A popular refrain from an earlier era delivered a plaintive, though simple, plea: “give us Bread, but give us Roses.”
Several years before that phrase was set to use, begging the pairing of utility with dignity, the Jefferson Avenue Footbridge was erected in 1902 in North Springfield, Missouri to connect the Woodland Heights Neighborhood to business and commerce on (what is now ‘Historic’) Commercial Street.
The bridge was then, as now, a wonder – wrought in iron and steel. It was built to serve a purpose – to safely transport citizens from a primarily working-class neighborhood to businesses and places of employment located south. It allowed pedestrians to cross 16 tracks, constantly teeming with steam engines, safely. And its silhouette, those elegant lines against smoky sunsets proved awe-inspiring. The bridge became indispensable as a tool of travel, and the poetry it provided lodged itself in local culture. The bridge became iconic as a monument, as a sculpture – our answer to towers and statues elsewhere. And with this indispensable tool providing such beauty alongside usefulness, we had our fill of bread and roses.
Seven years ago, we lost this wonder. The Jefferson Avenue Footbridge, the Eiffel Tower of Springfield, fell into disrepair. No longer could our citizens stand on the bridge at dusk, floating above train tracks, and watch the moon rise. It was truly the end of an era. Pedestrians in our working-class neighborhood were cut off from ease of access to Historic Commercial Street, access that they had enjoyed for over a century. And for seven years there have been no easy strolls to the farmer’s market on weekend mornings. We are left now with dingy, unsanitary underpasses that connect our neighborhood to Historic Commercial Street. Our citizens, who once swelled with pride at the mention of the Jefferson Avenue Footbridge and walked along its 562 unobstructed feet with delight, now fear trips on foot to the nearest grocery store. And with the closing of the footbridge, a light has gone out in the Woodland Heights Neighborhood. We have been left with stale bread, and we have lost our roses.
Now we long for brighter days, and we steer our minds away from dreaded thoughts of demolition. Our hearts and our souls are bound to the fate of this beautiful bridge that connects proverbially opposed sides of the tracks. To go forward into the future, we believe that “us” and “them” are unhelpful concepts. The “we” this bridge provides is the future. Our neighborhood is in need of revitalization. Disconnection from the growing commerce along Historic Commercial Street can only hinder our efforts. And the dark pathways left for our pedestrian access will never fill the human need for astonishment our citizens once found when strolling over the Jefferson Avenue Footbridge.
We are pleading. Help us preserve the Jefferson Avenue Footbridge. Help save our local culture. Help maintain our colossal art piece. Help give our citizens safe access to “the other side of the tracks.”
We envision a future where the bridge is open once again and our citizens can find poetry in the sound of yet another generation of little feet skipping across the bridge’s wooden planks on the way to the farmer’s market on Historic Commercial Street where locally grown fruits and vegetables that might not otherwise be accessible without vehicular transport can be purchased.
We close our eyes and we can see a future where, at the end of toil-filled days, the citizens of our neighborhood can stand on the bridge watching trains go by, sighing with contentment. All the while, on the ground below neighbors gather, artists capture images of the bridge in their medium of choice, future architects sketch the bridge’s lines and dream of an earlier time when a thing of beauty could also be a thing of use. And so we end with the old refrain, our plea—“give us Bread, but give us Roses.” Help us save the Jefferson Avenue Footbridge.
Editor’s Note: The City of Springfield continues to look for all potential funding opportunities to fund the projected $6 million rehabilitation of the Jefferson Avenue Footbridge. Public Works staff applied for Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) grants in 2022 and 2023. The project was not awarded in 2022, but the application made it to the final round of scoring. Award notifications for 2023 are expected this summer or fall. The City has also applied for a U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Railroad Administration Railroad Crossing Elimination Grant for the footbridge’s rehab and is currently awaiting award notification.
The Commercial Club of Springfield has raised $50,000 to support the footbridge’s rehabilitation. If you would like to donate to the fund, visit https://cfozarks.fcsuite.com/erp/donate/create/fund?funit_id=2677.