Thursday, January 14, 2010

Rainbow Arch Bridge & Family History

I learned alot about bridge terminology when I wrote about the Sundial Bridge in Redding, California, in the March 13, 2009, post on this blog, but when researching the history of the Cotter, Arkansas, bridge pictured in these photos, I found out there were some additional definitions that I needed to add to my vocabulary. For example, I found out that when the bridge was completed in 1930 by the Bateman Contracting Company, it was the world's largest "Marsh Rainbow Arch Bridge". And no, it is not named after marshmallows. Rather, it is named for James Marsh (1856 - 1936) who patented the reinforced-concrete rainbow arch design in 1912. According to the 1988 publication Great American Bridges and Dams, a rainbow arch bridge is "An aesthetically pleasing design popularized by James Marsh between 1915 and 1930. Marsh actively promoted the technology and became responsible for the vast majority of rainbow arch bridges built in the Midwest and Great Plains." This last statement probably explains a well-known bridge familiar to Route 66 aficionados. A Marsh Rainbow Arch Bridge spanned the Spring River between Galena and Riverton, Kansas, on the highway nicknamed "America's Main Street". Unfortunately, it was dismantled in 1986. However, that state did have the foresight to preserve another Marsh Rainbow Arch Bridge---the one in Baxter Springs, Kansas; it was restored in 1992, and you can still drive your car across it. Likewise, a Marsh Rainbow Arch Bridge in Fort Morgan, Colorado, has been restored as a hiking and bicycle bridge over the Platte River. I am very thankful for the preservation-minded folks of Cotter and the surrounding area, who started the work several years ago that resulted in the preservation of the Marsh Rainbow Arch Bridge at Cotter. Thanks to their efforts, the bridge is not only listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but also as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. This last title is given to recognize "exceptionally meritorious achievements" and "civil engineerings' greatest accomplishments" and to "preserve our rich heritage for future generations". It is also listed on the Historic American Engineering Record established by the National Park Service, the Library of Congress, and the American Society of Civil Engineers to document important engineering events.

The railroad has played a significant role in the development of Cotter, Arkansas, and this photo shows the location where the tracks go under the Rainbow Arch Bridge before travelling onto the massive metal railroad bridge across the White River, that is several yards upriver from the Rainbow Arch Bridge. Although those tracks have not been used to carry passengers since 1960, they still service the area for freight and cargo transportation.

On the Baxter County side of the Rainbow Arch Bridge is a lovely park called "Big Spring Park" where you will find a covered picnic pavilion, a building for indoor functions called "The Spring House", restrooms, a gazebo, a railroad train car and statue, boat loading/unloading area, a swimming hole, and hiking/walking trails---some of them, wheelchair accessible. Also, friends of mine named Ron and Debbie Gamble, own and operate (along with their son Dylan) the Cotter Trout Dock there, which I would highly recommend for your White River outdoor adventures ( Just as the bridge was built by a company named "Bateman", so Ron Gamble can be thought of as the "Baitman" for all your trout fishing questions and needs! Be sure to check out their website for more great photos of the area.

Hopefully, by now you're wondering, "What does all this have to do with YOUR family history?" Here's the connection: Before my mother and father were married, they had what they would later call their "first date" on a Lead Hill High School field trip (via school bus) to visit the bridge, before it was officially opened to traffic. Mother would always tell that story to me anytime we crossed the bridge as I was growing up. She said she and my father shared a picnic lunch under the bridge that day, and "the rest, as they say, is history"! I have deduced that "first date" probably occurred sometime in September of 1930. That is because the official dedication of the bridge is listed as November 11-12, 1930. So even though I was "just a gleam in the eye" of Joe and Benita back then, I feel a strong connection to this bridge! (They were later married in August of 1932 at the Boone County Courthouse.) The photo above shows that one can clearly read the year "1930" on the overhead span as you drive your car across the bridge. Another reason the bridge is significant to me is because the last hike my husband and I took together before his sudden death in November, 2000, was when we walked the trail together along the White River, that links the Rainbow Arch Bridge with the new Highway 412 Bridge, further upstream. It was a beautiful, autumn day and I cherish the memory of that time together. So now you know why the title of this post has the phrase "family history" in it. But wait---there's more!!! I can't let such a great visual aid opportunity pass without making this analogy: Just as the Rainbow Arch Bridge connects Baxter County to Marion County, so Jesus Christ is the "bridge" that connects God to us humans here on earth. Through Him, we can "cross over" from living in this world, to that place called "The Kingdom of God" and "Eternal Life" (John 3:16). Now THAT is family history we can all relate to and be thankful for! Miles of smiles! Tricia
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