Saint Louis, MO

Exploring the Historic Eads Bridge: connecting St. Louis, Missouri and East St. Louis, Illinois

CJ Coombs
The Eads Bridge from Laclede's Landing.Photo byMitchell Schultheis, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Eads Bridge was listed as a National Historic Landmark as of January 29, 1964. On October 15, 1966, the bridge was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

The Eads Bridge was a road and railway bridge crossing over the Mississippi River at Washington Avenue in St. Louis connecting St. Louis, Missouri to East St. Louis, Illinois. This bridge has historic appeal and the design is attractive.

The Eads Bridge has had less traffic since 2014 when the Stan Musial Bridge opened, but it supposedly has many vehicles daily cross over it. This is a three-span, ribbed steel arch bridge. It has lower and upper decks with granite-faced limestone piers. The materials used to build this bridge include:

  • 2390 tons of steel
  • 3156 tons of wrought iron
  • 806 tons of timber decking
  • 4556 cubic yards of concrete
  • 97,571 cubic yards of stone masonry

The bridge has a center span of 520 feet and the bridge clearance is 50 ft. above high water. The piers are made of limestone below the average high water mark and granite above that level. The highway deck is 54 feet wide and it's supported by concrete foundations.

There's a small portion of the original railing that exists on the north side of the eastern approach. The lower deck carried dual railroad tracks, but those were removed in 1974. According to the nomination form to be included on the National Register, the length of the bridge is about a mile.
Eads Bridge, Spanning the Mississippi River at Washington Street, Saint Louis, Missouri.Photo byHistoric American Buildings Survey, C. (1933) / Library of Congress.

This historic bridge was designed and built by Captain James B. Eads (b. 1820, d. 1887) for the purpose of bringing rail service over the Mississippi River. Construction began in the summer of 1867 and the completion date as well as the date it was dedicated was July 4, 1874. The cost was $10 million. The significance of the Eads Bridge was that it was the largest bridge to be built at that time.

James B. Eads

Eads was a hydraulic river engineer. During the Civil War, he also built iron-clad gunboats for the Union. Eads Bridge was the first bridge that he designed and it was the only one he built. Having a lot of knowledge about the river, in 1865, he proposed to build a bridge across the Mississippi River.

Eads was the chief engineer of the newly formed St. Louis Bridge Company. He traveled to Europe in 1868 which influenced his decision to use a pneumatic caisson system of construction on the piers.

A pneumatic caisson is a watertight box or cylinder-like structure that is closed at the top and open at the bottom, resting on the bed of the waterbody. They are used for underwater construction of foundations for bridge piers, abutments in rivers, and foundations for large multi-story buildings. They are designed to keep water out of the construction zone and act as a seal that keeps the inside of the caisson dry for workers to carry out work safely. (Source.)

Some of the men working in the deep levels of the piers developed Caissons disease (the bends). At that time, there wasn't a lot known about fighting the effects of working in highly compressed air. As a result, 119 had the disease, and 14 died from it.
Eads Bridge, St. Louis, Missouri.Photo byDetroit Publishing Co, C. C. & Detroit Publishing Co, P. (ca. 1901) / Library of Congress.

Construction began in the spring of 1873. The rib steel arch construction was completed in less than 14 months, and the bridge formally opened on July 4, 1874.

The bridge wasn't without issues. On the west side of the bridge where a tunnel adjoins it, there were problems with the first train that went through the tunnel. It scrapped the sides the body of the train was too broad.

The bridge was initially named the Illinois and St. Louis Bridge. The St. Louis, Vandalia, and Terre Haute Railroad was the only railroad connected to the bridge to cross it. This caused other railroads to boycott the bridge. In less than a year, the Illinois and St. Louis Bridge Company was forced into receivership. This caused the company to go bankrupt. In 1878, the bridge was sold at auction.

The St. Louis Bridge Company (an English company) bought the bridge for $2 million. Jay Gould's Missouri Pacific obtained a sole lease in 1881 on the bridge and assumed all debts. In 1889, a group of railroad companies called the Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis took on the lease. It has owned and operated the bridge since that time, or at least up until the time the bridge was nominated as a national landmark. The highway portion of the bridge is still used.

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Multi-genre writer and indie author with a BA in Eng Journalism & Creative Writing. My working career has been in law firms, and I retired early so I could be a writer all day. You could say I'm from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Missouri because I was born into the Air Force life. I love family, art, reading, history, true crime, travel, and research.

Kansas City, MO

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