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Ferries, Bridges Span Area's Travel History
July, 2000

By Craig Ogilvie, Travel Writer
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

     Arkansas once had more "moving bridges" than real bridges. Early travelers had several nicknames for the clumsy ferryboats that operated only when conditions were right. Ranging from crude log rafts to well-made flatboats, ferries could not run during extremely high or low water periods.

     The last privately-owned ferry in Arkansas was replaced by a modern concrete span over the Black River in 1979. 

     The last ferry in the state, Peel Ferry, operated by the Arkansas State Highway and  Transportation Department, operates on a section of Bull Shoals Lake and carries traffic along Highway 125 on its way to and from Missouri. 

     Early bridges also displayed a wide range of building techniques. Constructed of logs and stone, most were carried away by floods that plagued major Arkansas rivers prior to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-constructed dams of the 1940s and 50s. 

     Better materials and advanced building techniques arrived with the 20th century and the state has a few examples that serve as reminders of another time in our past. Many visitors are intrigued by the craftsmanship displayed in the various spans. 

     The R. M. Ruthven Bridge at Cotter was built in 1929-30, and is perhaps the most picturesque in the state. Better known as the "rainbow arch bridge," the concrete and steel landmark spans the White River to connect Marion and Baxter counties. Until a new bridge opened upstream in 1988, the downtown Cotter bridge was part of U.S. 62, a major east-west route through the region. With five graceful arches, the bridge was reportedly the first in the state to be illuminated at night. In 1986, the National Society of Civil Engineers named the bridge a National Engineering Landmark and it is also on the National Register of Historic Places. Presently, a move is underway to restore the 70-year-old structure. 

     Classic examples of early 20th century steel-truss railroad bridges can be seen at Norfork and Cotter. The often-photographed trestles were built in the early 1900s as the railroad was built along the White River between Batesville and Cotter. 

The full release, along with others by the Department of Parks & Tourism, is available electronically through the Arkansas Press Association Bulletin Board: apa@lr.cleaf.com (in-state only) and the Department's Web site: www.arkansas.com under media information.

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