Thirty-one years after the opening of the Wagon Bridge in 1849, a second bridge spanned the Illinois River. This bridge, constructed by Alexander Partridge, was located at the Narrows at the upper end of Lake Peoria. 

Partridge, native Ohioan and resident of Fondulac Township by 1860, appears in the 1870 federal census for Fondulac Township as a 40-year-old ferryman and it is believed he was employed by Nancy Frye who owned the ferry located at the Narrows. Partridge purchased property in 1872 and 1873 on both banks of the Illinois River where the Upper Free Bridge would come to stand and in September 1874 he was awarded licenses by both Peoria and Tazewell counties to operate a ferry between his properties. He then purchased the steam ferry, “East Peoria” and commenced to operate in competition with the Frye Ferry that had plied the Narrows just above his site since 1855.

Mrs. Frye filed a lawsuit claiming that Partridge’s east bank site had a former codicil that prevented it from being used as a ferry landing.  The Illinois Supreme Court in its June term of 1876 ruled in favor of Mrs. Frye and prohibited Partridge from operating his ferry from there. 

In retaliation, Alexander Partridge applied for a permit from the Peoria County Board of Supervisors to establish, erect and maintain a toll bridge at this location. He was awarded a permit on 22 July 1879 and a wooden pontoon bridge was built, designed by George F. Wightman, a local engineer, and constructed by Milwaukee Bridge Company. This bridge was short lived and on 23 August 1882 it was destroyed by fire. A. W. Oakford in his column “Peoriana,” in the 26 August 1948 edition of the Peoria Journal Star described it thusly: “Alexander Partridge’s pontoon bridge’s draw span was destroyed by fire last night — having been set fire by a scoundrel in the dark of the night. This burning was only another chapter in the series of misfortunes that have plagued the structure. Partridge had built the bridge, with the backing of William C. H. Barton, to run ferryman Frey out of business after the ferryman had driven out Partridge’s ferry boat. First a pontoon had been carried away by ice; then someone bored holes in the pontoons and sank them; later ice again swept part of the structure away”.  

Partridge fixed his loss at $30,000 and never rebuilt. 

Joseph Partridge, on Sept. 15, 2011, regarding the Upper Free Bridge, stated: “Alexander Partridge, my great-great-grandfather and owner of the first ferry boat at Peoria, donated the land for the bridge approaches on both sides of the river on the condition that no toll could ever be charged to cross the bridge. He also paid a young stone carver, Joseph Petarde, to do the sculpting for the approaches”.  This appears to be an amplification of family history since Alexander Partridge was born some six years after the first documented Peoria ferry and received some $8,900 dollars for the sale of western and eastern bank right-of-ways.  It does appear the Joseph Petarde cut the stone for the Upper Free Bridge abutments, but was hired by the New York based construction company Lewis, Wood and Tenney employed by Peoria Township. Petarde later married Alexander’s daughter, Hannah Partridge and lived a couple blocks from the river on Fairholm Street near the western terminus of the bridge. The house still stands at 623 Fairholm, easily recognized by the elaborate stone sculptures created by Petarde and his son Clyde.   


Compiled September 2017 by Frank Borror


The East Peoria Historical Society is located at 324-326 Pekin Ave. It is dedicated to the collection and preservation of local history. If anyone has information or pictures regarding East Peoria they would share please contact Frank Borror at 696-9227 or email