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Carter's Bridge

1919 Blueprints

Showing through Nov. 1st

The latest gallery show at Park Photo displays reproductions of the original blueprints of Carter's Bridge from the archives of the Yellowstone Gateway Museum of Park County. This iconic bridge, built around 1921, spans the Yellowstone River approximately four miles south of Livingston and provides access to the east side of Paradise Valley, linking Highway 89 to East River Road.

Flooding and windstorms damaged or destroyed three bridges prior to the construction of the robust and beautiful concrete-arch bridges that still stands today.

"Big" Tom Carter built the first crossing, a log toll bridge, sometime after June 1882, when the area was opened to white settlement after the forced removal of the Crow Indians from Paradise Valley and surrounding area. Carter homesteaded the property adjacent to his bridge, irrigating the bench lands between the river and the mountains with water from the north fork of Deep Creek. Through much of the 19th century, the Montana territorial legislature had little tax revenue to fund transportation infrastructure. Therefore, it was not uncommon for private citizens to build their own ferries and bridges and to set their own tolls.

In 1886, Carter sold his bridge to the Gallatin County Commissioners for $500; the Montana territorial legislature did not carve Park County out of Gallatin County until the following year.

After a high spring runoff in 1898, Park County replaced the first bridge with a 220-foot combination timber and steel span. Strong winds destroyed the second bridge in 1908, and the county built a third bridge with another timber and steel span constructed by the Montana Bridge and Iron Company.

In June 1918, another round of flooding damaged the third bridge and washed out most of the other bridges in the county, including the Harvat, Emigrant and Carbella crossings. The county sought a more substantial design for Carter's Bridge to withstand the powerful currents of the Yellowstone and to accommodate the proliferation of automobile traffic.

The current Carter's Bridge stands on a new site slightly farther south of where the original bridges were erected. Its striking arches were modeled after architect George Shanley's design for the Tenth Street Bridge in Great Falls, Montana. The state highway commission built a number of arched bridges in scenic or urban gateway areas throughout the state up until about 1927. In August 1919, the county and state highway commissions awarded the Carter's Bridge project to the Ben Crenshaw Company of Livingston. The highway department's chief engineer, John Edy, later criticized the quality of Crenshaw's work, complaining in one instance the guardrails appeared "unworkmanlike as to inevitably draw public attention to its defects." The Crenshaw Company's bondholder, First State Bank of Livingston, eventually hired new workers to finish the construction of Carter's Bridge.

Today, the east end of bridge is home to a popular fishing access of the same name, where the crossing's gentle arches tastefully frame the profiles of anglers against the Absaroka Range throughout the year.

All images are from the Yellowstone Gateway Museum and were printed and framed by Park Photo. Prints are available for purchase. Proceeds from sales support the ongoing preservation of history at the Yellowstone Gateway Museum of Park County.