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> History: The Quest for a Bridge
> Benjamin G. Humphreys

 

The Quest for a Bridge (continued)

Where John A. Fox succeeded as a master of politics, Mayor Milton C. Smith succeeded as a master of finance, and during the year that followed, the Mayor's skills would be tested to the fullest. A survey of traffic volume, commissioned to satisfy possible investors, concluded there wouldn't be sufficient income from tolls to warrant construction of a $4.5 million bridge, and that the project merited only $2.55 million in financing. The Reconstruction Finance Corporation would lend the $2.55 million, but this left Smith and Fox some $2 million short.

In September 1938, Mayor Smith and City Attorney S.B. Thomas went to Washington to seek money from the Works Progress Administration (WPA), a Depression-era agency that provided work for unemployed persons through the funding of public works projects. Smith and Thomas had to convince the WPA that construction of a bridge would furnish considerable employment. The two made their case and the WPA agreed.

On September 21, 1938, Smith and Thomas sent a wire to Greenville with the news that their visit had been successful and that "we could now look forward to the actual materialization of our fondest dream, the construction of the mammoth bridge." By prearrangement, the word went out to the Greenville's steam plants -- eight of them -- and they blew their whistles for ten minutes in celebration.

Just over two years later, on October 4, 1940, the US 82 Bridge over the Mississippi River was officially opened to traffic. The bridge was named for Benjamin G. Humphreys, a former United States Congressman from Greenville who is credited for introducing the term "flood control" to the American lexicon. Humphreys was co-author of the Ransdell-Humphreys Flood Control Act of 1917 which established a national flood control program on the Mississippi, and delivered thousands of people on the lower river from the worst of the river's wrath.

With the cutting of a ribbon by Mildred McGee, Ben Humphrey's granddaughter, the new bridge was open. The city of Greenville was now a port on a great east-west river of concrete.

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