Mississippi River Bridge Papers Exhibit to Coincide with 75th Anniversary of Bridge Opening



Sept. 4, 2003 –An exhibit featuring a collection of documents concerning the construction of the Mississippi River Bridge more than 75 years ago will open Sept. 8 in Kent Library on the campus of Southeast Missouri State University.

A ceremony, which is open to the public, will be held at 10:30 a.m. in the library’s third floor Reading Room to formally open the exhibit. Speakers will include Dr. Sarah Cron, director of Kent Library; Dr. Lisa Speer, Special Collections librarian; David Glastetter, the engineer who discovered the collection; and Dr. Joel Rhodes, Southeast assistant professor of history and associate director of the Regional History Center.  Rhodes will speak on the significance of the bridge to the region.

The Mississippi River Bridge Papers exhibit will be displayed on the main floor of Kent Library and will provide the community, during the bridge’s 75th anniversary, with the opportunity to gain a greater understanding of and appreciation for the bridge and its historical significance.

The exhibit coincides with the upcoming opening of the new Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge connecting Cape Girardeau, Mo., with East Cape Girardeau, Ill. The exhibit is titled the Harrington & Cortelyou, Inc., Mississippi River Bridge Papers and will be featured throughout September, the month marking the 75th anniversary of the dedication of the current bridge.

The Mississippi River Bridge Papers is a collection of documents consisting of several hundred photographs of the bridge in various stages of surveying and construction, many of which picture Cape Girardeau in the 1920s, before the floodwall.  Also included in the exhibit are the daily journals of the chief engineer for the project, correspondence from major parties involved, hand-drawn plans for the bridge and toll-house (which is no longer standing), plans for alternate rejected designs, legal documents, financial records and other items.

Harrington & Cortelyou, Inc., an engineering firm located in Kansas City, Mo., donated the papers to the Special Collections and Archives department of Kent Library. David Glastetter, a design engineer at the firm, found the old photos and plans in the company’s basement during a relocation move. The 1926 bridge designs were drawn with graphite on old onion paper, but were still in good condition when Glastetter found them.  The original firm that designed and built the Mississippi River Bridge in 1928 was Harrington, Howard and Ash.  That same year, the company split and Harrington & Cortelyou, Inc. was established. 

The discovery of the bridge papers can be seen as fortuitous.  Documents for similar bridges have been thrown away after the bridges were demolished.  The Mississippi River Bridge is scheduled for demolition sometime in 2004, after the opening of its replacement, the new Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge.  While the Missouri Department of Transportation does have an original copy of the 1926 plans, the Harrington & Cortelyou collection provides deeper insight into and historical context for the construction of the bridge.

The building of the Mississippi River Bridge carried great significance for Cape Girardeau, said Rhodes, who will speak at the exhibit opening. 

“This far-sighted endeavor by the Chamber of Commerce created the only bridge between St. Louis and Memphis.  It allowed the City of Cape Girardeau to tie into a growing network of highways, thereby giving it economic and social advantages.”

Rhodes explained that with the building of the bridge, focus shifted from the river ᾰ which had long been a source of revenue and transportation for the region ᾰ to the highway.  Yet focus is once again generating towards the river.  The new Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge, along with the Lewis & Clark bicentennial celebration, the upcoming opening of the River Campus, plans for a new mural on the riverwall and a new esplanade on the riverwalk, is indicative of the new resurgence of interest in the downtown river area, he said.

For more information, please call Speer at (573) 986-7446.