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.
This bridge has been bypassed but is still visible as of April 2012.
This location has a long history. In the late 1840s it was a crossing on the Santa Fe Trail which began in Independence, MO. The nearby park still has wagon ruts visible. The NPS lists it:
Good point, the bridge is similar to the Belleville Bridge in the American context. To clarify my comment, my comparison to European design arises from the combined aspects of a curved top chord and and curved end post that ends in the vertical position.
The Belleville Bridge was designed by Ohio Highway Department engineer D. H. Overman (the "Conde McCullough" of Ohio). More examples in Ohio are in Stark County: http://www.oldohiobridges.com/county/stark.htm
As for Mt. Vernon Bridge Company, I suspect (without proof) that by the time the 1920s and 1930s rolled around the company was mainly a structural steel fabricator and did not do a lot of design. Whenever I see their name on a 20th Century bridge it usually is a bridge that another engineer did design work on (Chicago bascule, large cantilever, Michigan Hwy Dept standard plan)
Coming back to the Red Bridge, does anyone know why this bridge is so special? Its not just the truss span, the approach system is rather elaborate from an aesthetics standpoint.
Puts me in mind of the Belleville Bridge:
Main difference being the curved endposts vs. vertical ones.
Wonder if the Mount Vernon Bridge Co. might have been involved here as the time frame is similar.
This bridge is a rare example of an American bridge that follows a European style design.
This month the Kansas City city council voted to appropriate the money to replace this bridge. Thankfully two things happened during the long process of planning for the replacement: one, it will not be replaced by some huge ugly thing that will put too much traffic on what is basically a residential artery (Red Bridge Road). Two, the span pictured here will be preserved as a pedestrian bridge as part of a walking trail through the surrounding park. So this pretty nifty iconic bridge will be preserved. Not everyone is completely happy, but it seems a sound compromise was pounded out.
Quite an unusual bridge! Are there any others like this?
This bridge is going to be bypassed in the next year or two due to realignment of Red bridge road. Since it actually sits in parkland, it was stated that the old bridge is going to be used for pedestrain and bicycle traffic. Jackson county has never considered demoslishing it, since the road itself is named after it, and it is a big Kansas City landmark.