Kathy Heicher’s ‘Bridges of Eagle County’ is the human story of fraternity and infrastructure | VailDaily.com

Kathy Heicher’s ‘Bridges of Eagle County’ is the human story of fraternity and infrastructure

Two road workers were caught by surprise in June 1946 when State Bridge collapsed as they were hauling a D-7 Caterpillar bulldozer over the structure. The men were not harmed, and the bridge was repaired.
Eagle County Historical Society/Eagle Valley Library District | John Ambos Collection |

About the book

What: “The Bridges of Eagle County: Story of Pioneers, Politics and Progress.”

Who: Kathy Heicher, local storyteller, author and historian, with the Colorado Department of Transportation.

Information: You can buy the book at the Eagle Visitors Center, online at eaglecountyhistoricalsociety.com or at The Bookworm of Edwards, 295 Main St. in the Riverwalk at Edwards.

All human endeavor asks the question, “How do we get there?”

The answer probably is, “Over a bridge.”

Local storyteller, author and historian Kathy Heicher’s “The Bridges of Eagle County” is a delightful account of the people and places that built Eagle County, from Dotsero to Red Cliff. Heicher uses historic bridges — both existing and some that have been replaced — as focus points to take readers on a ride from the Utes through today.

“Bridges tell a story, and the book is about those stories, not engineering,” Heicher said. “It was a thrill to have the opportunity, and I was surprised by what I learned.”

From the first rickety structures built in the 1880s by miners and ranchers to the magnificent steel arch constructed at Red Cliff in 1940, bridges are a record of a rugged mountain county, Heicher wrote.

“Bridges do more than span rivers and connect roads. They also link the present to the past,” Heicher writes.

The book uses photographs (current and historic), artwork, bridge schematic drawings and historic maps to help tell the story. It’s also a good-looking book, laid out horizontally, which works well because bridges tend to be horizontal, except for those two times State Bridge collapsed.

State Bridge

State Bridge, and yes that’s the name of the bridge and not just the concert venue, was originally built in 1890 for around $5,190. It collapsed a couple of times, once with a county bulldozer on it. Another time, on June 17, 1927, a guy picked up a couple of hitchhikers and was heading up the road when State Bridge collapsed. One of those hitchhikers, one of the Moberly brothers, drowned.

Dotsero and the Grand River

In 1895, the folks in Dotsero submitted a petition for a bridge, pointing out correctly that too many people were drowning in the Grand River, which is what the Colorado River was called in those days. That petition was signed by every Eagle County pioneer anyone has ever heard of. Heicher got to hold it when she was doing research for this book.

“I was awestruck that I was holding that document,” she said.

Then she laughed and pointed out that the librarians made her wear white gloves.

Three years ago, that big, green Dotsero bridge was demolished. The Colorado Department of Transportation tried to give it away, but it met with the same sort of response as people trying to sell the Brooklyn Bridge — no one wanted it.

Red Cliff arch bridge

The workers who built the Red Cliff arch bridge would stay there all day, even eating their lunches on the bridge they were building. At night, the local kids climbed all over it like it was the world’s largest jungle gym, which it is.

Gypsum’s Broken bridge

Gypsum’s concrete arch bridge was built in 1914 and broke two years later when a piling was compromised. An August 1919 Colorado Highway Department magazine ran a story using it as an example of how not to build bridges.

Still, Gypsum did not deter nor detour. The bridge was used until December 1994 when the Gypsum town council closed it to vehicular traffic. In 2002, bridge expert Clayton Fraser said the bridge “has the dubious distinction as probably the most hazardous-looking bridge in the state.”

Build their own

In the beginning, transportation was a patchwork of toll roads and private lanes.

“To explain bridges, you need to explain roads and the highway transit system and the people who helped create all that,” Heicher said.

Like everything else, bridge building was political, or at least the money was. The Eagle County commissioner got tired of waiting for the state and federal governments and picked up the tab for all kinds of bridge projects.

“They wanted people to come here, and that was one way to make that happen,” Heicher said.

Coast to coast

The Lincoln Highway was a proposed coast-to-coast road across the country, and everyone wanted it to run through their county. The road between Eagle and Gypsum did not exist at the time, and when some locals got tired of governmental dithering, they called a work day and built a road in one day, on April 12, 1912.

“The putting of seven miles of the highway in first-class shape means more to Eagle county than six months of talk,” reported the Eagle Valley Enterprise on April 19, 1912.

“Everyone showed up with every machine and tool you could imagine, and they just did it,” Heicher said.

The road project was like an Amish barn raising. More than 100 men turned out with their own road scrapers, plows and horse teams. The ranch wives baked hams, fried chickens and set up their midday spread at the Oleson Ranch, midway through the project. It was a proud day in Eagle County history.

“The building of the seven miles of great highway will always remain a bright page in the history of Eagle County and her men and women,” the Enterprise wrote on April 26, 1912.

By the way, the Lincoln Highway went north through Wyoming. Stung but not defeated, Eagle County won a spot in 1914 on the Pikes Peak Ocean-to-Ocean Highway, “The Appian Way of America,” and Rocky Mountain motor tourism was born.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

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