Bob Mitchell: Handwritten records on bridge bids

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

(Continued from last week)

Nearly 100 years ago, about 90 to be more exact, the Barry County Court, now county commission, was struggling with the necessity of residents using White River ferry crossings when traveling in communities affected by the river. Permission to proceed with plans for bridges first needed the approval in Washington, D.C. That hasn’t changed.

Names unknown today

The first of the structures was to be located at the Golden Ferry Crossing, part of the old approach to this bridge on the north side, was visible during recent low water conditions on Table Rock. The second of the bridges was at Farwell Crossing, now Highway 86 near the Eagle Rock Boat Dock and public use area. The third, and largest of the bridges, was to be at Morris Ferry, accessing old Highway 86 between Shell Knob and Viola communities.

An unusual part of the project was the decision of county administrators at that time to incorporate two of the projects together. They would permit bidders to make proposals. Crossings at Golden and Shell Knob would be combined, apparently to expedite the process, especially since the bidding processes in those days seemed more relaxed than they might be today.

Price wouldn’t work

M. E. Gillioz, road contractor and philanthropic banker of Monett, was one of two bidders successful with a $59,502.11 bid. The second bidder was a Kansas City firm, with only about $5,000 above the winning proposal.

The Gillioz proposal was for the bridges only, and did not include construction of the approaches, which ran just over $21,000 a project that went to a Granby firm of Kelly and Underwood.

Handwritten records

All the proceedings of this two-bridge project were handwritten in county records of the offices of clerk John Snider, whose son Chester held the office in later years when typewriters were available. Court members were Jonathan Eden, W.S. Francis and J.D. Hardman.

At this juncture in history, construction of bridges over the White River, which would give full access of travel to those river communities and was undoubtedly a significant step for the county court to take.

Payment for the projects was set up with a road and bridge tax.

10 years later

It wasn’t until 10 years later that then County Engineer J.C. Harvey presented a proposal to the court to build a bridge at Eagle Rock, which would be smaller than the previous two projects and be less costly to county residents. About 30 days after the proposal, the court received bids on this crossing, eliminating the need for ferry crossings in the areas, but with bridges available, crossings like Cottner Ford were used for years by wagons, horses and later some vehicles.

The Farwell Ford was virtually eliminated when J.C. Ault of Cassville bid just over $38,000 for the bridge with Don Pray awarded an approach contract of $76,500. From the north access was through Farwell property, connecting to a bluff on the south side.

River conditions in this area provided an expansive gravel bar, which became one of the most popular White River picnic and recreation locations in this area.


Through the years, until Table Rock Dam construction was virtually finished, the bridges withstood floods on the White River, which happened frequently during spring and summer cloudbursts that visited the county.

The only disruption of traffic during these rains might have been when high waters would cover the approaches during exceptionally high water levels.

Then the fight was on

The arrival of Table Rock Lake presented problems for the county, only one of the bridges was to be replaced — Eagle Rock, accessing a new Highway 86 around the southern part of the lake.

Cassville’s efforts to gain support for replacement in the region fell on deaf ears for the most part, especially in Springfield, with Joplin throwing an endorsement our way. Public hearings in Springfield at the American Legion Home adjacent to the Shrine Mosque found Cassville’s evidence falling on deaf ears.

Briefly, the winners

Out of Washington on a fact-finding jaunt, the late Sen. Stuart Symington told a group in our living room on Sunset Heights, “We can get this done,” and repeated this at the Isaac Epperly Store the next morning in Shell Knob. Symington’s review of maps of the areas cemented his support. His efforts, fostered by the late Means Ray, bolstered by Congressman Charlie Brown, and capped by Missouri Highway Engineer Rex Whitton, salvaged one of the crossings at Shell Knob. Whitton later became the federal highway administrator as a testimony to his abilities.

At a cost of $3 million, the Central Crossing Bridge opened the area between Shell Knob and Viola as one of the most vibrant communities on Table Rock Lake in this area.

Bob Mitchell is the former editor and publisher of the Cassville Democrat, and a 2017 inductee into Missouri Southern State University’s Regional Media Hall of Fame.

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