Newcastle/Vermillion or Lewis and Clark? Missouri River bridge’s name sparks move to make a change

Newcastle/Vermillion or Lewis and Clark? Missouri River bridge's name sparks move to make a change by M. Jill Karolevitz Despite the long-established Newcastle/Vermillion Bridge name, efforts are under way in Vermillion to change the title of the still-to-be-completed Missouri River crossing.

But according to the committee that has been associated with the project since the late 1980s, a move to change the name to the Lewis and Clark Bridge would be a wasted effort because the Newcastle/Vermillion title "should be a done deal," said Dr. Jim Green, co-chairman of the Newcastle/Vermillion Bridge Committee.

In 1989, the Newcastle/Vermillion name was chosen by members of a bridge committee composed of both South Dakota and Nebraska citizens. Their main focus was to secure support and funding from the federal and state governments for the crossing, but a name for the project became necessary as plans progressed. After several choices were weeded out, Newcastle/Vermillion was adopted, as documented in minutes of an August, 1989 meeting.

"From that date on, all references to the bridge have been Newcastle/Vermillion Bridge for our funding, articles of incorporation, the bylaws, and registered agent designation," Green said.

More importantly, he added, Newcastle/Vermillion gives the crossing a geographical marker.

"It tells people where the bridge is," Green said. "Lewis and Clark could mean any point from St. Louis to Oregon. Newcastle/Vermillion lets people know its exact location on the map."

Regardless of the committee's opinion, petitions will be circulated in Vermillion in an attempt to christen the bridge Lewis and Clark, according to SD Rep. Judy Clark, who spoke on behalf of several Vermillion citizens who support the name change. The petition states:

"Whereas the Highway 19 bridge crossing the Missouri River is an important economic development tool for the communities in Nebraska and South Dakota,

"And whereas the economic benefits of promoting Lewis and Clark's historic visit to this area are long term and substantial to both South Dakota and Nebraska,

"And whereas the name of the bridge has never been publicly debated or voted on, "We, the undersigned citizens petition that the name of the bridge be the Lewis and Clark Bridge."

Once signatures are gathered, the document will be sent to the SD Department of Transportation and the Nebraska Department of Roads, as well as to governing officials in Clay County, Dixon County, NE, Vermillion and Newcastle, NE.

"We think that when the working name of the project (Newcastle/Vermillion) was chosen, the people of the committee were not aware of the importance of the Lewis and Clark Expedition to this area," Clark said. "Now we have an opportunity to take advantage of that and it would be short-sighted for us not to. This could have a great economic impact for the area because the bridge crosses the river at one of the few places where people can see the Missouri as it was when Lewis and Clark came through."

She added that there is no documentation for an official name at this time. In addition, "it has never been a decision discussed by the general public," Clark said. "It was just a small committee working on the bridge that named it. But things have changed and we need an open discussion.

"We want people to know, however, that this (petition) is not an attempt to denigrate the people who have worked on the bridge for so long," she added. "But something of new interest has come along and there's a need for a name change to reflect that."

Clay County Commissioner Bill Willroth Sr. supports the original Newcastle/Vermillion Bridge name.

"The naming of this bridge has come from the people � on both sides of the river � who have worked, sweated and worried about its existence for many, many years ? This is what they want to see it called ? The name chosen is on documents from here to Washington. Why try to change that? The name chosen does, obviously, mean something to those who, in reality, may have a right to choose a name for the structure," Willroth wrote in a letter to the editor that is printed on page four of this issue.

"Down through the years, since 1964, I have been on one bridge committee or another," Willroth said. "But nothing was truly done until this group got it together. They were the ones who shot-gunned it through and made the crossing a reality. The name is very important to them and it's wrong for some people over here to be a 'Johnny-come-lately' trying to change it. The bridge is already named."

Some of Vermillion's most respected citizens � from the president of The University of South Dakota to a state senator, have gone on record in support of naming the bridge after Lewis and Clark.

A letter to the editor received by the Plain Talk in support of the name change is signed by USD President James Abbott, Professor William O. Farber, District 17 Sen. John J. Reedy, Vermillion City Attorney Martin Weeks and several other prominent folk from all walks of life.

Elsie Lund, secretary-treasurer of the Newcastle/Vermillion Bridge Committee, supports the original title.

"We've gone 13 years with that name � through the federal system, as well as the states of South Dakota and Nebraska � everybody connected with the project knows it as the Newcastle/Vermillion Bridge," she said. "It also tells people exactly where it's at. Lewis and Clark is great and it (the expedition) is a real big thing right now with the bicentennial coming up. But 10 years down the road, all the hoopla is going to be caput. I'm sure Newcastle and Vermillion will last longer than that."

Lund also questions the timing of the name change effort.

"Where were all these people when we started this?" she asked. "Now when it's come down to the point where the bridge is almost done, they're jumping up and down and want to change the name. It reminds me of the 'Little Red Hen' story. She did all the work � planted and harvested the wheat, then made the bread and no one helped her. But once the bread was baked, they all wanted some."

Lund acknowledges, however, that the most important issue is the bridge's completion. Sy Kneifl, co-chairman of the Newcastle/Vermillion Bridge Committee, agrees. He remains loyal to the Newcastle/Vermillion name, but says in the long run the bridge's title is secondary compared to its existence.

"I don't want to get into a hassle over naming it," he said. "We've got a bridge that connects the two states and that's what counts.

"I'm not concerned about the name, but why change it now?" Kneifl continued. "In my opinion, Newcastle/Vermillion gives it a location. I have nothing against Lewis and Clark, but where is it? That could mean anywhere from St. Louis to the Pacific coast. Maybe we could have come up with a better name, but that's what the committee voted on."

The Newcastle/Vermillion Bridge Committee sent correspondence to Dennis Landguth, deputy director of the SD Department of Transportation on Aug. 16, requesting the name be retained. The letter, in part, states that "the city mayors of Newcastle and Vermillion, the chairman of the Dixon County Supervisors and chairman of the Board of the Clay County Commissioners, and the co-chairmen of the Newcastle/Vermillion Bridge Committee are in full support to retain the Newcastle/Vermillion Bridge as the official name as established on August 8, 1989."

Landguth said Tuesday that the name is not set in stone, but three groups have expressed their interests, with the Newcastle/Vermillion and Lewis and Clark people the most prominent.

"We're waiting for additional information from the Lewis and Clark folks," Landguth said. "They indicated they were going to send us petitions, do some legwork and get additional comments from local folks on the interest in the Lewis and Clark name.

"We already have a lot of stuff from the Newcastle/Vermillion folks because they have been essentially using that name for many years," he continued. "But we really haven't taken a position. We're going to see what happens with the local folks. We would sure like to see them agree on a name. That would help us a lot."

Once it has sufficient information, the SD Department of Transportation will "weigh the odds and see where that takes us," Landguth said. "We would have the final say in the name, and Nebraska has some say in this also, but we've got to get the people down there to some sort of agreement first, so we're still on hold at the present time.

"We really don't want to be in the middle of this thing," he continued. "We want to do what the people want. That's important to us. We want the people to name it themselves."

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