Saturday, March 18, 2017

{Originally published in the St. Charles Heritage (Vol 5. No 3.), July 1987}



by Louis J. Launer

The history of highway bridges in St. Charles County has been quite unique - as unique as the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers themselves. St. Charles county is the point where the Missouri and Missisippi Rivers meet - the two great rivers in North America. In the middle of the 19th Century, no one from St. Charles or anywhere in the area would ever dream that a highway bridge could be built across the Missouri or the mighty Mississippi.
The first bridge in St.Charles County that crossed the Missouri after the North Missouri Railroad bridge (l87l) was just a pontoon bridge, built and designed by James Enoch. Enoch supervised the placement of fifty barges across the Missouri River. The barges were anchored by heavy cables that were tied to huge sunken boulders. The span measured 1,56O ft. The pontoon bridge opened in 1890. Enoch had hoped that the bridge would last a long time, at least fifty years. That's how long his Franchise with the city of St. Charles lasted. It was an unpredictable Missouri winter in 189O-91. Six months after the installation of the pontoon bridge, ice flows snapped the cables on the bridge and sent the barges down the river.
It wasn't until after the turn of the century that St. Charles would get a second passenger bridge. Through an act of Congress, a highway and streetcar combination bridge was built and completed in 19O4, just in time for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St.Louis. The bridge still stands, and has undergone many repairs.
In 1916, the bridge sustained over $200,000 in damage From pigeons roosting beneath the plank floor of the bridge. Sparks up from an MKT train running under the bridge ignited the nests, which in turn ignited the wood cross beams of the bridge. The deck was immediately replaced. A second accident occured in 1935 when runaway freight cars struck one of the bridge piers, causing the bridge to drop onto Main Street. In the winter of 1984-85, the bridge was closed for three weeks when it was found that part of the deck had separated from the pier above Riverside Drive. It was immediately reinforced with a chain support and the load limit was reduced to eight tons from its original limit of thirteen tons.
After the 1904 highway bridge, it would be a while until a bridge around the city of St. Charles would be built. But, just east of Weldon Spring, another bridge project was going on. To serve a new highway that connected St. Louis with Hannibal, another bridge had to be built. That was the Daniel Boone Bridge, a bridge that today is getting a second span. The bridge has served Western St. Charles County and northwest and west St. Louis County without any major problems. Volume on the bridge has been its only problem, especially when construction of the second span of the Interstate 70 (now the Blanchette Memorial Bridge) was underway. While that construction was underway, the Daniel Boone Bridge two-way traffic was even heavier than usual. The State Highway Department, in order to ease congestion, used a reversible lane system on the bridge. It has worked. The reversible lane system will be dismantled once the second span of the bridge is completed, sometime in 1989.
Debate over an improved bridge from St. Charles over the Missouri River started in l954, when U.S. 40 was rerouted to Western St.Charles with U.S. 61. Bypass 40 gave St.Charles residents a feeling of second class status, particularly when the bridge they had was fifty years old. The new bridge that was proposed by area leaders would have been a toll bridge. But with the passing of the Federal Highways Act of 1956 (the Interstate Highway System), the first project in the area was the construction of the Fifth Street Interchange and the building of the first four lane bridge across the Missouri River.
The bridge was completed in 1958, and Interstate 70 became a new number in everyones' vocabulary. All were used to 40, 61, 79 and 94. The new number was 70. But 70 was different because it was "the high way" at that particular time. In 1976, construction was started on a second span across the Missouri River along Interstate 70. It was completed in a short two years. After the second span was built, the original span was rennovated. In 1980, through a contest sponsored by the St. Charles Post, the twin span of Interstate 70 crossing the Missouri River was named the Blanchette Memorial Bridge, named by Howard C. Browne of Lake St.Louis in honor of the founder of St. Charles. During 1985, the expansion joints that kept the bridges together were declared faulty by the State Highway and Transportation Department, and were ordered replaced. Lane by lane, and in record time, the joints were replaced on both bridges
The history of the above bridges have been well documented in the Archives of the St. Charles County Historical Society. But there are two bridges that really haven't been mentioned, researched or well documented. These are the Lewis and Clark Bridges. The Lewis Bridge crosses the Missouri River in eastern St. Charles Co. and the Clark Bridge crosses the Mississippi River into Alton, Illinois. Both bridges are part of U.S. Route 67 (old Missouri Route 99 in the 1940's, and Missouri Route 140 during the l960's) There is little or no documentation on those bridges in the Archives files.
This article was assembled from articles in the St.Charles Post, articles by Richard Vinson and from the newspapers on microfilm at the St. Charles County Historical Society's Archives.