Pulaski County is a not-so-hidden gem on the crown of Route 66 bridges. Three bridges are distinct ties to the promise and heyday of Route 66. The 1923 Devils Elbow Bridge over the Big Piney River predates Route 66. When it was constructed the roadbed was signed as Missouri Highway 14. The 1942 Devils Elbow Arch Bridge also crosses the Big Piney River, 2,800 feet downstream from her older sibling. Rounding out the trio of historic Route 66 bridges in Pulaski County is the 1923 Roubidoux Bridge in Waynesville. It was also built as an improvement to (then) Missouri Highway 14.
1923 Devils Elbow Steel Bridge
It’s curved approach makes this bridge unique. The fate of the 1923 Devils Elbow Bridge was questioned for years. Missouri Department of Transportation relinquished control of the bridge to Pulaski County after it was bypassed by a newer bridge. Drawing mainly local traffic and Route 66 enthusiasts, the bridge continued to deteriorate until a solid plan to rehabilitate the bridge was finalized.
The 1923 Devils Elbow bridge closed to all traffic October 2013 and re-opened May 2014. Today, the bridge is like new. Strong, sturdy, and safe and ready to carry travelers from around the globe across the river. The refurbished bridge has reenergized the village of Devils Elbow.
1942 Devils Elbow Arch Bridge
The 1942 Devils Elbow Arch Bridge was designed by the Missouri State Highway Commission. Composed of three open spandrel arches and five arched girder approach spans, it was constructed by Maxwell Construction Company.
Maxwell Construction Company constructed almost a dozen, if not more, bridges in Kansas, Arkansas, and Missouri between 1912 and 1942. They were also the company that constructed the Pikes Peak through truss bridge between Waynesville and Crocker on Highway 17 in 1932. After completing the 1942 Devils Elbow Arch Bridge the company was paid $47,707.00.
Federal financial sources played an important role in the construction of this bridge. Money was made available through the Strategic Highway Fund and the Emergency Relief Fund, both byproducts of World War II. The open spandrel design was used frequently by the Missouri State Highway Department between 1920 and the early 1940s.
According to HAER Inventory- Missouri Historic Bridge Inventory, regarding open spandrel bridges, this bridge has “one of the longest spans of those identified by the statewide bridge inventory.” The report also states that that due to the late construction date that the bridge has “no noteworthy technological significance.”
However, in a National Register of Historic Places Multiple Property Documentation Form prepared by Ruth Keenoy and Terri Foley they state that “concrete open spandrel arch bridges signify one of the great engineering accomplishments of early twentieth century bridge construction” and further states that “the Big Piney River Bridge is an excellent example”. The 1942 Devils Elbow Arch Bridge is unchanged from its original construction.
1923 Roubidoux Bridge
The 1923 Roubidoux Bridge was also designed by the Missouri State Highway Commission in 1922 to carry traffic across the Roubidoux on Missouri State Highway 14. Missouri Highway 14 was later designated as Highway 66.
Builder Koss Construction Company of Des Moines, Iowa was paid $44,035.00 for their work after completion. Koss Construction Company constructed almost a dozen, if not more, bridges in Missouri, Iowa, Alabama, Minnesota, and Michigan. At least two of their bridges, Galena Y Bridge in Stone County, Missouri and Mendota Bridge over the Minnesota River in Dakota County, Minnesota have been added to the National Register of Historic Places.
This bridge is a closed, or filled concrete spandrel bridge, a variation of the concrete bridge design that was often used by Missouri State Highway Department in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. This bridge, along with the Meramec River Bridge in Crawford County were the only two remaining examples of this bridge type in a five span formation when the Historic American Engineering Record completed its Missouri Historic Bridge Inventory. The Meramec River Bridge on Highway 19 was lost in 2000, leaving this bridge in downtown Waynesville as the lone survivor.
The 1923 Roubidoux Bridge was widened in 1939 when the bridge was 16 years old and has had no further alterations in the following 80 years.
More Than Just Bridges
The historic bridges on Route 66 in Pulaski County are more than just bridges. These bridges are links, connecting Chicago to Los Angeles and also connecting travelers from around the world to tangible Americana in the largest open air-museum in the United States.
This article first appeared in 2014. Thank You to Jim Ross, author of “Route 66 Crossings: Historic Bridges of the Mother Road”; Terry Primas of the Old Stagecoach Stop, and http://www.bridgehunter.com for their contributions.