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Chain of Rocks Bridge Turns 80

The Bend in the Chain of Rocks Bridge

The Bend in the Chain of Rocks Bridge

Two projects came together on the Chain of Rocks Bridge. I first crossed this eccentric bridge in the 1960s on a return trip from Peoria, Illinois. My father, always intent on broadening my horizons, drove me across this bridge at the northern edge of St. Louis. I returned to it many times before it was closed in the 1980s. We celebrated its 80th birthday last week.

I began learning the history of the bridge in the 1980s when I was working on Route 66, The Highway and its People, Photographs by Quinta Scott; Text by Susan Croce Kelly. I told the story of the bridge in Along Route 66, the Architecture of American’s Highway:

“In 1929 John R. Scott and Tom J. Scott, brothers, completed four miles of roadway from Mitchell to the east bank of the Mississippi where they had constructed a most eccentric toll bridge. It was narrow, only twenty feet wide. It had a right turn in the middle, and a remarkable view of the Chain of Rocks, a major obstruction to shipping in the Mississippi, and of the little castles which housed the pumps for the St. Louis waterworks.

The Scott brothers and a group of investors began planning the Chain of Rocks bridge in 1924, two years before U.S. 66 was designated. They wanted to provide a way into St. Louis that by-passed Granite City, Madison, and Venice and cut eight to ten miles off the trip between Chicago and St. Louis. A bridge at the northern extreme of St. Louis would do that.

They started construction on the Missouri side before they had found the bedrock anchor for the pier on the Illinois bank. They never did, at least not in the place they needed it for a straight bridge. So, the Scott’s engineers poked around along the Illinois shore until they found bedrock 200 yards up stream, and built a 22 degree left/right turn into the bridge.

When the Scotts opened the bridge on July 20, 1929, Missouri and Illinois failed to mark it on their official maps. After the initial publicity, traffic dwindled and so did income from tolls. The bridge went into foreclosure. The Scotts reorganized, laid an additional 600 feet of road from the west end of the bridge to connect with Lindbergh Boulevard which became the 66 by-pass around St. Louis, and renewed their efforts to encourage drivers to use the bridge. Discouraged, they sold the bridge to the City of Madison, Illinois in 1939 which turned it into a “Golden Goose” until the Interstate-270 bridge replaced the narrow, two lane bridge with the right angle in the middle where two trucks, going in opposite directions, could not pass.”

Baxter L. Brown was the engineer that designed the bridge. The Union Bridge and Construction Co. of New York and the American Bridge Co. were the builders.

It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2006.

Confluence Greenway and Trail Net have leased the bridge from the City of Madison and have gone a long way to restoring the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge and the wetlands and islands that surround its Illinois approach. On a pleasant summer day, it is a good place to walk or bike.

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One Response

  1. This is a great shot, especially the lighting and clarity.

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