From the Eads Bridge to the Stan Span: 140 Years of St. Louis Bridges

Categories: Architecture

The MacArthur Bridge
The Eads Bridge remains an engineering marvel, and its design provided inspiration for countless bridges throughout the world. In St. Louis, the bridge paved the way for more bridges that quickly rose up and down the river, inspired by its three-arch design. The Merchants (1890), McKinley (1910) and MacArthur (1910-17) bridges expanded St. Louis' burgeoning rail connections. These bridges switched to a steel-truss system with massive, hulking superstructures that convey the sense of optimism and boldness of that era's railroad magnates.

The Chain of Rocks Bridge
The Chain of Rocks (1927) and Veterans (1951, now the Martin Luther King) bridges harkened a new era in bridge building in St. Louis. While the earlier railroad bridges provided limited vehicular access, the new bridges served only the automobile, which was rapidly replacing the railroad as America's preferred method of interstate travel. The arrival of the Poplar Street Bridge in 1967 further cemented the primacy of the automobile by providing interstate access across its spare, modernist design that is truly aesthetically inferior to the Eads Bridge to the north.

The Poplar Street Bridge
The new Stan Musial Veterans Bridge, which opened on Sunday, is a fitting bookend to the 140 years of bridge building in St. Louis. The "Stan Span" represents a new era in engineering, and while its design is not as revolutionary as the Eads Bridge was, it still secures a first: The bridge has no piers blocking river traffic in the main channel. As thousands of people witnessed at its opening last Saturday, the bridge also provides a breathtaking design that would have probably even impressed James Eads. Me? I'm still waiting for an elephant's opinion.

The Stan Musial Veterans Bridge

Looking straight up at the Missouri tower of the Stan Span

Crowds on the bridge the Saturday before opening to auto traffic

Chris Naffziger writes about architecture at St. Louis Patina. Contact him via e-mail at

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