Today, it is hard to imagine that the dedication of a bridge would prompt a two-day celebration attracting thousands of people from four states.
In 1929, however, the opening of the Navajo Bridge on U.S. 89 spanning the Colorado River in Arizona was a big event.It signaled a new era of convenient travel and the end of much of the relative isolation for cities, settlements and ranches along U.S. 89 in southern Utah and northern Arizona.
The occasion's importance was not lost on Heber Jesse Meeks, a Kanab rancher, community leader and local stake president of The
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who was asked to help with the dedication.
Meeks performed a "marriage ceremony" on the bridge with two
young people representing Utah and Arizona and symbolizing the link between "the beautiful and alluring Southwest to the noble and sturdy Northwest."
Meeks died in 1934. However, his grandson, Norman Jackson, now a judge on the Utah Court of Appeals, recalls family discussions indicating his grandfather was serious about the symbolism behind the "marriage," even if it was a novel way to open a bridge.
Jackson said his grandfather had recently returned from a six-month LDS Church assignment in Alaska where he had dedicated the area for LDS missionary efforts.
"I think that was the genesis for the idea," Jackson said.
The "marriage" also called for greater ties between Utah and Arizona as shown by this excerpt from the ceremony written by Meeks:
"And each of you pledge yourselves to be loyal to your country; to cooperate in advancing the mutual interests of Utah and Arizona; to banish strife, jealousy and envy, to visit one another, to work together to make the relationship between the two sections closer and more cordial; to become better acquainted with the resources and beauties of each; to work on a broader scale to utilize the riches, the strength, the brain, the brawn and the vision of both the Southwest and the Northwest toward making the union of the two productive and to the mutual advantage of each."
Previously, crossing the Colorado River in that area meant taking the ferryboat at Lee's Ferry.
And in the early days, the road that became U.S. 89 both north and south of Kanab was a rough road indeed.
The dirt by-way that became U.S. 89 was so heavily rutted that buggy and wagon wheels always got wedged, and vehicles had to be pushed out of ruts. Travelers often took a long and inconvenient detour to Kanab by way of an easterly route starting near Alton, coming south down Johnson Canyon and cutting across west to Kanab.
The state allocated money for an improved north-south road, but area residents disagreed about which route the highway that became U.S. 89 should take. Eventually it was built across "the sands," a difficult stretch of heavy sand north of Kanab that made a shorter, more direct connection with Mt. Carmel, Orderville and other cities to the north.
The book "History of Kane County," published by the Kane County Daughters of Utah Pioneers, recalls the road construction this way:
"To build the road over the forbidding stretch of sand was a Herculean job. It required hauling clay from a clay knoll and spreading it in a thick layer over the sand, then covering it with a layer of gravel hauled from a gravel hill near Mt. Carmel. The work was done by teams, as motor vehicles were not in the picture at that time."
Later, the road improvements were extended south to Marble Canyon, the site of the long-awaited new bridge that took two years to construct.
"That bridge opened the whole thing up," recalls Athe Meeks, 81, a Kanab native now retired in West Valley City. He is Heber Meeks' youngest son. "That bridge made it easier to get into Arizona for us and for them to get into Utah."
The bridge brought in people from all over the country and created better farm-to-market access.
"Utah used to grow a lot of potatoes and things that were shipped into the Phoenix market," Meeks said. "It opened up a whole new market."
Like many local residents, the Meeks family turned out for the June 14-15 ceremony. Many camped out and stayed the entire time to enjoy the festivities.
A new book titled "Lee's Ferry Desert River Crossing" by W. L. Rusho and C. Gregory Crampton said the event attracted 7,000 people and featured speeches by the governors of Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada as well as LDS Church President Heber J. Grant.
"Since it was still the time of prohibition, a bottle of ginger ale was used to christen the bridge," the book said. "Indian dances were held in the evening. For many spectators, however, the biggest thrill came when Jack Irish of Flagstaff flew his airplane, an American Eagle 110, down the canyon and under the bridge."
LeRoy Judd of Kanab remembers riding to the celebration at age nine in a Model A Ford and getting to wear Levis instead of knee pants.
Judd's older brother, Kenneth, served as the bridegroom on the bridge - and he got to kiss the young woman, Betty Kastner of Prescott, Ariz., at the end of the ceremony.
LeRoy Judd laughingly remembers his brother, who died in Salt Lake City last year, as a dashing youth who probably wouldn't have gone through with the ceremony without getting a kiss.