Did you know? Mississippi River bridge at Chester once collapsed. Here’s what happened

The Chester Bridge, connecting Perry County and Chester, Illinois, was rebuilt and reopened after the original span collapsed in 1944.
Courtesy Missouri Department of Transportation

In the aftermath of the bridge collapse near Baltimore, a question arises: Has such a thing ever happened in Southeast Missouri?

Yes.

The greater Southeast Missouri and Southern Illinois region has had some experience with a bridge collapse. The truss bridge that crosses the Mississippi River from rural Perry County to Chester, Illinois, collapsed in 1944. It was and is the only bridge across the Mississippi River between St. Louis and Cape Girardeau.

The span was just two years old, but toppled into the river following a fierce storm Saturday night, July 30, 1944, “leaving standing only the steel and concrete approaches on both sides of the stream,” according to an article in the Southeast Missourian. The part that collapsed was about 650 feet long. Based on witness accounts, officials believe the bridge was damaged by lightning, a tornado or both. Witnesses stated they saw a bolt of lightning that appeared to hit the center of the span. Mrs. E.N. Burklow told the newspaper she heard the bridge creaking in the wind, while a railroad worker said he saw “two funnel-shaped clouds” converge on the span just before it toppled.

The Chester Bridge was rebuilt and was reopened in August 1946. The bridge is still in use today. It has two 11-foot lanes and accommodates 7,000 vehicles per day, according to the Missouri Department of Transportation.

Construction is ongoing on a new bridge that is scheduled to open in late 2026 at an expected cost of $284 million.

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