Preserve Arkansas, a statewide nonprofit dedicated to historic preservation, recently named the Springfield Bridge Preservation Project as the recipient of the 2017 Excellence in Preservation through Rehabilitation Award in the Infrastructure category. The City of Conway, as the owner, and Workin’ Bridges of Grinnell, Iowa, as the contractor, will be specifically recognized for the role they played in the restoration.
Dr. Kenneth Barnes, UCA History professor who serves on the Faulkner County Historical Society board, said that this project got on the radar of Preservation Arkansas back in 2015 when it named the 1874 Springfield-Des Ark Bridge to its list of the "Endangered Eight"—the eight most endangered historic properties in Arkansas.
The oldest bowstring truss bridge in the country, the Springfield Bridge spanned the Cadron Creek near Springfield on the Faulkner and Conway county line. Dr. Barnes began developing a plan for the bridge’s restoration in 2014. By this time, the bridge was in great disrepair and in danger of collapse. In March 2016, the city of Conway received a $300,000 Metroplan grant to finance the moving of the bridge to a more secure location.
"When we started work in 2014, to try to relocate and restore the bridge, it seemed like an overwhelming task. After all, what would a small group of volunteers—none of us with any engineering background—know about moving a 146-foot iron structure? But once we got buy-in from the city of Conway and Faulkner County, the pieces fell in place," said Dr. Barnes.
In the fall of 2017, Workin’ Bridges, a Grinnell, Iowa non-profit organization dedicated to historic truss bridge restoration, and Bach Steel, a Michigan-based bridge moving and restoration company, lifted the bridge off the creek and disassembled it for cleaning and restoration.
Julie Bowers, executive director of Workin’ Bridges, responding to news of this award, said, "This job would not have been possible without the extreme dedication and expertise in iron work by the Rivet Gang from Bach Steel, led by Nels Raynor, Derek Pung and Lee Pung and the iron work engineering by Jim Schiffer of Schiffer Group. Thank you to Preserve Arkansas for recognizing this work."
This past summer, the 146-feet restored bridge was reassembled across a cove at Lake Beaverfork and will now serve as a pedestrian/bicycle bridge better connecting Beaverfork Park to the fishing pier area on the north side of the lake. The Faulkner County Historical Society also received an Arkansas Community Foundation/Faulkner County grant which allowed it to signage placed at the bridge. The bridge was dedicated on September 23.
Bowers said, "Being able to work with the City of Conway and Faulkner County was the best way to drive the preservation and restoration of Springfield Bridge. It is a model that can be used by others in Public Private Projects to lessen the costs and get exactly what is needed for successful completion. It is us that thanks the City for giving us the opportunity to showcase responsible in-kind restoration."
Jack Bell, Chief of Staff in the Conway Mayor’s Office, was the city liaison for this project. Of the award, he said, "We are very honored to receive this award from Preserve Arkansas for the Springfield Bridge. A lot of work by many people went into this project and we are very proud of the finished product. The bridge has been very well received and it will be an iconic part of our parks system for years to come. We appreciate the consideration by the Board of Preserve Arkansas and the selection committee."
Concerning this recently announced award, Dr. Barnes said, "It’s nice to get the recognition this year when the preservation of the bridge is finally complete."
Rebekah Bilderback, president of the Faulkner County Historical Society said, "It’s an honor for both the city and the Faulkner County Historical Society."
The Preserve Arkansas Awards Banquet will be January 19, 2018 at the historic Albert Pike Memorial Temple, 712 Scott Street, Little Rock with a reception at 5:30 p.m. followed by a dinner at 6:45 p.m. and the presentation of awards at 7:30 p.m. Tickets and sponsorship opportunities are available at PreserveArkansas.org. For more information, contact Preserve Arkansas at 501-372-4757.