By U.S. ArmyApril 5, 2019
On April 22, 1856, the Mississippi & Missouri Bridge Company completed a wooden bridge with five spans and a swing span at mid-channel. Just weeks after it opened, it was struck by the steamboat Effie Afton. Both the bridge and the steamboat burned, leading to a large court case between the railroad company and the steamboat company. Abraham Lincoln represented the railroad company.
Situated a short distance from its original site, this bridge pier is one of two structures that remain from the first bridge across the Mississippi River. The bridge was a Howe-Truss, single-track style bridge that spanned 1,581 feet from shore to shore, with a swing span located about midstream. It was struck by the steamboat Effie Afton just fifteen days after it opened. Shortly after the bridge and steamboat were evacuated, the wreck site burst into flames, destroying the boat and damaging the bridge.
This resulted in a lawsuit filed by the steamboat company against the railroad that operated the bridge. Abraham Lincoln, who was still an attorney in Springfield, was chosen to represent the railroad company. After several legal proceedings, the case ended in a hung jury, and the decision was made that, while the steamboat company could not prevent traffic from crossing the river, it did retain the right of way.
The bridge was repaired, and served in its current location until it was considered obsolete in 1865. The second bridge was built in the same location as the first using heavier timber. The bridge was damaged considerably due to ice movements, resulting in the piers being uprooted and moved.
By 1871, with construction of buildings on Rock Island Arsenal underway, the government mandated that the railroad be moved to the present-day location of the Government Bridge, where a third bridge was constructed in 1872.
First Bridge Facts
Designer: Mississippi & Missouri Bridge Company
Style: Howe-Truss Bridge
Constructed: Started June 1854; completed April 1856
Destroyed: May 1856
Traffic: Single train track
Built by: John Warner Co.; Stone & Boomer Co.
Operators: Chicago-Rock Island Railroad and Mississippi-Missouri Railroad