POWELL — One step closer.

At 10 a.m. Monday, members of the Powell Historic Preservation Society, county officials, an engineer with Great River Associates and residents of Powell, attended a groundbreaking of the new Powell bridge which will be located near the existing 1915 bridge.

"I appreciate everybody coming out this morning to commemorate the groundbreaking for this bridge," said Spencer Jones with Great River Associates of Springfield. "The original intent was to replace this bridge (which dates back to 1915), and put a new bridge back in the same location. One reason that we look at that most of the time is that we are trying to minimize the impact on the adjoining property owners. But the Powell Historical Society had expressed interest in preservation efforts. So, we started looking at what would be the other alternatives as far as accomplishing both goals of building a new bridge, while preserving and maintaining the existing bridge. With the cooperation with the county commissioner(s), the Missouri Department of Transportation, the Powell Historical Society, the decision was made to realign the new bridge just downstream from the bridge."
The new bridge will be close to the original bridge.

History of the old bridge

The bridge was built in 1914-15 and was opened to the public in August of 1915. It consists of a 140' 8-panel pin-connected Pratt through truss main span of wrought iron with a square arch and 70' 4-panel pin-connected Pratt pony truss approach span, which equals a total bridge length of 210-plus feet. It was constructed to have a 12' wide roadway. The substructure includes concrete abutments, wing walls and a pier cap reinforced with steel plate. The floor/decking is timber deck over steel stringers.

The weight limit on the bridge is 3 tons, with a 7-foot clearance. Emergency vehicles have to go an alternate route, which is a number of miles away.

Jones gave the specs for the new bridge – on which construction begins today. The contractor is Lehman Construction of California, Mo.

"It is going to be a three-span, 275 foot long bridge, with a concrete deck and concrete rail on the side," he said. "The total project length is about 1,200 feet, the new bridge will be 24 feet wide, for two lanes of traffic."
As far as how long it will take, Jones said, "90 working days, which would equate out to about five months of construction work."

During the groundbreaking event, the Powell Bridge Preservation Society's treasurer Beverly Prentice was pleased with the outcome of the old bridge and the new bridge being built.

"We just knew that we just could not let this (1915) bridge be demolished, if we could help it," Prentice said. "So Virginia (Hall, president of the society) and I talked among the community and most everyone agreed with us if we could save it, we needed to save it. (Since it opened it) has had traffic on it ever since. The first traffic happened to be covered wagons. So as you can see, it has outlived its usefulness for modern traffic."

The society has put a lot of effort into the preservation of the old bridge and recently, it was named on the National Historic Register.

"It is the second bridge in the United States that has been given to a private non-profit group (the historical society)," she added.

But the historical society does have some things to do to the old bridge and some priorities.
"What we didn't know, was all of the things that you have to do to make sure that it stays historic, that you don't let it fall into the creek and there is a lot of things yet that we are still learning to keeping it historic," Prentice said. "It will be a walking bridge, no cars, it is going to be blocked off… We have our whole list of priorities – priority one, two and three – everything in order that we know that we have to do to get this bridge rehab and ready for pedestrians only. They can sit up here, read, visit, watch the birds. It is a beautiful view. People for years have set on the gravel bar and sketched and painted this bridge."

Interesting information

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. 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 wagonload 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."