August 29, 1930-The Hermann Bridge is dedicated ... And what a day it must have been! Planning the dedication activities was nearly as great a feat as building the bridge.
The day began at 10 a.m. when members of the Gasconade and Montgomery County courts met in the center of the bridge with the presiding judges grasping hands, saluting each other, and exchanging remarks appropriate to the occasion. Little Miss Florence Mundwiller, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Oliver Mundwiller, cut the ribbon from the Hermann side of the bridge, which act officially opened the Hermann Bridge. An address was then delivered by Governor Henry S. Caulfield, who arrived by airplane which circled the city before landing on the north side of the river.
The day continued with a great banquet at noon held at the Evangelical Church and served by the ladies of the church. At 1:30 a band concert was performed by the Hermann Enterprise Military Band, whose ranks were augmented by the addition of 20 musicians.
The Missouri River Bridge at Hermann was dedicated on Aug. 29, 1930. It was one of the longest bridges in Missouri when it was complete.
At 3:30, Master of Ceremonies Judge R.A. Breuer presided over the speech making. Hermann Mayor Chas. Egley gave a welcoming address. Short speeches were delivered by Gasconade County prosecuting attorney O.A. Kamp and state officials F.B. Meyer, Chas. U. Becker, Larry Brunk, and L.D. Thompson. The special guest of the afternoon was Hon. L.J. Sverdrup, vice-president of the National Toll Bridge Co. and known as the "daddy" of the Mt. Sterling and Hermann bridges. Sitting beside him was his mother who traveled all the way from Norway for the occasion.
By 7 p.m., Market Street was overflowing with people attending a street dance set up between Third and Fourth Streets.
Mammoth was the word used to describe the crowd that day. Estimates indicate that 3,000 were on the bridge at the ribbon cutting with approximately 8,000 attending the dedication.
Mammoth also describes the structure, one of the longest in the state. The bridge, with its approach behind City Hall on Market Street, extends in a northwest direction toward the town of McKittrick, thus avoiding the circuitous route that was followed by the ferry. It consists of 10 spans with a total length of 2,238 feet, 2.8 inches and its elevation is 560.40 feet. Eighteen hundred tons of steel for the continuous expansion-bridge came from the Kansas City Structural Steel Co.
Mammoth, too, describes the task of the Hermann Bridge Company in carrying out the idea of a bridge over the Missouri River at Hermann from just that, an idea, to completion. Without going into great detail, a brief background of the bridge is in order.
It is said that the idea of the Hermann Bridge began as a rumor somewhere in late 1926 or early 1927. The rumor was that the State Highway Commission was planning to build a bridge across the Missouri River somewhere between St. Charles and Jefferson City. Investigation found the rumor false, but at the same time the building of two other bridges in the state, the Osage River Bridge and the Gasconade River Bridge at Mt. Sterling, got some Hermann people thinking. Plus, a bridge was being built at Boonville, which got the attention of the Hermann Commercial Club whose projects to date had included a shoe factory and a high school on Washington Street, projects done with the welfare of the community at heart.
After several meetings and the decision to go ahead with having soundings made to help determine the cost and how to finance the project, the Long Year Exploration Co. of Minneapolis was hired to make the soundings. Approximately $1500 was needed, so the Commercial Club went about raising the necessary funds. Contributions were made in three parts with $500 from the Commercial Club, $500 from the City of Hermann, and the last $500 was actually over-subscribed in only three hours in donations given by Hermann business people.
In July 1927, a committee appointed by the Commercial Club was formed. Known as the Hermann Bridge Company, its purpose was to wrestle with the problems of financing the project, which had an estimated cost of $800,000. Committee members included mayor Chas. A. Egley, president; O.H. Nienheuser, secretary; Geo. C. Eberlin, treasurer; and three directors, Judge R.A. Breuer, Judge H.L. Stolte and Jno. M. Schermann.
The committee worked on getting a bill passed to build a bridge, but the bill failed because the 69th Congress ended in a filibuster in 1927. It wasn't smooth sailing in the 70th Congress the following year, but finally the bridge bill was signed by President Coolidge on Feb. 29, 1928.
The Hermann Bridge Company interested the J.G. White Engineering Corporation of New York City in overseeing construction, and the National Toll Bridge Company, a subsidiary of the corporation, decided to build the bridge. Bridge construction took over two years because of delays due to adverse weather conditions. Serious damage was done in the fall of 1929 by floodwaters, which washed away three of the six piers already in place, piers 2, 3 and 4. Hermann resident George Johnson described the enormity of the loss explaining that pier 3 weighed 360 tons when it fell over. The narrow gauge trestle track that was built to carry building materials to the work site and the derricks were washed away in the flood.
Another Hermann resident, Capt. Kermit Baecker, recounted how he and a man from the bridge company followed one of the stiff leg derricks down the river in a skiff while trying to retrieve it. They went from Hermann (mile 97) to Bernheimer Bluff (mile 88) without success. The derrick ultimately lodged on various sandbars further down the river and was never recovered.
George Johnson worked for the J.G. White Company as a timekeeper while the piers were under construction. He clocked employees in and out. Among them were sandhogs, workers who were responsible for removing sand from inside the cylinders, or pneumatic caissons. Pier 3, for instance, is 75 feet deep, and it required 27 ½ pounds per square inch of air pressure to keep water out of the cylinder. The sandhogs would enter a lock on top of the cylinder, which had the normal air pressure of 15 pounds per square inch. The air pressure in the lock had to be increased to equal that in the cylinder before the workers could enter it. Then they would climb down a 75-foot suspension ladder to the bottom of the cylinder. George told of the time he went down into the cylinder. Now he wonders how he ever had the courage to do it.
He remarked, too, about how all the calculations for this super-structure were done by slide rule, as there were no computers back then.
The second year of construction, 1930, was not much better because it was very dry. Delays in building were compounded by difficulties in transporting materials by boat to the bridge site because of low water. But efforts continued and the bridge was finally completed in August of that year.
The bridge opened as a toll bridge and continued as such for about a year and a half. The changes it created for the immediate area and for the state in general were enormous, some positive and some negative. On the plus side were the hundreds of jobs it provided, thereby boosting the local economy. The northern and eastern parts of Missouri could be linked with southern parts of the state and the Ozark Region saving motorists hours and days in travel time to visit the opposite side of the state. Tourism in the Hermann area increased with the influx of people traveling through the community. Friends and families on opposite sides of the river had easier access to each other. Hermann businesses thrived because of the additional shoppers they attracted from north of the river.
But with the good came the bad, the price we pay for progress. The community of McKittrick may have suffered because of the construction of the bridge. It is difficult to attribute the decline in business in McKittrick solely to the bridge because the Depression was likely a factor as well. Let it be said, however, that when the Depression was over, McKittrick never returned to the ways of life it enjoyed before the bridge was built.
Also, the bridge contributed to the demise of the Hermann Ferry and Packet Co. For about a year and a half after the bridge was built, the company attempted to run boats at the rate of 50 cents per vehicle. The bridge toll was $1 for a round trip. But they just couldn't win. The last ferryboat to run was the L'Outre Island in 1932.
Curious to learn about how people's lives were altered by the bridge, I spoke with several area residents who had some interesting stories to tell about life in Hermann before the bridge was built. Many of them recalled walking and skating across the river when the ice was solid enough, and others could remember teams of horses and mules being used to transport goods and people from one side to the other.
Edna Scharnhorst (nee Heck) lived on the north side of the river. She told how people living there were said to be from "the other side", which was not a kind remark. Edna spoke about having to board in Hermann from Monday to Friday (at a cost of $5 a week for room, board, and laundry) during her years in high school. She said she would travel by ferry, skiff, or horse team on Monday and return home on Friday, and she had to be careful not to miss the last ferry, which left Hermann at 4 p.m.
According to Maurine Coe (nee Dietzel), the kids from across the river always had a good excuse for being late for school on Mondays because their skiffs and ferries were sometimes delayed. "The kids on this side of the river had to have a pretty good excuse to beat that one," she said. Maurine also remembered a neighbor in Hermann, Mrs. Emily Rebsamen, who claimed she didn't want to be the first one across the bridge because she didn't know if it would be safe.
One local lady, who asked to remain anonymous, told me about the time her church group was to perform in Rhineland. The only way they could get there was by skiff. So, three girls and two mothers made the river crossing. The return trip was at midnight with only the aid of a flashlight to cross the river. She said that it is no wonder her mother turned gray at an early age.
Stories about the bridge continued even after it was built. While Edna's daughter, Jane McQuie, does not remember the events involving the opening of the bridge, she recalls how wide the bridge seemed as a child and how narrow it seems now, especially when facing an on-coming tractor trailer truck.
Edna spoke about the toll. She and her husband, Arlie, lived across the river when they were first married and owned a Ford roadster. Instead of paying the $1 round trip toll for the car, she would park on the north side of the bridge, walk across to do her shopping, and pay the pedestrian toll which was 15 cents. She said the 85-cent savings meant a lot back then.
Edna didn't attend the bridge dedication because she was in St. Louis that day purchasing her wedding dress. In those days a trip to St. Louis was a big event, and difficult to postpone.
A woman Edna knew witnessed the entire construction of the bridge. The whole time she swore she would never cross it. And, she never did.
Mrs. Leo Birk (nee Florence Danuser) had a father who was a blacksmith and often his work took him to quarries north of Hermann. Thanks to the bridge, she was able to travel to New Florence to see him at the end of a workweek.
Thousands of people gathered at the Missouri River Bridge at Hermann the day the bridge was dedicated. It was a day-long celebration
The bridge truly made travel in the area more convenient. It created an important link in the highway system in this portion of the state.
The September 1930 issue of "Missouri" stated that with the opening of the bridge, the people of Hermann " . . . are now in closer touch with and kin to peoples in the surrounding territory. A barrier has been removed by the opening of this bridge, and a road system, partly as a consequence, has been developed that is at once a wonder and a transformation for Hermann, linking it with the outside world in a way that could not have even been dreamed of in days before."
Chas. Egley, president of the Hermann Bridge Co., is quoted as saying, "What the bridge will contribute to the future material and industrial development of the City of Hermann and of Gasconade County in general we can only surmise at the present time, but it is our firm belief and hope that the results will far exceed our fondest expectations."
I would say that Mr. Egley and his committee achieved their goals, and then some. The residents and businesses of Hermann must salute the Hermann Bridge Company and their efforts toward making Hermann one of the most celebrated communities in the State, a premier community in which to live and visit.
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