Yankton's Signature Landmark
The historic structure most readily visible from Yankton's riverfront is the Meridian Bridge. It is notable as the first permanent river crossing in the Yankton vicinity and as one of the final links in the Meridian Highway, an early north-south route from Winnipeg, Canada, to Mexico City, Mexico. The vertical lift design was a typical period engineering solution to a typical problem of spanning a wide navigable river, and thus did not garner much attention in engineering circles in the 1920s. The region's population, however, considered it an outstanding bridge engineering accomplishment that greatly improved economic and social connections across the Nebraska and South Dakota border.
The Meridian Bridge was built under the auspices of the Meridian Bridge Company that was incorporated in 1919 by local civic leaders under the direction of Deloss B. Gurney, a prominent seed merchant. The businessman, motivated by a desire to ensure Yankton's economic future as a center of trade, wanted the bridge to replace a ferry and a seasonally operated pontoon bridge that limited transportation south from Yankton to markets in rural northeastern Nebraska.
The bridge boosters also supported the bridge as an improvement to the Meridian Highway. Indeed, the bridge company used the Meridian Highway in its name in order to elevate the bridge project above a local character even though the company had no official organizational connection with the highway. Established around 1911, the Meridian Highway traversed the Great Plains in a north-south direction and derived its name from the Sixth Principal Meridian, which it roughly paralleled.
The Final Toll
The $1.1 million Meridian Bridge was financed primarily by local capital at a time when it was increasingly common for bridges to be built through some form of federal or state aid. The Meridian Bridge, officially dedicated on October 11, 1924, was from the first a symbol of local pride, in large part because it had been conceived and built under local leadership. It appeared on souvenir medals and postcards. For many years, Yankton held the local nickname of "Bridge City." The community even considered December 1, 1952, a day of celebration when the wife of former bridge company executive Deloss Gurney paid the last toll and the bridge became officially debt free.