Hidden Gems 8 – A Tale of Two Bridges – Part 2
April 02, 2013
Last week I wrote about the first bridge across the Missouri River. Completed in 1869, it was known as the Hannibal Bridge (after the railroad responsible for its construction). This bridge was the reason, in part, for the rapid growth of Kansas City as a railroad and meatpacking hub. The Hannibal Bridge had a long and eventful career. In 1886, a tornado hit the bridge and collapsed its middle span. The fallen span was replaced, and the bridge continued to support rail, pedestrian, and vehicular traffic until its replacement in 1917.
This week I’ll address the second Hannibal Bridge, which was completed in 1917. It was built approximately 200 feet upstream from the original bridge. The new bridge is still in use today, ninety-six years later. It can be seen as the large, rusty railroad bridge just downstream from the Broadway Bridge that connects downtown to the old Kansas City airport. Like its predecessor, the newer Hannibal Bridge had a section that rotated and could be swung open to accommodate barge traffic on the river. Unlike the old bridge, though, the new bridge had two separate decks. The lower deck supported railroad traffic, and the upper deck supported vehicular traffic. Due to increased demands of auto and truck traffic, however, a new bridge was required. The Broadway Bridge was completed in 1956 as a toll bridge. Vehicle traffic was transferred over from the combined rail/vehicle bridge to the new bridge. Shortly thereafter, the upper vehicle deck was removed from the Second Hannibal Bridge.
Like the first Hannibal Bridge, the second one also suffered from the assaults of nature. During the big 1951 flood, it was hit by no less than four riverboats. They had torn loose from their moorings upstream at the mouth of the Kansas River, and their collision with the bridge forced the swinging section open.
Now for this week's "hidden gem." While reading Octave Chanute’s book (see last week’s part one of this blog) on the first bridge, it got me to wondering if any of the original structure still existed. I went on to the Internet and fired up one of my favorite apps, Google Maps. I switched the maps from street-view to satellite-view to examine the banks downstream from the second bridge. Both, the Broadway Bridge and the Second Hannibal Bridge, stood out. I zoomed in to the area downstream from the second bridge, looking for the old footings, but was disappointed. They must have been removed when the old bridge was removed. However, I did discover a surprise. When I started the zooming process, the newer Hannibal Bridge was closed. As I zoomed in, at a certain point, the image changed and it showed the bridge swung open! Given the low volume of barge traffic on the river, this must be a rare photo, indeed.
If you happen to check out this interesting "phenomena" on the web, you might also want to take a look at the aerial photograph of the Broadway Bridge. From the time of its completion in 1956 until 1991, this was a toll bridge. When they stopped charging tolls, they removed the toll booths. You can still see the widening of the pavement at the south end of the bridge where the booths used to be.
One final aerial-related image you may want to check out. If you scroll the map upstream, past the mouth of the Kaw River, and look directly across the river from the northwest end of the downtown airport, you’ll find the General Motors Fairfax auto plant. Around the periphery of the plant, you’ll find the remains of the airstrips from the old Fairfax municipal airport. This airport was in service from 1921 to 1985 and was the primary processing location for Kansas City’s airmail service during "the day." It was also the home to the North American Aviation plant, which built over 6,600 B-25 Mitchell bombers during World War II. You never know what historical gems a little sleuthing might uncover.