Chain of Rocks Bridge
Madison, Illinois to St. Louis,
Chain of Rocks Bridge is one of the more interesting bridges in
America. It’s hard to forget a 30-degree turn midway across a
mile-long bridge more than 60 feet above the mighty Mississippi.
For more than three decades, the bridge was a significant
landmark for travelers driving Route 66.
colorful name came from a 17-mile shoal, or series of rocky
rapids, called the Chain of Rocks beginning just north of St.
Louis. Multiple rock ledges just under the surface made this
stretch of the Mississippi River extremely dangerous to
navigate. In the 1960s, the Corps of Engineers built a low-water
dam covering the Chain of Rocks. That’s why you can’t see them
today. Back in 1929, at the time of the construction of the
bridge, the Chain was a serious concern for boatmen.
massive undertaking in its day, the Chain of Rocks Bridge had a
projected cost of $1,250,000. The bridge was to be a straight,
40-foot wide roadway with five trusses forming 10 spans. Massive
concrete piers standing 55 feet above the high-water mark were
to support the structure. Plans called for a four-mile fill
along the road leading to the bridge’s north end.
that proved true except for one major change--in direction.
Riverboat men protested the planned bridge because it was to run
near two water intake towers for the Chain of Rocks pumping
station. Navigating the bridge piers and the towers at the same
time, the river captains argued, would be extremely treacherous
for vessels and barges. Besides, the initial straight line would
have put the bridge over a section of the river where the
bedrock was insufficient to support the weight of the piers.
Either way, the bridge had to bend.
on both sides of the river simultaneously in 1927, and the piers
were complete by August of 1928. A grand opening was planned for
New Year’s Day 1929. The Mississippi River had other plans.
Floods and ice slowed the work, and the Chain of Rocks Bridge
finally opened to traffic in July of 1929.
Then, as now,
actual expenditures for construction often exceed projected
costs. Chain of Rocks Bridge cost just over $2.5 million--twice
its original estimate. Fortunately, the public got its money’s
worth. The bridge had beautifully landscaped approaches. A
park-like setting around a pool and a large, ornate toll booth
anchored the Missouri end. On the Illinois side, 400 elm trees
lined the approach. The bridge brought travelers into St. Louis
by way of the picturesque Chain of Rocks amusement park on the
Missouri hills overlooking the river. On a clear day, crossing
the Chain of Rocks Bridge was a real pleasure. That pleasure
became an official part of the Route 66 experience in 1936, when
the highway was rerouted over the bridge.
War II, Chain of Rock’s colorful red sections had to be painted
green to make the bridge less visible from the air. At the same
time, wartime gas rationing reduced traffic. To offset these
costs, the City of Madison increased bridge tolls to 35 cents
per car, with an additional five cents per passenger—a fee
structure that sets on its head today’s system of special
high-speed lanes reserved for cars carrying more, not fewer,
In 1967, the New Chain of Rocks Bridge carrying
Interstate 270 opened just 2,000 feet upstream of the old
bridge, which closed in 1968. The bridge deteriorated, and
during the 1970s, Army demolition teams considered blowing it up
just for practice. In 1975, demolition seemed eminent.
Fortunately for the bridge, a bad market saved the day. The
value of scrap steel plummeted, making demolition no longer
profitable. At that point, the Chain of Rocks Bridge entered 20
years of bridge limbo--too expensive to tear down, too narrow
and outdated to carry modern vehicles. In 1980, film director
John Carpenter used the gritty, rusting bridge as a site for his
science fiction film, Escape from New York. Otherwise, the
bridge was abandoned.
Today you might say that the Chain
of Rocks Bridge has completed a historic cycle. Built at the
beginning of America’s love affair with the automobile, it is
now a reflection of America’s desire not to ride in cars so
often. During the 1980s, greenways and pedestrian corridors
became increasingly popular, and a group called Trailnet began
cleanup and restoration of the bridge. Linked to more than 300
miles of trails on both sides of the river, the old Chain of
Rocks Bridge reopened to the public as part of the Route 66
Bikeway in 1999.
Because the bridge has not been
significantly altered over the years, a visit there today
conveys a strong sense of time and place, an appreciation for
early-20th-century bridge construction, and outstanding views of
the wide Mississippi River. The Chain of Rocks Bridge was listed
in the National Register of Historic Places in 2006.
Chain of Rocks Bridge parallels
U.S. 270 along West Chain of Rocks Rd. between Riverview Dr. in
St. Louis, MO and Illinois 3 in Madison County, IL. Connections
are present to the MCT Confluence Trail, Mississippi River
Trail, and St. Louis Riverfront Trail, and free parking is
available in Illinois at the bridge entrance and at North
Riverfront Park, south of the bridge along the Riverfront Trail.
Access to the bridge from the Missouri side is CLOSED due to
severe issues with car vandalism. Free parking is available at
the Illinois Bridge entrance and at North Riverfront Park, south
of the Bridge along the Riverfront Trail. It is strongly advised
to avoid leaving any valuables in your car. Park at your own
risk. The bridge is open to bikers and pedestrians daily from
9:00am to dusk and is wheelchair accessible. Call 314-416-9930
for information or visit the