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Central Benton
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Saline Crossing

Saline Crossing - the old Saline River Bridge

“It” is the old Saline River Bridge, one of the oldest metal bridges remaining in Arkansas.

Saline Crossing Regional Park & Recreation Area was formed approximately four years ago with the goal of preserving the bridge for future generations. Lynn Moore, president of the group, says “We are an open, grass roots organization established to preserve the Old River Bridge, circa 1891 on the Saline River and establish a significant and fitting public access to William S. Lockhart’s historical first pioneer settlement of Saline County, at Saline Crossing.”

William S. Lockhart's historical first pioneer settlement of Saline County

Moore notes that in the spring of 1815, Lockhart and his family came from North Carolina and settled on the bank of the Saline River where the Southwest Trail (Military Road) crossed. Lockhart’s Saline Crossing was the first pioneer settlement in Saline County. He was licensed to operate a toll ferry there and in 1831, he was named postmaster at “Saline Crossing.” All of the pioneers traveling toward the southwest crossed the river at Lockhart’s, including the freedom-fighters heading to the Alamo.

The bridge was commissioned in 1889 and $5,000 was appropriated by the Saline County quorum court to build the steel structure. Construction was completed in 1891. The bridge is the second oldest of its kind remaining in Arkansas.

Youngstown Bridge Company of Youngstown, Ohio was awarded the contract. Steel was used from footings to supports to railings. The bridge uses a pin-connected Pratt through truss system, a common bridge type in the middle to late nineteenth-century. The floor beams of the bridge are actually suspended to each panel by using a U-shaped pin to attach the wooden planks to panel points on the bridge flooring. Ordinarily the beams would be attached directly to the panels using a series of rivets.

In 1977 the bridge was named to the National Register of Historic Places. Documents filed provide a history of the bridge into the mid-1970s, stating, “The Old River Bridge served the community of Benton from 1891 until 1974, when, on April 12, Melvin Grigsby of Hot Springs tried to cross the bridge in a truck loaded with concrete blocks, and the floor of the bridge collapsed. An estimator told County Judge, H.W. Green, that he guessed it would cost between $4,000 and $5,000 to repair the structure. The present condition of the bridge, compared with photographs taken shortly after the accident, indicates that some repairs were undertaken on the structure, but the bridge has been closed to vehicles since 1974.”

One of the oldest metal bridges remaining in Arkansas

The area around the bridge has seen the growth of brush and trees to the extent that the approach ramps on both sides of the bridge were no longer passable and eventually were removed. But with the dedication and determination of Saline Crossing Regional Park & Recreation Area volunteers, an oasis amidst the hectic day-to-day pace of modern life is beginning to take shape.

dedication and determination of Saline Crossing Regional Park & Recreation Area volunteers

In the mid-1990s actor and filmmaker Billy Bob Thornton filmed the movie “Slingblade” primarily at locations in Saline County. A picture of him standing on the old Saline River Bridge is featured on the poster for the movie and is also during a brief scene in the movie.

During the summer and early fall of 2014 the land near the entry points of the bridge has been cleared. A GIF grant of $2,000 from state Rep. Kim Hammer of Benton has provided funds for the construction of two handicap-accessible picnic tables near the bridge – one on each side of the river.

A donation of five acres of land stretching from the approach area of the bridge on the east side of the river, continuing underneath the bridge to the west and including the approach ramp on the western side of the river was made by local businessman Bill White.

When completed the area will include river access for fishing, additional picnic areas and pavilions. Moore says the area “is an absolutely gorgeous place” and “this will be a location for family-oriented recreation.”

Plans for the bridge include renovations that include using the structure for a walking bridge with handicap access and bicycle traffic. Vehicular use of the bridge is not expected.

In 2015, the Saline Crossing group will hold a 200 year celebration to mark the first settlement of the area by William S. Lockhart.

For additional information about the bridge, visit www.salinecrossing.com.

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Born and raised in Benton and Saline County. Author of a published book, "As I See It: Memories & Musings of a Middle Aged Southern Man." Award winning news writer, columnist, feature writer and photographer. Former editor of The Saline Courier in Benton, AR. He may be contacted at davisb501@yahoo.com.

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