Arkansas Historic Preservation Program
Illinois River Bridge
Illinois River Bridge

ILLINOIS RIVER BRIDGE, PEDRO VIC., BENTON COUNTY

SUMMARY

Constructed in 1922, the Illinois River Bridge is being nominated to the National Register of Historic Places with local significance under Criterion C as the best example of a Pratt thru-truss bridge in the Pedro vicinity. The bridge is also being nominated under Criterion A for its associations with the development of vehicular transportation in Benton County. This nomination is being submitted under the multiple-property listing “Historic Bridges of Arkansas.”

ELABORATION

Benton County and the county seat of Bentonville were named in honor of Thomas Hart Benton, a U.S. Senator from Missouri. Benton played a key role in persuading Congress to admit Arkansas to the Union.  The county and its seat were organized in 1836, with the county being 886 square miles in size. The landscape of Benton County is dominated by the gently rolling hills of the Ozark Mountains.  The county is located in the far northwestern corner of the state, giving it the nickname “The Cornerstone of Arkansas.”

During its existence, Benton County has played host to several notable events in American history.  In 1837, the Cherokee Indians were forced to migrate through Benton County to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma).  The route that they traveled has become known as part of the “Trail of Tears.”  In 1862, one of the decisive battles of the American Civil War was fought at Pea Ridge.  At the Battle of Pea Ridge, also known as the Battle of Elkhorn Tavern, outnumbered Union troops prevented the Confederacy from entering and taking control of Missouri. 

A century later, a milestone in American commerce occurred.  In 1962, Sam Walton opened the first of many Wal-Mart stores in Rogers.  Then, in 1972, the Buffalo River, which runs through Benton County, was designated a National River “because it is a pure, free-flowing stream which has not been significantly altered by industry or man, (and) it is considered to be one of the country’s last significant natural rivers.”

Benton County has also been the home of many well-known Americans, including Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart, Inc.; Betty Rogers, the wife of actor Will Rogers; William Hope ‘Coin’ Harvey, a famed financial writer, local political theorist, and the first man from Arkansas ever to run for president; Louise Thadden, the first female pilot to win the Bendix Transcontinental Air Race; and Tom Morgan, a writer for the Saturday Evening Post and Life Magazine.

The establishment of a formal system of roads in Benton County is a direct result of early work done by one of the county’s aforementioned famous residents, William Hope ‘Coin’ Harvey.  The story of Harvey’s rise to prominence has as many twists as the mountain roads he helped to map.

Before he came to Benton County, Harvey was involved in several less-than-successful business ventures in other states.  He was an economic advisor to William Jennings Bryan, who (unsuccessfully) sought the presidency in the 1896 election. His first real success came following the election with the opening of his Coin Publishing Company in Chicago, and the publication of Coin’s Financial School, a book in which he espoused his own economic theories, which were radical for the time.  The book sold over 1.5 million copies.

Harvey had visited Benton County during the election of 1896, and grew to love the area because it reminded him of his native West Virginia.  He returned to Rogers in 1900 and used money made from his publishing company to purchase 320 acres in an area known as Silver Springs. This land was to house his next project, the Monte Ne Resort.

The Monte Ne Resort was intended to be a health resort that not only would cure the ills of the body, but the ills of mankind, as Harvey deemed them.  However, as the resort was buried deep in the Ozark Mountains, finding an easy way to bring guests to the resort became a priority for Harvey.  To solve this problem, Harvey constructed a short line railroad that connected Monte Ne to the St. Louis & San Francisco Railroad in nearby Lowell. At the height of the resort’s popularity, special trains ran from St. Louis and other cities to bring vacationers to Monte Ne.

The popularity of the resort began to wane around 1910 because guests felt Harvey was too strict of a host.  He had started requiring all the guests to go to bed at 9:00pm, among other unpopular rules, in order to enforce his own code of character.  Also, as the popularity of the automobile began to grow, fewer people used trains as a primary means of transportation.  And there were few, if any, roads that would allow a car to travel deep in to the Ozarks to reach Monte Ne.

After the decline of the resort business, Harvey turned his attention to the development of an integrated highway system that he called the “Ozark Trail.”  Harvey founded the Ozark Trails Association at Monte Ne in 1913, during a meeting of good road enthusiasts from neighboring states.  The Association adopted the initials “O.T.” as the official emblem, and painted them on telephone poles, fences and trees to mark good roadways.  The emblem soon became familiar in Arkansas and the surrounding states, and as far west as New Mexico and Colorado.

Harvey’s map of the Ozark Trails system, published in 1915, may have been the nation’s first road map.  As automobiles became more numerous, the state undertook the building of highways and the Ozark Trails system was discarded.  However, Harvey’s idea of naming or numbering roads remains until this day.

Pedro, a rural community approximately 9 miles east of Siloam Springs, is the town closest to the Illinois River Bridge. A post office was established at Pedro in 1906, and was closed in 1918. There is little other history about Pedro available, but the town may have been established because of its location near the Illinois River and because of its location in a relatively flat area between two mountainous areas.  For early settlers traveling through this part of Benton County, perhaps on the way to Siloam Springs, this corridor would have made for the easiest trip.  As a present testament to this theory, sections of the old and current US Highway 412 travel through this corridor, to the north and south of Pedro, respectively.

Pedro is located in an area of this valley that is approximately one half mile wide (north to south).  The Illinois River traverses the entire width of the valley just east of Pedro. By the 1920s, a bridge was needed to handle increased traffic through the valley.  

SIGNIFICANCE

Constructed in 1922, the Illinois River Bridge is being nominated to the National Register of Historic Places with local significance under Criterion C as the best example of a Pratt thru-truss bridge in the Pedro vicinity. The bridge is also being nominated under Criterion A for its associations with the development of vehicular transportation in Benton County. This nomination is being submitted under the multiple-property listing “Historic Bridges of Arkansas.”

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Baker, Russell Pierce, From Memdag to Norsk:  A Historical Directory of Arkansas Post Offices 1832-1971. Hot Springs, AR:  Arkansas Genealogical Society, 1988.

Benton County Heritage Committee, Benton County History.  Dallas:  Curtis Media Corporation, 1991.

Information on Benton County from
http://www.uark.edu/depts/globmark/bchsark/

Information on Benton County from
http://www.co.benton.ar.us/History/CountyHistory.htm

Information on William Harvey and Monte Ne from
http://users.aristotle.net/~russjohn/history/montene.html