The Rock Island Centennial/Master Sgt. Stanley Talbot Memorial Bridge turns 80!

On July 12, 1940, a modern, four-lane highway bridge was dedicated and opened to traffic. This bridge was named Rock Island Centennial Bridge. Its structured design supports the “present day high speed passenger and transport traffic” and serves not only local commuters but also the “motor travel on U. S. Highways 67 and 150 (Howard 1). This bridge boasts box girder rib tied arches, which was unusual in the United States at the time. It has a simple design unlike the I-74 or Iowa-Illinois Memorial Bridge whose first span was built in 1935 and its twin in 1961 and the Government Bridge built in 1896.

Notable features of the Centennial Bridge include its claim as the first bridge across the Mississippi with four lanes as well as having the lowest rates of any toll bridge on the Mississippi River. Centennial Bridge also would meet the needs of the growing cities it would serve. As stated in Final Report on Construction of the Mississippi River Bridge between Rock Island, Illinois and Davenport, Iowa, “In 1938 the Government Bridge carried more vehicles than either the George Washingon Bridge in New York or the San Francisco Bay Bridge in California” (Howard 4). The need for this bridge was evident and bolstered by the growing populations and industrial and community interchange between Davenport, Iowa, and Rock Island and Moline in Illinois.

The history of this bridge begins in the mid-1930s with city officials of Rock Island, civic-minded men, and Mayor Robert P. Galbraith. In order to garner support for this new bridge, they retained Ash-Howard-Needles & Tammenm, a consulting engineering company. They provided the valuable information to make a case for constructing a bridge in the proposed location and the type of bridge most beneficial to the community.

On November 23, 1937, Congressman Chester Thompson of Illinois introduced H.R. 8466 a bill “‘Authorizing the City of Rock Island, Illinois, or its assigns, to construct, maintain, and operate a toll bridge across the Mississippi River, at or near Rock Island, Illinois, and to a place at or near the City of Davenport, Iowa'” (Howard 6). This bill received presidential approval on March 18, 1938, thus securing necessary approval for continuing their bridge building plans.

Construction of this bridge began on March 6, 1939. The bridge was completely financed by the City of Rock Island with no obligation to the taxpayers and without any financial support from federal or state governments. There was an unsuccessful attempt to secure funding through the Public Works Administration which helped fund the I-74 bridge construction. The bridge’s cost was $2,500,000 in revenue bonds issued in the name of the City of Rock Island.

Next on their agenda was securing a location for the bridge. The location was to provide quick access to the retail districts of the two cities. The official termini were 15th Street in Rock Island and Gaines Street in Davenport.

The box girder tied arches was a combination of two types of spans: the tied arch spans and girder spans. This design resulted in “a harmonious, logical, economical and aesthetically satisfying layout” (Howard 8). Additionally, the bridge featured sodium vapor lighting for the roadways and both sodium vapor and incandescent lamps in the plazas.

To celebrate this momentous event, the completion of the City’s new sewage treatment plant, and the 100th year of the City’s existence, an elaborate dedication program was planned. A host of prominent speakers including Lieutenant Governor B. B. Hickenlooper of Iowa and Charles P. Casey, director of the Illinois department of public works. The ceremonial ribbon was cut and a bottle of champagne was broken by Miss Bonnie Galbraith, daughter of Mayor Robert P. Galbraith.

The zenith of the festivities was a dance held in the Rock Island Armory with Freddy Martin’s famous orchestra supplying the music. On the day of the dedication, the bridge was toll free until midnight.

In July 2017, the Rock Island Centennial Bridge was renamed Master Sgt. Stanley W. Talbot Memorial Bridge in honor of Master Sergeant’s service as an Illinois State Police Officer. He passed away during an incident of someone trying to flee a roadside safety checkpoint at the intersection of 15th Street and 2nd Avenue.

In our collection, we have a variety of material regarding this fascinating bridge. One that helped us to tell its story today is the Final Report on Construction of the Mississippi River Bridge between Rock Island, Illinois and Davenport, Iowa by Howard, Needles, Tammen & Bergendoff.

  • Howard, Needles, Tammen & Bergendoff. Final Report on Construction of the Mississippi River Bridge between Rock Island, Illinois and Davenport, Iowa. (Kansas City, MO : 1945)
  • Wheeler, Blake. “Bridge Dedicated and Opened to Traffic.” The Daily Times, vol. 54, no. 178, July 12, 1940: 1, 24.

(posted by Kathryn and Cristina)

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