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.