Rural Missouri - July 2018 - 16

PRESERVING
THE PAST
Locals rally to save historic
Green's Mill Bridge

Above: Lonetta Bartell is organizing an effort to preserve the Green's Mill Bridge over the Little Niangua River. Bottom: Constructed in 1933, the bridge remains one of four of its kind still standing in the United States.

by Zach Smith | zsmith@ruralmissouri.coop

A

s far as Lonetta Bartell is concerned, all roads
have led to Roach. Most of her family tree has
roots here. Her grandfather, Lonnie Moulder,
was making his living as a trapper, hunter,
fisherman and railroad tiehacker on the river when
construction on Bagnell Dam started in 1929. On
that same river, one bridge in particular holds significance for Lonetta. After all, her family name is
carved into the railing.
"I've been coming to this bridge all my life, camping," she says, pointing across the span to the
Green Mill Campground. "That was our vacation
spot. When mom would take us for a hike, we'd go
to the bridge."
For Lonetta and like-minded residents, there
are a lot of memories attached to the bridge. But
with construction on a new bridge slated to begin
upstream next spring, the clock is ticking to save a
piece of local history from being dismantled.
As for the official name of the bridge, ask around
as Lonetta has and you'll receive more than one
answer: the Blue Bridge, the Bridge on J Road and
the Little Niangua River Bridge. General consensus seems to hold that it's the Green's Mill Bridge
named for the man who built a grist mill here.
Lonetta, a docent at the Camden County Historical Society in nearby Linn Creek, isn't the only one
who deems the bridge important. It represents an
early and rare example of this style of engineering
and architecture. Instead of concrete anchorages
that transfer loads traveling across the span into
the ground, the load is transferred directly through
the bridge using its foundation and rockers. Constructed in 1933 by the then-Missouri State Highway Department, the bridge uses individual strands
of prestressed cables, which was new engineering
technology for the time. The timber decking is long
gone, replaced by steel grates that offer a constant
view between one's feet of the water below. As one of
four self-anchored suspension bridges still standing in the U.S., it's eligible for listing on the National
Register of Historic Places. The only others like it
are the famous Three Sisters in downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
"The design also makes this a fracture critical
bridge, which means if something breaks on it the
majority of the bridge will break," says MoDOT
Intermediate Historic Preservation Specialist Julia
Larson, "which is why you aren't going to see a lot

16

RURAL MISSOURI | JULY 2018

of bridges like this anymore."
Much has changed in 85 years, especially when
it comes to safety and transportation standards.
The new bridge planned for 75 feet upstream will
meet modern codes. At 20 feet wide with a load limit
of 15 tons and a height limit of 14 feet, 11 inches,
Green's Mill Bridge can't handle today's traffic. But
it could be just right for a pedestrian and bike path
across the bucolic Little Niangua.
The river here runs rich with history. The bluff that looms downstream served as a lookout post for
both Union and Confederate armies
during the Civil War. The remains of
Osage camps are reputed to dot the
woods on each side. Somewhere under
the overgrown banks and snapping
turtles that drift in the current what's
left of the mill dam can be seen during periods of low water. To Lonetta,
Green's Mill Bridge is one of few landmarks left in the area that still evokes the early
days of the Lake of the Ozarks.
"When you come down here, you go east of the
lake and it's all modernized," Lonetta says. "We
want to preserve something west of the lake on the
river. That's our intent."
Missouri has more than 25,000 bridges, and as
many as 1,250 are listed or eligible to be on the
National Register. Many were constructed from the
1870s through the early 1950s. Senior Historic
Preservation Specialist Karen Daniels says MoDOT
is required to make available for reuse the stateowned bridges that are due to be replaced. The
bridges are given away, with the only stipulations

Photo courtesy Missouri Department of Transportation

being that the new owners assume legal and financial responsibility for the structure. More than 20
bridges on state and county roads have been saved,
either relocated for other uses or preserved in place.
"It's amazing how many attachments people
have to bridges," Karen says, recounting tales told
to her about the bridges at Sinking Creek, Swan
Creek and Old Appleton. "They tell the story just
the way that buildings tell the story. We would love
to see this bridge preserved in place. That's pretty
unanimous from us and from the district."
The challenge now is to make those emotions work on paper. By organizing a nonprofit to help with fundraising, the group
hopes to save the structure and has until
fall to submit a proposal to MoDOT. The
Roach
price tag for closing it off to vehicle
traffic, performing necessary maintenance and carrying the yearly insurance is all yet to be determined. But
there is some light at the end of the
tunnel, since the group can receive up
to 80 percent of the total demolition cost toward the
overall amount needed to assume ownership of the
bridge.
"Money means local support, at least to some
extent, and for us that's important," Julia adds.
"We like to help, but it takes the community to
come together."
In the meantime, MoDOT's Historic Preservation
team is assisting where it can, putting the Camden
County folks in touch with others around the state
who have successfully saved their beloved crossings, such as the Upper Bridge at Warsaw. Lonetta
also is seeking advice from civil engineers and faculty at the Missouri University of Science and Technology on how to rework the bridge for pedestrians.
She's hopeful her dream of preserving a piece of
Camden County's past will become a reality.
"I brought my kids and my grandkids here, now I
live down here," Lonetta says, leaning on the faded
turquoise iron railing. "On the new bridge people
would pass by and not even take a second look.
There's lots and lots of history out there, and it's
just sad to see it go."
For more information on preserving the Green's
Mill Bridge, contact Lonetta Bartell at 316-640-1579
or lbartell_51@yahoo.com. To see other bridges
available for reuse or relocation, go to www.modot.
org/freebridges.


http://www.modot.org/freebridges http://www.modot.org/freebridges

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - July 2018

Contents
Rural Missouri - July 2018 - Intro
Rural Missouri - July 2018 - Cover1
Rural Missouri - July 2018 - Cover2
Rural Missouri - July 2018 - Contents
Rural Missouri - July 2018 - 4
Rural Missouri - July 2018 - 5
Rural Missouri - July 2018 - 6
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Rural Missouri - July 2018 - Cover3
Rural Missouri - July 2018 - Cover4
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