The patenting of Charles Horton’s seven bowstring arch truss bridges along McGillivray road occurred in 1897. One hundred years later, the Friends of McGillivray Road celebrated the restored and refurbished bridges. Nearly 10 years prior to the rededication, in 1989, the ‘Friends’ became a non-profit organization for the purpose of maintaining the Old McGilvray Road and the five remaining Horton bridges.
In less than a decade, they saved some of the most beautiful iron bridges in the country and improved access into a priceless bottom land hardwood forest. The Friends have been innovative and creative in raising funds to repair a roadway and bridges that had been virtually destroyed by years of neglect and the ravages of countless Black River floods.
The Friends sold everything from buttons and caps to T-shirts and memberships. Their finest hour was recruiting two local nationally known wildlife artists, Arthur Anderson and Michael Klafke, to create a series of bridge-with-wildlife paintings. The edition prints sold out quickly and provided most of the funds for the very costly road and bridge repairs. Copies of the prints are still available in the form of stationery cards.
Much has been done by the Friends to provide a "one-of-a-kind" outdoor recreation area for the people of the upper Midwest. Wooden planks have now replaced the concrete decking on all of the bridges, which will decrease the stress on the bridges. The trail is open to the banks of the Black River. But the work is not over. Seasonal high water requires some repairs and maintenance. An Endowment Fund has been established to help provide funding for such an event.
Nancy Hill has been the president of the organization, for the most part, from the beginning. A trusty handful of other board members who were there for the first meeting remain involved in the organization:
- D.A. Ferguson is actively involved in fund raising.
- Rick Staszewski documented the Bottoms with an extensive collection of photos and has served as Secretary.
- Karla Pierson managed and recorded the sale of the prints and continues as the current Secretary.
- Pat Caffrey has been a major "worker bee" and presently serves as Treasurer.