structurae: Eads Bridge
Secrets of a
Great site for Kids, Teachers and Adults.
Slideshow photos of Eads Bridge
Rebuilding of Eads Bridge deck took four years, cost $35 million
in 1874, "this is one of the great American masterpieces, and
it's virtually unknown." Designed to allow trains across the
Mississippi - and assure St. Louis' dominance as a trading hub -
it was the first major bridge to use steel and cantilevered
construction. Now a car crossing (the last train rumbled over in
1974), it's finished a $25 million restoration in 2003.
The St. Louis bridge, a massive structure, was
completed in 1874 at a cost of over $10,000,000. It
consists of three spans, the center one being 520 feet
long, and the other two 500 feet each. The piers upon
which these spans rest are built of limestone carried down
to bed rock. The main passage for the accommodation of
pedestrians is 54 feet wide, and below this are two lines
of rails. The merchant's bridge, 3 miles N., was completed
in 1890 at a cost of $3,000,000. The latter is used
exclusively for railroad traffic.
From Everybody's Cyclopedia, Vol. IV.,
Syndicate Publishing Company, New York, 1912.
James Buchanan Eads
Eads, James Buchanan (1820-1887), a celebrated American
engineer. He was born at Lawrenceburg, Indiana, May 23,
1820. He died at Nassau, Bahama Islands, March 8, 1887.
Perhaps no other American engineer has been connected with
more notable enterprises. In young manhood he won a
reputation by devising some barges for raising sunken
steamers. In 1861, at the call of the Federal government,
he constructed eight ironclad steamers inside of one
hundred days. He also built other gunboats and mortar
boats, all of use in opening up the Mississippi and its
tributaries. In 1867-74 he built the famous Eads Bridge
across the Mississippi at St. Louis. It is a mammoth steel
arch structure of three spans, resting on stone pillars
sent down to bed rock far below the bottom of a
treacherous river. It cost $6,500,000. The last great work
with which he was connected was the improvement of the
mouth of the Mississippi. He designed the system of willow
mattresses and stonework by which the water was confined
to a narrow passage through which it scoured a deep
From The National Encyclopedia for the Home, School
and Library, Vol. III., National Encyclopedia
Company, Chicago, 1927.
Eads Bridge Reopening Celebration
The grand re-opening of the Eads Bridge was on Friday, July
4, 2003. Prior to this celebration, the bridge had been closed
to traffic since 1991. During the ceremony, dignitaries from
both states will participate in a ribbon cutting and marching
bands from Illinois and Missouri will march to the center of the
bridge at the state line to play patriotic music, there will be
daytime fireworks display and patriotic music. The Veiled
Prophet Parade will then begin from the east side of the bridge
and proceed west into the downtown area finishing with the
traditional parade route down Market to 20th.
Celebrating the re-opening of the Eads Bridge on the 4th of
July is significant because the bridge originally opened on the
4th of July in 1874.
Click on picture for larger verstion.
Bridge, Spanning Mississippi River at Washington Street, St.
Louis, County, MO
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Detroit
Publishing Company Collection
|bridge to the past
By Robert W. Duffy
Post-Dispatch Architecture Critic
updated: 06/30/2003 05:14 PM
Come Independence Day morning, about 1,200 men and
women will gather together in the middle of an old
bridge over the Mississippi River at St. Louis. This
bridge, when completed, was the world's largest, and
the technology used to anchor it to the riverbed and
to construct its three willowy arches was the last
It opened officially on July 4, 1874.
The starting horns to fracture the morning on Friday
signal the start of two races beginning on the
bridge and also herald the reopening of its long
closed (and for a while, long gone) upper deck. From
this starting line, the runners head into the city
of St. Louis to finish at the Gateway Arch.
This bridge and the nearby Arch are not only
geographically adjacent but also are connected
inextricably by their engineering, their appearance
and their roles as civic symbols.
Both spring from a fundamental geometric expression.
Historically, they represent the courage of
individuals and a community to gamble - after a
certain period of dithering and conflict.
Each articulates a pushing of engineering to its
physical and metaphorical limits.
Both aimed to use the art of architecture as a means
not only to beauty but also toward commercial and
Bridge and Arch share international prominence. Each
is monumentally affecting. Life here would be
different without them in quantifiable and
qualitative ways. Both in their time have said "St.
Louis": They identify us. And even in a careless
age, we cherish these structures with something
Eero Saarinen created the Gateway Arch, and he is
acknowledged as a modernist genius and a visual
magician. An aesthetic progenitor of Saarinen is
Capt. James Buchanan Eads.
In the 19th century, following the end of the Civil
War, Eads designed, helped to finance and
essentially willed a bridge across the Mississippi.
It was the first such span at St. Louis and the one
by which all later bridges here are judged.
Eads, more than likely, would be puzzled by the
display of exuberant amateur athleticism, not to
mention all the publicly exposed flesh, initiating
new life for the crossing.
Yet you must imagine he'd be pleased also, to see
his bridge evolve and adapt with the times, to
welcome runners in shorts and singlets as it
originally welcomed strollers in buttoned up dresses
that swept the ground, to again accommodate
automobiles and buses as it originally accommodated
horse-drawn vehicles and trolley cars.
Once known as the St. Louis Bridge, it is called by
the name of its creator now. On July 7, it will
resume its role as a versatile, multi-modal
interstate passageway. By the early 1990s, traffic
on it had dwindled to about 4,000 cars a day. In
1991, it closed. For a while, it was unused
altogether and looked to be cloaked in the gloom of
But in 1993, it came to life again. MetroLink, the
region's new light rail system, began to speed back
and forth on the lower, train deck, which originally
served passenger and freight train traffic.
After years of delays and frustration, the upper
deck is opening again to buses and automobiles,
walkers, runners and cyclists. A new lane for
pedestrians and bicyclists on the south side of the
bridge also provides a place to look at the river
and the skyline of the city that is peerless.
The fact that we will be able to walk, jog, skate or
cycle across the bridge, or to simply stand still
and take in the spectacular view, is due largely to
a collaborative effort of the Regional Chamber and
Growth Association, the state of Missouri and the
city of St. Louis, under the leadership of Trailnet.
Trailnet also raised $1 million to make changes to
the bridge that would assure its availability to
pedestrians and cyclists.
On July 6, the entire bridge will be open to the
public as a grand promenade. Ted Curtis, executive
director of Trailnet, said his organization hopes
that next year, the entire bridge will be closed to
motorized traffic on selected weekends. "The
long-term objective is to close the bridge to cars
every weekend," he said. St. Louis 2004 has special
events planned for the bridge as well.
With all this various individual and vehicular
traffic, the Eads Bridge's destiny will be fulfilled
A poet's fixation
Louis Daniel Brodsky is a businessman and proprietor
of Time Being Books in St. Louis, but if you ask him
what he does, more than likely he will tell you he
is a poet. Poets draw inspiration for their work
from all sorts of sources, real and fantastic.
A source for Brodsky is the Eads Bridge. He is in
good company. The bridge has been the subject of
countless artistic representations. Paintings and
drawings, good and bad, have had the bridge as their
focus. As Howard S. Miller wrote in his and Quinta
Scott's valuable book, "The Eads Bridge," "Architect
Louis Sullivan drew lifelong inspiration from its
'sensational and architectonic' wedding of idea to
actuality, form to function." Sullivan is architect
of another St. Louis architectural treasure, the
Wainwright Building at Seventh and Chestnut streets.
Week before last, Brodsky wrote new a poem called
"The Soul of Eads." Its concluding triplets go like
Tonight, I've inherited the soul of James B.
I am science, civil engineering,
That grand tributary, the Mississippi River,
The forces of nature tamed by his mathematics,
The colossal Eads Bridge itself,
Spanning the rapid currents of my imagination.
As well as serving as muse, the Eads Bridge has
contributed to satisfying an acquisitive streak that
distinguishes Brodsky. In the past, it has
manifested itself in his collecting of books,
letters and other material produced by or about
novelist William Faulkner.
Now Eads - man and bridge - are his quarries. There
is no escaping this when you visit him in his
offices off Clayton Road in St. Louis County. One
room is lined with lighted cases filled with objects
that generally go by the name "souvenir," and some
of them are the stylistic ancestors of the snow
globe: cups of all sizes and descriptions (including
a 19th-century mustache cup that protected a gent's
mustache from the contents of the cup); dinner
plates; and silver spoons - all bearing the image of
the bridge. On other walls hang images of various
descriptions, including a painting of the span that
hangs from a ceiling.
There are many works on paper: photographs of all
sorts, including views of the bridge under
construction and completed; sheet music with covers
illustrated with the bridge; postcards; a
fascinating book filled with the technical drawings
for the bridge; and architectural renderings.
Brodsky also collects images of Eads. His collection
includes one from Mathew Brady's National Portrait
Gallery in Washington as well as images by noted St.
Louis photographers of 19th-century prominence.
One affecting possession is a letter by Eads,
written in his firm, fluent, legible hand. It is
revealing in several respects. First is its lyrical
use of English. Second is its revelation of his
humanity and loyalty. Third is its capsulation of an
incredibly rich and varied life. All this appears in
the space of two pages of foolscap.
It was written on January 24, 1880, about seven
years before Eads' death at 67.
The return address is JAS. B. EADS, CIVIL ENGINEER,
314 CHESTNUT ST. It is addressed to Professor
William J. Harris.
My dear sir
I feel a great interest in the admission of Miss Zoe
R. Nelson into the Central High School, and have
ventured to trespass upon your time in this way, in
the hope that I may be able to enlist your
sympathies in her behalf, and thus secure for her
such favor as you can consistently extend to her.
She is between 15 and 16 years old and is now
attending the branch High School in the northern
part of the city. She is the daughter of Capt. W. T.
Nelson, many years ago my partner in the wrecking
business; afterwards Superintendent of my ship yard
at Carondelet during the building of the gun boats.
Subsequently he was employed in the construction of
the bridge; and still later he was employed in the
building of the jetties, where he contracted the
yellow fever with which disease he died, leaving his
widow and two daughters (one only 10 years old)
almost entirely destitute. Anything you can do to
aid her admission to the High School will place me
still under greater obligation to you.
With sincere regard I remain your friend
Jas. B. Eads
Eads, born in 1820, got his start and built his
first fortune as a "wrecker" - one who salvaged
wrecks of boats from the bed of the Mississippi
River. Sustained by a diving bell, he made
precarious descents to the bottom of the river,
where he set out on foot, looking for wrecks. His
scavenging was not only lucrative but also deeply
instructive, for it was on these walks that he
learned the scouring effects of the river currents,
knowledge he would put to valuable use later.
The reference in his letter to the building of the
gun boats at Carondelet is treated almost in
passing, a mere incident in a life, when in fact it
was a milestone in American military history. Eads
was convinced that the Union must be master of the
Mississippi and he pleaded his case to Edward Bates,
President Lincoln's attorney general. Eads was
summoned to Washington. As Miller wrote, Eads
discovered that Lincoln understood the strategic
importance of the river, and that "his (Eads)
reputation as the leading expert on the western
rivers had preceded him and that the president
wanted him to devise a plan."
Devise he did.
Miller wrote, "Eads proposed a fleet of ironclad,
steam-driven gunboats. When the government invited
competitive bids, he submitted an audacious proposal
to construct seven six-hundred-ton ironclads of his
own design and have them ready to arm within
sixty-five days. Within two weeks, Eads and his old
salvage partner, William Nelson, had a shipyard in
operation at Carondelet ... The first gunboat was
ready in forty-five days."
The foundations of a bridge
After the war, as Miller observed, St. Louis began
to understand the folly of its prewar, foot-dragging
opposition to a bridge across the Mississippi at St.
Louis. A bridge had been opposed fiercely and
successfully by the riverboat industry, which
regarded bridges as obstacles to navigation. The
ferrymen who controlled trans-Mississippi commerce
between what was then a collection of small
communities called collectively Illinois Town, now
East St. Louis, and St. Louis, were opposed as well.
A bridge would diminish the ferry business
Before the war, Miller wrote, Eads hadn't been
particularly interested in bridge building: "His
lifelong interest had been in removing river
obstacles, not adding one." But as he began to
understand the grave economic consequences of
Chicago's commercial strangling of St. Louis by
connecting itself, to the east and west, with
uninterrupted railroads, he took up the cause of a
Mississippi River bridge between Missouri and
Illinois at St. Louis. He also realized, as many
civic leaders understood belatedly, that the
reputation of St. Louis as one of the great cities
of the nation was slipping badly.
Eads the person defines genius. His Mississippi
River bridge is a physical manifestation of his
extraordinary brilliance. He was largely
self-taught, and as autodidacts often do, he took
learning extraordinarily seriously. He demanded
perfection, often driving himself to emotional and
physical exhaustion in the process. Like all good
scientists, he learned by looking and investigating,
by going to primary sources, by trial and by error.
He was also a canny businessman. In a telephone
conversation, Miller said a new book on the bridge -
Robert W. Jackson's "Rails Across the Mississippi" -
reveals just how capable a capitalist Eads was. In a
jacket blurb, Miller wrote that the book is "a local
study of national import."
"Whereas previous books on the Eads Bridge have
treated it as an artifact of innovative technology
... Jackson treats it primarily as an artifact of
innovative economics, using the bridge to reveal the
financial mechanics of emergent industrial
capitalism in the Gilded Age. The writing is lucid,
the research staggeringly thorough."
And there was trust in the divine, too. As Miller
wrote, Eads believed "the true, the useful, and the
beautiful were equally manifest in the harmony of
creation. Machines that worked right looked right
because utility and taste were one in the mind of
The Eads Bridge, this machine for transportation,
worked right and looked right. Eads designed
a bridge with four massive abutments and piers with
foundations on bedrock. He devised an intricate
scaffolding that allowed constructing the bridge
without riverboat-obstructing falseworks. Those
graceful, poetic arches you see today - 502 feet,
520 feet, 502 feet respectively - were landmarks of
engineering, an intricate new technology of steel
The bridge was begun about two years after the Civil
War, in 1867, and completed in 1874. As the runners
reinaugurate it on Friday, the bridge also will
celebrate the 129th anniversary of its first grand
opening on a long ago Fourth.
The bridge "looked right" as well, and continues to
be one of the three or four most visually affecting
and satisfying buildings in the region, and among
the greatest built achievements in the entire United
States. The reason: an early application of the
modernist creed of less being more. Although the
eminent St. Louis architect George I. Barnett had in
mind something like the Ponte Sant'Angelo in Rome, a
span picturesqued with sculptures, and one dressed
in Victorian-era decorative excesses, the garb du
jour. Eads decided to allow the essential beauty
of stone and steel and form to carry the aesthetic
load without adornment.
The Eads Bridge was the penultimate triumph in James
Buchanan Eads' career. He would go on to design the
South Pass jetties at New Orleans, jetties that
constricted the channel of the river at its mouth.
The narrowed channel employed the scouring effect
Eads had observed walking on the bottom of the river
in his youth to remove accumulations of silt
blocking ships' passage into the Port of New
But what has become a visible, emotion-rousing,
functioning member of our regional personality, a
structure that hovers in the memory of pilgrims to
it and ignites the passions of artists - and a
monument in the rich history of the architecture of
the world - is the bridge that bears the noble name
Long Island's great gray poet Walt Whitman was a
visitor to St. Louis. In 1879 he wrote this about
the Eads Bridge:
"I have haunted the river every night lately, where
I could get a look at the bridge by moonlight. It is
indeed a structure of perfection and beauty
unsurpassable, and I never tire of it."