I’m in a still photo, nothing moves. Sounds are as muted as the monochromatic fall colors. Is the sun up yet? The fog makes it hard to tell. Standing on the closed-to-vehicular-traffic bridge across the James River at Galena, Missouri I remember a vintage photograph we bought years ago.
A crowd of some three thousand assembled here on the 23rd of November 1927 for the grand opening of the new Y Bridge. Probably the unrecorded remarks made by the highway engineers and a Missouri Pacific Railroad superintendent stressed the technical accomplishment of the structure. When built it was the longest concrete arch bridge in the state. The concluding speaker was Dewey Jackson Short, who would run the next year for the U.S. Congress.
This was a golden opportunity to display his oratorical skills to a large group of voters. Unfortunately we have not been able to find the speech he gave to the throng of Ozarkers. Short’s command of English became nationally recognized during his subsequent twenty-two years in Congress. Not only did this self-styled hillbilly have degrees from several small American colleges, he studied at Harvard, Heidelberg University, and Oxford University, and he was a Methodist preacher.
If anyone knows if his remarks were preserved we’d love to hear from you.
The Springfield News Leader did report that Short understood the wonderful bridge would deliver tourists with money in their pockets to the formerly somewhat inaccessible region: “Short concluded his speech with a special plea for further development of the tourist industry in Stone County. He declared that the continuing possibilities of tourist dollars flowing from improved transportation made the local tourist industry stand beside the cow, the fruit, and the hen in local importance.”
Doubtlessly the arch conservative Republican who would later become renowned for his vitriolic opposition to Roosevelt and the New Deal’s expansion of the federal government didn’t dwell on the fact the financing of the bridge was a joint state and federal arrangement. As an apostle of old fashioned self-reliance, Short was in theory opposed to federal handouts in any form. People, he lamented, “seemed to be suffering with the gim-mes. It is gim-me this, and gim-me that.” Throughout his career, however, Dewey seemed OK with barrels of dollars rolling in from Washington to his southwest Missouri district. Later many millions of federal funds went into a much larger chunk of government-poured concrete called Table Rock Dam. Recognizing the Congressman’s seminal role in authorizing and funding this huge water resource project they named their architect designed visitor center after the Honorable Dewey Short.
Probably no speaker at the dedication commented on the Art Deco design of the Y Bridge. Art Moderne, as this neo-classical variety of Deco is called, became the preferred form for all manner of buildings throughout the country that were subsidized by the Roosevelt administration. The Y Bridge that helped to open up the Ozarks to tourists is a rare 1920s example of what became called Depression or WPA Modern. Thousands of post offices, schools, courthouses and other bridges were constructed in this style. Few are in such good shape or have been preserved unchanged like Galena’s Y Bridge.
A construction company in nearby Republic originally got the contract to build the bridge. They planned to use creek gravel in the concrete, which didn’t meet specifications. The Koss Construction Co. of Des Moines, Iowa said they would employ local labor as much as possible, but would use the required crushed limestone. Possibly they did in the load-bearing part, but the rails look suspiciously like they used the native orange-brown chert that can be seen on the gravel bar below.
Click here to read the National Register of Historic Places registration form for the Galena Y-Bridge. It’s a model of well-researched local history and goes into great detail about the role of the bridge in early tourism. Needless to say, the Y Bridge was enthusiastically included in the National Register of Historic Places in 1991.
Click on any image to start slide show.