Armour-Swift-Burlington Bridge and The Levee, Missouri River
2 postcard views of the Armour-Swift-Burlington Bridge and The Levee, Missouri River
The first important link between Kansas City and Clay County was the Armour-Swift-Burlington bridge, pictured on the 1912 postcard at left in a view looking north.
In 1887 Congress authorized T. B. Bullene, E. L. Martin and W. R. Chambers to construct a bridge across the Missouri river. The bill was later amended to enable the Wabash, St. Louis & Pacific to build the bridge.
By 1890 the great stone piers across the river were completed and passed into the control of the Kansas City Bridge and Terminal company, of which W. E. Winner was president.
Proper financing for further construction was not available and so the piers stood unused for the next 11 years. In 1901 Winner lost control of the project through foreclosures of mortgages.
The property was acquired by the Armour-Swift-Burlington interests in 1903, but work was not resumed on the bridge until 1909. A newspaper of the day stated:
The bridge is of a unique and modern type. It is to have two decks. The lower is to carry two standard railroad tracks, the upper will accommodate two electric railway lines, two roads for vehicle traffic and roadways on either side for pedestrians.
A distinguishing feature was the vertical lift. The lower deck of the southern span, directly over the middle of the river channel, lifted vertically by means of cables and machinery, affording 413 feet of horizontal clearance for river vessels. The lifting of the telescoping deck, when a boat desired to pass, interrupted the steam railroad traffic temporarily, but did not affect the traffic of the upper deck.
The finished bridge was opened to traffic December 28, 1911. Including the approaches on the Clay County and Kansas City sides, the bridge was more than a mile long.
Tolls charged for passage over the bridge were almost exactly the same as those formerly charged by the ferry boats. (Ferry service was discontinued after the completion of the bridge.) Charges were as follows:
Foot passengers .05; bicycle & rider .05; horse & rider .10; horses, mules and cattle .10; sheep, hogs, calves per head .03; one horse vehicle .20; 2-horse vehicle .25; 3-horse vehicle .30; 4-horse vehicle .35; automobile, one seat .20; automobile, 2 seats .25; automobile trucks, .35; circus & menagerie wagons .40; threshing machines .40; extra passengers on vehicles .05
A staff of eleven toll takers collected fees for the next 15 years. Then there was talk of making the bridge free.
Kansas City and Clay County voted 1.5 million dollars in bonds November 3, 1926, to purchase an easement over the bridge. Kansas City's proposal of buying the bridge for 1.2 million dollars was accepted by the bridge owners in January, 1927. Clay County agreed to pay one-tenth of the amount.
Everyone was pleased. Kansas City considered its trade territory greatly expanded with easy access to towns north of the river, such as North Kansas City, Liberty, Excelsior Springs, Richmond, Carrollton, Chillicothe, Plattsburg, Cameron, Hamilton, Platte City and St. Joseph.
It would also mean a new era for Clay County and North Kansas City because the toll charge had been a stumbling block for years to the development of the county and to growth of trade and business between the county and Kansas City. It also meant the development of 3,600 acres of land that the Armour-Swift-Burlington interests held in Clay County.
Negotiations were completed July 15, 1927, in Jefferson City, when papers were signed in the office of the state highway commission and the bridge was taken over by the state highway department.
A telephone call was put through to Kansas City after the signing and toll takers were removed immediately. The event was welcomed by the blowing of whistles and ringing of bells.
Today four lanes of automobile traffic move swiftly over the old A.-S.-B. bridge. Rarely is there a downward glance at the Harlem river bank on the north shore where, in days gone by but still remembered by many, Clay Countians, with or without vehicle, waited patiently for the next ferry boat to Kansas City.
Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library, Kansas City, Missouri
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