A special note to the few people who read this, if any: I recently relocated to the Grand Canyon in Arizona. This might seem totally random, but those who know me know I’m prone to moving around. Don’t worry, the change is not permanent, and I will eventually return to our beloved Ozarks. I will continue to update the blog as often as circumstances allow, but I may not have regular internet access for some time. Fear not, for any serious lapse in updates simply means I’m out searching the high desert for something truly amazing to explore.
For now, here’s a pretty picture:
When I started this feature last spring I did several stories in a row all having to do with bridges, after which I swore them off for a time. That time is now over. I visited two unique bridges over the summer, one of which no longer exists (in a sense); the other I discovered quite by accident.
The first was one I had visited several times in the past, though under different circumstances. It was an old railroad trestle that had been recently rebuilt into a footbridge for the Ozark Greenways Trail between Bolivar and Springfield. It was the second longest bridge on the trail, and was quite impressive, having undergone extensive reconstruction efforts.
That is, until the fire.
I heard about it while I was still in Kansas, and made it a point to check out the aftermath as soon as I returned home.
Someone – who to the best of my knowledge remains at large – decided it would be a good idea to set fire to the bridge. Investigators discovered the fire was actually lit at three separate points along the length of the bridge, which rules out an accident. It could have been the work of a disgruntled farmer, many of which hold grudges against the railroad for reasons I’d rather not get into here. One thing’s for sure: whoever meant to burn it sure got the job done.
Zen Master and I decided to take a bike trip out to see the aftermath, as the bridge is only readily accessible by bike or canoe, and the river was down. It wasn’t pretty. The bridge, which was only recently completed, was charred beyond recognition. The railroad ties that remained had been reduced to charcoal. It was a total loss. The bridge had stone supports, which were unharmed by the blaze, but the rest will have to be replaced and essentially rebuilt from the ground up.
Ozark Greenways does have plans to rebuild the bridge, eventually replacing it with a concrete structure, but at the moment it’s blocked off on both ends, and there’s no easy way across the Sac River some 40ft below, which is no doubt a problem for the bikers who once frequented the trail.
The second, near Morrisville, MO, is known locally as “South Bridge,” and is located a few miles downstream from the burnt bridge. I’m not exactly sure what drew us to this particular bridge, or why I was milling around beneath it, but what I stumbled upon was shockingly bizarre. I’ve seen plenty of graffiti under bridges, but nothing quite like this.
This particular bridge has been transformed into a memorial (to someone whose name I’ve removed from the images), and the entire underside is now plastered in random bible verses and vaguely inspirational messages, such as “JESUS” and “WWJD?”
As someone who always enjoys unusual religious sites, which – from Messiah Mills to the various praying hands – our area has no shortage of, I was pleased with my discovery. There’s not much more to say, so I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves:
The North Town Mall has always been a favorite hangout of mine, and while this has caused many to question my sanity and shopping sense, it’s hard for me to imagine Springfield without at least one semi-abandoned shopping mall. And yet, my greatest fears may soon become a reality.
The “Retail Historians” at Deadmalls.com have recently updated their page dedicated to the North Town Mall, declaring it officially dead. While I’m hesitant to follow suit, and have vehemently defended the North Town Mall’s honor on numerous occasions (including against the attacks of the aforementioned website), I’m forced to reluctantly agree with them.
Shortly before I left for Massachusetts I paid the mall what I feared might be my final visit, in order to attend the closing sale of Another Comic Shop. ACS was the last store left open in the entire mall (not counting Wal-Mart and Subway, which are only externally attached to the mall proper and do not sport interior entrances), and I assumed that once it was out the mall would close its doors for good (or bad, as the case may be). Fortunately that hasn’t yet come to pass.
BUT - Tragedy strikes! Deadmalls.com cites a News-Leader article, which claims the attached Wal-Mart store (which at present is owner of the entire mall) has taken out a permit to demolish the mall. While this has long been rumored (sources inside Wal-Mart have informed me of the possibility of the land being used for a Supercenter), the idea has never solidified. In fact, Wal-Mart has flip-flopped on this very matter in the past, but this action forces me to believe that they finally mean business.
Quick history lesson: For those who don’t remember, there was once another dead mall in Springfield – the South Oaks Center, which meant the grand total of dead vs living malls stood at 2:1. Yet that ratio no longer stands. And what horrible fate befell the South Oaks Center? It too was enveloped by a parasitic Wal-Mart and converted into a Supercenter.
So, fearing the worst I headed back to the mall shortly after returning home, camera in hand. I was determined to document everything I could while I still had the chance. A lone security guard met me at the door, and seemed overly suspicious of my being there. I explained to him that I just wanted to look around, but understood there were no stores open. He gave me a hard time, reinforcing the fact that nothing was open, but ultimately allowed me passage.
Once inside I met several elderly mall walkers, many of which had heard the bad news and had apparently resigned themselves to the hopelessness of their situation. Oldsters hung out in the food court, commandeering empty tables and even bringing their own picnic lunches and chess sets from home. Homemade “please do not move tables” signs hung on the wall.
Storefronts were draped in chains, and a makeshift stage had been assembled below the burnt-out neon "NT" logo for use in child beauty pageants and bluegrass concerts. All the while the lone security guard stared blankly from his podium between the Branson flier wrack and the abandoned ice cream kiosk.
A large retractable fence blocked off the main corridor, where the mall originally split into three branches and terminated in a large open area complete with fountains, gardens, and sculptures. A skylight hung perilously overhead. My source inside Wal-Mart tells me this area was closed when the seal started to break around the skylight, for fear that some panes would come down on an unsuspecting jogger or retail historian.
The fountain no longer operates and it's once-rotating ornaments have corroded to a standstill, but the plant life seems to be well watered and maintained. Wasted effort? Perhaps, but no more so than the effort it takes to heat, power, and staff an enormous vacant building for 8 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Going back to talk to the security guard, he tells me that the owners had taken out a demolition permit once before, a year prior, but he believed they were serious this time. He had to leave shortly afterward to duct-tape a broken window on the building’s exterior, which gave me a chance to slip into the bowels of the mall. They consisted mostly of one long corridor, doubling as a storm shelter, which runs from one end, past a control room of sorts, and connects to the food court and public restrooms on the other. There’s also a large area in the middle, currently being used as warehouse space.
Stepping outside I encountered a mailman who informed me of some survey crews who were there earlier, taking core samples in the parking lot; another nail in the coffin.
Once the proud home of such establishments as Waldenbooks, Radio Shack, and Dippin’ Dots, the mall’s storefronts later degenerated into host for such places as a thrift store, an RC car race track, and the meeting place for a local quilting club. Today the mall stands at 100% empty, yet the lights, AC, piped-in Muzak and skeleton crew of one cantankerous man remain.
So why is the North Town Mall still open? What purpose does it serve? How long can it possibly survive? Who cares! I think Batteries Not Included said it best:
“The quickest way to end a miracle is to ask it why it is... or what it wants.”
I woke up this morning to discover that a building had collapsed over the night on the square in downtown Bolivar, less than a mile away. Check it out. It’s pretty cool.
As soon as I got around to it I ventured downtown and, stashing my vehicle, preceded to inspect the site. One whole side of the square had been blocked off, and emergency vehicles surrounded the area. I was able to get surprisingly close before I was stopped by caution tape.
The scene was similar to the incident in Clinton last year, in which an older building of similar design unexpectedly collapsed during an Elk’s Club meeting. Fortunately, this one had gone down late at night, after all the businesses had closed. Consequently, there were no injuries.
The building is over 100 years old, and the collapse seems to have been localized entirely within the “Daily Grind” coffee house, leaving the remaining ¾ of the structure intact. Unfortunately, I doubt the rest of the building can be saved, as it probably shares whatever structural defect brought down the corner store.
At this point there's no indication as to what brought down the building, exactly, but I'd wager it had something to do with the weight of the ice coupled with a leaky roof. From the ground it was possible to see quite a bit of ice still clinging to what had been the top of the building.
When I was younger the store was known as “Asia World,” and I recall sneaking into and exploring the catacomb-like interconnected cellars beneath it, which were accessible through a back alley entrance and included trap doors that had led back into the various storefronts once upon a time.
The local news vans were just starting to show up as I was leaving, but unlike White Rabbit I wasn’t lucky enough to catch any news-making footage of the collapse or make out with the local Asian reporter. I returned home (and by home, I of course mean someone else’s, as I’m currently going on two weeks without power) just in time to watch a live report broadcast from the scene.
I recently made a trip to St. Louis where I spent several days. I had resolved to do more posting here upon my return, as I had been back in Missouri for a while and my life was starting to return to normal, with caving every other weekend or so. Unfortunately, something happened that caused that resolve to melt away - a giant pile of ice fell on my house. I guess all my years of saying that winters in MO were a thing of the past finally caught up with me, because last Friday night a good portion of a tree fell on the house. Luckily some power lines broke its fall.
The limb completely ripped the meter from the wall, took down the lines going into the house, and tore the wiring right out of our weatherhead. After getting the runaround from the power company we were forced to hire a private electrician, and $1200 worth of repairs later we're still waiting for Southwest Electric to come and do their part. Of course, there are still thousands of people in Springfield without power, but it's hard not to be bitter when you live in the only home in your town without electricity - including at least one abandoned house, which inexplicably had power restored before us. Seriously. Way to prioritize, guys.
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