Built in 1902, The Jefferson Avenue Footbridge crosses 13 tracks of the Burlington Northern rail yard. The structure, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, has become a tourism staple for Springfield.
It’s why many came to the bridge’s defense during a recent City Council session that explored plans for its rehabilitation.
“It’s a big part of Commercial Street and for the people who had to come across the tracks,” Pike said.
Tommy Pike worked for the Frisco Railway for over 30 years, starting with the company in 1970. He says the railroad sold the property including the footbridge to the city. A full rehabilitation, he said, would continue to benefit the city economically.
“People don’t realize there’s a big interest about historic tourism,” Pike said. “Whether people believe it or not tourism is probably the biggest industry in the state of Missouri.”
Most of those who spoke at a public hearing on the topic last month, including Pike, encouraged the City Council to take steps to restore the structure. James Kessler said he believes the footbridge is one of the last pieces of history the area has.
“That bridge right there has the power to revive this whole area of Commercial Street, bring tourists down like crazy, if it’s promoted properly, and change everything over here,” Kessler said. “It’s not just a bridge it is a key tourist attraction and can bring Springfield a lot of business.”
Existing businesses along the corridor have been supportive of the restoration effort. Mary Collette, co-owner of the Historic Firehouse and Save Our Footbridge committee member, says she doesn’t want to see another piece of history go.
“The list is really too long of structures that as a community today in hindsight if we had the opportunity to go back and resurrect them I think there would be a lot of community support for it,” Collette said. “We don’t want to see the footbridge added to that list of something that somebody someday will wish we could have would have.”
In recent years, Springfield has worked to resurrect its status as the Birthplace of Route 66. The Colonial Hotel, which was demolished in 1997, has been cited by citizens as one of the city’s lost historic landmarks. It was from this venue, in 1926, that a telegram was sent to federal officials naming “U.S. 66.”
Pike, who serves as the Route 66 Association of Missouri president, says they are currently working to make the route a national historic trail.
“I was told you can’t save everything, but there are some things such as this bridge that should survive,” Pike said.
Transportation to Historic C-Street from the neighborhoods across the tracks to the north is another reason citizens value the footbridge. Doug Bright is a frequent C-Street visitor.
“I’ve only lived here for three years but just even in (those) three years the bridge has come very handy,” Bright said. “Not just for me but the block I live on (are) a lot of middle aged/older people. So now we gotta walk an extra six or seven blocks east, six or seven blocks west just to get into the downtown area.”
Preserving the bridge is not the only option being voiced by citizens. Tim Havens, also a speaker at last month’s meeting, said the city has other projects he thinks this amount of money should go toward.
“I’m not against saving history there are a few things we just have to save but what are we gonna do with this,” Havens said at the Jan. 31 council meeting. “We can decorate it for Christmas, our kids won’t care about it, maybe we don’t tear it down but our grandkids will.”
While council has not approved a plan to rehabilitate the bridge, it did last month give the go ahead to spend $200,000 for the structural design phase of the preservation. The funding is available through its 1/8-cent transportation sales tax. Beyond this initial step, it’s unclear how the city would identify the nearly $3 million in up front expenses to preserve the bridge, which was the option most requested by survey responders.
In his report before the full council on Feb. 6, City Manager Greg Burris said, “Unexpected events like this present a set of difficult challenges, considering there are no funds currently available or expected to be available for the $2.8 million needed to rehabilitate the bridge. I understand that there is a motivated group of preservationists, however, who are starting to mobilize to try to find funding for a portion of the project.”
At its January meeting council anticipated a design phase would take approximately six months.