Wed July 13, 2011
Memphis Moment: the Harahan Bridge
By Steve Pike
Memphis, TN – On July 15, 1916, the Harahan Bridge opened for railroad traffic, the second bridge built in Memphis to cross the Mississippi River. Originally named the Rock Island bridge, the steel structure was renamed for Memphis businessman J.T. Harahan, who had been killed in a 1912 train wreck.
For a time after the bridge opened, automobiles were still ferried across the river. In 1917, wooden planks were installed on each side of the bridge and placed atop metal girders. The planks carried single file traffic in each direction. Bridge guards were employed to walk the wooden planks 24 hours a d ay until 1960, when a fire alarm system was installed.
A celebration was planned for September 1917, when the bridge first opened to cars, but the celebration was cancelled, because many people felt it was unpatriotic to celebrate while Memphians were fighting in World War I.
The bridge remained a single-lane highway until 1949, when the Memphis and Arkansas Bridge was completed. Although it is now closed to cars, the Harahan Bridge is still a presence on the riverfront.
To learn more about the cultural and natural history of Memphis, please visit the Pink Palace Mueseum in Memphis, or visit http://www.memphismuseums.org/