Chain of Rocks Bridge

This article is about the bridge built in 1929 which used to carry U.S. Route 66, and currently (2010) carries pedestrian traffic. For the bridge built in 1966 which carries I-270 traffic, see New Chain of Rocks Bridge. The Chain of Rocks Bridge spans the Mississippi River on the north edge of St. Louis, Missouri. The eastern end of the bridge is on Chouteau Island, (part of Madison, Illinois), while the western end is on the Missouri shoreline. The bridge was for a time the route used by U.S. Route 66 to cross over the Mississippi. Its most notable feature is a 22-degree bend occurring at the middle of the crossing, necessary to allow river traffic to have uninterrupted navigation on the river. Originally a motor route, the bridge now carries walking and biking trails over the river. The bridge was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2006. The bridge's name comes from a large shoal, or rocky rapids, called the Chain of Rocks, which made that stretch of the Mississippi extremely dangerous to navigate. Because of a low-water dam built by the Corps of Engineers in the 1960s, little of the Chain of Rocks is visible today except during extreme low water conditions. After 1940, only a single impediment prevented the maintenance of a safe and reliable 9-foot (2.7 m) navigation channel on the Mississippi River from St. Paul, Minnesota, to New Orleans. This impediment, known as the Chain of Rocks Reach, was a 17-mile (27 km) series of rock ledges that began just north of St. Louis and was extremely difficult and dangerous to navigate. In the late 1940s and early 1950s the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built a 8.4-mile (13.5 km) long canal to bypass this treacherous reach. To ensure adequate depths in the pool below the old Lock and Dam 26, a non-movable, low water dam was constructed just below the north end of the canal and a lock was installed at the south end of the canal. Known respectively as Dam No. 27, a.k.a. Chain of Rocks Dam, and Locks No. 27, a.k.a. Chain of Rocks Lock.

The area was chosen as a site for the St. Louis waterworks in 1865, with construction beginning in 1887, and the water plant opened in 1894. A filter plant was added in 1915, which at the time of its construction was the largest filter plant in the world. The Chain of Rocks bridge was privately built as a toll bridge in 1929 at a cost of US$3.0 million and later turned over to the city of Madison, Illinois, the current owner of the bridge. In the late 1930s, Bypass U.S. 66 was designated over this bridge and around the northern and western parts of St. Louis to avoid the downtown area (City U.S. 66 continued to cross the Mississippi River over the MacArthur Bridge). Eventually, the toll was removed from the bridge due to a law prohibiting the collecting of tolls on U.S. Highways. In 1967, the New Chain of Rocks Bridge was built immediately to the bridge's north in order to carry I-270; the Chain of Rocks Bridge was subsequently closed in 1967. For nearly three decades the fate of the bridge was uncertain, though demolition seemed its most likely end. The high cost of demolition, however, indefinitely delayed that outcome until a new use was found. During this time, the bridge developed a reputation for crime and violence, including the April 1991 murder of sisters Julie and Robin Kerry. In 1998, the bridge was leased to Trailnet, a local trails group, to operate. Four and a half million dollars have been spent on renovating the bridge for pedestrian and cycling use. From the Illinois side of the bridge, signs marked "HISTORIC ROUTE 66 SPUR" take travelers to the Illinois side of the bridge and a "HISTORIC ROUTE 66" sign marks the Missouri side of the bridge. The Gateway Arch is visible downriver, and immediately downstream from the bridge, two water intakes for the St. Louis Waterworks are visible (see Gallery). One is vaguely Gothic Revival in style; the other closely echoes Roman ruins from Trier in modern Germany.

  • In 1981, the bridge was used in the shooting of the movie Escape from New York , along with other sites in St. Louis.
  • In the mid 1990s, a Bigfoot monster truck drove over the "chain of rocks" located just downstream from the Chain of Rocks Bridge.


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