The Broadway Bridge was originally constructed in 1923 as a vehicular structure and replaced in 2017; it is one of six bridges linking the downtown areas of Little Rock (Pulaski County) and North Little Rock (Pulaski County).
As the downtown areas of Little Rock and Argenta (present-day North Little Rock) developed in the 1880s, it became apparent that a toll-free bridge independent of the railroad bridges across the Arkansas River was needed. Some people supported the idea of a bridge at the foot of Little Rock’s Main Street, while others thought it should start at Broadway. After years of debate and a series of bridge commissions, the Main Street site was adopted, and the Groton Bridge Company of Groton, New York, was selected to build a 1,670-foot-long, twenty-four-foot-wide fixed-span bridge situated high enough that it would not impede river traffic. The “Free Bridge” was dedicated with much fanfare on July 5, 1897.
Twenty years later, increasingly heavy local traffic from the burgeoning downtowns amplified by military traffic during World War I exceeded the capacity of the Free Bridge. Engineers recommended that a new bridge be constructed, and local businessmen urged that it be located at the foot of Broadway. In August 1917, Pulaski County officials created the Bridge Improvement District No. 1 and District No. 2 to oversee construction of two spans—one beginning at Broadway and the other replacing the Free Bridge with a new concrete bridge near Main Street. The county allocated $225,000 to each district. Historian Bryan McDade observed that the districts “proceeded independently of each other. However, the two districts did try to use the same contractor to build the bridge, and cut costs by ten percent.”
After considerable debate about how the bridges would be paid for and whether one should be constructed independent of the other, on March 2, 1920, a combined Main Street-Broadway Commission accepted a bid from the Missouri Valley Bridge and Iron Company of Kansas City, Missouri, to build both bridges. The Broadway Bridge would be erected first so that the increasingly feeble Free Bridge could continue to allow limited traffic between the two cities.
The builders were given approval to start on the Broadway Bridge on October 22, 1920. The project consumed 462,000 board feet of lumber, 100,000 pounds of steel, 13,000 barrels of cement, 9,200 cubic yards of crushed stone, and 140,000 pounds of bolts, nails and caisson steel. By Christmas Day 1922, the bridge had proceeded to the point that local officials, engineers, and construction company officials could drive across it for the first time.
A weeklong celebration of the bridge’s completion began on March 12, 1923, and a grand parade through the downtowns of Little Rock and Argenta was held two days later. At least 50,000 people observed the festivities. Speeches by Senator Joe T. Robinson, Governor Thomas McRae, and American Legion state commander O. L. Bodenhamer praised the project and dedicated the Broadway Bridge as a memorial to the Arkansans who had fought and died during World War I. Ruby Gibson of El Dorado (Union County), dubbed the “Princess of Union County,” broke a vial of crude oil over the center span to christen the structure.
Development of the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System required alterations to both the Broadway and Main Street bridges. In 1972, the Broadway Bridge was closed so that two concrete arches could be demolished and replaced with a new steel through-arch. The Martin K. Eby Construction Company of Wichita, Kansas, completed the job, and the bridge reopened in February 1973.
The refurbished bridge served for forty-three years before the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department (which later became the Arkansas Department of Transportation) determined that it needed to be replaced. A decommissioning ceremony for the memorial bridge was held on September 28, 2016, and the bridge was closed to traffic that day. The initial attempt at demolishing the old bridge was made on the morning of October 11, 2016, but failed; barges with cables were required to pull down the old structure later that day. The Massman Construction Company of Kansas City built the new $98.4 million bridge in 152 days, with it opening to traffic on March 1, 2017. A ceremony on April 6, 2017—the centennial of the United States’ entry into World War I—dedicated the new span to American veterans of all wars.
For additional information:
McDade, Bryan. “The Six Bridges at Little Rock: Understanding the Historical Significance and Relevance of the Six Bridges that Span the Arkansas River at Little Rock.” MA thesis, University of Arkansas at Little Rock, 2004.
Oman, Noel. “It’s 8 Bells, End of Road for Broadway Bridge.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, September 28, 2016, p. 1A.
———. “New Broadway Bridge Dedicated.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, April 7, 2017, p. 9B.
Oman, Noel, and Chris Bahn. “Bridge Falls… after a Bit.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, October 12, 2016, p. 1A.
Tarinelli, Ryan, and Scott Carroll. “Broadway Bridge Opens.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, March 2, 2017, p. 1A.
Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System
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