Harahan Bridge and Frisco Bridge at Memphis


Filed in: Main.HomePage · Modified on : Thu, 19 Nov 20

Do you know your Memphis Bridges?

Did you know that Memphis is home to four bridges that cross the Mississippi River into Arkansas, and that one of those bridges is over 100 years old? Four rail and highway bridges cross the Mississippi River at Memphis. They are, in order of their opening year: Frisco Bridge (1892), Harahan Bridge (1916), Memphis-Arkansas Memorial Bridge (1949) and the Hernando de Soto Bridge (1973).

More on Memphis from Wikipedia

Memphians first spanned the Mississippi in 1892, when they stretched a railroad bridge, now known as the Frisco Bridge, across the river. It wasn’t until 1916, though, that the Harahan Bridge opened, providing access for both trains and cars. And what a thrill ride it was. Although locomotives rumbled along safely inside the bridge’s steel framework, cars and trucks used narrow, one-way wooden roadways that were actually suspended along the outsides of the bridge, with just a low railing keeping drivers from flying off into space. Anyone afraid of heights simply didn’t drive to Arkansas until 1949, when the Memphis-Arkansas Bridge, still in use today, opened. Harahan’s wooden roadways were dangerous in other ways.

In 1928, sparks from a passing locomotive ignited the planks, causing a spectacular fire. Traffic was blocked for months until the roadway could be replaced. These days, vehicles hum along the four lanes of the Memphis-Arkansas Bridge to the south or the Hernando DeSoto bridge carrying I-40 to the north. Trains still use the Harahan, but the roadways were pulled up years ago. Still, there may be life in the old bridge yet. The Arkansas and Tennessee departments of transportation are looking into the possibility of stretching a pedestrian walkway and bike path along the Harahan Bridge, as a way of extending the Mississippi River Trail – which currently stops at the Tennessee Welcome Center – across the river.

In April 2009, The Memphis Flyer reported the following: Top 10 Eyesores

Bridges Cited As Eyesore

When it opened in 1892, the Frisco Bridge was an engineering marvel — the longest bridge in North America and the third-longest span in the world. It only carried one set of railroad tracks, though, so it was joined in 1916 by the Harahan Bridge, which not only carried more trains but also featured one of the scariest travel adventures in the country. A narrow, wooden roadway was suspended from each side of the bridge, just a low railing separating nervous drivers from the Mississippi River far below. An unexpected hazard was revealed in 1928, when sparks from a passing train set those planks afire. Though the roadways were eventually rebuilt, the automobile traffic dilemma wasn't really resolved until the Memphis-Arkansas Bridge opened in 1949.

All three bridges are still in use today, the Frisco and Harahan carrying freight trains on a daily basis. They were so sturdily constructed that they will probably stand for another century. But they sure look like hell, don't they? The ownership of a railroad bridge can be a complicated mess — often a joint venture between the states and the various railroads who use it — but would it really be that much trouble to slap a coat of silver paint on these things every 10 years or so?

Frisco on left, Harahan on rightMemphis-Arkansas on left, Harahan on right and Frisco, center.

Before construction of the Memphis-Arkansas Bridge, this picture shows the two original crossings.

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