The Red Bridge has carried over 160 years of history
By Diane Euston
The Old Blue Ford on the Santa Fe Trail was the site where thousands of wagon trains crossed the Blue River and moved along to their goal of the west. Starting in 1821, the Santa Fe Trail traveled through the area and across the familiar locations of Hickman Mills, Red Bridge and Verona Hills.
One of the arduous crossings for the wagon trains was near current-day Red Bridge Rd. where they had to cross water at the Blue River. Within a few years, the Oregon and California Trails soon followed the same route as the Santa Fe Trail. Early in this area’s history, a trading post was also placed near this ford in order to trade with Native Americans.
The remaining ruts or swales from the weight of the wagon trains can still be seen at Minor Park and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Because of its location on the Santa Fe Trail and the most favorable passing ground at the time, the area of Old Blue Ford at current-day Minor Park was the best crossing because no bridge was available at the time.
A bridge would have been a huge improvement to this area, but it was delayed.
This segment of trail predates the alternate routes of Westport and Westport Landing; from 1821 to 1845, this route through the area now known as Red Bridge and Minor Park was the exclusive route from Independence along the Santa Fe Trail.
The Jackson County Historical Society reports that between the years 1847 and 1850, 40,000 western emigrants departed from Westport. Prior to 1847, wagon trains-thousands of them- crossed at Minor Park.
Well-known pioneers such as James Bridger and George Donner and his “Donner party” made their way through this crossing. A bridge would make travel so much more sustainable. As more trail routes such as Westport Landing became available, the route from Independence used through current-day Minor Park needed a boost.
The First Red Bridge
In 1859, the first bridge to cross the Blue River at current-day Red Bridge Rd. was commissioned.
Not only did this bridge change traffic along the Trails, but it was built by an infamous man in American history and his father.
George Moncrief Todd was born in Scotland in 1807 and married his wife, Margaret there. The couple traveled to Quebec first and then moved to the United States (in Franklin Co., NY) by 1850.
George and Mary Todd had seven children in which four lived to adulthood: Thomas, Mary, Margaret and George. George, born in 1839, was born in Quebec, Canada.
By about 1855, the Todd family traveled to Jackson Co., Mo. and worked building structures around the town. George Martin, an eyewitness, told the Kansas State Historical Society that George Todd and his son were practical stonemasons. As George, Jr. grew to adulthood, he was trained in the same craft.
In 1859, the well-trained Scottish stonemason and his two sons were hired to build a bridge over the Blue River. It is said that the 100-foot-long covered wooden bridge rested upon three stone piers and was painted red, thus the birth of the name “Red Bridge.”
The onslaught of the Civil War was devastating for the Todd family. It is said that in 1861, the Todd’s had a contract to construct a sewer in the ravine at the city square (current-day City Market). George Martin recalled, “During the progress of this work, Tom was struck and killed by a stone which rolled down the embankment to the bottom on the ravine.”
Tom left a young wife, Hannah and a son named Henry. As was common at the time, Tom’s widow married her brother-in-law George Todd (b. 1839) in 1861. At the onset of the Civil War, George joined the Missouri State Guard. By January 1862, he had left organized service and joined Quantrill’s guerrillas. Described as “vicious and sadistic,” George quickly rose to be one of Quantrill’s lieutenants.
Most of the men who joined Quantrill’s band had personal issue with those who prevented the growth or sustainment of slavery in the west. George Todd’s life doesn’t indicate any reason he would have chosen to join ranks with these men; he was much like William C. Quantrill. He had no reason to become a bushwhacker, yet he became one of the most dangerous villains along the border during the Civil War- just a few years after he helped build the first Red Bridge in Jackson County.
George Todd participated in several raids, including the Lawrence Massacre. He was killed by a bullet to the neck northeast of Independence by a Union sharpshooter on Oct. 21, 1864 during the Second Battle of Independence. He was buried in the middle of the night at Woodlawn Cemetery by fellow bushwhackers. He was 25 years old.
A Call for a Second Bridge
In 1854, Urial Holmes and his family decided to move from Tennessee to Jackson Co., Mo. and settled on what would become Red Bridge Rd. about a half mile from the Old Blue Ford. Less than two years later, Urial passed away, leaving a widow and seven children.
Urial’s son, Urial “Riley” Holmes (1846-1940) stayed on the family farm and witnessed the building of the original Red Bridge. By 1892, Holmes petitioned the county for a new bridge as the original built over the Blue River was worn out.
Even though the bridge had seen better days, some of the lumber was still in decent shape. Local carpenter George W. Kemper (1830-1927) was hired to dismantle the bridge. According to the Kansas City Star, “[Urial] Holmes bought the old wooden structure, using the timbers on a nearby farm.”
Lumber from the original Red Bridge was used to build a new, large barn on Harry S. Truman’s grandfather, Solomon Young’s land in Grandview. Other pieces were used on Holmes’ farm. Although the Solomon Young barn was lost in a fire, some original timbers from the old 1859 Red Bridge have survived.
About a quarter mile south of the original bridge, a steel and timber bridge in 1892 replaced the 33-year-old covered structure. To keep with tradition, the new bridge was also painted red.
The Third Bridge
In 1930, macadamizing what we know as Red Bridge Rd. was underway from Holmes Rd. all the way to Lee’s Summit. Due to the age of the second Red Bridge, some repairs were made to stretch the life of the structure.
Age of the second Red Bridge and the popularization of the automobile had further change come to southern Jackson County. Scenic driving tours became all the rage in the 1920s, and some of the favorite routes included crossing over the Red Bridge.
Modernizing the roads and bridges for the motor car were part of the area’s plan into the 1930s. At the time, Red Bridge Rd. east of the bridge was known as the Hickman Mills-Lees Summit Road and in other spots was called Longview and Red Bridge Rd.
Plans in 1932 were underway to build a new bridge and choose one name for the road. It was proposed to rename the entire road “10 S.” because it was ten miles south of Linwood Blvd.
That plan didn’t stick, but the new Red Bridge did.
In November 1932, a new bridge was being designed by the county. The original plan was to make a typical concrete structure. Immediately, there was concern of stripping the area of its early history. The bridge, locals lamented, must be red. It was, after all, the Red Bridge.
One idea arose to dye the concrete used red, but coloring concrete didn’t always work out well. The process was “too hazardous.”
A solution was found when the county was able to secure some red granite that was found near Cape Girardeau; they would use that granite for the handrails. Designed by local architect Richard N. Wakefield, the steel portions of the bridge were also painted red to keep with the theme.
The Kansas City Star declared, “Tradition triumphs over standardization in the case of the Red Bridge.” After spending $35,000 on the structure, then-Jackson Co. judge Harry S. Truman dedicated the bridge at its opening in 1933.
A Fourth Bridge and a Nod to the Past
Increased traffic and the need for a larger bridge had residents of the Red Bridge neighborhood up in arms in 2006. There was no good way to keep the old steel Red Bridge built in 1932 as a thoroughfare.
There was just something about having a Red Bridge remain over the Blue River.
A solution was found when the Park Board proposed that the 1932 steel structure become part of a pedestrian and bike trail through Minor Park. A new, modern bridge would be built well above the height of the old one.
In 2010, the two-year project began. In order to pay homage to the pioneers of the past, the new bridge had ten decorative panels installed. Each panel features an individual who has ties to the Three Trails Crossing in the 1800s. The portraits are illuminated at night, and the new bridge opened in November 2011.
A Bridge is a Symbol of Our Early History
In 1859, the first bridge was opened and given its namesake when someone along the way had some extra red paint. Little remains of that first and second bridge, because those who can recall them have long since passed away.
But over the years, keeping with the tradition of a red bridge has remained – each replacement has been a tribute to the first red bridge whose name continues to grace a street name, a neighborhood and a shopping center.
In 1892 and 1932, residents of the area insisted that designers pay homage to that little red bridge and continue its tradition. Whether a covered bridge, a steel bridge with granite accents or a modern structure we cross over today, people have held onto the nostalgia of that original bridge as our imaginations can envision all this crossing has seen over the past 200 years.
Diane writes a blog on the history of the area. To read more of the stories, go to http://www.newsantafetrailer.blogspot.com