Editor's note: This is part one of a two part series.
For over eight years, the Save the Katy Bridge Coalition has worked tirelessly to save a piece of Boonville history. A Tuesday morning press conference reiterated to everyone involved the importance the bridge posed to the future of the Boonville community. Not only will the bridge remain standing, but be utilized once again with a working lift span that goes up and down. Phase one of construction will begin this year.
"I am so excited," Executive Director of the Katy Bridge Coalition Paula Shannon said. "There is so much energy being put out because so many people are excited about it."
"It was was very surreal because it had taken so long to get this far," coalition president Sarah Gallagher said. To Shannon, the event on Tuesday was exactly what the the coalition had worked for. Although, there were times that it may have seemed the bridge could not be saved, Shannon said they kept going forward.
"The same people were there at the event who were the same ones who have been committed all along with one exception, Dale Reesman, who was there in spirit," Gallagher said.
Missouri State Parks Director Bill Bryan was on hand to speak on behalf of the governor who was unable to attend. "It was so wonderful to see Bill Bryan at the event who attended the very first meeting," Shannon said.
Bryan delivered a speech prepared by Governor Jay Nixon, who pledged his continued support for the bridge.
The story about saving the bridge began by chance in a beauty shop over 10 years ago.
"It started, as I recall, at a beauty parlor when a lady was sharing information that her husband was going to be working on the bridge. One of the reporters from the Boonville Daily News asked more information about what exactly was going on. She said the bridge was going to be taken down. No one at the time knew anything about it. Immediately Sarah Gallagher, our economic developer at the time, got some clarity from Union Pacific that indeed they were going to take down the bridge," Shannon said.
When Gallagher found out that indeed the Union Pacific was going to reuse the bridge over the Osage River she felt that it was time to to try to save the bridge. Shannon volunteered her support after moving back to Boonville. While Shannon and her husband Jim had grown up in Boonville, they had lived away from Boonville for most of their lives.
"Jim is actually the one who had got me involved in the matter. Jim, growing up, lived on High Street and remembered every night when boats would scan the shore with their lights, his brother and he would jump up and watch the bridge go up. When he heard they were going to take the bridge down, he said to me, they cannot do this. This is too much of the history of Boonville. He told me when he thinks back as a child this is one of the big events of his childhood. Since Jim had Alzheimer's, it was really important to me because I knew he did not have much time left that could be wasted. Sarah asked me if we would be interested in joining the movement," Shannon said.
Local historian Wayne Lammers, who had documented the MKT Railroad for most of his adult life, shared much of his information he had on the bridge with people interested in saving it.
"Wayne was the historic preservationist of the bridge and the historian on the MKT railroad. He also had some of the original bridge blue prints. He knew the history of all the generations of bridges that had been built over the Missouri River for the railroad. When we started the coalition, he gave us a DVD of the last train that had crossed over the bridge in 1986. He has been very supportive in our efforts," Shannon said.
Shannon volunteered to facilitate a public forum, which was needed to garner more support for the bridge. Shannon sought Reesman's expertise in designing a petition stating the importance of the bridge.
"In February 2005, we held the citizen's meeting at Turner Hall, which we filled. It was decided then that we needed a steering committee that would brainstorm ideas. Jim and I spent a lot time in Jefferson City garnering support. Senator Bill Stouffer and Representative Kenny Jones came to us and were very good of being helpful," Shannon said.
Shannon also contributes the late Bob Dyer as being a pivotal person in securing awareness at the state capitol in years past. "We didn't have to explain what the bridge was because Bob had already done that previously. It made it easier for us, not to just garner awareness but to garner support in saving it," Shannon said.
While looking for support, Shannon said it was amazing how many MKT people were still in the Boonville area.
"These individuals were very helpful. The momentum kept going. When we thought we could no longer go any further, something would break, which would bring the bridge back up in the news," Shannon said.
More support arose in 2005 when the first bridge festival was held. The event was held to garner awareness rather than funds.
"This first event set thecorner stone for the future events," Shannon said.
Shannon also said musicians have donated their time since the first festival was held, including the the wine walks held each September. People were willing to give money and network for the coalition.
By mid 2005, then Attorney General Nixon, sued the Missouri State Parks Department for allowing Union Pacific Railroad the possibility of removing the Katy Bridge. This began a fight between state officials, a fight that ultimately would go on for the next five years.
Furthermore, a Wall Street Journal article depicted a small town up against a railroad giant.
"We made the front page of the Wall Street Journal which started a whole new chapter. What we found is train people and bridge people are quote prevalent in our population. Boonville was a large intersection for trains coming from all directions, north, south, east and west," Shannon said.
"It truly felt like that and yet it seemed the bridge was fighting for herself as well," Gallagher said. Shannon said there were many naysayers but after some explaining and showing, people eventually became more optimistic.
"Most people do not come together and fight for something in their community like this. This is what makes Boonville so special, which I love this about our town. This says something about our community. It was not easy with the community as well," Gallagher said.
Shannon said the fabulous quality of volunteers helped in whatever needed to be done. She said they were always willing to do tasks immediately.