From the collections at the Leavenworth County Historical Society and Museum. Reprinted with permission from The Leavenworth County Historical Society and Museum and the Leavenworth Times. Donated by Debra Graden.
Returning from a "skunky" fishing trip to Mud lake via the Fort Leavenworth bridge recently the writer's two companions, of what might be called the "present generation," evinced a desire for more knowledge regarding the structure and all that pertained to its use so it was our determination to give the answers to their questions here, that the present and coming generations of youngsters might be enlightened.
The Kansas and Missouri Bridge Company was incorporated November 12, 1867, for the purpose of building a bridge across the Missouri river, at or near the city of Leavenworth. The necessary congressional legislation was not obtained, however, until July, 1868, and immediately thereafter steps were taken to accomplish the object of the organization.
At a meeting held September 9, 1868, a chief engineer was appointed who was instructed to make the necessary surveys for determining its location, and to prepare plans with estimate of cost. This was presented to the directors October 31, the plan and location adopted and proposals for its construction advertised.
L. B. Boomer and Company of Chicago were the successful bidders and their bid accepted in January, 1869. Work was actually commenced July 20 following. Construction progressed steadily as the financial arrangements would permit. Though no record of the bondholders is available, it was common report that the bonds were purchased by a syndicate of Holland (Dutch) financiers.
The substructure and approaches were completed July 1, 1871, and the superstructure completed about December 1 of that year when it was ready for trains to enter Leavenworth over it. The Chicago Rock Island and Pacific used the bridge for its entry into Leavenworth, and early in 1890 the Chicago-Great Western (known as Maple Leaf route then) used it through lease from the Rock Island until the completion of the Terminal bridge at the foot of Choctaw street.
Of the structure, it was noted in a report describing the bridge as being "an application of the "pneumatic" system to the peculiar and difficult feature of the Missouri river and was designed by the chief engineer, General Wright, who had charge of the work from the beginning. The superstructure is of wrought iron, and the plan known as "Post's Diagonal Truss."
The first question was: "If the Rock Island trains crossed this structure into Kansas and to Leavenworth, how did they make this short curve at the west end of this bridge? "They just didn't. At one place in the stone wall along the west side of the approach, about where Reynolds avenue is (that thoroughfare passing Gruber hall, Fort Leavenworth) there was a deep cut in the embankment. This was before the wall was erected. Through this gash or cut in the hill the trains ran in a southwesterly direction to Gibson avenue (the street running south from the east end of Gruber hall); thence south and east, over One Mile and Two Mile creeks, along the Missouri river to the Union station.
Another question was: "When did the bridge burn?" Though we stood on the North Esplanade and saw it on fire twice in our newspaper career, the question of time was referred to Mike Bahler, who was the local chief of the fire department in those times.
"It was on fire many times," Mike said, "The fire of 1909 destroyed the long east approach or trestlework that led to the high structure, and in June, 1913, the bridge flooring, in some unknown manner caught fire, burned and was not repaired until some years later."
The bridge is under control of the War department which has supervision over all structures over navigable streams. It was through the efforts of Congressman D. R. Anthony in the house and Senator Jim Reed of Missouri, in the senate, that a bill finally was passed appropriating $50,000 for the purchase of what remained of the superstructure and substructure.
Repairs to the flooring were made, the ironwork painted and the Missouri Highway commission made the big fill leading to the east end; also placed the concrete slab and blacktop surfaces and designated it the entrance into Kansas of US highway No. 92.
On June 16, 1926, it formally opened as a free bridge, the only one at that time of its kind from the source of the Missouri river to the confluence of it and the Mississippi above St. Louis, Mo.
It was due to the arguments of the congressmen that the Department of Justice could utilize a 900-acre tract of federal land on the east shore of the Missouri river for farming purposes, if there were a way to reach it. The bill finally was passed, and thus a free bridge connecting Leavenworth and Platte counties was obtained.
There was bitter opposition to the government's taking over the ruined structure by the Chicago Great Western railroad, owners of the Terminal bridge at the foot of Choctaw street. The president of the railroad made several trips to Washington in his private car, accompanied by engineers, attorneys, and other influential men (?) its right-of-way each time the congressmen called up the (?) for passage as the railroad was definitely against its opening, thus taking away its south (?) patronage.
On July 18, 1910, the Leavenworth Terminal Bridge and Railway Company, sold the structure to the Chicago Great Western. and hardly had the bill passed for the repair of the Fort bridge than the CGW, through its president, a Mr. Felton, tore up its flooring and thus closed it to foot and vehicle passage into Leavenworth to the detriment of trade from Missouri to local merchants. Never since have the railroad officials realized the error of Felton's action; of what a large amount of traffic tolls had been lost it by his short-sighted policy; or the general resentment of the community toward (?) Great Western.