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The Dardanelle Pontoon Bridge was the largest pontoon bridge in existence in the United States, crossing the Arkansas River between Dardanelle (Yell County) and Russellville (Pope County). A toll bridge, it opened for traffic in 1891 and lasted until the construction of a steel bridge replacement in 1929.
The bridge cost $25,000, financed by a group of stockholders and built by Roberts and Sons of Independence, Missouri. Construction started in 1889, and the bridge opened for traffic on April 1, 1891. It was over 2,200 feet long and eighteen feet wide, with a load limit of 9,000 pounds. Originally, each end of the bridge was anchored to a piling, and only the center actually floated. However, the fluctuation of the river level led to the removal of the pilings, so that the bridge floated entirely upon seventy-two boats, held in place by a steel cable connected to a series of seven towers that stretched along the length of the bridge. A special steamboat was kept on hand to assist in removing the bridge, which could be disassembled into thirteen separate sections in the event of high water or to open the way for river traffic. The steamboat was then used to ferry passengers and freight across the river.
One month after its opening, the bridge almost washed out, and its owners sold it to a company of Dardanelle residents. In 1892, it was purchased by the Dardanelle Railroad Company. It was later sold to the McAlester Fuel Company.
The initial toll rates were as follows: five cents for a person walking, fifteen cents for a person on horseback, five cents per horse or cow, twenty-five cents for a single buggy, and thirty-five cents for a double buggy. When automobiles were introduced to the area, they were charged fifty cents per car and seventy-five cents per truck or five-passenger car.
In early 1928, a rise in the river level tore the bridge from its moorings, and more than forty of the seventy-two pontoons were swept downstream. The owners wanted to abandon the bridge, given that a new steel bridge had begun construction nearby on November 30, 1927. However, the State Department of Transportation, recognizing the need for the pontoon bridge in the interim, provided aid for the replacement of the lost pontoons, and the bridge was back in commission by late February, though it served the local population for less than a year after it was rebuilt. The new Highway 22 bridge was dedicated on January 17, 1929, and the Dardanelle Pontoon Bridge was removed.
For additional information:Parks, Louise Dunbar. “Reminiscences of the Keeper of the Old Pontoon Bridge.” Arkansas Gazette Magazine. February 2, 1936, p. 3.
“Pontoon Bridge and Related History.” Yell County Historical and Genealogical Association Bulletin 9.3 (1984): 1–8.
Guy LancasterEncyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture
Last Updated 8/3/2017
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