Bob Mitchell: Walked on the water?

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Southwest Missouri interests were hard at work in the mid-1950s promoting the construction of a high dam on the White River near the location known as Table Rock. When Congress authorized the funding for the Corps of Engineer project it was actually moved upstream a distance to a more suitable location.

Construction was initiated in October 1954 for the process that would require four years to construct the 252-foot high structure.

Start of construction quickly spelled the end of Barry County’s investment in her bridges.

Early flood

Even before the 1.2 million cubic yards of concrete were postured and 3.3 million cubic yards of an earthen embankment were in place, countians were to learn what was going to happen to their river crossings.

Spring rains

Unusually heavy spring rains two years before the dam was topped out sent waters of White River over the top of the structure. Opening of what gates that were in place kept this from happening.

But, upstream, premature flooding threw everyone a curve. All three bridges at Eagle Rock, Golden and Shell Knob were inundated by the brown waters, giving an early indication of what a reservoir on Table Rock was going to look like.

Walked on water

At Shell Knob, the largest of the three structures, water was a few inches over the top of the bridge. It was here that I got one of my best pictures of an early newspaper career. It was people actually walking on the water!

Believe that or not, but it was a pair of Shell Knobbers, John Cupps, Sr., and the late Jake Turner, who donned life jackets and got out of the boat to walk on the structure.

Water over this bridge disrupted mail and school routes and all travel from the north to south shore of the river between Viola and Shell Knob.

Enjoying the opportunity about as much as anyone, and quick to show his skills at running a boat in the area carrying mail and whatever across was the late Carl Hale, of Viola, who had a contract to perform the chore.

Once in a while he would take on a passenger and run his route, going by the submerged bridge.

Crusher

With it becoming pretty obvious to countians that their bridges would be of no use in the filling of the reservoir, the real crusher arrived with announcements that only one of the bridges would be replaced by the Corps of Engineers. That was Eagle Rock, which was to carry a re-routed Highway 86 from Cassville, around the south side of the reservoir in a new highway structuring by Missouri.

County interests were furious and turned every tap possible to get reconsideration of the bridge replacement program on Table Rock. It was quickly determined that there would be no consideration for a new bridge at Golden. That route and access between Mano and Golden was to be lost forever.

Fight was on

Cassville exerted every effort possible, running all over southwest Missouri and rounding up support for at least replacing the Shell Knob bridge that would provide access for commerce and development for the almost exact center of the bridge. In the absence of such a crossing, the only access to get across Table Rock would be at Eagle Rock and Kimberling City.

Help in the effort came from communities to the west of Cassville, including Joplin. A request for assistance out of Springfield was quickly and pointedly denied.

In a hearing before the Missouri Highway Department at the American Legion Home in Springfield, even the eloquent words of the late attorney Royle Ellis weren’t sufficient to sway anyone’s thinking toward that of Barry County’s effort to expand bridge possibilities for White River.

Sympathetic ear

Fortunately for this area, there came along an individual in Washington that would listen to this area and at the same time enlist the support of one of the more powerful persons in the U. S. Senate.

Actually, the election of the late Charlie Brown to Congress in that era proved to be the catalyst that would move the Shell Knob bridge into being. His relationship with the late senior senator from Missouri, the late Stuart Symington, and their close association with the late Rex Whitten, Missouri highway engineer and later federal highway administrator, turned the trick.

My late uncle, Means Ray, was instrumental in attracting Symington to this area to view the possibilities of a crossing at Shell Knob. In our living room on Sunset Heights the night before a trip to the lake, Symington commented, “We can get this done!”

So, in 1961, Central Crossing Bridge was built, at a cost of about $2 million. This obviously was a good investment as the crossing provided access to areas that have become the fastest growing and probably the most wealthy, as any in the county.

Bob Mitchell is the former editor and publisher of the Cassville Democrat. He is a 2017 inductee to both the Missouri Press Association Hall of Fame and Missouri Southern State University’s Regional Media Hall of Fame.