Above: Constructed in 1958, the Murray Baker Bridge is named for the first vice president of the company that eventually became Caterpillar Inc. Photo courtesy of Peoria Public Library Local History Collection
When the Murray Baker Bridge was first dedicated in December 1958, it was viewed not only “as a harbinger to a revitalized downtown Peoria,” as local historian Chris Farris of the Peoria Public Library has written; it was “heralded as the ‘New East-West Gateway to a Vast Midwest Empire.’” As part of the brand-new interstate highway system, it provided an integral connection to the rest of the country. It represented a hopeful future for the city and the region.
Last year at this time, we were preparing for the challenges of the bridge’s impending spring closure. Little did we know that an even more dramatic series of events would upend our entire lives—and endure all year long. Against the backdrop of a global pandemic, the bridge closure became more of a minor inconvenience.
When it reopened at the end of October, the bridge was not only safe, smooth and structurally sound, it was lit up and glowing with color! And while these lights might seem to be merely decorative, they take on greater symbolism during a most difficult year—signaling community pride, a renewed sense of optimism, and the promise of new possibilities around the corner.
In this first issue of a new year, the newly lit bridge is a metaphor for connection, for rejuvenation, and for hopeful change. Amidst the turmoil of 2020, it is a reminder that even in our darkest days, there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Last year was difficult for so many. We mourn the loss of loved ones taken before their time, the small businesses struggling to survive, and those who were left without homes or jobs. Meanwhile, the collective resilience on display—the endless pivots and reworkings of old ways—is something in which we can take pride. In our case, I’m very proud of the Peoria Magazines team for facing these challenges head-on while continuing to serve our community, just as we have done for over 30 years.
While this “new year” feeling will soon fade into the ebb and flow of daily life, now is the time to savor the blank slate, the resolve for improvement, and the hope for better things on the horizon. We have a lot to be thankful for, and a lot to look forward to. Perhaps 2021 will be our best year yet. —Jonathan Wright, Editor in Chief