The following text is taken from the program that was distributed during the Official Dedicatory Exercises for the Mormon Pioneer Memorial Bridge, which took place in Omaha, Nebraska on Sunday, May 31, and Monday, June 1, 1953.


The Mormon Pioneer Memorial Bridge
By Dr. H.L. Karrer
North Omaha Bridge Commission

The building of this bridge has been a dream of the citizens of this vicinity for many years. The pioneers who crossed the river at this site were a brave and fearless lot, having a firm belief in the right to worship their God in their own way. They were willing to make whatever sacrifices were necessary to obtain their objectives.

The bridge is operated by the Douglas County, Nebraska, North Omaha Bridge Commission. the commission is a public body and an arm of the state of Nebraska. The present commission is composed of three members: Dr. H.L. Karrer, W.F. Schollman, and L. Dale Matthews.

The first attempt to build this bridge was made in 1856, almost a century ago, but in those early days there was much rivalry between Florence and Omaha, Nebraska, and the natural hardships, augmented by discord and confusion, thwarted the purpose. But the need for a bridge at this site has ever been present. The initial idea did not die, and through the years it persisted in the minds of the leaders and the citizens of that part of the community. No united effort was started from 1856 until 1922, when again it was revived, and a concentrated and active effort was made. The sponsors secured a franchise from the Congress of the United States to build the bridge, but it came to naught because of adverse circumstances.

In 1936 another franchise was secured from the Congress of the United States. Again the sponsors went to work, but due to the worldwide depression it was impossible to secure the necessary financing for the construction. For fourteen more years there was a continuous effort made by the citizens of North Omaha, and in 1950 the present organization was able to function. This was the result of an act passed in 1946 by the Congress of the United States designated as the General Bridge Act, granting consent to public bodies such as Douglas County, Nebraska, North Omaha Bridge Commission, to construct, maintain, and operate bridges, and build approaches to bridges over navigable rivers in the United States. Following this enactment, the State of Nebraska passed enabling legislation to accomplish the creation of the Bridge Commission.

The commission had neither money nor experience. All it had was the burning desire to succeed where others in the past had failed. Their first step was to communicate with various agencies concerned with the building of the bridge, but they were somewhat handicapped. They had no money, not even an office, and no definite idea concerning how to proceed. The first contact was made with the firm of Schmid, Snow and Ford, who were employed as attorneys.

Next they consulted several firms of consulting engineers. Many weeks and much time were spent interviewing the various firms of engineers, and a firm of national repute - Harrington and Cortelyou of Kansas City, Missouri - was selected.

The next step was to ask the various investment bankers if they would be interested in financing this project. All the answers were the same: yes, if it were economically feasible. The only way the commission could prove that it was economically feasible was to employ a firm of traffic engineers, who made a long and thorough study. In approximately two months they came up with a report that it was economically feasible and would pay off in approximately fifteen years.

Then the commission was in a position to negotiate and enter into a contract with an investment banking firm, Smith, Barney and Company of New York City.

The engineering firm had completed its plans and specifications, and on December 19, 1950, the contract for the bridge was let.

The financing of the bridge was completed. Bonds in the amount of $3,450,000,000 were issued. They were all sold within one and a half hours after being offered to the public. While all this negotiation was going on, the Korean War, started. Critical materials became scarce, but the commission secured a delivery order from the government for steel on April 2, which was one of the earliest delivery order ratings given in the United States. Approximately 3800 tons of steel were needed. The next problem was to get the steel mills to accept the orders. Two thousand tons were accepted, leaving us a balance of 1800 tons to secure. It was absolutely necessary to obtain the acceptance of this 1800 tons in the year 1951. If we were not successful, it would not be possible to obtain another allocation of steel for that amount in 1952. Mr. Schmid, the attorney, and Dr. Karrer proceeded to Washington. After a week of negotiations and conferring with the different department heads, these gentlemen were able to obtain an acceptance of the order, except for 102 tons of the required amount, which were to be secured in the first quarter of 1952.

The State of Nebraska was very cooperative. They issued an allocation for the required balance of the steel needed. This left the state with only sixty-nine tons of steel for their own use to do necessary building and repairing of roads and bridges. But all through the negotiations the various public bodies such as the federal, state, county, and city governments lent all the assistance that was within their power to give. We shall always appreciate what they did for us.

In April 1951, the first piece of equipment was moved to the place of construction. Work was begun. The five miles of grading for the new highway and the paving were completed.

On May 12, 1951, the groundbreaking ceremonies took place. The governor of Iowa, William S. Beardsley; the governor of Nebraska, Val Peterson; the mayor of the city of Omaha, Glenn Cunningham, and various other public officials took part in the ceremonies. Bishop LeGrand Richards, Presiding Bishop of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, now a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, gave the main address at the ceremonies. He painted so well the picture of sturdiness, faith, and undaunted courage of the people of his faith in making their trek from Nauvoo, Illinois, to an unmarked and untamed country, that all there felt there must have been divine watchfulness and guidance over these men and women.

As to choosing the site, it proved that the judgment of this group of Latter-day Saint men and women was good then, as now. The bridge crosses the river within fifty feet of the exact spot where the pioneers crossed it.

The commission and the people of Omaha feel that we have been greatly honored by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in giving approval to name the structure the Mormon Pioneer Memorial Bridge.

Goodwill Motorcade and Historical Parade

The Goodwill Motorcade of specially invited guests will leave the west end of the Mormon Pioneer Memorial Bridge at 9:00 a.m. It will cross the bridge into Iowa and proceed to Crescent, Iowa, eastern end of the bridge project.

The route will then be south on the old Pioneer Trail to Council Bluffs, important area in early Mormon history, then over the Aksarben Bridge into Omaha, west to 30th Street and north to Ames Avenue.

At this point the Motorcade with its distinguished guests will become the first division of a Historical Parade and will lead the procession to 30th Street at McKinley Street where the formal dedication of the bridge will be held.

As the Motorcade reaches Crescent at the eastern end of the bridge project, Elder George Q. Morris, Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Executive Vice President of the Utah Pioneer Trails and Landmarks Association, will unveil one of the Pioneer Trail Markers. The Motorcade will pause momentarily for this event.

This marker tells briefly the story of the trek of the Mormon Pioneers from Nauvoo, Illinois, to the Valley of the Great Salt Lake in the Rocky Mountains. A companion marker at the west end of the bridge will be unveiled as a part of the formal dedicatory program.


Historic Pictures of the Mormon Pioneer Memorial Bridge

Construction of bridge during 1951

Mormon Pioneer Memorial Bridge as it appeared when operated as a toll bridge

The following pictures of the Mormon Pioneer Memorial Bridge were taken on Sunday, March 10, 2002:

original Mormon Pioneer Memorial Bridge
under the bridge with Missouri River
additional west bound section of bridge (added later)
Interstate 680 portion of bridge project with bridge pictured in the center
original toll booth for bridge, now located at 31 & Willit Streets in Florence (Omaha)
original sign from bridge

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