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MEMORIES IN FOCUS: Marion's signature structure for 35 years years ago

MARION HISTORICAL MUSEUM PHOTO

Workers in 1884 use cranes to lift stones to complete a "forever" double-arch stone bridge across the Luta on Main St. in Marion.

The year was 1883. Boom times economically, fueled by rising public interest in supposedly medicinal mineral springs both in town and nearby, left Marion poised for rapid growth.

Standing in the way was a rickety old bridge that provided the only crossing of a river that bisected the town north to south.

Rotten timbers were slowly but surely giving out, forcing regular disruptive repair. The only alternative was a treacherous ford several blocks to the south.

Even the name of the river was being changed in preparation for Marion’s boom. Gone was the old moniker of Muddy Creek. In its place, at the strong urging of Record editor and later governor E.W. Hoch, was a more elegant name: the Luta.

Although popular opinion nowadays holds that “luta” means “mud,” it in fact translates from local Native American languages as “red” and from some European languages as “fighting.”

Calls for a “forever” structure to replace the feeble wooden bridge across the Luta at Main St. began as early as 1880.

They dominated city, Centre Township, and Marion County governmental meetings for the next three years until the issue of a new Luta bridge — along with a host of other bridges — was presented to voters in an 1883 referendum.

All of the bridges lost, the Luta bridge by the smallest margin, 210 votes.

A petition drive forced a second vote later that year. Along strictly regional lines, with voters in Doyle Township near Florence switching sides, the bridge finally was approved by a 2-to-1 margin.

Opposition came from East Branch, Liberty, Peabody, Summit, and West Branch townships, which rejected the project with a combined vote of 87% opposed. Risley Township was split. All others voted overwhelmingly in favor.

The results, which had been helped along by a doubling of the financial contribution guaranteed by Centre Township, were greeted with jubilation in Marion.

Local militia and the city’s Cornet Band paraded in uniform after the vote was announced.

“With arms reversed and drums beating,” the Marion Graphic newspaper reported, “the soldiers slowly marched across the hoary fabric that now spans the creek. Their cautious crossing was due in part to mock respect to feebleness in its dotage and in part to dread of a ducking.

“Volley after volley, seconded by anvil close by, were fired in salute, after which the company returned in more cheerful mood and paraded Main St. So ended the ‘burial’ of the old bridge.”

Centre Township contributed $5,000 and the county $7,000. Marion stone contractors Fred Lewis and Evin Hoops won a contract to construct the double-arch stone bridge.

The cost, equivalent in buying power to more than a quarter of a million dollars today, was somewhat high because the Luta’s steep banks created a need for extensive pilings, driven by a 1,500-pound pile driver owned by Hoops and Lewis.

A large crew of mainly local workers was hired to complete the project in 1883 and 1884.

By 1885, it had become a focal point of the city and a key point of pride, routinely labeled as the finest structure of its kind west of the Mississippi and heralded as a beautiful gateway to the town’s arboreal centerpiece, a grove, owned by banker Levi Billings, that eventually would become Central Park.

Marion was so in love with its double-arch stone bridge over the Luta that it went to court 35 years later to try in vain to prevent its demolition after a regional drainage board concluded that it and meandering river channels slowed passage of rainwater through the creek and aggravated local flooding.

When the Cottonwood River and the Luta were straightened in the 1920s, the bridge was replaced with a concrete span with a central piling, decorated concrete railings and fleur-de-lis globe lights.

The three-globe lights were preserved the bridge was replaced by a large culvert as part of the installation of Marion’s dike and diversion channel 50 years later.

In recent years, anvil shoots nearby provide an intentional or unintentional homage during Chingawassa Days to the 1883 celebration.

Last modified March 5, 2020

 

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