Where the Mother Road parallels Interstate 44 in Laclede County, Missouri, near the small town of Hazelgreen, a decrepit four-span truss bridge rests wearily on its concrete piers as it reaches across the Gasconade River. The bridge was completed in 1924, but was closed indefinitely in December 2014 because of its dilapidated state. While the metal structure may remain sound 94 years on, it’s covered with toxic lead paint, and the deck is a patchwork quilt of repairs and crumbling concrete, with exposed rebar and holes you could put your foot through. Local residents want to repair the old bridge, but the state transportation department thinks it will cost too much to rehabilitate it. They would rather tear it down and replace it with a modern bridge.
There is certainly nothing remarkable about this bridge. It was built as a public works project in the 1920s, and was meant to be purely functional. I’m certain countless people have driven across it and never given it a second thought. Or even a first. But I always feel a pang of nostalgia for an old bridge like this. There is a beauty in its iron wickerwork geometry, its raw industrial-ness, its rivets. It speaks to me of a time of growth, of hammers, of hard work, of optimism. I try to imagine the stories this old bridge might tell after almost 100 years. But I’m not interested in grand epics. I want to hear tales of ordinary people living, working, moving, traveling, making use of this bridge as its builders intended.
I happened upon this rusty relic by chance last summer while driving from Branson to St. Louis. My family had to wait in the van while I tramped around and gazed, and photographed, and imagined. I would have stayed longer, but we had many miles yet to travel. It would be wonderful to save this old bridge, but some old things are just old, and must make way for Progress. I imagine there was some other old bridge here before this one. It’s unlikely that anybody spilled words about that bridge. Or paused for a photograph.