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Monday, May 25, 2009

A Bird's-Eye View: The Mississippi River Bridges

Posted By on Mon, May 25, 2009 at 9:29 PM

78cf/1243306029-bridges-aerialview.jpg I wanted to share an interesting old photograph that I found tucked away in a Central High School yearbook. It's an aerial view of the three old Memphis bridges that cross the Mississippi at the South Bluffs area. (Click on it to enlarge it.)

The view is looking eastward towards Memphis from Arkansas. From left to right, you have the Harahan Bridge (1914), the Frisco Bridge (1892 — called "The Great Bridge" when it first opened), and the Memphis-Arkansas Bridge (1949).

What's really interesting is that if you look very carefully at the top of the photo, at the easternmost end of the Harahan Bridge, you can see a portion of the insanely complicated one-way road system that gave automobiles access to the roadways that were suspended on the outside of the bridge. They were added later, you see, and there was no space to put them inside the bridge spans.

This photo, unfortunately, stops short of showing just where those roadways began, which has always confused me. Modern-day Crump Blvd. and construction of the Riverside Drive interchange has obliterated all traces of this maze of streets that somehow fed cars onto the bridge, heading west on the north side of the span, and heading east on the south side — with a set of railroad tracks running in between them. At least, I think that was the crazy plan. But how on earth those drivers — MEMPHIS drivers, I might add, not always known for their navigational skills even on their best days — ever got there has always stumped me, and comparing then-and-now maps or aerial photographs just adds to the confusion. I usually have to close the blinds and lie down for a day or so after pondering all the possible routes.

I've always thought that driving across the Harahan Bridge, on a narrow, one-way wooden roadway — flimsy metal guardrails about three feet high the only thing separating you from a sheer drop to the river far below, while a freight train rumbled alongside you — must have been one of the most terrifying travel adventures in Memphis. And that would be true in the daytime. Just think of the prospect of doing it at night, during a thunderstorm. Yikes.

I think it would even worse than coming to the Lauderdale Mansion after dark.

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