Good ideas, just like those old soldiers, “never die” and don’t always “fade away.”
Some of those brain storms keep recurring such as the one about saving Osawatomie’s First Street Bridge, known to most of us as the Asylum Bridge.
Built in 1905 following floods that destroyed an earlier crossing, it was the major conduit into Osawatomie from the north and united the city with the state hospital. It is one of a kind in this country — a pin-connected reverse Parker truss structure. An architectural wonder since other Parker trusses went in the opposite direction, the bridge is once again a topic for those concerned with both history and promoting the city.
It has been a point of both contention and hope since 1971. That’s when its deterioration became a problem and the question of ownership first arose. The city attorney believed the county owned the structure and should pay for repairs since county commissioners originally built the bridge. The county attorney differed.
Finally, Kansas Attorney General Robert Stephan ruled that the bridge belonged to the city since Osawatomie had annexed the land around it and Miami County had no responsibility for repairs. Deterioration continued and, in 1979, city council members, many still living and active here, voted to close vehicle approaches to the bridge.
Closed or not, its historic and architectural significance was great enough that, in 1990, the bridge was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the Kansas Historical Register. It took a few years, but in 1995, members of the Osawatomie Economic Development Committee considered grant monies to restore the bridge or make it a park centerpiece. The idea was dropped when study costs alone were determined to be over $10,000.
In November, 1998, entrances to the bridge were barricaded, preventing even pedestrian traffic. Mayor Norma Stephens revived the issue again in 2001, and the local Tourism Committee appointed a task force two years later to determine the feasibility of repairs or relocation. The cost of repairs to allow only pedestrians on the bridge would have been between $680,000 and $800,000. The issue of ownership came up again with no change in decision.
Again, the bridge suffered. Rails were in disrepair, planks were missing from the flooring and rust abounded. A proposed Marais des Cygnes riverside project was defeated because of the Kansas law stating that property owners owned the river itself to the middle of the stream, blocking public access.
What we thought was a last effort occurred in 2008, when the city council sought to restore the bridge as an avenue to the Northland project. A preliminary estimate at that time was $1.5 million. (I can’t tell from the records if that was to rehabilitate the bridge to vehicle traffic or for pedestrians only. Either way, costs stopped that plan).
So costs and the bridge’s condition are factors in any planning, but how grand it would be to build upon the old idea of a riverfront trail connecting to our celebrated Flint Hills Trail. Just think of being able to hike or cycle across the bridge to the brick-lined First Street and on to the sports complex and the FHT trailhead.
It would surely bring more visitors to town. The existing trail already does. But it would also allow those of us who live here to have another way to enjoy our resources. I believe that grant funding will be more available for economic development projects following this COVID-19 pandemic. That could make costs manageable.
Let’s all hope that this time the plan to “save” the Asylum Bridge succeeds. It will be a win-win for all of us.