Finley Farms took a step into its future by embracing its past as the historic Riverside Bridge was erected once again over the Finley River on March 30.
The bridge is one piece of redevelopment at the historic Ozark Mill site that city officials hope will make the city of Ozark a destination for more than “throwed rolls” at Lambert’s Cafe.
Johnny Morris’ Finley Farms is a redevelopment of the Ozark Mill property established in 1833. The mill, which sits on the bank of the Finley River, ceased operation in 1992.
Work is underway to restore the mill and protect it from flood damage that has affected the area for decades. The mill is being redeveloped into a restaurant and event venue.
Nearby on site is the Ozark Farmers Market and The Workshop, a craft-making space and coffeehouse. A bar called The Garrison inside of the mill and a small, open-air event venue, The Chapel, will round out Finley Farms once completed.
Steve Childers, Ozark city administrator, said Finely Farms has the potential to become a regional and national tourist destination to put Ozark on the map between two other Morris properties – Bass Pro Shops in Springfield and Big Cedar Lodge in Branson.
“We always knew we had a great geographic location right on Highway 65 between Springfield and Branson, but we often struggled to capitalize on that,” Childers said. “That’s hard to do because, other than Lambert’s, we really didn’t have something to pull people off of the highway.”
Finley Farms is located off of Route 14, also known as Jackson Street, a main artery into Ozark from Highway 65. Childers said in order to handle the hopeful increase in traffic that Finley Farms will bring, the city is improving and widening Jackson Street where it runs east toward downtown.
In a partnership between the city of Ozark and the Missouri Department of Transportation, the $9.3 million project will widen Jackson Street to five lanes between 16th Street and the Finley River Bridge and widen the intersection of Jackson Street and State Highway NN, where Finley Farms is located, according to the MODOT website.
Plans also are underway to connect Springfield to Ozark via the Ozark Greenways trail system with the 7.5-mile Chadwick Flyer greenway trail. The Chadwick Flyer will begin near Lake Springfield Park and end near downtown Ozark. There, it will connect to the existing Finley River Trail, which leads into Finley Farms and the Riverside Bridge.
Mary Kromrey, executive director of nonprofit Ozark Greenways Inc., said at the Finley Farms event the old Chadwick Flyer railroad route serves as the inspiration for the trail path. The project has an estimated $8 million price tag.
Kromery said the project partnership – which includes the cities of Springfield and Ozark, Ozark Greenways and City Utilities of Springfield – is pursuing federal grant funding for the work and will be conducting an engineering study to determine the best way for the trail to cross Highway 65. About one mile of the trail has been built so far, in two segments near Olde World Estates subdivision and Sonrise Baptist Church, both in Ozark.
The 274-foot Riverside Bridge served as the Chadwick Flyer railroad crossing for Finley River until it was deemed too small for traffic demands in 1924. The bridge was moved 1.5 miles upstream, where it remained until it closed for repairs in 2010. It was permanently closed in 2015 after sustaining repeated flood damage, according to a news release from Finley Farms.
On March 30, as invited guests stood on the nearby McCracken Road Bridge, crews from Nabholz Construction Corp. and Great River Engineering Inc. hoisted the historic bridge, which was built in 1909, onto new supports just downstream from its original location.
The bridge will allow visitors to cross the Finley River on foot, said Dayle Duggins, marketing manager for Finley Farms. An official opening of the bridge has not been set. The bridge also will be available to rent for private events along with The Chapel nearby, Duggins said.
Efforts to save the historic bridge from demolition began in 2010 with the establishment of the grassroots Save Riverside Bridge Initiative.
To stop demolition of the bridge in 2010, the initiative secured the bridge onto the National Historic Register. In 2014, the initiative received the Preserve Missouri Award from Missouri Preservation.
Kris Dyer, founder and director of the initiative, fought back emotion as she spoke ahead of the raising of the bridge on March 30 – the culmination of years of effort.
“I was told many times that saving the Riverside Bridge was a lost cause. But we were determined to save this beautiful historic bridge for future generations, and today we’re seeing that before our eyes,” Dyer said.
While Finley Farms and Ozark city officials hope the project will bring economic benefits to the city, Childers said the potential impact is yet unknown.
“To have that in the heart of the city of Ozark, and to preserve our history and bring that back to life, it’s really hard to quantify,” Childers said. “I don’t think we have any idea what the exponential benefit will be.”
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