a growing student population among the communities, as advancements in transportation and better connecting roads allowed smaller rural schools to consolidate and join the larger school districts. As for the buildings themselves, more attention was given to building materials — floor tiles, ceilings, plaster walls, etc. — that would limit noises permeating through the halls allowing students to focus on their studies. Windows were made larger to permit an abundance of natural light to pour into classrooms, and were also made to open in order for fresh air to circulate — both of these features added to the learning environment. In another quite opposite learning theory, windows were intentionally left out of the blueprints, in the belief that the visual distractions from the outside world kept students from focusing. Interior layouts also expanded from the basic classroom spaces to include specialized classrooms, such as gymnasiums, kitchens, workshops, etc. Even the addition of theatres or auditoriums further served as a space where students could express themselves through the arts, but also invited the community to gather and utilize the space for civic meetings and gatherings.

Schools have consistently been integral parts of our communities. Whether your roots are small town or urban core, families’ lives more-or-less revolved around the school. It’s also the place where many of our memories from our younger years developed, and helped shape who we are. It seems natural that these storehouses of memories should be preserved and remain as pillars in our communities. So what kind of efforts are being made?

A group in Southern Missouri have banded together to survey, preserve, and even find reuses for one-room school houses that are prevalent in the countryside. Check out this news clip to hear about one of their projects:

The Kansas City Missouri Public School District witnessed the passionate responses from members of the communities surrounding schools upon their announcement of their intention to close a number of schools around the metro. While this gained some negative attention across the nation, they bounced back by opening up conversations about how to reuse those properties and maintain relevance in their respective neighborhoods by basing the reuse possibilities on community input.

There are plenty of preservation groups out there dedicated to school buildings of all shapes and sizes. Check out these links for more information on how to get involved and show how these places matter.

 

Liana Twente

Past to Present Research, LLC

 
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Posted by on March 12, 2014 in Uncategorized