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A View From The Attic

Week of May 29, 2011


Fremont County Historical Society

Crossing the Missouri River

by Lona Lewis


Explorers and settlers moving west from St Louis followed the Missouri River into the area. Hamburg soon became an important landing for goods and travelers coming up from St Joseph. Further north, Civil Bend along the bend in the River provided entry into the area.

The challenge was how to get across the river with its swift meandering current and bluffs on the west side. Early crossings were made in an area that was south of the current location of Bartlett. It was shallow enough to allow wagons and horses to ford. During the winter, the ice made it possible for horse and buggies to cross.

Ferry boats, operating between Nebraska City and Civil Bend, were the first commercial answer. Traffic steadily increased to the point that in 1859 a license for a second ferry boat was granted. Judge S.E. Hedges granted the license and established the fare to be fifty cents for a wagon and two horse, mules or oxen. The new ferry boat was named "Nebraska City" and it was manned by William Bebout. In July 1859 on one of its first crossings, Bebout delivered two new threshing machines to the local farmers, allowing them to expand crop production in the rich soil of the County.

The next solution in 1880s was a pontoon bridge. It crossed the river west of Percival to Nebraska City The bridge was a series of pontoons that crossed the river in a zig zag course. The pattern of the bridge allowed the pontoons to stay together in the swift current and they could be separated to allow river traffic. At the time it was said to be the largest draw bridge of its kind in the world.

In 1897, the first bridge to span the river was constructed by the railroad. The railroad had the right away but private use was made of the bridge for road traffic. It served as a toll bridge for thirty years with accounts of teams and wagons that sometimes had to backup because of an unexpected train.

n 1930 the Waubonsie Bridge was erected to cross the river. It served as a toll bridge. Tolls were charged per head crossing and there are many stories in the county of people hiding small children in the car to avoid paying a toll. In the 1980s, the current bridge was built and today is one of only three bridges crossing the river between the Missouri border and Omaha.

The next View will tell the full story of the pontoon bridge. Information for this View was from "Thumbprints in Time" and the "Fremont County , Images of America Series".