“There is no where else in this world you can go and see this.”
Vicksburg Bridge Commission Superintendent Herman Smith was talking about the the Old Vicksburg Bridge, aka the Mississippi River Bridge or the Highway 80 Bridge. Over the years a number of people have gone over the wall on the south approach, most often a tourist trying to get a better picture. Far too often it was someone sneaking in to find a scenic place to spend the night. A homeless person or two has tried to get through as well.
Although the scene makes it tempting and spectacular, the steep hill and drop to the railroad tracks and the river below make it a dangerous endeavor. It was the danger that had the commission order a fence be built along the wall.
With a view this beautiful, not just any fence would do. After all, part of the attraction of Vicksburg is our natural beauty and unique architecture, not to mention our rich history.
The new design is a beautiful and functional fence that replicates the Old Mississippi River Bridge at Vicksburg.
“It was designed to scale, but we had to make it a little higher in the middle,” Smith, who designed the fence, explained. After all, it had to be functional as well as attractive.
The fence will be adorned with plaques explaining the design of the Old Bridge, the span between the bridge supports and other details of the bridge’s rich history. Its history earned it a place on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989.
That history began Feb. 11, 1926, when Harry E. Bovay pitched to local businessmen the idea of building a highway and railroad bridge over the Mississippi River. By May that year, Congress passed an Act that authorized the Vicksburg Bridge and Terminal Company to build it. After working out a deal with the Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railroad, construction began March 6, 1928. The project was completed in just over two years at a cost of $8.5 million.
On April 28, 1930, one day after the bridge was completed, the first car drove across it. A few days later, on May 1, 1930, the first train crossed over. Before then, people either had to travel to Memphis to cross the Mississippi River or use a ferry.
No lives were lost while constructing the bridge, quite a feat considering the safety rules at that time. A federal safety administration wasn’t created for another four decades. There was one freak death related to construction of the bridge, though. An engineer had gone deep down the shaft of one of the pylons to take a measurement. It remains unclear if he used a rope or a crane to descend and ascend, but he came up the shaft too quickly and developed decompression sickness, more commonly known as “the bends.”
He passed away at home a couple of days later.
Upon its completion, the Old Highway 80 Bridge became the first connector of the east and west coasts over the Mississippi River south of Memphis.
After World War II, in 1947, Warren County purchased the bridge for $7 million and appointed the Vicksburg Bridge Commission to oversee its daily operation. Today, Smith sits on the commission as its supervisor and secretary, along with Bob Moss, O.A. Williams, Wayne Muirhead, Dorwin Shields and Chuck Tate. Bobby Bailess is the commission attorney, and Donna Hardy serves as the commission clerk.
The new bridge fence was constructed by the bridge maintenance crew: Dustin Baker, Barry Cosey, Warren Ellis, Randy Fischer and Larry McCormick.See a typo? Report it here.