Spanning Cadron Creek in rural Faulkner County, Arkansas, stands the oldest remaining highway bridge of its kind in the state.
The Springfield-Des Arc Bridge stands, now dilapidated, in the same spot it has stood since 1874. It is one of few remaining examples of a type of bridge engineered, designed, and patented by Zenas King of the King Bridge Manufactory and Iron Works.
Set into stone abutments quarried from the area, with tubular metal chords rising 5 meters above the bottom chords, the Bowstring Arch Bridge is 57 meters long. It is a cast-iron and wrought-iron, single span, bowstring arch trough truss, with wooden beams and flooring on the deck.
Pre-fabricated according to King’s design, construction workers needed to rivet the top chord together and punch the holes in the top chord for posts and diagonals, but an error was made. When placing the first vertical on the west arch, the measurement was off by one foot. Although the rest of the panels were spaced correctly, it creates a visual skew in the bridge.
The bridge replaced a previously constructed wooden bridge, which had proved insufficient in strength and durability to withstand the frequent flooding in the area. Even before then, the location had been an important ferry crossing since before the Civil War.
As an important east-west trade route for the County Seat, the road witnessed heavy transport of goods and freight from the steamboat landing in Des Arc; the Military later improved the road, relied upon heavily by both Union and Confederate troops.
Population expanded in the area after the Civil War, and demand increased for better roads and river crossings. Construction of the new bridge was completed in 1874, and the bridge remained a primary crossing all the way up until 1987. The bridge survived several near catastrophes over the years, and was even condemned as a danger, but remained in use, lacking a more convenient crossing.
Water washed over the wooden deck during three major floods in 1882, 1927, and 1982. It has burned, had a heavy log truck fall through the floor on one occasion, and a bulldozer on another.
A campaign to preserve the structure began in 1983, resulting in nomination for listing on the National Register of Historic Places (1987), and finally retired in favor a new less visually appealing concrete bridge in 1989.
The troubles for the bridge did not stop then, however. Plans to restore the bridge and redevelop the surrounding site as a park languished. The bridge sat abandoned until placed on the 2015 List of the Eight Most Endangered Historic Properties in Arkansas.
Recently, along with the endangered designation, new plans to rescue the structure received support from the nearby City of Conway. A planned relocation and restoration of the unique historic structure to Beaverfork Lake should begin in late summer 2016.
Know Before You Go
The bridge has moved to Beaverfork Lake were it functions as a walk bridge.