There’s an old bridge in St. Louis, MO that used to be on the U.S. Route 66 that heads into Madison, IL. Built in 1929, it covered the dangerous route on the Mississippi called the “Chain of Rocks Reach”, a 17mi series of rock ledges that created rapids that was impossible for boats to navigate over. A Dam was built a little ways from here by the Army Corps of Engineers back in the 60s for boats to be able to have safe passage and in 1966 they created a new Chain of Rocks Bridge which carries the I-270 traffic into Illinois. However, the old bridge still stands as a monument for walkers and bike riders. In the distance you can see the skyline of St. Louis.
Alongside the bridge you can see the New Chain of Rocks Bridge and if you look far off into the distance you can actually see the outline of Alton, IL. I think it is amazing that in this one spot you can look to your left and see one of the largest cities in Illinois and look to your right and see one of the largest cities in Missouri. It’s a really incredible spot!
For those of us in Missouri, the parking isn’t as nice. The Madison, IL side has an entire park surrounding the area of the bridge that you can park, have a picnic or walk down to the sandy shores. On the St. Louis side the parking area is blocked off and chained with a sign that states parking is at your own risk. That area in St. Louis isn’t the greatest and people have had their windows busted in and items stolen. I would suggest parking on the IL side. MO side has a small area they left to park and they do have a picnic area with restrooms still available, but I’m not exactly sure how decent of a condition the bathrooms are.
The bridge is in great condition for how old it is. It shut down in 1970 and for 3 decades they sat waiting for consideration of it to be demolished. While it lay waiting for it’s fate, there were a series of crimes and murders; most notably that of Julie and Robin Kerry who have a memorial on site. It was also in the movie Escape from New York! In 1998 Trailnet, a local trails group, took it over and 4 1/2 million dollars in renovations later it became what it is today – a pedestrian / cycling trail.
There are two other historic sites you can see from the bridge just before the Chain of Rocks. They almost look like Castles in low tide, but they’re actually Water Intake Towers #1 & #2 built to help commingle the waters of the great rivers. Tower #1 (Built in 1894) draws the Missouri River water that flows closer to shore and Tower #2 (Built in 1913) draws the clearer water from the Mississippi further out in the river.
|Missouri River Water|
These Towers, which had full time crews up until the 1920s, are now just back-up systems to the more updated onshore intake facilities, but they are incredibly beautiful to look at. In 1971 they became Historic Landmarks in St. Louis, long before Chain of Rocks Bridge became a Landmark in 2006.
One of the neatest things about the Chain of Rocks bridge is that it has a 22 degree bend right in the middle of the bridge! It’s something I have never seen before and I could only imagine how scary that would be in a car. We thought it the strangest thing in the world to see it all the sudden bend itself halfway along and then continue, but it was apparently built that way for channel waterway traffic at the time.
Along the way there are also iconic things to look at and also sit in. Above I had a photo of a Route 66 Sign you could sit on, but right in the middle of MO-IL you can sit in an old car and pretend you are driving!
The bridge spans a mile across, but it doesn’t feel like that when you are walking and especially if it’s a nice day. Since it is fall you can see all the beautiful colors of the trees in the distance changing. It’s a gorgeous spot to walk with the family and if you’re on the Illinois side you can drive down to the shore and walk along the sand. We plan to have a family artifact hunting trip soon down on the beach!
If you like hiking or bike riding with your family. I really suggest walking along the bridge in the afternoon sunlight if you are nearby. It’s worth it to just look over the water and imagine how many people walked that bridge, how many cars and cultures passed through here and how incredible a feat it must have been to raise it in the early 1900s. This is truly a piece of American History.