Historic bridge moved, to be dedicated at Beaverfork

Carol Rolf/Contributing Writer Published September 14, 2017 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: William Harvey

The city of Conway and the Faulkner County Historical Society will hold a dedication ceremony for the refurbished Springfield-Des Arc Bridge at 10 a.m. Sept. 23 at Beaverfork Lake Park. Among the participants in the ceremony will be Faulkner County Historical Society President Rebekah Bilderback, front; and back row, from left, Conway Mayor Bart Castleberry; Kenneth Barnes, Faulkner County Historical Society member; and Jack Bell, chief of staff for the city of Conway.

CONWAY — It’s been a long time coming, but the 143-year-old Springfield-Des Arc Bridge is back in business.

Once located on the north branch of Cadron Creek connecting Faulkner and Conway counties, the 146-foot historic bowstring truss bridge is now at Beaverfork Lake Park in Conway, connecting the fishing pier to the swimming area. The bridge is highly visible from Arkansas 25.

The city of Conway and the Faulkner County Historical Society will host a dedication ceremony at 10 a.m. Sept. 23 at the bridge. The public is invited.

Members of the historical society will provide refreshments and sell commemorative T-shirts for $15 each.

The city and the historical society led the effort to move and restore the bridge, and the Faulkner County judge’s office has been involved as well. The nonprofit organization Workin’ Bridges of Grinnell, Iowa, oversaw the project, which began in earnest when the Faulkner County Historical Society launched a preservation campaign for the bridge in 2014.

Kenneth Barnes, who teaches history at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway and is a member of the Faulkner County Historical Society, said the preservation process started earlier — in about 2011, according to an earlier article in the River Valley & Ozark Edition.

“There was some talk about the bridge and initial contact when Preston Scroggin was county judge,” Barnes said.

“There were a number of challenges,” he said. “We had to figure out how to move it, where to put it, who would pay for it. There were a lot of pieces to the puzzle.

“Once the city came aboard, the pieces began to fall in place. It’s been nice to see all the entities work together — the city, the county and the historical society, as well as several companies and individuals.”

Barnes said two signs will be placed near the bridge.

“One will tell the story of the bridge,” he said. “The other will tell the story of its preservation; we will be able to recognize the donors that made this happen on that sign.

“The bridge is being used already. I’ve seen people walking on and fishing from it.”

Conway Mayor Bart Castleberry is among those who have already visited the bridge.

“I actually walked across it with my grandfather when it was in its original location. We lived up that way when I was young,” Castleberry said.

“My wife and I were just out here the other evening to watch the sunset,” he said. “I think it is a tremendous asset for our community. Plus, we are preserving part of our history.”

The iron bowstring truss bridge was fabricated in 1871 by the King Bridge Manufactory and Iron Works in Iola, Kansas, a branch of the King Bridge Co. in Cleveland, and was erected in 1874.

Barnes said the bridge is “the oldest bridge in Arkansas and the second oldest of its type in the United States.” It went out of service in 1991 when the road was relocated.

Rebekah Bilderback, president of the Faulkner County Historical Society, said members of the organization are excited for the project to be completed.

“We have been working on it for a couple of years, and it is nice to see it to fruition,” Bilderback said.

“Ken Barnes has been our liaison for the project, and a lot of credit goes to him for meeting with county officials (Conway

and Faulkner counties), plus city officials, to help the ease of the project,” she said. “I have seen families already walk across the bridge and am glad that it is in a spot that is visible and useful to the public. It is a great place to take pictures, and we are so glad to have this historic structure restored.”

Julie Bowers, executive director of Workin’ Bridges, said she plans to attend the Sept. 23 dedication ceremony.

“I was there for the bulk of the restoration project,” she said. “The bridge looks really good.”

Bowers said it has been six years since she and Nels Raynor of Bach Steel in Holt, Michigan, did a study on the bridge.

“The success was due to a rare collaboration between the city of Conway, Faulkner County and Ken Barnes of the Faulkner County Historical Society, who was essential in the writing and successful grant application and petitioning the city of Conway to find a place to move the bridge,” Bowers said.

The petition to move the bridge was granted by the National Park Service for the structure, which was listed in 1988 on the National Register of Historic Places.

She said several people collaborated to make the project successful, including Jack Bell, chief of staff for the city of Conway; Mark Ledbetter, director of roads for Faulkner County; Steve Ibbotson, director of Parks and Recreation for the city of Conway; and Faulkner County Judge Jim Baker.

“They teamed up for all of the site requirements, from building a road and crane pad to the old location on Cadron

Creek, to building the road and crane pad for the reset at Beaverfork Lake,” she said. “They utilized reclaimed stone from the original abutments to sculpt the new location with retaining walls and provide a bench for viewing.”

Bell praised the collaboration, too.

“The partnership between Workin’ Bridges, Bach Steel, Faulkner County and the city of Conway was essential to bring the final project to fruition,” Bell said.

“A significant piece of Faulkner County history has been saved, and an iconic amenity has been added to our parks system,” he said.

Bowers said the project is “a testament to all who persevered from the start to the finish.

“It seems like it took a long time — six years — but once we really got going, got the bridge moved, the work only took about nine months, from November 2016 to August 2017,” she said.

“We pulled off a real miracle,” Bowers said, laughing. “I feel really blessed.

“It is a testament to the fact that we work better together, always have. The collaboration made a very big bridge project manageable and used resources in a way that reduced time and material cost. One never knows if a site visit that renders real numbers for project evaluation will become a job. These bridges take a lot of time, craftsmanship and money, but in the end, it is all about making memories. The collaboration worked well and rendered a project that could have cost far more into an affordable package for the [Conway] parks system.”

The $508,000 bridge project was paid for with Advertising and Promotion Commission money, Bell said. The city gets a share of a 2 percent tax on hotel/motel rooms and a 2 percent tax on prepared foods.

He said the Faulkner County Historical Society donated an additional $10,000 to paint the rails that were added to the bridge.

Participants in a dedication ceremony for the bridge on Sept. 23 will include Bell, who will provide a thank-you on behalf of the city of Conway; Bilderback, who will welcome those in attendance; Barnes, who will give the history of the bridge; and Bowers, who will talk about the restoration process. Castleberry and Baker will speak as well. Tab Townsell, former mayor of Conway and executive director of Metroplan, was invited to participate but will be out of town.

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