Ben Laney Bridge

The Ben Laney Bridge is located in Camden (Ouachita County). Spanning the Ouachita River, the bridge carries traffic from U.S. Highway 79 Business and Arkansas Highway 7. The bridge, which was constructed in 1947, was added to the National Register of Historic Places on June 9, 2000.

Camden’s early economy was directly tied to its location as the head of practical navigation on the Ouachita River. As the major commercial center in southern Arkansas, it needed reliable infrastructure in order to continue to grow. However, the city did not have a bridge over the river for decades and, instead, utilized a ferry. During the Camden Expedition of 1864, a pontoon bridge was used by the Union army, while Confederate forces cobbled together a bridge using pieces of the sunken steamboat Homer to continue their pursuit of the retreating Federals.

Before the construction of the Ben Laney Bridge, the Martin Bridge, named for former county judge W. T. Martin, crossed the Ouachita at Camden. Details on this bridge are few, but newspapers reported that the bridge was constructed in 1909 and was in ill-repair and narrow, prompting the Arkansas Highway Department (which later became the Arkansas Department of Transportation) to begin working to replace it shortly after the conclusion of World War II. In the interim period, a temporary wooden bridge was installed to allow vehicles to cross the river. The designation of the road crossing the bridge as U.S. Highway 79 increased the number of vehicles crossing the river at Camden.

Construction began on the bridge on December 8, 1945, with R. N. Reynolds selected as the contractor and the actual construction completed by the D. F. Jones Construction Company. It was originally scheduled to be completed in 1946, but an ongoing steel shortage pushed the opening of the bridge to 1947.

The bridge consists of three steel Pratt pony trusses, with the longest measuring 129 feet. Including the approaches at each end of the bridge, the total length of the structure is 1,000 feet. The bridge uses an I-beam deck, and the approaches to the bridge measure 548 feet. The approaches were constructed in 1934 and incorporated into the Ben Laney Bridge. The roadway is twenty-four feet wide and includes sidewalks for pedestrian traffic. While the approaches were incorporated into the design of the new bridge, external pedestrian walkways were added on each side to connect to the sidewalks on the bridge. The approaches were also necessary due to the low-lying approach to the bridge that easily floods. Pieces of the bridge that the Ben Laney Bridge replaced, along with the wooden bridge, were turned over to the Highway Department after the dedication of the Ben Laney Bridge.

The bridge is named for Governor Benjamin Laney, a native of Ouachita County who served as the mayor of Camden from 1935 to 1939. Laney served as governor at the time the bridge was dedicated in 1947 and participated in the dedication ceremony. The construction of a bypass to the south led to the renumbering of the road to U.S. Highway 79 Business. The bypass with a new bridge over the river opened in 1976. The bridge continues to be used in the twenty-first century.

For additional information:
“Ben Laney Bridge.” National Register for Historic Places registration form. On file at Arkansas Historic Preservation Office, Little Rock, Arkansas. Online at http://www.arkansaspreservation.com/National-Register-Listings/PDF/OU0152.nr.pdf (accessed May 20, 2020).

“Ben Laney Bridge to Be Opened Next Week.” Camden News, April 12, 1947, p. 1.

“Bridge Ready in Two Weeks.” Camden News, April 5, 1947, p. 1.

David Sesser
Henderson State University

Last Updated: 05/20/2020