The massive Thebes Bridge carries the Union Pacific Railroad over the Mississippi River between Thebes, Illinois and Missouri.
Thebes was established in the early 1800s by two Sparhawk brothers who were traveling up the Mississippi River from New Orleans and were attracted to the land along the river and the notable bluff. 1 First known as Sparhawk Landing, it became the county seat of Alexander County from 1846 and 1859.
Despite the removal of the county seat to Cairo, Thebes was still an important railroading hub if for just a few brief years. The Chicago & Eastern Illinois Railroad (C&EI) arrived in Thebes in 1899. Organized in 1877 as a consolidation of three other lines, the C&EI had constructed a new line from Chicago to a Mississippi River connection at Thebes. In 1902, the Missouri Pacific Railroad (MP) was built through the bluffs around the community, and in St. Louis Southwestern Railway (STL SW), commonly referred to as the Cotton Belt Railway, arrived after it gained trackage rights over the MP along the eastern shore of the Mississippi River to reach East St. Louis, Illinois.
Prior to the completion of a railroad bridge across the Mississippi River, train cars had to be ferried across to reach Missouri and it became a choke point for trains heading south out of Chicago. 3 Despite the addition of a second ferry, it was realized that a fixed crossing would be needed in short order and five railroads came together to propose a new bridge between Thebes and Missouri: the C&EI, MP, STL SW, St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern Railway (SLIM&S), and the Illinois Central Railroad. The Southern Illinois & Missouri Bridge Company was incorporated in December 1900 to construct and own the bridge and connecting lines.
On July 8, 1902, the Missouri Pacific broke ground for a massive 3,910-foot railroad bridge across the river 2 but construction was delayed until April 1903 because of right-of-way litigation. 4 Designed by Ralph Mojeski, it was erected by the C. Macdonald & Company of New York, J.S. Paterson Construction Co. of Chicago, MacArthur Brothers of Chicago, and American Bridge Company of New York (who had subcontracted the superstructure building to Kelley-Atkinson Construction Co. of Chicago) 4 at the cost of $4 million. 2 The first train to test the bridge’s integrity crossed on March 27, 1905, which involved coupling 25 of the largest locomotives together and running the engines to the middle of the bridge, and stopping them suddenly under the pressure of the air brakes. Successful, the new Thebes Bridge opened to traffic on April 18, 1905, and became the only railroad bridge across the Mississippi between St. Louis, Missouri, and Memphis, Tennessee, a distance of over 400 miles.
Thebes, once an important railroad stop because of the need to ferry cars across the Mississippi, slowly withered once the new bridge was put into operation. Trains had no reason to stop in the community.
Through consolidations and mergers, the Southern Illinois & Missouri Bridge Company is now operated as a subsidiary of the Union Pacific Railroad.
- State: Illinois, Missouri
- Route: Union Pacific Railroad
- Type: Closed Spandrel Arch, Baltimore Through Truss
- Status: Active - Railroad
- Total Length: 3,817 feet
- Main Span Length: 671 feet
- Perrin, William Henry, editor. History of Alexander, Union and Pulaski Counties, Illinois. O. L. Baskin & Co., 1883.
- Dearinger, Lowell A. “Thebes.” Outdoor Illinois, Jan. 1972, pp. 8–18.
- Weeks III, John A. “Thebes Bridge.” 2016.
- Noble, Alfred. The Thebes Bridge; a report to the president and directors of the Southern Illinois & Missouri Bridge Company. Chicago: W.F. Hall Printing Co., 1907, p. 5.