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The Quest for a Bridge

By all accounts, and by a number of standards, Tuesday, September 17, 1940, was a landmark day in the history of the Mississippi Delta. Great excitement surrounded the dedication of the new $4.5 million dollar Benjamin G. Humphreys bridge across the Mississippi River, and more than 5000 people turned out for the opening ceremony at the bridge's toll house south of Greenville. With the cutting of a ribbon and the opening of the bridge to traffic the following month, life in Greenville and across the Delta would change forever, for this was the day when people of the region could begin to reap prosperity on a new river of commerce. US Highway 82 would be one leg on a system of new highways that ran from New York City to Los Angeles, an "all-weather route from coast-to coast."

Before the bridge, the only way to get vehicular traffic and local freight across the river was by ferry. Milton C. Smith, (pictured) mayor of Greenville in the late 1930s, recognized growth in the "Port City of the Delta" was being hindered by the lack of a permanent river crossing; Smith understood his city's future would depend on forging "a link in an important transcontinental highway and the adding of an extensive Arkansas trade." There had been talk on a regional level of getting money for a bridge at Greenville, and in 1936, a group called the Arkansas-Mississippi-Alabama US 82 Association was formed for that purpose. Final success, however, would result from initiative at a more local level. In 1937, Mayor Smith began working with John A. Fox, secretary of the Washington County Chamber of Commerce, to get Congressional approval for the bridge and to raise the $2.5 million (Fox's estimate) needed for construction.

The United States was still in the middle of the Great Depression; getting money or political support for a multi-million dollar project would not be an easy task.


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