By Paula Wilmot / Tribune Staff Writer
ong treasured by Great Falls resident Arlyne Reichert, the 10th Street Bridge is pictured and described in poetic prose in a new coffee table book by the National Geographic, titled "Saving America's Treasures".
The only Montana entry and the only bridge in the book, the 79-year-old bridge is in elite company of 49 other "treasures" that the National Trust for Historic Preservation considers worth saving. Among them are George Washington's winter encampment at Valley Forge, Babe Ruth's scrapbooks, Thomas Edison's invention factory, the Ellis Island Ferry Building and escaped slave leader Harriet Tubman's residence.
"Our bridge is on a very prestigious list," Reichert said. "We're honored," she said on behalf of the Preservation Cascade Inc. group that has been raising money to restore the bridge, which also is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Other treasures singled out from hundreds of nominees include original papers of the founding fathers, silent movies, a barn in Illinois, a Victorian yacht and 77 lighthouses in Michigan. All are called "fragile" or "deteriorating" and in need of repairs and restoration. That's the reason for the list and the book.
"All of these things have been in jeopardy", Reichert said, "just like our bridge". In the mid-1990's, after a new bridge was constucted over the Missouri River at 9th Street, the historic arched bridge was marked for demolition and, in fact, was saved from the wrecking ball with just six days to spare.
Reichert and her group of save-the-bridge advocates intervened and convinced the city to give them a chance to raise money to restore the bridge as a pedestrian walkway. The Montana Dpartment of Transportation assisted by giving the city the $400,000 that was to have been spent to demolish the bridge, and Preservation Cascade took on the task of raising $300,000 more by 2003. The group is halfway to that goal, and already $500,000 worth of repairs to the bridge understructure have been done.
"We still have a ways to go, but things seem to be looking up," Reichert said. She figures the national exposure in the book will help, too.
author of the text about the bridge for the book, describes
the bridge's picturesque arches as "skipping across the
water like a flat stone flung by a small boy."
The article concludes: "It's just like Joni Mitchell says in that song. "You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone.' Happily, the people of Great Falls woke up in time, and they've still got it."
Convincing Great Falls to wake up has been tough, according to Reichert. "It has been financially draining and energy draining," she said. "They call me the Bridge Lady,' but there's really a 'Bridge Army' out there."