Onion-paper bridge plans drawn 76 years ago offer insight

Thursday, February 28, 2002

David Glastetter knew for about two years that pieces of Cape Girardeau history were down there somewhere.

Located in the basement of the Kansas City engineering firm where he works -- a place he and his co-workers call The Dungeon -- were the original plans of one of the most important landmarks in Cape Girardeau.

Glastetter found the original 1926 Cape Girardeau traffic bridge designs in the files of the Harrington and Cortelyou Inc., building.

And he found the 76-year-old documents in good shape Friday, he said. They were drawn with graphite on old onion paper.

"It was pretty interesting, I thought," said Glastetter, 31, who lived in Cape Girardeau until he went off to school at the University of Missouri-Rolla. "I've had to go across that bridge several times."

For the public

The Notre Dame Regional High School graduate, who still considers Cape Girardeau his home, plans to donate the documents to the city of Cape Girardeau for public display.

"I'm kind of a history buff," Glastetter said. "I enjoy looking at things like that. I've always been interested in the heritage of Cape Girardeau. It's always been an interesting town in literature, especially with it being a river town."

Glastetter found the plans because his firm is relocating. Many documents of bridges that have been demolished were thrown away, Glastetter said.

"I don't know what would've happened to them," Glastetter said. "There seems to be differing opinions here whether some things should be kept or not. On some of these plans, there's no reason to keep them other than their historical reference."

The finding of the documents was timely, considering the Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge is set for completion in the fall of 2003. The current bridge will be demolished some time after that.

Scott Meyer, district engineer with the Missouri Department of Transportation, said MoDOT also has an original copy of the 1926 plans.

"Anything we build, we keep the final set of plans," he said.

But included in Glastetter's findings are some papers no one else has.

"One thing I found interesting is that I pulled out a second set of voided sheets," he said. "It looked like some concepts were played around with and were abandoned. They decided to go with something different."

The bridge changed the way of life in the city and the region. Until the bridge was built in 1928, a ferry was needed to transport travelers across the Mississippi. At its completion, the bridge was the only one between St. Louis and Memphis, a distance of more than 300 miles.

Glastetter had not talked to any officials Wednesday afternoon, but planner Kent Bratton said he thought the city gladly would accept them.

John Schneider, chairman of the city's historical preservation commission, said he thought Glastetter's bridge plans would be an interesting piece of history.

"It's the kind of thing the preservation commission would like to do something with," Schneider said. "I think it would be a very good piece of information to have at the city. A lot of people like to look at those types of things."

Archive storage

Most of the city's archives are located at City Hall, but Glastetter said he would prefer that the documents be displayed at various venues around town like Kent Library, the River Heritage Museum and the Cape Girardeau Public Library.

"It doesn't really matter to me, I just think the public should be able to see them," Glastetter said.

Harrington, Howard and Ash was the original firm behind the plans, but the company split in 1928 and Harrington and Cortelyou was formed.


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