Doubtless few of the commuters who daily cross the Red Bridge over the Big Blue River know the significance of the area they are driving through.
The Red Bridge area has existed as an attractive and stable residential area for nearly half a century. But, the area's recorded history transports back at least another 150 years when explorers like Daniel Boone visited the area, and mountain men like Jim Bridger actually settled nearby (Bridger owned a large farm across from Watts Mill along Indian Creek where I-435 is today).
Early settlers and transient travelers along the Santa Fe Trail also mingled with Native Americans at a trading post along this stretch of the famous route. Visit Minor Park’s picnic area located immediately west of the bridge on the south side of Red Bridge Boulevard. As you stand in this vicinity of the bridge, look southwest and picture in your mind processions of Conestoga wagons heavily loaded with goods being pulled by oxen as they were led back and forth between here and Santa Fe (then in Mexico) from 1821 to the 1840s. Rare remnants of the actual Santa Fe Trail survive today as swales, or grass covered wagon ruts. And, you are standing right in their path. About half way up the hillside, you might spot the large commemorative marker that stands beside this ancient trail.
Wagons had to take their chances fording the often-unruly waters of the Blue River long before bridgework. Settlers homesteading farms in this picturesque countryside as far west as New Santa Fe, then at the edge of the United States, necessitated a safer river crossing. Colonel George N. Todd, a 50-year-old Scottish stonemason, built the first bridge in 1859. The span at the Old Blue Ford, located one quarter mile north of the present-day bridge, was 100 feet in length. Like a picture from The Bridges of Madison County, the original wooden bridge rested on stone piers and featured red-painted shingling on roof and sides, originating a namesake for the bridge, road, and surrounding area.
A steel and timber bridge, also painted red, replaced the original bridge 33 years later in 1892, at the location of the current bridge. George W. Kemper, a Hickman Mills carpenter, removed the original bridge. Some of the timber was recycled into a barn on Solomon Young’s farm; other timbers were taken to the John Henry Kemper farm.
In 1932, Solomon Young’s grandson, Harry S Truman, as Presiding Judge of the Jackson County Court (akin to today’s County Legislature), oversaw the design, bid, and construction of the steel, concrete and red granite Red Bridge motorists use today. Winding Red Bridge Road must have been a favorite of Truman’s, because it is the most thoroughly and beautifully photographed area of any other that appears in a book he helped the County Court produce called, Results of County Planning.
Interview with Nathan Thomas (Tom) Veatch (of Black & Veatch) discussing the County Road improvements under Judge Harry Truman.