Monday, October 1, 2012

Under the Harahan Bridge

Google Map
Here is a place left abandoned by humans for more than half a century...

I'm going to tell you a story, but I'll start at the end. The long drive took us to a windy dirt road that wove under the I-55 bridge connecting Arkansas and Tennessee. Alongside the modern bridge are two antiques: The Frisco bridge, an 1892 railway corridor, and the 1916 Harahan bridge, pictured above. We walked underneath them, and one of my traveling companions immediately mouthed, "dystopia." 

More of the Harahan Bridge.

And a taste of dystopia it was. I came to this place specifically for its fascinating and beautiful modern ruins. All three bridges are still in use today, but the Harahan keeps a secret. See, back before the modern roadway, it carried both trains and cars.

The Frisco Bridge's trestles from a distance.

Between 1917 and 1949, the Harahan was the main way to cross the Mississippi south of Memphis' downtown area. Cars took a ramp onto a divided roadway built right onto the Harahan. The car part of the bridge was wood panels mounted on metal frames.

Under the Frisco Bridge.

But by 1949 the roadway was elderly and the wood had burned once in the 1920s, causing a huge problem for the city. So another bridge was built for cars, and the Harahan was once again delegated to trains only.

Frisco Bridge span.


The original car parts are still on the bridge, and the original concrete ramp leading to the roadway is still there. I spotted the crumbling, vine-grown concrete road from the car as we drove back from Atlanta a few months ago, and made it my mission to find out what it was.

Abandoned roadway from below.
The roadway itself is just one part of the rusting grandeur that make up the dual bridges. Even though it's right underneath a major interstate, the junction feels like a lost world. There's just about a quarter mile of the road left. It ends abruptly at the top of a weedy hill, and a beaten path leads up onto the road. We were not deterred by the "No Trespassing" signs hung by the BNSF Railroad.

On the abandoned roadway.
It's eerie standing on a stretch of road that, years ago, was probably one of the busiest intersections in the region. Teenagers obviously enjoy the place, judging by the prevalent cryptic, spray painted messages.

"Memories are movies that you direct"
"If you lie you have to remember what you say"
I would add, "When there's nothing left to burn, you have to set yourself on fire."

Cryptic message conquered by kudzu. 
The eastbound-westbound road divider is still there, but it's buried underneath layers of kudzu. There's also a bit of the old wood road, but it quickly disappears as it leads towards the bridge. The roadway looks like a roller coaster track when you look down it:

You're in for a ride.
We wandered around on the ramp as the sun went down, and greeted a Union Pacific freight engine heading into Memphis.

The engineer waved at us.

We scurried back down the hill and jumped into the car, a bit eager to get back into civilization after our brief taste of dystopia. Let me tell you: It's an unsettling place, even if the vestiges of society are continuing on their merry way all around you.


rusty pugh said...

I also have explored that area. Th eerie feeling you experienced is justified. On my last outing, there was yellow crime scene tape around an area underneath the I-55 bridge.

Laurence Reville said...

Check it out now. Part of an ambitious Memphis-to-Little Rock trail plan. Google street will take you over the river on the north roadbed.
(BTW, this piece of history has held me spellbound for decades.)