Bridgeport Bridge (finally) comes down

Portal view Photo taken in August 2010

When you first take a look at this bridge, you’ll find that it is located in a very rural setting- abandoned for many years with lots of vegetation overgrowing on and around the structure, making it impossible to cross unless you want to deal with beds of thorns, poison ivy, and deer ticks. However, as you can see in the next pictures, the augmented views of the bridge, taken from the side of its successor, a piece of bland concrete piece of monotonous artwork which puts a blotch in the city scape, you will find that the bridge has gone through years of abuse and neglect, with peeling paint, rusting sections, and flooring system that has been taken out, exposing the bottom chord, most of which is corroding or missing. If you go underneath the bridge, like yours truly did during the time of the Historic Bridge Conference in Pittsburgh, last August, it was like going through the jungle of Dante (as in Dante’s Inferno), with the banks of the Ohio River, where this bridge spans, being littered with garbage, signs of darkness thanks to the overgrowth on the bridge and if there was a hint of sunlight, it created a very eerie sensation, as if you were walking through a bombed out cathedral after the war with blown out windows, charred pews and pipes of an organ, and the silence and loneliness you only see when you are clinging barely onto life while facing death at the same time.

I’ve only seen one bridge that had this eerie sensation and that was with a railroad bridge spanning the Rock River on the west end of Rock Valley, Iowa, even though it has long since been converted to pedestrian use. However, after being on and underneath this structure, it really shows what nature can do to a structure after years of neglect and what life can do to someone or some agency for neglecting it to begin with.

The Bridgeport Bridge, spanning the Ohio River at Wheeling, West Virginia, separates the state with Ohio to the east. It is one of the rarest bridges of its kind that you can find in the US- a three-span bridge whose endposts are vertical and not diagonal like a common truss bridge has. One can find those in many places in Europe, like the Hollernzollern Bridge over the Rhein River in Cologne, Germany or the Chancy Bowstring Truss Bridge over the Rhône near Geneva, Switzerland. Yet by examining the portal bracing and the finials that are located at each corner on the upper chord, it is typical of an American truss bridge, as many portal bracings on arch and truss bridges in Europe at that time were either a common portal (A-frame) or have a concrete arch entrance, like you see when entering the castle across the drawbridge. Also unique is the fact that unlike the Hollernzollern Bridge, the bridge is a three-span  pin-connected Parker through truss bridge, with all these aforementioned features, which leads to the question of why a bridge company would market that in their truss bridge catelogue, like the Wrought Iron Bridge Company did.

When the bridge was built in 1893, the Wrought Iron Bridge Company was in the middle of marketing their bridges through the catelogues. That means governments and residents wanting to have a bridge in or near their town or home would order the bridge through the company catelogue, then have the company agent send the order to the manufacturers, who construct the parts to fit the needs of the customer before it could be shipped by train and assembled on site. Wrought Iron’s style of business, similar to ordering products through a Sears Catelogue in the US or Quelle in Germany (before it folded in 2009), was later practiced by other bridge companies that wanted to keep the bridge company giant in check; especially after Wrought Iron Bridge became part of the American Bridge Company consortium seven years after the Bridgeport structure was built. It is unclear how many bridges similar to Bridgeport’s were ordered and built, but it did become clear that unless something is done to keep the crossing at Wheeling intact and used for anything apart from vehicular use that consequences would come out of it, which would scar the city for life.

The Bridgeport Bridge used to serve US Hwy. 40 until the successor was built, the Military Order of the Purple Heart Bridge, in 1998. Before that, the roadway was strengthened in 1987 by adding a Bailey truss bridge onto the deck to serve as a roadway. Unfortunately, it was not enough to accomodate the traffic flow and it was closed to traffic once the Purple Heart Bridge was open to traffic. Then it just sat there, rotting away until it became clear that the structure, deemed a beatuy when it was first opened to traffic, because an ugly eyesore, which needed to be removed- at least in the eyes of the City of Wheeling.

Attempts have been made for at least five years to do something with the structure- either restore it for pedestrian use or remove it. The former was brought up by preservationists and those interested in saving the structure, but fell on deaf ears. The latter was attempted by those who did not want the structure anymore but it fell on deaf ears due to funding and opposition.  Promises and predictions to remove the bridge has gone on since 2006, with the last call to remove it being in 2009. That did not happen. Now the US Coast Guard has come in, ordering the bridge to be removed post haste, as debris and parts from the bridge have fallen into the Ohio River. Therefore, the plan is to have the bridge removed beginning in July, with help from the department of transportation offices of both Ohio and West Virginia. The project is expected to take two months, but it will also include salvaging the most memorable parts to be exhibited at the local museums. Whether this plan will be realized due to the deficit problems in the US and the struggling growth of the economy remains to be seen. Given the situation that is being dealt with at the moment, it is possible that the plan may yet be pushed back again, and again, and again……

While removing Dante’s jungle may be a relief to many, it will serve as a permanent scar to the community as the structure would have served as a complement to what Wheeling has already. It has one of the oldest suspension bridges in the country, as well as a historic city center, and the city does have some unique features that make it attractive. It was just too bad that the Bridgeport Bridge was not one of the historic features that should be saved. While leaving the bridge closed to traffic may serve as a temporary solution, it was indeed an out of sight and out of mind tactic, which once the bridge is eventually removed, it will remain a site where it once stood and it will remain in the minds of many in the community, that will associate Wheeling with this bridge.

PHOTOS (All were taken in August 2010 and linked through Flickr):

Inside the bridge with the roadway removed.

Dante’s jungle: The sun shining into the lower chord of the bridge

Dante’s Jungle: The abutment and the portal bracing from the banks of the Ohio River

Abutments: Note the bottom abutments (together with the center piers) came from a bridge built around 1837. The ones on top are from the 1893 bridge

Behind the bridge. Note: You can see the Ohio State Line sign hanging from the lower strut bracing just as one would get off by car when it was open to traffic. That sign, along with some other memorabilia from the bridge, are expected to be saved and displayed at the museum before the rest of the structure comes down.

Close-up of the finials at the corners of the bridge- this time at the center piers. Some of them will be preserved for display purposes.



The Bridges of Kiel

Gablenz Bridge Photo taken in April 2011

After an hour’s stop at the Lindaunis/Schlei Bridge, the next stop on the bridgehunting tour in Schleswig-Holstein and Denmark is Kiel, the city with over 300,000 inhabitants and is the capital of Schleswig-Holstein. There are a lot of features that make Kiel special. Like Flensburg, the city has a harbor and is the port for all passenger ships wanting to journey to Scandinavia and points to the east as well as the North Sea through the Baltic-North Sea Canal, also a jewel loaded with history involving its engineering design and the bridges that crossed them. More on that in the next entries. While the city has many small crossings along the tributaries that empty into the harbor, I did not have the time to journey across the city for that, as I was about to journey along the Great Canal. However, I did have enough time to explore two of the city’s prime structural jewels, something that one could spend a half an hour looking at while breaking over a baked fish sandwich and a good Flensburger Pilsner beer, as they are almost next to each other and can be seen from the harbor’s edge on the west side, not far from the Kiel Railway Station. One is a brand new arch bridge replacing- well- an arch bridge. The other one represented a traditional type for the city that needed a revival after an almost 80-year absence. This one is our first profile.


Foldable Bridge in the upright position Photo taken in April 2011

THE FOLDABLE BRIDGE (a.k.a. Hörn Bridge).

Located near the tip of Kiel Fjord, the bridge has a unique history, which goes back more than 100 years. During the period from 1910 to 1923, the city of Kiel had a rather unique movable bridge known as the transporter bridge. Suspended in the air and supported by two towers and suspension cables, this rare bridge type features a transport wagon, which carries people and vehicles across the body of water and is operated by a steam powered engine. This bridge was located near the spot of the current structure but unfortunately, the span only lasted 13 years, as it was torn down five years after the end of World War I for reasons unknown to historians to this day. One can assume that technical malfunctions combined with the stress put on the horizontal support beams that supported the transporter wagon, and the questions of its ability to resist high winds and extreme weather conditions, as Kiel is famous for may have contributed to the bridge to be torn down for safety reasons. About two dozen of these bridge types were built during the 1880s and 1930s, including the Rendsburg High Bridge- located just 40 km away along the Great Canal, and the Ariel Lift Bridge in Duluth were built. Today, only eight remain including the Rendsburg High Bridge, which will be profiled later. The Ariel Lift Bridge still exists but functions today as a vertical lift bridge as the span replaced the transporter span in 1929.  Between 1923 and 1997, there was no movable bridge in Kiel and the only other notable bridge that existed in the city at that time was the Gablenz Bridge, built in 1914. This would change in 1997 when the engineering firm of Gerkan, Marg and Partners, local contractors located in the city center decided to end the dry spell and construct a new piece of movable artwork over the Kiel Fjord- in a form of a foldable bridge!

At a cost of 10 million Euros, the bridge has a span of 25.5 meters (84 feet) and spans the fjord, connecting the west end of the city known as the Hörn and the Gaarden quarter and Norwegenkei (Norwegian dock) on the eastern side of the fjord. The Norwegankai is the port where cruise ships out of Oslo come in to dock. When the bridge flattens out and crosses the fjord, it has a resemblance of a cable-stayed suspension bridge with two towers and stiffening cables supporting the roadway, made for pedestrians- all tinted in red. But once every hour when the bridge has to open for traffic, the structure literally scrunches itself up like an accordion so that when the bridge is completely open, it is folded into a very narrow letter N on the west end of the fjord to allow ships to pass. A link on the bridge with an animated diagram is enclosed at the end of this article.

When I was at the bridge unfortunately, I was unable to see the structure in action as it remained in a foldable position. The Foldable Bridge has had problems with its operations and hydraulics since the moment it was put into use. Technical malfunctions of the mechanisms of the bridge resulted in many residents nicknaming the bridge as the “Klappt Nichts Brücke”, a rough translation standing for a non-functioning bridge, although in a literal sense, it stood for “Folds Not Bridge”, as klappen not only stands for folding something but also as a negative for  not working/ functioning. Realizing that many people were frustrated at the fact that they could not cross the harbor as easily as they thought, a retractable bridge, built of welded trusses (Warren style) was built right next to the Foldable Bridge so that in the event that the bridge did not function as it should, the back-up bridge would provide the pedestrians with a way from one end of the harbor to the other. This proved to be a useful asset when the Gablenz Bridge was being rebuilt in 2008, for despite the fact that one needed five minutes by foot to get there from the site of the present bridge, it was the primary crossing before the Foldable Bridge was built.

But even with the retractable bridge being in place, the Foldable Bridge would have provided tourists with an opportunity to see how it works, if it functions just like any other movable bridge. It is just a matter of finding the right time to go there when the structure is in operation. I was not lucky, but as a pontist and historian, I can say that the bridge is a future technical heritage site, should it live longer than its neighboring bridge and the city maintain the structure like its neighboring movable bridge to the southwest, the Rendsburg Bridge.

The Foldable Bridge and a retractable bridge (Behelfsbrücke) in the foreground. Photo taken in April 2011



Links to this bridge:




Gablenz Bridge taken from the Foldable Bridge Photo taken in April 2011




The other main bridge site worth seeing in Kiel is this bridge. While the structure today is rather modern, the bridge and its origin goes back a long ways. The Gablenz Bridge is named after the Field Marshall Leutenant Freiherr von Gablenz, who resided in Kiel in a nearby castle and played a key role in helping the Prussian army defeat the Danish in the Prussian-Danish War of 1865, which resulted in heavy losses on the part of the Danes and Prussia gaining Flensburg, the capital’s neighboring city to the north.  The street and the bridge were christened in his honor in 1914, however the predecessing structure, a steel through arch bridge whose upper chord consisted of a Pratt truss design, was completed four years earlier in 1910. The structure spanned the rail line, which terminates at the Kiel Railway Station, only a half a kilometer away, before it descended towards the fjord. For 99 years, the bridge remained in its rightful position until it was replaced in 2009 at the cost of 30.6 million Euros. As part of the plan to reconstruct the rail lines, the railway station, and the street, the center span was put together at a construction site before it was installed right next to the old structure. During that time, construction on the new approaches progressed and the 1910 structure served traffic until the new arch span was ready to be put into place. It was then removed and the south approach was reconstructed. At the completion of the two phases, the new center span was slid into place and the new bridge was open to traffic. The project lasted just three years.

The new structure has a similar through arch span which crosses the railway, but its upper chord design was different- two main arch spans per side- resembling something like a tied-arch span- and the upper bracings are straight and horizontal, not lattice (shaped like an X) like the 1910 bridge. When it was open to traffic, Kiel’s mayor Angelika Volquartz mentioned to the public that she wishes for the city “….that the new bridge serves traffic between the east and west end of the fjord for the next 99 years and that the people look at the bridge as positively as the old bridge and even leave a place in the hearts of the residents.”  (KN-online, 14 June, 2009). If the bridge is maintained as well as the 1910 structure and its neighboring Foldable Bridge that is in use today, then perhaps that dream will be realized 97 years from now. After all, there is no such thing as a bridge that lasts 100 years and requires no maintenance, as many transportation agencies (especially those in the US) have been wishing for.

Links to this bridge:


After a brief stop in the capital and a cruise along the fjord, cycling past the state parliament, the universities, and many houses either made of brick or resembling Victorian architecture, it was now time for a tour of the bridges along the North-Baltic Sea Canal. And what place to have a bridge than to have one just a half a kilometer west of the entrance from the Baltic Sea. While that bridge still belongs to the city of Kiel, it is only appropriate to profile it with the other bridges along the canal, for its history coincides with the bridges built by one person who also oversaw the construction of the canal itself. More in the next entry.