Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick
OUR NEW BRIDGE WAS CAUSE FOR CELEBRATION
Pittsburg has seen three bridges over the Des Moines River. Built in 1883, the first bridge did not last long, as four spans and two piers were taken out by the ice in the spring of 1885. Work begun immediately on another bridge that was tested and opened for traffic on May 1, 1886.
By the 1950s, load restrictions were placed on this one-way, shaky, rickety old bridge, the floor of which was held in place pier to pier by the handrails. Two young men from the area were racing their cars one night in November, 1958 when one lost control and crashed through the banister into the river carrying with him the east span. The other driver came to a screeching halt within three feet of the gaping hole left by the collapsed portion of the bridge. One car was totaled but there were no injuries.
For almost two years, people from west and north of Pittsburg were forced to travel through the narrow, winding roads of Lacey-Keosauqua State Park or through Kilbourne to reach Keosauqua. Thus a two-mile trip was lengthened to as much as fourteen.
The new bridge had five piers and a floor 26 feet wide that included walk ways on each side. Steel girders stretching from pier to pier held the floor in place without the need of overhead structure. During the summer of 1960, as the bridgework neared completion, "Grandma" Pearl Reed expressed the desire to cross the bridge first. One day, a construction worker came into the Pittsburg Store and told her that she could have access to the bridge. With the help of Roxie Hughes, Mrs. Reed walked across the river and returned. Although they were the first women to cross the new bridge, I had beaten them to the experience by several weeks.
On June 16, 1897 my grandmother, Mary Ratcliffe (Fellows) had celebrated her sixteenth birthday by walking the stringers of the not-yet-completed bridge between Douds and Leando. Not to be outdone, I watched carefully as girders were put into place between the piers at Pittsburg. When the first girder was anchored which would link the two sides of the river, I waited until the last workers had left the scene, then I prepared myself to duplicate my grandmotherís feat.
I nearly chickened out when I saw how narrow the eight-inch girders were and saw the deep water rushing under the bridge below, but I adopted a plan of attack. I discovered that if I concentrated heavily on the girder itself without letting the flowing water below distract me, I could cross like walking a plank, by slowly placing one foot in front of the other. With arms outstretched for balance, holding my breath I crossed each girder one step at a time, only stopping to let out air and gulp more into my lungs. As I took my last step onto solid ground, my knees buckled, my legs were shaking, I let out a gasp, and I fell into a heap! I had accomplished my goal but I would not repeat the adventure by returning the same way. I walked to Keosauqua, then back through the trails of the State Park, an eight-mile long but much safer route home.
On the afternoon and evening of October 13, 1960 several thousand people gathered to celebrate the grand opening of the Pittsburg Bridge. Refreshments were served, and we had a piano and band on the bridge. Dancing lasted until the wee hours of the morning. With as much to celebrate as anyone in the audience, I was one of the last people to leave the bridge that morning.