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A Publication of WTVP

Rickety, Risky Bridges

Once upon a time, crossing a bridge in Peoria was a real gamble
by Phil Luciano |
On May 1, 1909, piers broke under the Lower Free Bridge (also known as the Franklin Street Bridge), causing much of the span to tumble into the Illinois River. Photo courtesy of the Special Collections Center, Bradley University Library
On May 1, 1909, piers broke under the Lower Free Bridge (also known as the Franklin Street Bridge), causing much of the span to tumble into the Illinois River. Photo courtesy of the Special Collections Center, Bradley University Library

Peoria is known for its good fortune in having a multitude of sturdy bridges. 

But there was a long stretch of misfortune regarding spans over the Illinois River. Time and time again, bridges ended up in the water below. 

FRANKLIN STREET BRIDGE

1848

A private toll bridge opens at Franklin Street. The next year, an ice jam and high water carried the bridge away.

1848

1850

During repairs to the Franklin Street Bridge, a herd of cattle was driven across the bridge but proved too weighty. The bridge supports tilted, with the entire herd sliding into the river. Miraculously, only one animal drowned.

1850

1852

With bridge repairs complete, a steamboat smacked the span.   

1852

1903

Heavy flooding again destroys the bridge.

1903

1909

A $200,000 steel-and concrete replacement debuts to much fanfare. But, beset by an inadequate support structure, the span fell, once again, into the waterway. 

Photo courtesy of the Special Collections Center, Bradley University Library
1909

1911

 

In April, the city opened a replacement. However, a month later, the eastern portion collapsed. During repairs, to avoid the debris in the river, construction workers built a 30-degree dogleg – a distinctive feature on what would again become known as the Franklin Street Bridge.

1911

1992

The bridge came tumbling down again, but on purpose this time. Its dismantling gave way to the $60 million Bob Michel Bridge, which opened in 1993.

1992

UPPER FREE BRIDGE

1882

Alex Partridge borrows money to build a pontoon bridge for vehicles in order to compete with Frye’s Ferry, just north of today’s McClugage Bridge. According to the Daily Record, “First the ice carried away a pontoon. Then someone bored holes in the floats, and they filled with water and sank. The steamboat captains disliked the span because it slowed them down in the swift water where they needed all their speed. Whenever they could ram the pontoons, without damaging their boats, they did.”

Finally, fire – Partridge blamed competitors – nearly destroyed the bridge.

1882

1884

Over the next decade, high water periodically carried chunks of the bridge downriver. As late as 1922, a harsh storm tore away 200 feet of wooden trestle on the Upper Free Bridge. 

A old bridge Pier
What remains today of the Upper Free Bridge
1884
Phil Luciano

Phil Luciano

is a senior writer/columnist for Peoria Magazine and content contributor to public television station WTVP
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