The historic Riverside Bridge has been returned to its original home, next to The Ozark Mill in Ozark.
On Tuesday, March 30, Finley Farms celebrated the raising of the Riverside Bridge where the Chadwick Flyer railroad once crossed the Finley River. The 274-foot bridge was built in 1909 after a record setting flood washed away a wooden wagon bridge next to The Ozark Mill.
Originally, the Riverside Bridge spanned across the Finley River where the McCracken Road Bridge sits today. In 1924, the one-lane structure was deemed too small for traffic demands and was moved one and a half miles upstream up to the Riverside Inn. The Riverside Bridge closed for repairs in 2010 due to flood damage. Another flood in 2015 severely damaged the structure and forced its permanent closure.
At the bridge raising ceremony Finley Farms Marketing Manager Dayle Duggins said without the efforts of Bass Pro Founder and CEO Johnny Morris and his family, this project would not have been possible.
“Multiple generations of the Morris family are pouring their hearts into this property. It all started with Johnny Morris’ vision for preserving The Ozark Mill and creating a riverside restaurant. His daughter, Megan Stack, is carrying the torch and is establishing the look, feel and the purpose of this special place,” said Duggins. “Without her family’s passion for history and preservation we would have never had the chance to bring the Riverside Bridge to Finley Farms.”
Finley Farms Visionary Megan Stack spoke on the importance of the revitalized bridge.
“Now more than a century old, it’s returning downstream to where the Chadwick Flyer once crossed through the property. In its new home, the Riverside Bridge will allow people to cross the Finely River on foot while connecting with nature,” said Stack. “Wedding parties will be able to walk from the chapel over to the mill for receptions and cocktail hours. We imagine many special events and intimate dinners taking place on the bridge.
“When it’s not in use for a private event, the public will have access to this bridge and we hope it will serve as a connecter to the many wonderful trails we’re blessed to have here in Ozark. If it was not for the handwork and passion of our community members, the Riverside Bridge would have been dismantled and forgotten.”
After the bridge was closed, the Save Riverside Bridge Initiative began efforts to ensure the historic structure would avoid demolition.
“Our grassroots movement started with a simple Facebook page in January 2010,” said Founder and Director of the Save Riverside Bridge Initiative Kris Dyer. “Before I knew it, the word had spread quickly and our beloved bridge was being featured in newspapers and on TV. Our ultimate goal was to put a stop to the demolition and to do that, we had to act fast by applying to get the bridge eligible for the national historic register. It was so exciting to get that in May 2010.”
In 2018, the Morris family won the bid for use and ownership of the bridge. After disassembling the bridge in 2019, Nabholz Corporation and Great River Engineering worked together for more than six months to restore the structure.
“I was told many times that saving the Riverside Bridge was a lost cause, but we were determined to save this beautiful historic bridge for future generations,” said Dyer. “Today we’re seeing that happen before our eyes. Let’s continue to preserve our local historic bridges and structures and I’d like to be the first to say welcome home Riverside Bridge.”
As a part of the ceremony, Ozark Greenways Executive Director Mary Kromrey shared that the bridge will also serve as small piece of an incoming walking and biking trail.
“Starting in 1883 the Chadwick Flyer spur of the Frisco Railroad was an essential artery between downtown Springfield and Christian County, moving livestock and timber and passengers,” said Kromrey. “Many partners are enthusiastically developing the Chadwick Flyer Trail and we’re using the old railroad route as inspiration. Folks will be able to walk or bicycle from the James River Freeway Trail in Springfield all the way to the Finley River Trail here in Ozark.”
Finley Farms is restoring and reimagining the historic Ozark Mill property in Ozark to create a new hub featuring restaurants, event venues, hands-on experiences, an urban farm and more. Restoration efforts continue on The Ozark Mill. The Workshop, a community-focused coffee shop and craft space, opened in November 2019.