Nineteenth Century Pioneer

A visit to downtown St. Louis is not complete without a look at the Mississippi River and the bridges that span it. If you pick the right spot on the grand stairs below the Gateway Arch you can see four complete and one under construction.

Let’s begin near the beginning. When ferry service connected Illinois and Missouri. The riverboats reigned supreme and considered the very idea of a bridge a hazard to navigation.

But here come the railroads. A transportation boom after the Civil War. The writing was in the water. To maintain status as an important American city St. Louis needed a bridge connection with Illinois and the East.

James Buchanan Eads designed this pioneering structure. It was the first bridge to use large amounts of that new building material — steel. Innovations in caissons for pier construction and the cantilever method of erecting the three steel arches were each a major fete in and of themselves.

With great celebration the bridge opened July 1874. Rail traffic used the lower deck and a roadway occupied the upper.

Today the oldest in use bridge across the Mississippi is again carrying traffic on both decks. Since 1993 the light rail system carries commuters and visitors on the lower deck. After renovations completed in 2003 the upper deck again hosts four lanes of traffic and sidewalks for pedestrians.

West approach during spring 2011 flood

West approach during spring 2011 flood

Take a few minutes on your riverfront visit to walk out and enjoy the view.

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