The Judsonia Bridge
Judsonia, AR 72081

       

Bridge History  

Friday, February 17, 2006 4:20 PM CST

Judsonia Mayor Ricky Veach stands on the Judsonia Bridge Friday. The bridge, listed on the National Historical Register, is one of several featured in a video presentation, “Historic Bridges of Arkansas,” which has been aired on AETN.

Judsonia Bridge featured on AETN as historical landmark

By Pat Hambrick The Daily Citizen

The Judsonia bridge over the Little Red River on White County Road 66 connecting Judsonia and Kensett is historically significant as the only known swing bridge in Arkansas designed as a cantilever, Historic Resources Coordinator Robert Scoggin with the Environmental Division of Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department, said.

The bridge, listed on the National Historical Register, is one of several featured in a video presentation, “Historic Bridges of Arkansas,” which has been aired on AETN. The feature will air again at 4:30 on March 18 and at 2:30 on March 19, Scoggin said.

In addition to Scoggin, the program features Hendrix College Assistant Professor of Art Maxine Payne, an artist and photographer who has photographed and chronicled historic bridges in the state for the highway department, along with several Arkansas residents who share their memories of some of the historic bridges with viewers.

Like other historical structures, the old bridges are disappearing. One on Bull Creek, in the Beebe area, was built in 1925 and is eligible for the register, though only two of its original 24 steel trusses are still there, Scoggin said.

The “sister bridge” to Judsonia’s bridge was the old Little Red River Bridge between Judsonia and Searcy. The two were conceived at the same time, though politics and legal issues delayed the building of the Judsonia bridge.

The Judsonia bridge was approved by the legislature and a notice of letting for bids was made public in 1916. However, County Judge John Marsh opposed the low bid of $32,990 and refused to appropriate funds. The bridge was completed Jan. 25, 1924 under County Judge F. O. White at a cost of $45,000. Raxford L. Gaster of Little Rock was the contractor, Scoggin said.

From March 1921, when the ferry across the river ceased operation, until the bridge’s completion in 1924, Judsonia residents either had to walk across the railroad bridge and track or wait for a train if they wanted to travel the four miles to Kensett, according to W. E. Orr’s book “That’s Judsonia.”

The approach to the bridge on Judsonia’s side was built by over 100 Judsonia men, using two teams that made over 1,500, three-block trips over a two-day period. The women of the town set up tables on the bridge and fed the workmen lunch, according to historical data gathered by Kathryn Steen for the Arkansas Historic Bridge Recording Project in 1988.

Steen said a local man was employed to turn the bridge to allow barge traffic to pass. When he heard the boat whistle, he would rush to the bridge and turn it using a lever.

Steen said the most common reason for the bridge to be turned was to allow barges hauling rock from the Bee Rock Quarry to pass. It is unclear when the bridge was last turned, though she notes business from the quarry dropped off in the late 1920s.

The bridge is no longer operable because the original deck has been replaced, according to Steen’s notes, though she does not give the date of the replacement.

Scoggin hopes that the old key, or lever, is lying about somewhere and that publicity might lead to its discovery.

“Sometimes they are just sitting somewhere. Most people wouldn’t know what it was,” he said.

He described it as a long, Y-shaped piece of wood. The two handles acted as a lever, and the leg of the “Y” was inserted into a socket located over the central pier.

“I just want to photograph it. They can keep it,” Scoggin said.

The Historic Bridge Project was started in 1987 by a federal law which required all states to inventory their bridges and determine which were eligible for the National Register.

There are now more than 115 bridges on or elligible to be on the National Register, and more are being added. Scoggin said over 600 Arkansas bridges have been evaluated over the years.

In order to be historically significant, a bridge must be 50 years old or older. Other criteria include who built it, when it was built and how it fits into the state’s construction, Scoggin said.

Scoggin said the Highway Department’s priority is to leave the historical bridges in place, if possible. If a bridge should have to be replaced, they are required to market it to the county, the state and to the historical society in an effort to keep the bridge intact, even if it has to be moved elsewhere.

He said only four covered bridges remain in the state.

Scoggin said he is in the process of making a brochure about the historical bridges of White County. When complete, brochures will be available through the Arkansas State Highway Department.

The Arkansas Historical Preservation Program has maps available that list the locations of the historical bridges, he said.

“The Judsonia bridge is the only Warren cantilever through truss bridge left in the state. It’s a unique bridge,” Scoggin said.

More information about Arkansas’ historic bridges can be found at aetn.org/ahbridges