The Springfield-Des Arc Bridge: “Looking Back”

Reprinted here by special permission of the author, Cindy Beckman, a retired Conway High School history teacher who writes local history.

Central Arkansas in the 19th century was significantly different than it is today. Faulkner County, with Conway as the county seat, was not carved out of Conway and Pulaski counties until 1873. Instead, one of the most significant towns in the area was Springfield, which served as the county seat for Conway County.

Springfield stood at the crossroads of two main transportation routes in central Arkansas. The north-south route extended from Clinton to Lewisburg (early Morrilton). The east-west route extended from Springfield to Des Arc. This route was used extensively to transport goods by wagon between Springfield and the White River which had a steamboat port. During the Civil War it was also used by both Union and Confederate forces to move troops in the area.

For many years a ferry was used to cross the North Cadron Creek when traveling along this main thoroughfare. But in 1874, after much anticipation and delay, an iron bridge was installed. By this time, Faulkner County had been established so the cost was eventually shared by both Conway and Faulkner counties.

The Springfield-Des Arc Bridge, as it became known, had what was called a bowstring arch truss design. It was very unusual and unlike any other iron bridge in the area. Zenas King, a major U.S. bridge builder, patented this bowstring design in 1867 but only a few bridges were built using it. This design was considered at the time to be very efficient because of its high carrying capacity and its use of a relatively small amount of iron.

The Springfield-Des Arc Road ceased to be a major thoroughfare once the railroad became well established in the county. The building of the old U.S. Highway 65 from Conway to Damascus in the 1920s also provided a better route from the northern part of the county to the railroad depot in Conway. Although the road was no longer a major thoroughfare, it and the bridge were still frequently used by travelers in the area. Over the years, the bridge withstood three major floods including the 1927 flood which dislodged it. After that flood, wire cables were attached to the bridge and tied to nearby trees to re-position and secure it.

The bridge also suffered other abuses through the years. A heavy log truck once fell through the bridge. Another time, an arsonist tried to burn the bridge and destroyed the wooden floor. In more recent times, a person with a bulldozer ignored the weight limit signs and paid the price when the bulldozer fell through.

Early in 1983, the Conway Chamber of Commerce and the Faulkner County Historical Society began a campaign to have the bridge listed on the National Register of Historic Structures. Although the process took several years, the bridge was placed on the Register in 1987.

In 1991, a new concrete bridge was built a short distance upstream. The road was rerouted and the old bridge was taken out of operation. It was then restored and vehicle barriers were erected. The road to the bridge was renamed Guy Murphy Lane after the man who had done so much to get it listed in the National Register.

Historical markers were placed at both ends of the bridge by the respective county historical societies to note the significance of the bridge.

Unfortunately, the one on the Faulkner County side was stolen before they could even have the dedication service in July, 1992.

Plans were also made to create a public park on the Faulkner County side but that never happened.

Today, the bridge is in a state of disrepair. Guy Murphy Lane has disappeared and the only way to get to the bridge is by following a dirt path.

It is still the oldest bridge of its kind in Arkansas and now has the distinction of being the oldest bridge of its kind in the entire United States.

This summer, it will be moved to Lake Beaverfork where it will be restored and placed over the northwestern cove of the lake, providing a walking/bike path between the fishing pier and the swimming area.