5/21/2007 11:38:00 AM Bridge to nowhere Wabash crossing at Palestine fell victim to red tape, Hoosier hubris
The impressive Art Deco-styled Sugar Creek bridge was part of the Illinois-side approach to the river crossing; now itís used by local farmers. (Tom Compton photo-illustration)
The metal sign attached to the moss-covered concrete bridge, out on East Franklin Street at the edge of Palestine, simply says "Station 44 + 05, Built 1937, State of Illinois Bond Issue Route 163, Section 103-B."
Nowadays the Art Deco-styled bridge is only used by a few farmers to get to their fields, four-wheeler riders looking for fun in river bottoms, hunters and anglers going to camps along the river and kids looking for a place to be alone or have a little party. But it is also the remains of the dream for a road that, when completed, would have crossed the Wabash River into Indiana - and may have made Palestine a city as vital as Terre Haute or Vincennes.
In 1918 the State of Illinois developed a highway system through the issuance of bonds. Those first highways were numbered according to the bond issued in numbers 1 through 46. In 1924 the General Assembly approved $140 million in bonds to build more slab roads across the state. These roads were numbered 47 through 185. The stretch running from Illinois Route 1 at Gordon Junction though the Village of Palestine and across the Wabash River was originally designated SBI 163.
In 1936, then state representative and publisher of the Daily News, F.W. Lewis, made several trips to Indianapolis to confer with Indiana state engineers and leaders about building a connecting road on the Indiana side of the river. Plans were drawn for a road to go from Sullivan, Ind., south to about one-half mile north of Riverton, where it would then connect to Illinois Route 163 with a bridge.
At the time it was strongly believed that if Illinois could build the one-mile stretch of road from Palestine to the river, Indiana would do its part to connect the two states.
With only some of the rights of way secured, construction was begun on the bridge over Sugar Creek east of Palestine and a small portion of the one-mile stretch of road to the river. Unfortunately in the time it took to secure the remaining rights of way to the river, Indiana engineers decided it would be cheaper to connect Indiana Route 154 and Illinois Route 135 with a bridge at Hutsonville, than it would to build a new road to Palestine.
Also delaying progress on the Palestine routing was that it would be a new crossing of a federal waterway, which would require permission from the Secretary of War and Chief of Engineers to cross.
On Jan., 27 1939, ground was broken on the Hutsonville Bridge, and in November of that same year the bridge was completed, dashing all of Palestine's hopes for its own bridge over the Wabash.
Sometime during 1937, SBI 163 was changed to Illinois Route 33, which now runs from Highway 128 near Beecher City to U.S. 50 near Vincennes. The portion of today's Route 33 from Palestine to U.S. 50 was originally called Illinois Route 181.
Today's state road numbered 163 is a short highway connecting Illinois 157 and Illinois 158 southeast of St. Louis, from Millstadt to Centreville. There is no Route 181 in today's Illinois road system.
In recent weeks, Illinois Department of Transportation survey crews have been looking at the old Sugar Creek bridge with an eye toward its weight-bearing load, as farmers do drive heavy tractors and grain trucks over the bridge. Stencils on the underside of the bridge indicate that it was last painted in 1970.
Posted: Monday, May 28, 2007
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Good article. The Daily News needs more like this one. Why not print more about: The Oil Boom of 1910; History of the County Seat building; The original Hutsonville bridge; The Palestine railroad roundhouse and yard; The only hanging of a female in Illinois; The laying of the brick section of Route #1 - supposedly by a one-armed American Indian (contack Morgan Newlin in Hutsonville for facts on this one); The building of the Hutsonville Power Plant; The building WPA of the Hutsonville Gym (& others); The Playhouse theater in Palestine; The Eaton family and the naming of Porterville; The early flying pioneers just west of Palestine (Rousche family, I bleieve??); Flatrock's claim to fame for concrete sidewalks; Oblong being a unique name in all of USA, and why, and about the Soldier who addressed a letter to his family as Oblong, USA and it got there; The founding of the L.S. Heath company from the toffee bars made in the back of the drug store; A listing of all the theaters which have existed in the county and when they closed and when torn down. History of various hospitals and prominate doctors in the county; History about the Hutson Family and the naming of the town; History about the brick factory in Hutsonville; History about the now demolished County Jail; History of the County's Carnige Library; Something about the County Fair's history; -- just to mention a few. John Warnke