The Owsley Ferry wasn’t universally loved. Monopolies often aren’t. It probably wasn’t price gouging that caused the grumbling, though. Ferry rates were originally set by the Legislature. By the time the Owsley Ferry came along, the Idaho Public Utilities Commission was deciding how much the owners could charge.
In its later years, the ferry had a reputation for being dangerous. Its approaches were said to be unsafe and its equipment not well cared for. In 1918 Mrs. C.C. Leth drowned while using the Ferry. She and her husband plunged their car through the gates of the ferry into 20 feet of water. He got out. She didn’t. No mention of what caused the accident made the news.
For a time, the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) required the ferry to be “on call” during the night. Those wanting to cross would pull a string from one side of the river, which would ring a bell on the other side. In the December 2, 1919 edition of the Idaho Statesman it was reported that Don Lyman, of Twin Falls filed a complaint with the PUC because he and some of his friends spent an unproductive hour ceaselessly ringing the bell in near-zero weather without being able to raise anyone on the other side.
In any case, the Owsley Ferry would soon be replaced by the Owsley Bridge. It was one of the earliest projects of the Idaho Bureau of Highways, which started in 1919. One of their charges was to coordinate the construction of bridges in the state, largely taking over that task from the counties.
The Owsley Bridge was completed in 1921 at a cost of just over $127,000—about $1.8 million in today’s dollars. It was a cause for celebration. It was declared a holiday in Gooding and Twin Falls counties, which were joined by the bridge. More than 5,000 people showed up for the day of celebration as did some 800 cars. The day’s events included band concerts, horse and foot races, a baseball game, and free movies. Governor D.W. Davis was there to keynote the event. He couldn’t top the highlight of the day, a wedding ceremony held in the middle of the bridge on a platform built for the occasion.
The depth of the Snake River at the bridge site made it impossible to use a traditional truss system, which would have required building several supporting piers to hold up the 430-foot bridge. That seems somehow appropriate, because I am out of my depth here writing about engineering, so I’ll depend heavily on the application for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, written by Don Watts of the Idaho State Historic Preservation office in 1998.
Charles A. Kyle, the state bridge engineer, designed the “continuous cantilevered Warren through-truss” bridge. It is the only such bridge in the state. Watts noted in his application that the bridge was originally designed to span 429 feet, but the supporting piers were a foot further apart than they were supposed to be. Engineer Kyle found a way to lengthen the center joint and solve the problem.
Meanwhile, the Owsley Brothers, who were essentially put out of business by the new bridge, found it challenging to quit their ferry. The Public Utilities Commission refused to let them stop offering service until they appeared before the Commission to make the request in person, which they eventually did.
The Owsley Bridge, which did make the national register, can still be seen just off State Highway 30, 3.5 miles south of Hagerman.