Group seeks signatures to preserve 1912 bridge

Todd G. Higdon

A local group of residents are asking for signatures on a petition to save the 1912 ironclad bridge located on Cowan Ridge Road and spanning Big Sugar Creek.

The petition drive started about three weeks ago. McDonald County commissioners and the Missouri Department of Transportation have plans to replace the old one-lane bridge with a new bridge.

“What we would really like them (McDonald County commissioners) to do is put the new bridge on the side of the present bridge,” said Virginia Hall, a member of the petition-drive committee. “There is plenty of room for that. We want to leave this bridge and block it off, to use it for tourism. Like a walking bridge.”

“That bridge, in view of its condition, needs to be replaced,” McDonald County Eastern District Commissioner Sam Gaskill said. “It is under limited use now. Right now, we are required to inspect it once a week to make sure that there is not any significant further deterioration of the rust or corrosion problem.”

According to Gaskill, MoDOT has proceeded to help with what they call a BRO (off-system bridges). According to MoDOT’s Web site, “the current transportation bill requires that at least 15 percent of the state's total bridge appropriation be allocated for use on off-system bridges. The Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission approve the amount of bridge funds allocated to this program. Off-system bridges are bridges that are on roads that are functionally classified as a local road or street and rural minor collectors.

Off-system funds allocated to the counties will be based on the ratio of the replacement cost of the square footage of deficient bridge deck in the county to the replacement cost of the square footage of deficient bridge deck in all counties of the state.

Bridge funds for off-system projects may be programmed by counties for future projects. If the county does not have a sufficient balance of off-system bridge funds, they may borrow up to three years of future allocations for preliminary engineering or one year of future allocation for construction costs.”

“The bridge is still being used,” said Hall. “We are not against a new bridge. We realize that we need a new bridge because the ambulance and fire trucks cannot cross this bridge, they have to go around.”

The weight limit on the bridge is three tons, with a seven-foot clearance. Emergency vehicles have to go an alternate route, which is several miles away.

“We want to preserve the old bridge,” said Hall. “If it is saved, we can put it on the Missouri Historical Register, which we do want to do. McDonald County needs more than canoeing and the rivers. There are many people interested in this. Through the years we have had a number of people that photograph this bridge. They have even been a few down below painting it. We have out of state people who know about it and enjoy it.”

A rich history

According to Hall, the bridge is the oldest ironclad bridge in the county.

“There may be one or two, but they are not as old as this one,” said Hall.

Back in the early 1970s, J.E. Cowan wrote a book entitled “The Life in Powell-Cyclone Area.” He interviewed those who knew the history of the bridge. Some of his comments are found here and on page 70 in his book.

“The labor needed by the road district to construct the bridge was donated by the farmers living in the area,” J.E. Cowan wrote. “The steel used in construction of the bridge was hauled out on wagons from the railroad depot at Washburn. (There seems to be a conflict on this point, as some residents think the steel was hauled from Wheaton.). The necessary lumber used to construct the bridge piers or forms was cut and sawed by John Cowan. He would saw and deliver a wagon load of lumber to the building site then deliver another load of lumber free of charge to the building site. Every other load of lumber was free.”

After the bridge was completed, Mary Cowan remembered hearing the sound the bridge made when her late husband, Donnie Cowan, crossed it.

“The bridge rattled a lot,” Cowan said. “I lived east of Powell and he lived west of Powell. I would get ready and sit in on the front porch swing, waiting on him. I would know when he crossed the bridge, because it rattled. I lived 2 ¼ miles away (from the bridge). It rattled horribly back then.”

The commissioners will meet at 10 a.m. Thursday at the commissioner’s office. The public is invited to attend and MoDOT officials will be on hand.

A new bridge?

Addressing the issue of the BRO, Gaskill said, “We can proceed in that, but to do that (build a replacement bridge), we would have to get rid of the old one. One of the biggest problems if we try to save the bridge or move / relocate /adjust the position of the new bridge, that could delay our efforts and building a new bridge for two to three years, according to the MoDOT engineers. Plus it would take more right-a-way for adjoining property owners. The present (proposed) would take about one-tenth of an acre, for as if it was a new bridge was realigned to accommodate the old one there, it would take about half of that nearest property on the north west corner of the bridge. It would take more private property to do that.”

Asked if the bridge could be used for a pedestrian bridge, Gaskill said someone would have to maintain it.

“They would have the responsibility of the liability insurance of it, the maintenance and the upkeep of it,” said the commissioner.

“The bridge is in pretty good shape,” said Cowan. “I would hate to see it torn down really, even to move it. It would not be the same.”

Hall noted the petition drive – which has seen people’s interest outside of the Southwest Missouri area, said, “people want to save the bridge. All of the feedback that I am getting from people is that the petition is going over good.”

Neosho Daily News