Dismantling a landmark

Saturday, July 17, 2004

A vague nostalgia arises as demolition of the old Mississippi River bridge proceeds toward a day in August when crews will begin blasting away the bridge's metal framework.

The soaring new Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge already is loved, but the old bridge has been such a landmark in Cape Girardeau's skyline for so long it is difficult to imagine that in a matter of weeks it will be gone.

Crews of workers have been removing the road deck and the curbing on the Illinois side of the 76-year-old bridge. They are proceeding toward the Missouri side.

Blasting of the steel frame of the bridge into the river tentatively is scheduled for mid-August. It will begin on the Illinois side. Barges and cranes will retrieve the pieces.

The concrete arch on the Missouri approach will be torn down with the rest of the bridge, although several people have inquired about saving it. "A couple people talked about trying to take the whole arch and move it," says Stan Johnson, area engineer for the Missouri Department of Transportation.

The demolition of the old bridge is proceeding much more smoothly than the erection of the new bridge, which required seven years and a change of contractors.

"It's a little easier to tear something down than to build it," Johnson said.

An attempt will be made to salvage the two terra-cotta cartouches on the archway at the approach to the old bridge in Cape Girardeau. Cartouches are ornamental scrolls.

But Kent Bratton, Cape Girardeau's planning and zoning director, says the city hasn't yet been able to find someone who knows how to take down the cartouches, which were assembled from six or seven pieces. If they can be salvaged, Bratton said the city's Historic Preservation Commission will decide what to do with them.

The cartouches will be just about all that is left to remind us of a bridge and an era in the region's history just about to disappear.

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