Monday, July 28, 2008

The Bridges of Craighead County

The Cache River and Bayou DeView Bridges, both spanning the Cache River in northeast Arkansas, are up for grabs. Indeed, they're free! These 80-something-year-old bridges, attached to place names that reflect the French colonial period in Arkansas, are in Craighead County, near the town of Cash, population 294. The bridges, which have retained their structural integrity, are being replaced in the name of progress. New free-standing spans will accommodate the road's widening to four lanes.

Because the bridges are eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, federal law requires that the state find a way to move and maintain them. Besides the bargain-basement price tag, the state has offered up to $100K per bridge to defray moving expenses. Nearby Jonesboro, home of Arkansas State University, has expressed interest in one for a green-space project, and a Girl Scout camp may take the other.

Here's part of Steve Barnes' story in the NYT. (Cache River Bridge photo by James Bayard for Jonesboro Sun).

To the unschooled eye, the cement and steel assemblages that serve State Highway 226 appear strictly utilitarian, utterly unremarkable, even ugly. But to architecture buffs, they are minor marvels.

The rarer jewel is the Cache River Bridge, a 180-foot camelback pony truss bridge west of Cash, which records indicate is the last of its kind in Arkansas. Its counterpart, the Bayou DeView, east of town, is a 192-foot Parker pony truss, one of 16 in the state still standing.

Frances McSwain, director of the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, waxes lyrical about the bridges, calling them "fun little bridges" with "a lot more to give." Cash farmers gathered at Vicki’s Store were rather less impressed. Journalist Barnes reports that they were far more concerned about "the rising prices of seed, fertilizer and, above all, diesel fuel, which have combined to double their production costs."

I admit to feeling more sentimental about these bridges than the farmers at Vicki's Store. Although I'm from NW Arkansas, across the state from Cash and these bridges, structures like these are the stuff of my childhood. I agree with McSwain: fun little bridges, indeed.

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