Some facts about Beardstown’s old wagon bridge, taken from various newspaper articles:
In March of 1889 Mayor John J. Beatty and W. C. Hagener returned from a fact finding trip to Lacon, on the Illinois River. The men went there to gather data on the cost of building and operating the bridge at that location, in preparation for the construction of Beardstown’s bridge.
The Milwaukee Bridge and Iron Co. contracted to build the bridge for $21,900. City officials at the time the bridge contract was written were: Mayor Beatty, Aldermen B. F. Epler, Sylvester Black, Richard Elwood, Louis Pilger, Chas. Goodwin, Henry Ehrhardt, George Bond and Z. T. Smith; B. F. Thacker, Attorney; T. L. Matthews, Clerk; A. H. Sielschott, Treasurer; Bridge Committee – B. F. Epler, Chairman, H. Ehrhardt and Z. T. Smith.
In July, Judge Cyrus Epler ruled against an injunction brought by opponents of the bridge. The Beardstown Cadet Band welcomed city officials home from court proceedings in Jacksonville as the city celebrated.
The first pile for the bridge was driven on August 29, 1889, at 8:20 a. m. Driving the piles took as many as 150-250 blows from the 2,200 pound hammer.
The contract called for the bridge to be completed by November 30, 1889. The deadline was not met and the city charged the company $540 for failing to finish on time.
The manually operated swing draw span, cranked open to let river traffic pass through the bridge, was first turned on the evening of Thursday, January 16, 1890.
February 6th was the first day the bridge was opened for travel. Fred Moorman was the first pedestrian to pay a toll. The first to pay a toll for crossing the bridge with a vehicle was Dr. George Bley with his rig.
Tolls charged were: 4 horse team and vehicles – 30 cents, 2 horse team and vehicles – 25 cents, 1 horse vehicle – 20 cents, single horse and person – 5 cents, hogs – 3 cents per head, sheep – 2 cents per head and person on foot – 5 cents.
The first bridge tenders to man the toll booth were F. M. Briggs and P. F. Murray. Their salaries were $50 and $45 a month (Briggs was the head bridge tender).
The original wooden bridge was replaced by a steel structure, dedicated in 1898.
The wagon bridge era came to an end on September 13, 1955, when the free bridge outside of the city opened.
The last paying customer crossed at 9:30 a.m., but bridge tenders did not get the name of the driver of the car with out-of-state license plates because city officials gave orders to stop collecting tolls earlier than had been expected. The last person to cross the bridge, at 2:55 p.m., was Lennie Butcher of Schuyler County, who crossed the bridge several times daily. Bridge approaches were closed and the draw span was swung open to allow river traffic to pass through until the old bridge was demolished. Jack Wilcox of the Beardstown Boat Club picked up the bridge tenders, who were then stranded, and brought them to shore.