The new Highway 47 bridge that will be built over the Missouri River at Washington in 2017-18 has been a news subject for years. Back in the 1930s, it was a hot news story also. That’s when the present bridge was built, with approval coming in 1934.
Paul Bocklage, one of the many Washingtonians interested in local history, gave former mayor Bernie Hillermann a copy of the front page of The Missourian, dated Wednesday, June 27, 1934. That carried the story of the federal government granting approval of the project. It was an “extra” edition, with a huge headline, with these words, “Approve Bridge,” in 3-inch bold type. The same story and front page pictures were in the regular edition that had a Friday, June 29, 1934, dateline. Back in those days, The Missourian came out on Fridays.
The project actually had to have the approval of the president, Franklin D. Roosevelt. We are sure the pending project to build a new bridge never reached the president’s desk! A new bridge in the 1930s over a major river was a big deal.
The Missourian reported that before the final OK came, some preliminary work had already begun on the project. A front page picture showed E. G. Stephenson, of the Corps of Engineers office here, was checking the location of a pile driver. There also was a photo of Mayor F. J. Ruether breaking a bottle of a local beer, Cardinal, on the first pile that was driven into the river. The photos were “furnished through the courtesy” of Andy Seitz of the Washington office of the Corps of Engineers. Seitz, by the way, rose to the rank of a general in the Army during World War II.
The news story on the bridge approval said the federal Public Works Administration (PWA) had allocated $428,800 for construction of the bridge. The Missouri State Highway Commission said it would contribute $200,000 to the project. The Missourian also reported that the word of the allocation of funds was received with “considerable enthusiasm. Whistles were blown, the fire siren was sounded, and many people turned out to pass the word from one to another. There was some talk of an impromptu parade, but the intensely hot weather discouraged any elaborate celebration.”
Plans for the bridge project actually were prepared in 1927. However, a bill calling for the construction died in Congress. In September 1927, a group of civic leaders renewed efforts for the bridge. They formed a corporation, Washington, Mo., Bridge Company. The civic leaders included O. W. Arcularius, John J. Ernst, J. H. Dickbrader, and O. F. Schulte. They had a contract with an eastern bond company with tentative terms to build the bridge. A franchise for a bridge was approved by Congress in 1928. It was extended for one year to 1929. Plans and traffic surveys were made and an estimated cost of $1 million resulted. The bond company said if $200,000 in bonds could be sold locally, it would furnish the rest of the money needed. The local corporation, with what the prevailing interest rates were, decided against the financing plan for a toll bridge. In early 1929, the corporation was dissolved.
The interest for a bridge still was high. The Depression at that time created a problem to raise the local capital needed, The Missourian reported. The city council in 1933 engaged the services of the engineering firm of Sverdrup & Parcel to prepare plans for the bridge. The Washington bridge project was given a high priority by the federal government because the plans were ready. The Chamber of Commerce lobbied the highway commission for $200,000 for the project. The Missouri General Assembly enacted a law enabling cities to issue bonds to the federal government, authorizing the city to seek a PWA loan and grant. The project advanced. The city had to work with the Corps of Engineers and a contractor to have several piles in the river to mark its location. That was a requirement.
The city received the support from the highway commission, Congressman Clarence Cannon and Sen. Bennett Clark.
Another individual who was active in seeking approval was City Attorney H. A. Krog, who later donated money to establish Krog Park on Fifth Street.
Apparently, from the beginning of the planning, it was determined that tolls would have to be collected to pay part of the cost. The tolls and other information about the bridge will be the subject of another column.