After months of preparation, Workin’ Bridges began the reassembly of the Springfield-Des Arc Bridge at Lake Beaverfork over the weekend.
Julie Bowers, Workin’ Bridges executive director, was the featured speaker for the annual Faulkner County Historical Society public meeting held Saturday morning at Beaverfork Park. She discussed the restoration process as well as some of the interesting features about the bridge and its construction.
The Springfield Bridge is the oldest highway bridge in Arkansas. It is one of the earliest bowstring bridges built by the King Iron Bridge Company of Cleveland, Ohio. Founded by Zenas King, the company was one of the largest and most successful 19th century bridge companies.
Fabricated in 1871 in a small branch shop at Iola, Kansas, the bridge was built to hold the weight of 30 cows. It was transported down the Arkansas River to Lewisburg, which is near present day Morrilton, and was then transported overland to Springfield, the Conway County seat.
The bridge installation was finally completed in 1874. Faulkner County, established in 1873, would share the cost of the bridge since the Cadron Creek was the boundary line between the two counties in that area.
In June, 2016, Workin’ Bridges visited the bridge and began working with Ken Barnes, a Faulkner County History Society board member, to develop a plan and find funding to move the bridge to a more secure location. By this time, the bridge was very fragile.
Faulkner County and Conway officials got involved in the project and Lake Beaverfork was proposed as a great place to rebuild and relocate the bridge after it was restored. Workin’ Bridges returned in October 2016 to oversee the dismantling and removal of the bridge.
After the bridge was dismantled, all the bridge parts were taken to be sandblasted at The Sandman in south Little Rock. Lichen, sand and mud were removed. The parts were then inspected by an engineer and repaired to ensure safety and structural integrity. Damaged castings, pins and lower lateral bracing rods were replaced.
There was minimal section loss and pack rust on the bridge. The upper chord had been packed with dirt at the ends for decades. Some pad welding to repair section loss was completed there. The deterioration-resistant properties of wrought iron actually helped keep the bridge in excellent condition.
One of the unexpected discoveries, however, was that one of the trusses had been broken at some point. Disassembly revealed broken top chord sections that had been repaired by crude pieces of plate suggesting a field repair. Repairs had been done in a forge and may have occurred when the bridge was being installed. Restoration experts believe that the bridge was put in backward and may have fallen into the water during installation.
Bowers said in her presentation that the bridge should be completed by the first week of May. Workers began the reassembly process Saturday. New 6 x 9 white oak timbers that match the original timbers used for the roadbed will be installed.
"The bridge should be even better than the 1871 bridge because this time it will be put up correctly," said Bower.
The new bridge will also include a railing system. The original bridge did not have any substantial safety railing. The new railing compliments the historic design, uses genuine rivets, and meets today’s safety standards. Their design was inspired by ornamental designs that were used by the King Bridge company and other prominent bridge builders in the 19th century.
The original bridge was not painted so to keep the restoration authentic, the new bridge won’t be painted either. Safety railing panels and posts will be painted with a light gray epoxy and then covered with a urethane.
Bowers said community members are invited to be part of this bridge restoration by sponsoring the safety railing panels and posts. Donors who sponsor an 8-foot panel or one of the posts will have their name (or the name of the person they wish to honor) affixed on a nameplate to be placed on the panel or post.
The cost of sponsoring one of the 40 panels is $450 while the cost to sponsor one of the 42 posts is $50. Donations are tax deductible. Contact Bowers at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn how to be a part of this historic restoration.
A Paint the Railing Fundraiser will be held at King’s Live Music from 4-8 p.m. May 3. There will also be an opportunity to swap stories about experiences you have had at the original bridge. Commemorative T-shirts will be available as well.