Then and Now: History Edition
Press & Dakotan

Then and Now: History Edition


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    PAGE 4B: THEN & NOW PRESS & DAKOTAN n MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 25, 2017 Yankton s Meridian Bridge, shown utilizing one of its now-forgotten functions as a draw bridge to allow river traffic to pass by. The two towers hoisted the second in between them up, allowing the crafts to get on their way. (Photo: Dakota Territorial Museum) Mighty Meridian It s Hard To Picture Yankton Without The Meridian Bridge, And The Structure Lives On As A Popular Pedestrian Attraction BY REILLY BIEL I n a way, Yankton s Meridian Bridge has become a cornerstone of the community. Its spires are frequently visible on business logos. It s also a common feature in wedding, reunion and graduation photos. However, the bridge has had something of a rollercoaster relationship with the Yankton community. It has gone from being beloved, to liked, to ignored, to disliked and back to beloved again. The story about the bridge and its inception has enough information to fill a book which is what Lois Varvel and Kathy Grow did in 2001 when they published The Bridge We Built: The Story of Yankton s Meridian Bridge. A quote in the book states, The Meridian Bridge was one of the biggest engineering projects ever undertaken in the northwest. It is by all odds the greatest ever attempted by a community of corresponding size. That the bridge was privately funded by Yankton citizens made it all the more unique. An eight-day celebration followed the bridge s official completion in 1924. Can you think of anything we ve done recently where we ve celebrated eight days for a victory of that magnitude? Varvel asked. It was a regional celebration, not just Yankton. The book covers the earliest attempts (of which there were dozens) and failures to have a bridge built across the Missouri River to the idea finally taking root, the ensuing construction process and the after-effects, both positive and negative. The original idea was to PHOTO: DAKOTA TERRITORIAL MUSEUM After the Meridian Bridge was opened for traffic in 1924, Yankton spent 29 years collecting a toll on the bridge to pay for its construction. When the debt was finally retired in 1953, a huge celebration was held, dubbed Toll Free in 53. have the lower part of the bridge carry railroad traffic, with the top being used for motor vehicle transportation. Though the railroad idea didn t come to fruition, the bridge remained a two-decker and a toll was collected for 29 years from those who traveled across it. A big celebration was held after the final toll ticket was punched to commemorate people being able to cross the bridge free of charge. While it may seem obvious now to have a bridge connecting South Dakota and Nebraska as Varvel and Grow initially thought the idea wasn t so readily considered in the early 20th century when roads were rare, and good roads even rarer. We didn t understand the few roads that really existed at the time, Varvel said. If there weren t roads, why would there be bridges? Ferry boats were utilized to transport people and equipment back and forth across the river before the bridge was built. In winter, people literally drove across the ice. Though the construction of the bridge undoubtedly brought people into Yankton, as expected, it also had the opposite effect, which wasn t expected. (The bridge) contributed a great deal to the growth not just of Yankton, but the whole region, Grow said. There were people that took that opportunity to go elsewhere. There had also been talk of the bridge turning Yankton into Little Chicago, though that never happened. The impact was positive, but it didn t meet expectations, (which) were so high, Grow said. Over time, the novelty of having a bridge wore off and it became seen as a normal commodity. It also began slowing down traffic, leading to more people seeing it as an annoyance. This issue ultimately contributed to the construction of Discovery Bridge in 2008. This led to the Meridian Bridge getting shut down for traffic use. The question arose: What MERIDIAN | PAGE 7B KELLY HERTZ/P&D Spared from destruction after the Discovery Bridge opened in 2008, Meridian Bridge is now a popular pedestrian crossing. It serves not only walkers, joggers and bicyclists, but it also hosts events ranging from weddings to the Meridian en Blanc event sponsored by Yankton Area Arts. This panoramic composite image shows the Meridian Bridge either shortly before or just after it opened in 1924. (Photo: Dakota Territorial Museum)
    Mighty Meridian