Kansas City’s Hannibal Bridge: a bridge to the city’s future

Michael Bushnell
Northeast News


This week we offer a circa 1913 Detroit Publishing Phost-Tint postcard showing the original Hannibal Bridge over the Missouri River, taken during a period of high water, given the lack of a defined river bank and the height of the water on the bridge pylons. One could guess either the 1903 or 1908 floods.


The original Hannibal Bridge was designed by world-renowned engineer Octave Chanute and, at the time of its construction, was the first railroad bridge across the Missouri River. Its completion ultimately decided the fate of other river towns competing for the same bridge, those being Leavenworth and Atchison, Kan., and St. Joseph, Mo.


At that time, those cities were growing at a faster rate than Kansas City in not only population but also in livestock trading receipts. Thanks to the quick thinking of Congressman Robert Thompson Van Horn who introduced legislation on the House Floor that secured the funding for the bridge in Kansas City.


The bridge was a marvel of modern engineering that allowed one span of the bridge to swing aside to allow for the passage of river boat traffic. The bridge opened on July 3, 1869 to much fanfare and excitement. The festivities included brass bands, a hot-air balloon ascension and speeches by dignitaries announcing a great link for North and South trade.


In the foreground can be seen a giant knob of earth, a remnant of one of the rocky bluffs that existed prior to the construction of downtown. Two power poles can also be seen, their bases in the flood waters swirling over the railroad tracks at the edge of the river. What look like shanties stand at the base of the bluff adjacent to another set of railroad tracks barely visible in the bottom of the postcard.


By the mid-1910’s, however, the original span was fast becoming obsolete. The growth of Kansas City and the advent of the automobile made it imperative that a new bridge across the Missouri be constructed.


At the time, construction of the ASB (Armour, Swift and Burlington) Bridge was stalled, leaving the partially constructed bridge piers standing in the middle of the river like massive stone monoliths. Growth of the city meant a substantial growth in rail traffic across the old Hannibal Bridge, as well as the Chouteau Bridge farther east. To that end, an upgrade to the old bridge was needed.


The “new” Hannibal Bridge that opened in 1917 met this need, constructed with two levels, the upper portion designed for automobile traffic and the lower span designed for the railroad.


In 1956, when the “new” Broadway Bridge was opened, the upper deck of the old Hannibal was mostly dismantled and auto traffic was rerouted over the new span. The lower deck of the “old” Hannibal Bridge is still used extensively for railroad traffic across the river. In the modern chrome postcard, both the circa 1917 Hannibal Bridge is seen next to the new Broadway Bridge, now named for noted Negro Baseball League and Kansas City Monarch John “Buck” O’Neill.


Currently, construction is under way for a new bridge, slated for completion in 2024.


This card was mailed on July 21, 1913 to Miss Angie Blair of Medicine Lodge, Kan. The message reads: “Dear Friend, all well and doing fine. Pratt is on the boom of the chautauqua this week and the fair next. All send love and Mattie is well and sends love and everybody is getting along fine. A little warm but they are winding up harvest. Yours, M.J. McCleary.”

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