Green Bridge in Christian County has closed after 112 years. Could it be preserved?

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The 112-year-old Green Bridge, which crosses the Finley River near Ozark in Christian County, has been closed by the Missouri Department of Transportation after an inspection rated the bridge a 2 on a 10-point scale.

Early in the morning of Thursday, Feb. 8, Sandi Green-Baker said goodbye to Green Bridge.

She wanted to drive over the 112-year-old steel truss bridge, which crosses the Finley River on Smyrna Road near Ozark in Christian County, one last time before it closed. She, like many in the community, has always been charmed by the bridge.

Green-Baker is not related to the Green family for whom the bridge is named. But she was baptized there as a child, and she has always made sure to check up on it. But Feb. 8, her visit was a few minutes too late.

“I thought I saw school bus lights. But then when I got closer, I discovered that they were the lights of the Christian County road district people,” Baker said. “And they were already putting up the sign that the bridge was closed.”

Built for horse and buggy: Green Bridge closes after 112 years of service

Green Bridge was built in 1912 by the Canton Bridge Company of Canton, Ohio. It was built over the Finley River on property belonging to Calvin Green, according to a plat map from 1912. The eight-foot-wide bridge was originally intended for horse and buggy traffic. It has since been the site of picnics, weddings, baptisms and other family outings.

Christian County Presiding Commissioner Lynn Morris said the bridge is one of the oldest in the county, and it has seen better days. Green Bridge was inspected in January by engineering firm Lochner, Inc., and the prognosis was grim.

Prior inspections of the bridge prompted the Missouri Department of Transportation to rate it a 3, or “serious condition,” on its 10-point scale. But after the recent inspection, MoDOT has brought that rating down to 2: a high risk for sudden failure.

Plans are already underway for a replacement bridge. The county was hoping it could be completed before the old bridge closed. But out of an abundance of caution, Green Bridge was closed to both vehicles and pedestrian traffic Feb. 8.

“We’ve been watching that bridge for years now as it slowly just started to deteriorate,” Morris said. “You can see holes — and pretty good sized holes — in the steel base of the bridge.”

Replacement and preservation of Green, Red, and Hawkins Bridges

Green-Baker, who grew up near Green Bridge, wanted the old bridge to stay where it is along Smyrna Road. She would’ve liked to see it turned into a pedestrian bridge alongside the new bridge for future generations to enjoy. But the county says Green Bridge must come down to replace the new one due to the risk of a “100-year flood.”

“The county has told me they’re afraid the old bridge will fall in during a flood and hit the new bridge and hurt the new bridge,” said Kris Dyer, an Ozark native and specialist in historic bridge preservation.

Green Bridge is one of three historic bridges in the county scheduled for replacement in the next 12 months. Hawkins Bridge and Red Bridge, which are also more than a century old, are also slated for replacement in the next 12 months. The $9 million cost of replacing the bridges will come out of the county’s $19.3 million allocation of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds.

Morris said if the old bridges can be preserved, it would be a great win for everybody. Plans have been discussed to replace Hawkins and Red Bridges with concrete bridges, which would incorporate the old bridges’ non-weight-bearing trusses. They would also feature plaques detailing the histories of the original bridges.

“Anything that we can repurpose and make it look more like an older bridge, but it’s still a brand new bridge,” Morris said.

But Dyer doesn’t want that to happen to Green Bridge. She says permanently deconstructing Green Bridge as it is today is not what the community wants. They want it preserved intact. Dyer added that if new bridges were constructed with pieces of the old bridge, the National Trust for Historic Preservation wouldn’t consider them the same bridges, and they wouldn’t be eligible for the register.

“I’ve heard rumors that they’re wanting to just take pieces of it, which would destroy the historical integrity of the bridge,” Dyer said “It would no longer even be Green Bridge. It wouldn’t be recognizable. And that’s not what our community wants.”

Dyer spearheaded the 11-year movement to save Riverside Bridge, which now serves as a pedestrian connection across the Finley River in Ozark. The bridge is now a centerpiece of Bass Pro founder Johnny Morris’ Finley Farms attraction that highlights the historic Ozark Mill. Now, Dyer is on a mission to save Green Bridge, too.

Within a few months of creating a “Save Riverside Bridge” account on Facebook, Dyer said the bridge was accepted onto the National Register of Historic Places.

For many years, Riverside Bridge stood next to the iconic Riverside Inn restaurant and speakeasy, which opened around 1923. Frequent flooding forced the restaurant to close its doors in 2009.

After a series of previous closures, a “100-year flood” in July 2015 forced the bridge to close to traffic permanently. Three years later, Bass Pro won a state bidding process to buy and revamp the bridge. The company announced it would pay to disassemble Riverside Bridge and relocate it 1.3 miles south at the Finley Farms attraction.

“If anyone goes down to Riverside Bridge, you can see how people love these historic bridges,” Dyer said. “I mean, everybody’s getting engaged on that bridge. Everybody walks on that bridge. I told the city our town would be known for saving historic bridges.”

Morris said there were about four parties currently interested in acquiring Green Bridge which could not be disclosed to the News-Leader.

More: Bass Pro development Finley Farms touts raising of historic Riverside Bridge in Ozark

Chad Shook, who owns a bison and Clydesdale farm on 235 acres along the Finley River in Sparta, says he is interested in the bridge. He and his wife Tiffanie Shook are planning a multi-million dollar luxury guest ranch called Finley River Outpost. The attraction will eventually feature a restaurant, a wedding venue, glamping units, riverside cabins, and, perhaps, the historic Green Bridge.

“Just having access along the Finley River here, I think that’s a good spot to call home for the bridge,” Shook told the News-Leader.

The Green Bridge closure is expected to affect about 300 to 400 trips each day. Morris said the county is waiting on one last right-of-way agreement before construction starts on the new Green Bridge. While those plans are approved, Christian County is looking for someone to preserve and relocate the old one.

“We have interest in all three bridges, but we haven’t sent the application notice so people could apply,” Morris said. “The application process is going to be issued out sometime this spring.”

When applications go out, interested parties will have to state their intentions for the bridge and where they plan to take it. Morris added that the county will have its own requirements for the project.

“We’ll have to see if they actually have the money to tear down the bridge and put it back up somewhere else,” Morris said.

Dyer said she hopes the county selects the plan that keeps the bridge intact, along with its historical integrity.

“We need to call, email the county and let them know that we want them to choose the one that keeps the bridge intact,” Dyer said. “We want to keep the historic integrity.”

This article originally appeared on Springfield News-Leader: Green Bridge closes. Here’s how community hopes it can be preserved…Read more by Tony Madden, Springfield News-Leader

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