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Highways, Byways, And Bridge Photography
Thebes Bridge
Mississippi River Rail Crossing At Thebes
Thebes, Illinois

Thebes Bridge

• Structure ID: NBI 000002991000920.
• Location: River Mile 43.7.
• River Elevation: 308 Feet.
• Railroads: Union Pacific, BNSF.
• Daily Traffic Count: 35 Trains Per Day (Estimated).
• Bridge Type: Steel Through Truss.
• Length: 3,959 Feet Overall, 651 Foot Longest Span.
• Width: 2 Tracks.
• Navigation Channel Width: 651 Feet Wide.
• Height Above Water: 104 Feet.
• Date Built: Opened April 18, 1905.
Thebes was a choke point for rail traffic heading south out of Chicago. The Cotton Belt operated a ferry service that took entire trains across the river. Despite the addition of a second ferry, the ferry service was not able to keep up with traffic demands. As a result, a group of five local railroads pooled their efforts to build a permanent bridge.

The Thebes rail bridge was designed by famous bridge builder Ralph Modjeski. The bridge was built very strong given that the structure was designed to carry two tracks, which could see two trains crossing the river at the same time. In addition, it was envisioned that auto traffic would become more popular. The bridge design included provisions to add a car deck at some point in the future. As it turns out, the auto deck was never added. Due to this extra strength, the Thebes rail bridge is known as the strongest bridge to span the Mississippi River.

The bridge abutments are made out of reinforced concrete. While that is common today, this is a very early example of the use of this material. Some considered it risky when it was built. Nevertheless, the bridge is still standing some 100 years later despite being in daily use carrying ever longer and heavier trains.

While the new bridge streamlined rail traffic, the trains now had no reason to stop at Thebes. As a result, the town more or less dried up and blew away. Today, it is little more than a campground, a few seasonal houses, a few older historic homes, and one very nasty public housing complex.

The photo above is the river spans of the Thebes bridge as seen from the east riverbank in the village of Thebes looking to the south.

Thebes Bridge

The photo above is the concrete viaduct approach spans on the east side of the Mississippi. The trail is passable by high clearance vehicles such as SUVs and pick-up trucks. The village of Thebes is located just beyond the bridge to the north. The photo below is looking southwest towards the west bank of the Mississippi River.

Thebes Bridge

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