The "Vidock"

This past week, I noticed the neat sidewalk work on the bridge over the railroad tracks leading into downtown Willow Springs. It brought to mind the importance of this entryway into town. Over the decades, it has been known by several names, like overhead, overpass, railroad underpass, viaduct, and my favorite, the "vidock." Use this pronunciation if you want to sound like a local.
 
A local landmark built by the railroad in 1893 was known as the overhead, the bridge over the five rail tracks cutting one side of Willow Springs from the other. Before the automobile, train/wagon, and train/people accidents were common at crossings. The Center Street crossing carried the bulk of the traffic directly across the rails because of its location in the center of the town and the train depot. The automobile changed that, pulling east-west traffic up on Second Street and east a block to Harris Street and the viaduct.
 
The first viaduct was a steel frame bridge built by the railroad with a wooden floor. It was a fairly steep grade up and down at the bridge ends. It was built before the automobile and designed for something other than the heavier loads and traffic entering and leaving the lumber milling operations on the east side of town. Traffic crossing the bridge was noisy as the board's constant movement kept bolts loose or worn out. The environs under the bridge became known as a "lover's lane" and tied to other mischief on First Street. The viaduct's condition deteriorated so badly that the City condemned it.
 
The January 3, 1924 issue of the Willow Springs News, under the headline, "After Several Years, Project Finally Approved," reported that "Bids for the bridge over the Frisco tracks on Harris Street in Willow Springs will be received by the State Highway Commission September 1. The overhead will replace the old wooden structure now in use and will close several years of negotiations by the City, the Chamber of Commerce, the Highway Department, the Frisco Railroad, and the Federal Government. Just how soon the construction of the new bridge will begin following acceptance of the bid could not be learned."
 
"Several years ago, the wooden overhead was condemned by the City, but later, the Frisco rebuilt portions of it. The Chamber of Commerce has repeatedly protested its unsightliness and dangerous condition and later became even more interested when the lack of a new structure held up the building of a new farm-to-market road west to the Douglas County line." Today, this road is known as State Route 76. The town was to struggle for another decade before any work toward replacing the bridge began.
 
In 1932, a group of Willow Springs residents petitioned Frisco to remove the viaduct or overhead bridge, and the newspaper reported the movement was gaining favor.
 
In June 1937, community impatience with the railroad's lack of bridge maintenance resulted in legal action. The Willow Springs News reported, "With fire in its eye, the City of Willow Springs will demand a slowdown concerning the overhead bridge over the Frisco railroad tracks in the business district of the City. A St. Louis attorney has been contacted and will be retained immediately to go before the Frisco and the Missouri Public Service Commission to have the bridge repaired, rebuilt, or placed in condition so it may be opened."
 
"Mayor Russell Corn wrote the Frisco and asked that something be done concerning the bridge, which has been condemned and closed for almost a year. An integral part of the City's street system and an important avenue to stores in the City, its closing has been detrimental not only to local residents living in the south part of the City but as the bridge leads to an important county road, it being out of use causes much inconvenience to at least one-third of the City's rural trade. After various attempts have failed to get the Frisco to rebuild the bridge, as was once understood, the City today took steps to force the railroad into action."
 
"The Frisco, in a letter received by the City, contends that the City is responsible for the upkeep of the bridge that arose several years ago and was taken to the Public Service Commission. At that time, local city officials stated it was settled that the bridge belonged to the railroad entirely and that it was Frisco's responsibility."
 
It would be another two years before further progress, though temporary repairs kept the old bridge standing. It seems to me a good part of the delay was the Depression. Only when President Roosevelt's WPA funds began pouring in was there money to build and maintain infrastructure. But in late September 1939, five federal construction programs were commenced in Willow Springs, amounting to $293,000, a significant boost to the local economy. The projects included constructing a city sewer system, a farm-to-market road, a high school gymnasium, an auditorium, and the American Legion Hall. This project was specified as "built of concrete with no overhead trusses or metal work. The approach on Harris Street to Front (First) Street will be paved from curb to curb, and 20-foot paving will be laid for approximately a quarter of a mile from the southwest end of the overhead. Front Street will pass under the overhead." Just like that, First Street got paved with federal money.
 
The fifth project was an "overhead bridge." Once they finally started, the job was completed in less than a year, and in local vernacular, the overhead changed to "the viaduct" after the arch-like appearance of its construction. On August 22, 1940, the Willow Springs News wrote, "Last Thursday, August 15th, the new $75,000 viaduct over the Frisco right-of-way at Willow Springs was dedicated in a most appropriate ceremony." The paper went on to report that about one hundred visitors of prominence had lunch in the banquet room of the Hotel Horton. Adolph Sass acted as toastmaster and introduced the Chief Engineer of the State Highway Department, who gave a short talk on how Missouri was one of the first states to use viaducts as a step toward traffic safety.
 
*When finished, the bridge measured 262 feet long and spanned six tracks. The concrete roadway surface was 24 feet wide, with a 5-foot pedestrian sidewalk. It is still used as an important gateway into Willow Springs. 
 
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Howell County News

110 W. Main St.,
Willow Springs, MO 65793
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