I have always loved this bridge, it always felt like the gateway to O.J. Watson Park. As a kid heading to the park, we would pass Pawnee Plaza and then cross the bridge. I knew the park was next. There was a time that I wanted to walk up one of the arches, which my mom quickly shot down. As a ten year old, it was unfair for her to tell me it was not safe. I was a big boy, I would not fall.
The Marsh Engineering Company of Des Moines, Iowa designed the bridge in 1929. Construction began on January 30, 1930. Bu the time it was finished the whole project cost about $191,000. At the time the Eagle reported it was, “the longest bridge of modern type in the state.”
On July 22, 1931, the bridge was dedicated in honor of John Mack, a newspaper publisher, senator, and member of the Kansas State Highway Commission where he was known as the “father of good Kansas roads.”
A little about John: Mack was born in Switzerland, Indiana, January 2, 1867.
In 1887, the family moved to Newton, where he would become acting manager of The Newton Kansan Republican.
In January 1930, Mack died at his Newton home from complications of a kidney infection.
Back to the bridge: The Eagle reported, on July, 22, 1931, that about 5,000 people gathered on Lawrence street to celebrate the opening. The South Side Booster Band, the Chamber of Commerce quartet, and the Reed School of Dancing were all part of the evening’s events, which wrapped up with guests dancing to the music of the Bob and Laura Collins Orchestra
Lawrence Avenue was renamed Broadway, because Wichita city leaders felt most large cities usually had a Broadway.
In 1991 the John Mack Bridge was in danger of being torn down but a group called the “Save the John Mack Bridge Committee” formed to keep the bridge from meeting its demise. The bridge was placed on the National Register in January of 1992 and was renovated in 1997.
As Jeremy and I walked along the bridge we enjoyed the setting sun and the breeze. With a closer look at the arches… Mom was right… not safe.
According to the 8 Wonders of Kansas, “In the 1980s, 73 bridges of Marsh’s rainbow arch design were still standing in Kansas. In the early 2000’s, there were less than a dozen left.”
The John Mack Bridge is the longest remaining James Barney Marsh Rainbow Bridge in Kansas and the second longest in the United States.