The Original UPSIDE DOWN Bridge

The construction of the lake during the years 1929-31 necessitated many changes in the area. The future lake bed had to be cleared, towns and cemeteries moved, and roads realigned.

The two major roadways in the region were Missouri Highway 5--a gravel road running south out of Versailles--and U.S. Highway 54, a oiled road that cut the area diagonally toward the southwest from Eldon. Because Highway 54 was a federal route, it had priority in funding and design criteria. All changes to Route 54, including the construction of bridges, would take place before lake filled.

Prior to the construction of Bagnell Dam, Route 54 had crossed the Osage River at the town of Bagnell, via a ferry boat. As it continued in a southwesterly course, it dropped down the bluff at Zebra (present Lake Road 54-30), crossed the Grand Glaize River on a swinging bridge, climbed the ridge near Damsel (via present Jeffries Road), and then dropped again into the valley of Linn Creek. The waters of the lake would flood large segments of this alignment, so engineers began drawing new plans.

Under the developing plans, Bagnell Dam would carry Route 54 over the Osage; the town of Bagnell would be sidestepped. The next major realignment would take place at the crossing of the Grand Glaize. The once small stream would now be a major tributary of the lake, and Watson Hollow would become a two-mile long cove. After examining the area, surveyors and engineers identified a favorable crossing of the Glaize valley located about three-quarters of a mile south of the confluence with the Osage. This location was well south of the old swinging bridge crossing.

Two reasons led to the choice of this site. First, it was a narrow crossing--about 1,600 feet; and, second, the projecting points on either side dropped away steeply. This second point was important because it allowed the bridge to be built higher without making it longer. This would save money and minimize the road grade as it climbed out of the valley on either side.

The photo at left was taken in September, 1930. The piers were poured during the summer, and now the Warren truss spans are being assembled in place. (Note the temporary support scaffolding under the nearly finished segment.)

This 1930 photo looks eastward. The piers are 15 feet wide at the base and 5 feet wide at the top, not including the caps, and measure 105 feet tall. That's a team of mules standing at the base of the nearest pier. (Photo from Concrete Industry magazine, courtesy Brad Atkinson.)

1931 postcard view of the Grand Glaize Bridge. Both the lake and the bridge are brand new. The postcard identifies the structure as the Zebra Bridge. Zebra was the closest town at that time. By comparing this photo with the two above it, you can get a pretty good idea of the depth of the lake here.

To esthetically enhance the height of the bridge, the designers decided to erect the spans with the supporting trusses below the highway deck--an arrangement known as a deck truss. This would place the roadway some seventy feet above the lake level, and afford an unimpeded view of the tributary--and it could be done without reducing the load capacity of the bridge. Both the Niangua and Hurricane Deck Bridges, built some six years later, would feature similar designs, but since the Grand Glaize structure was the first high span in the area, it acquired the nickname of the Upside Down Bridge.

The Grand Glaize Bridge, circa 1950. The view looks northward toward the mouth of the Glaize Arm. The dock near the east end is Chet's Landing, the forerunner of Link's Landing. Bridgeport Marina is at the west end. (Photo courtesy of Brad Atkinson, Fenton, Missouri.)

The Upside Down Bridge cost about $400,000, and was finished in time for the lake to fill under it. Designed as a two lane structure, the traffic demands of the late twentieth century rendered it obsolete. Construction of a new bridge began in the early 1980s. The westbound lanes were completed in 1984; however, the old bridge continued to carry eastbound traffic until 1995, when all four lanes of the newer span were finished. Engineers then dismantled the old span, and the Upside Down Bridge was no more.

Text © 2008 by Michael Gillespie. All rights reserved.

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