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The Little Golden Gate Bridge

The Little Golden Gate Bridge

By Luke Carothers

Tucked deep within the peaks and folds of the Ozark Mountains sits a unique engineering curiosity dubbed the “Little Golden Gate Bridge” by a small handful of local residents.  This historic suspension bridge is the last of its kind to carry vehicular traffic in the state, helping Arkansas Highway 187 cross the White River at Table Rock Lake on its winding journey through the mountainous landscape.  Otherwise known as the Beaver Bridge, this one-lane suspension bridge took two years to build as construction came to a close and the bridge opened to traffic in 1949.

The opening of the Beaver Bridge didn’t mark the beginning of historical significance for this White River crossing.  Rather, it marked the beginning of yet another chapter in its growing history.  The bridge’s location coincides with a ferry landing established by the town’s namesake–Wilson A. Beaver–in 1850.  Beaver settled in the area that would eventually bear his name early in the year, and, with his family, built a log cabin, grit mill, ferry, and stagecoach inn.  

Beaver’s quick work paid off, as the location quickly developed into a vital ferry crossing for the growing network of stagecoach routes through the area as well as for wagon trains loaded with settlers moving westward.  The area was eventually renamed Beavers Ferry, and it continued to be a central location for movement during and after the Civil War.  The town of Beaver was eventually established in the 1870s with its first postmaster being appointed in 1879.  Around this time a local quarry began carving out stones from the surrounding hills that would be used to build some of the region’s most iconic structures like the Crescent and Basin Park Hotels in Eureka Springs and the railroad bridge that crosses the Arkansas River in Fort Smith–as well as bridges that spanned the Mississippi River at St. Louis and Memphis.

In 1882, the railroad came to Beaver when a bridge was built across Butler Creek, a tributary to the nearby White River, to connect the nearby Eureka Springs Railroad–later known as the St. Louis & North Arkansas Railway.  Even with the railroad in operation, the ferry at Beaver continued its operations until 1926 when a county construction crew erected a concrete bridge for vehicular traffic near the site of the current Beaver Bridge.  The sole means of egress for vehicular traffic across the White River in the area, this concrete bridge stood for 17 years before being destroyed in a flood in 1943.

Following the destruction of the original concrete bridge, this critical infrastructure link was broken for four years before the Pioneer Construction Company was awarded a contract to build another vehicular bridge near the original site in 1947.  Coming in at a cost around $107,000, the proposed design was for a wire cable suspension bridge.  Initial design plans changed shortly afterwards when the Army Corps of Engineers informed the project’s contract that creation of nearby Table Rock Lake meant the bridge deck would need to be raised nearly forty feet.  This change to the original design delayed the bridge’s construction two years, but the bridge was finally completed in 1949.  

The Beaver Bridge utilizes a set of two steel cables draped over two steel towers on concrete piers with the cables anchored in concrete abutments buried in the ground.Upon completion, the single-lane suspension bridge provided a crucial transportation link to the residents of Carroll County.  The eleven-foot wide wooden deck bridge spans 554-feet across the White River.  Alternatively referred to as the Golden Gate of the Ozarks, the Beaver Bridge soon grew into both a crucial transportation link as well as a cultural icon.  The structure was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1990, and has appeared in at least one major motion picture with the 2005 film Elizabethtown.

The Beaver Bridge has undergone several repairs throughout the years, including the most recent replacement of the bridge deck in 2019.  Although the bridge now sees a fraction of the traffic and importance it once held, there are no plans to replace the unique structure, and it remains the only suspension bridge open to vehicular traffic in the state of Arkansas.