Fresh Off the Easel - "Chain of Rocks Bridge on Route 66"

Last year, I drove to Madison, Illinois to explore the Chain of Rocks Bridge, just north of downtown St. Louis.

I learned that the bridge’s colorful name came from a 17-mile shoal, or series of rocky rapids, called the Chain of Rocks beginning just north of St. Louis. Initially, the bridge over the Mississippi River was to be a straight 40-foot roadway with five steel trusses forming 10 spans. But the riverboat men protested because the bridge was to run near two water intake towers for the pumping station serving St. Louis.

So the mile long bridge was constructed with a 30-degree turn midway across the river. It opened to traffic in 1929, at a cost of $2.5 million, and was heralded for the tourism it brought to St. Louis. It also became a significant landmark for travelers driving Route 66.

Eventually it was closed in 1968 after Interstate 270 opened just 2,000 feet upstream. At one time the Army demolition team considered blowing it up for practice. But the value of scrap steel plummeted and the bridge was saved. In 1980, film director John Carpenter used the gritty, rusting bridge as a site for his science fiction film, Escape from New York.Otherwise, the bridge was abandoned.

In the late 1980s, a group called Trailnet began a massive cleanup and restoration of the bridge and linked it to more than 300 miles of trails on both sides of the river. The old Chain of Rocks Bridge reopened to the public as part of the Route 66 Bikeway in 1999. 

I am grateful for Trailnet's endeavors in the restoration as it was a breathtaking experience walking across the bridge. At the midway point, I stopped to read the informational signs about the ecology of the Mississippi River and the environment. I leaned over the railing and watched the rushing water swirl around the intake towers, 60 feet below. I also watched cyclists and families enjoy a pleasant afternoon crossing the bridge from Missouri to Illinois.

This painting, in a contemporary mat black plein air frame with gold insert, will be available in the Live Charity Art Show and Sale to Benefit MS, Friday, September 25, 7pm (CST), on Facebook.