Salisbury Bridge (Meeker County, Minnesota)

When I first knew about the Salisbury Bridge, it was mentioned in a book written by Denis Gardner entitled „Stone, Iron and Steel: A Look at Minnesota’s Historic Bridges,“ an overview guide on the history of bridges in the state and how it contributed to its development.  When looking at the bridge from a view of someone who never knew much about its history, it is just a typical vintage truss bridge with common Howe lattice portal bracings and built of steel using pin-connections (beams assembled together with bolts) and using the common Pratt design. Little do people realize that it was one of hundreds of bridges built during the age of the Hewett dynasty. It started with a partnership between Seth Hewett and Commodore P. Jones in 1883-4 and it branched off with both partners forming their own bridge companies, both based in Minneapolis and were responsible for the construction of hundreds of bridges in Minnesota and all points west. Seth Hewett established the Hewett Bridge Company in 1898 and the Salisbury Bridge was constructed 1 year later. The bridge company was in business until shortly after his death in 1916. However, William S. Hewett was also into bridge building and would later carry on the dynasty with his own bridge company.

Yet despite its history and its connections with Meeker County’s heritage, the bridge was a classic example of how careless drivers can be when speeding across the bridge, disregarding the weight limit and the speed limit and lose control of the vehicle and slam into the structure. And this in the winter time! On 27 November, 2010, when the gravel road was snow covered and the icy cold winds turned most of it into an ice skating rink, an SUV came speeding down towards the bridge and when the driver started crossing, he lost control and slammed the vehicle into the northwest end post of the truss structure! While he was lucky he was not injured or killed, the damage was great enough that the county engineer closed the bridge off to all traffic. The future of the Salisbury Bridge was in doubt.

28 December 2010: After staying overnight at a friend’s place in Milroy (located 7 miles east of Marshall) I decided to venture off on a long bridgehunting tour, which began up the Minnesota from Granite Falls to Ortonville before shooting across the state, beating a fast-moving system that would bring snow and high winds in the process. The Salisbury Bridge was one of the stops I had to make before making a sharp turn north into the direction of St. Cloud and my final destination, Little Falls. The weather was sunny and frigid when I left  Milroy, only to find that by the time I reached the Salisbury Bridge by 3:00 in the afternoon, it was overcast and 2°C warmer with a touch of drizzle. But no matter how warm or cold the weather was, everywhere in Minnesota, you had to fight through snow that was at least knee deep, and the Salisbury Bridge was no exception to the rule.  Yet one can never have the best opportunity of photographing the bridge like in the winter time.

Even though the bridge was barricaded on both sides, there was a way to get on the structure to not only take a closer look at the aesthetics of Hewett’s work, but also look at the damage that was done to the bridge. When doing bridge photography, it is very important to get some shots of the bridge from as many angles as possible for the purpose of not only providing the viewers with a detailed description of the bridge from a structural standpoint, but also provide them with some artwork and how they conform with its surroundings. Sometimes one needs a couple hours before the work is done, unless he is shooed and harassed by those who do not want them on their property. This has happened to me a couple times and to others at least a dozen times. But despite the sounds of cannons flying about in the woods along the Crow River, where the bridge spans, I was left in peace to do my work, even though it took about an hour and a half and it started snowing and getting dark by the time I was done.

The bridge provides a very eerie setting in the winter time, where all is quiet  and the fields were all covered in white- at least three feet of white fluffy snow which made walking through it feel like swimming in water, whose waves are strong enough to sweep them away.  Even the Crow River, which the bridge crosses, was covered in a thick blanket of snow, which made fording across the ice rather treacherous, as there were quite a few soft spots to take into account, and it is just a matter of falling through one of them to ruin a good photo opportunity, not to mention to find a way to warm up at any cost to avoid hypothermia. Fortunately it was not the case, or else this pic of the cross-section of the Crow would not have taken place.

The bridge itself appeared to be in good shape. While many would consider its truss type- the Pratt- to be a common and plain type that one can see everywhere, despite the decreasing number of them, one can see that the Hewett family left its legacy with this bridge; not just with the portal bracing and other physical features. The features that one cannot see are the most important, like how the bridge was built and how the bridge builder became famous in Minnesota and all points westward, let alone the local history associated with this structure.  Add the surroundings to go along with that, the bridge would be a prime candidate for its place in a calendar; especially for the winter months, as you will see in the pics below.

After marveling at the beauty of the bridge from both the inside as well as the outside, I took a closer look at the damage done to the bridge, which was at the northwest corner of the structure at the end post. The end post is like a door frame: it supports the portal bracing and contributes to the forming of the upper chord, which is supported by the overhead beams- both horizontal and diagonal. There was something peculiar about the damage done to the end post as it appeared that the railings were fixed right away. The end post was twisted to the left and bent outwards, causing one corner of the bridge to sag about 10 cm downward. While one cannot see it from a distance, it is noticeable when looking at it from the north end.  One could say that there was no accident at all but a case of vandalism, but that would be far -fetched unless a person was a body-builder who loves  to destroy things.  In either case, it appeared that the damage was moderate and the driver tried to stop while crossing but only slowed down to a point where the impact was minimal. If that was the case, then the driver was very lucky for as many as 20 bridges of this type have fallen prey to accidents every year, as drivers disregard the restrictions posted on the bridge for safety reasons, only to pay the price with the loss of insurance, driver’s license and tens of thousands of dollars after dropping the bridge into the river. The latest casualty that happened was the Fryer’s Ford Bridge in Arkansas, which happened earlier this year (see link enclosed:    ).

While some believe that damage like this warrant bridge replacement, for some reason, it would be impractical to do, for new bridges nowadays have a shorter lifespan, are bland and have no aesthetic value, and they need to be maintained as much as the truss bridges. Studies have shown that repairs on bridges like the Salisbury Bridge would prolong their lives by 50 years, and are 1/10 as expensive as replacing it outright.  Yet these facts are overshadowed by the fear that these bridges might collapse, referring to the collapse of the I-35W Bridge that occurred in August 2007. Instead of looking at the causes of the bridge failure, people (mostly those with little or no experience in civil engineering and bridge restoration practice) retorted to bridge types like the truss or cantilever truss to being the most inefficient bridge type to be used on the road, even though some are being constructed today in places like Indiana and Ohio. One can also refer to the Council Bluffs Bridge, a polygonal Warren through truss bridge over the Missouri River that replaced a continuous truss bridge in 2009. If the Salisbury was demonized in a way similar to the I-35W Bridge, the bridge would long since have been replaced and it would have lost its national historic significance because of its design and connection with the Hewett Dynasty.

Keeping the logic in mind and the fact that some of the bridges have fallen into the same boat as the Salisbury Bridge (where sections are bent, realigning the entire structure but yet straightened out thanks to the efforts of dismantling and reworking the parts affected before assembling it), I left the Salisbury Bridge with some ease that something will be done to make the bridge functional again. The structure is conveniently located in a nearby recreational area off the main highway. The natural surroundings make it unique and it conforms nicely to the area; especially in the winter time. The historic significance makes it eligible for grants for repairs and reuse, let alone a good tourist attraction for bridge lovers. And finally it is one of only a few of its type left in Minnesota that is in use. Despite the damage done to the structure, it is not in danger of collapse and there are ways to repair the structure for reuse. And while the bridge may not be able to carry vehicular traffic once the repairs are completed, its new life as a pedestrian bridge will make it a perfect fit for the recreational area nearby, and in the end it will represent a fine example of architectural work for its period, not just American history per se, but for Meeker County, and the townships that own the bridge, namely Kingston and Kimball.


21 November 2011- It appears that there is some hope for funding possibilities for the county and the two townships that own the bridge. There were funding possibilities on the federal level for 2016, yet it would not be until August of 2012 whether the project will qualify. According to the county engineer, the despite the county’s plans for applying for funding, the townships declined the possibility and instead elected to apply for State Legacy Funding for 2012. The decision on whether the county will receive the funding will take place in July 2012. How the bridge will be fixed depends on the options available, as well as the funding possibilities and its requirements. We can only hope that by using examples including one presented here, that the renovation will be worth the cost and efforts. Best of luck to the townships and the county in pursuing this task of preserving the bridge and its history….Link:


Example case study: State Street Bridge in Michigan: and

Photos of the bridge taken by yours truly can be seen here:







National Historic Bridges Month 2011

Spring Hill Bridge in Warren County, Iowa. One of the hidden treasures found and photographed by the author in August 2011

Imagine you have a vintage iron truss bridge, abandoned for two decades and left along the roadside to be consumed by nature while being forgotten until a group of people discover it. Noting its unique design and the history of the structure itself and its connection with local history, they band together to try and save it, only to find that they have no knowledge on saving it, no support from others as they have little information on ways to preserve it, and a lack of financial support. Yet they still fight for it as there is still a chance to save it.

These are one of many stories of the strive and struggle of the public to preserve a piece of American history which will be presented in detail this month as November is National Historic Bridges Month. The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles, in cooperation with its affiliates in the historic bridge community, will be presenting some stories and essays in connection with this month as the goal of Historic Bridges Month is to present examples of success stories of preservation efforts and stories of historic bridges that are worth saving but need our public support. Already, we have a pair of important announcements that are worth making so that the public is informed of the possibilities to learn from experience so that they can do it themselves.

Bridgehunter Chronicles’ Newsflyer

1.       McIntyre Bridge Taking the Pepsi Challenge:  Between now and 30thNovember, you can vote for the unique bowstring arch bridge through the Pepsi Refresh Everything Challenge. Should the bridge win the competition, presented by PepsiCo (makers of Pepsi Cola and Frito Lay products), the group will win $50,000, which would be much needed to rebuild the 1883 King Bridge Company structure. Located in Poweshiek County in southern Iowa, the bridge was abandoned and slowly leaning to one side until a flood in 2010 knocked it off its foundations and into the Skunk River. The parts were salvaged and it is just the question of reassembling it and reerecting it over the river, something that Julie Bowers and the North Skunk River Greenbelt Association is pursuing.  Information on both the Pepsi Challenge and contact details on how to help are listed below:

  1. McIntyre Bridge: Photo taken by Julie Bowers, used with permission

    The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles will do an interview with Julie Bowers and obtain some more information on this bridge and other bridges she and the crew are working on saving and reusing.

2.       Iron and Steel Preservation Conference coming to Lansing, Michigan in 2012: For the second time and back by popular demand, the Lansing Community College is hosting the Iron and Steel Preservation Conference on 5-6 March. Dr. Frank Hatfield, professor emeritus of civil and environmental engineering at Michigan State University will emcee the first day of the event, which will consist of a wide array of presentations, stemming from historic bridge restoration and the bike trail system in the city of Portland (Michigan) by Alan Halbeisen and Paul R. Galdes to restoring various types of steel by Chad Teeples and Jon Brechtesbauer and bridge maintenance by Mark Zimmerman.  The second day will feature on-site demonstrations of metal restoration including straightening metal parts, removing pack rust and using equipment to drive rivets into metal connections.  The cost of the two-day event is $300 ($175 for one day) and contact details on how to register can be found on this link.:

People can register here:


Upper Paris Bridge in Linn County, Iowa: Example of Restoration that People can learn from. Photo taken in August 2011

3.       Othmar H. Ammann Award for Excellence: For the first time ever, the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles will be awarding the Othmar H. Ammann Award for Excellence to three candidates for their roles in historic bridge preservation and bridge engineering. It will consist of three categories: The Lifetime Legacy Award to the person who has had an enormous impact over the course of many years, the Best Kept Secret Award to the person or group with the best example of historic bridge preservation, and the Best Snapshot Award to the candidate with the best photo of a bridge in general. Entries are being taken between now and 25 November, with the winners announced on 2 December. The winners will be interviewed by the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles (which will be posted) and receive a Certificate of Excellence Award.  If you know of a candidate  who has made an impact on the historic bridges community, please send his/her name via e-mail to Jason Smith ( before 25 November at 12:00am Central Standard Time. It is open to all residing in the US, and elsewhere. Nominating yourself is prohibited for the Lifetime Legacy Award and the Best Kept Secret Award; you can nominate your photo as long as it is your own work and not one of others unless you are nominating that of another person’s.

 FAST FACT: The Award is named after the Swiss-American engineer who designed and led the construction of over a dozen bridges in New York City as well as many others in eastern US and his home country of Switzerland. Among those included are the George Washington Bridge (1939) and the Verrazano Narrows Bridge (1964), both located in New York City. The latter was the last of his engineering work (as he died eight months after it was open to traffic)  and was the longest suspension bridge in the world until 1981 and still is the longest in the USA today.

 4.       Pics for 2011: Also a first this year is the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles’ Pics of the Year. It will be divided up into the following examples- Best example of historic bridge reuse, worst example of historic bridge reuse, the best effort to saving the bridge, the salvageable mentioned, the worst reason to destroy a bridge, the best find of a historic bridge and the biggest bonehead story. You have until the 25th of November at 12:00am Central Standard Time to submit your candidate(s) to Jason Smith (, who will announce the winner and the honorably mentioned on 2 December. Open to the US, Canada and Europe.


The Demand for Equality in Historic Bridge Preservation: How Metal Truss Bridges should receive just as much recognition as Covered Bridges

Albright Bridge spanning the Boone River south of Webster City. Photo taken in August 2011

Foreword: When we think of historic bridges and US culture and history, two points come to mind, and these are based on a questionnaire conducted last year. The first point is most people will relate the US with the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City. From a German point of view, it is obvious as they were the works of two German-born civil engineers- Joseph Strauss (who was born to German immigrants in Cincinnati) and John (or Germans would call him Johann) Augustus Roebling, who originated from Mühlhausen in western Thuringia. These two bridges are icons as they were built during economic hardships and using the labor of people wanting to work to make a living, let alone make ends meet. One will find both bridges used as one of the symbols of American pride.  The second point is when it comes to bridge types that are popular in the eyes of the Americans (and those visiting the US), the covered bridges- those built of wood- have the podium hands down.  They go as far back as the 1700s, with the majority of those still standing today being built between 1830 and 1880. Regardless of color and size, design and appearance, these covered bridges are a symbol of love- where lovers meet- and shelter from the rain.  This love affair with covered bridges goes further back than the “Bridges of Madison County,” a film produced in 1994 with Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep that takes place in Iowa and has made Madison County a household name and its association with covered bridges. Apart from the ones Madison County and places in southeastern Iowa, one can also find massive amounts of these unique vintage structures in Ohio, Pennsylvania and the New England states. Several articles have been written about these structures, including the latest one on the covered bridges in Pennsylvania and in particular, the Kissing Bridge in Lawrence County. A link found here:


Marysville Covered Bridge near Knoxville in Marion County. Photo taken in August 2011

Yet, despite receiving massive support from state and local governments in renovating and upkeeping the bridges, one has to ask if other bridge types are receiving the same amount of treatment as the ones I mentioned.  In an editorial in response to the Kissing Bridge article written by Nathan Holth, the answer to that question is clearly no, and the reasons are obvious, as it will be interpreted from my point of view. If one would rank the historic bridges needing funding either for maintenance or for conversion into a place of recreation, the bridge types needing the most attention are first and foremost the covered bridges, followed by deck arches made of concrete, stone, or brick, and lastly suspension bridges. Down at the bottom, are the bridges made of metal- in particular, cantilever truss, truss and stringer (beam). While stringer bridges have the least value of the bottom three, the other two have been the most neglected as they have been dubbed as bridges that eventually rust and corrode away, too expensive to maintain (even with a simple paint job and replacing the tiny parts that keep them together), and simply too dangerous. They are also a target for scrap metal as some people have successfully dismantled them illegally just so they can get as much money out of the deal as possible; especially since metal prices have skyrocketed over the years.  Examples of bridges that have fallen victim to missing metal parts have occurred in Pennsylvania and Mississippi, but other states have been hit but not reported, at least not in the newspapers. And lastly, in light of the I-35W Bridge collapse on 2 August, 2007 which killed 13 people and injured as many as 115, especially the cantilever truss types are being targeted for fast-track replacement fearing a weakening of one section could bring the whole bridge down- a myth that has not only yet to come true but one which a little doctoring up of weak sections at a price of $1000 will prolong the bridge’s life by 30-40 more years, a practice that has been done in places outside the US, even Germany.  This is better than having to replace the structure with that whose life is only 50 years and it comes at a cost of millions of dollars; most of which comes out of the taxpayer’s pockets.

Tremaine Bridge spanning the Boone River south of the Albright Bridge in Hamilton County. Photo taken in August 2011

The years of misunderstanding and neglect overshadow the beauty of many of the bridge types that are target of metal. The truss types may be common, like the Pratt, Parker, Warren, etc., but they were products of previous truss types that were rare and unique. One can see a fine Camelback truss bridge like the Tremaine Bridge in Hamilton County Iowa, one of the rarest in the state and even the country, but will see even rarer ones like the bowstring arch bridges, the longest of which can be found near Mankato with the Kern Bridge, at 190 feet -only surpassed by the Blackfriar’s Bridge in Ontario (Canada).  The portal bracing of the overhead truss bridges represent a signature by the bridge builder; a symbol of how truss bridges were developed.  While one will find the common A-frame portal bracing, like the Albright Bridge- located down river from the Tremaine, there are many unique ornamental designs that can be found on some bridges built in the 1880s but highly ignored, like the Hardin City Bridge in neighboring Hardin County. And finally the historic connection of many bridges- regardless of type- are the most ignored for even though they are the product of hard work and innovation- a signature of the great age of Industrialization between 1870 and 1920- let alone the identification of local culture- they are rarely mentioned in the history books and they mostly go unmentioned except in oral history.

Fortunately many agencies and organizations in the private and public sectors have seen the historic value these structures do have and are taking measures to preserve them for the next generation to appreciate. They have involved the government, applied for grants, and done fund-raisers. Yet still, more needs to be done to ensure that these structures receive as much treatment as the covered bridges, let alone the icons that many people associate America with. This includes having more funds available, strengthening the existing preservation laws (and making them transparent) and involving the politicians who are willing to support the initiatives. The question is how to do that?

Therefore I would like to share Mr. Holth’s letter and the one which gave him an incentive to write this and would like to ask you a pair of questions: 1. Do you think that the current grants and other means of support are encouraging or discouraging historic bridge preservation and 2. If there was a way to improve the policies on preserving places of historic interest (and in particular, historic bridges), what would it be?  I’m looking forward to your input on this topic.


Author’s Note:

Special thanks to Nathan Holth for allowing me to put this topic and his letter to the attention of the audience. Mr. Holth runs a website called Historic, which looks at the problems and ways bridges can be restored, using many examples of bridges he has visited and documented since it has been in operation in 2003. He resides in Michigan and is a social studies teacher.

Link to the article:

Here is his response below:



I saw your article on Pennsylvania’s historic covered bridges in the Post Gazette and I wanted to suggest that a good followup article might be one that explores the Commonwealth’s historic iron and steel truss bridges.

I have been photo-documenting historic bridges since 2003 and from Day 1 I have been both shocked and frustrated at how the highway agencies, tourism agencies, the media, and even the public at large have this immense interest in covered bridges yet at the same time, metal truss bridges, rich in both beauty and heritage, are ignored and often demolished and replaced with new bridges.

Your article mentioned that Pennsylvania has one of the largest collection of covered bridges in the country. Nearly all of these bridges have been beautifully cared for and preserved. Did you know that Pennsylvania also could claim that same statement for historic metal truss bridges? Further, did you know that despite that fact, Pennsylvania likely has one of the worst track records in the country for actually preserving these metal truss bridges?

It is in my opinion both imbalanced and unfair to spend tax dollars preserving nearly every covered bridge in the Commonwealth, while at the same time hardly spending any money to preserve historic metal truss bridges in Pennsylvania. Moreover, call me crazy, but when I think of what defines Pennsylvania’s heritage and history, I think of the iron and steel industry. What better expression of that heritage than the metal truss bridge? While many of the steel mills that Pennsylvania once have no longer operate and have been demolished, the products of those mills remain in the form of these bridges.

Your article actually touches directly on a very striking example of this imbalance of metal truss bridges versus covered bridges. You mention a map that Somerset County produces that guides tourists to historic covered bridges in the county. Why doesn’t the county include its historic metal truss bridges? Somerset County is home to a very impressive collection of historic metal truss bridges. Somerset County is home to the Bollman Bridge, a truss bridge that is partially made of cast iron and was built in 1871. Unlike many covered bridges which have had their materials replaced and design changed over their lives, the materials seen on this bridge are the same materials that were there in 1871. Cast iron truss bridges are also one of the rarest bridge types in the country, far more rare than covered bridges. And how can they ignore the beautifully lightweight beams and the ornate builder plaque of the Maust Bridge? Metal truss bridges do not look anything like covered bridges, but they are extremely beautiful. Their economical use of materials makes these bridges look so lightweight they almost appear to defy physics as they carry traffic. Many of them have decorative details including builder plaques and ornamental steel bracing. And unlike most covered bridges, visitors can stand on a metal truss bridge and enjoy an open, unrestricted view of the rivers these bridges cross. Below is a partial list showing some of the best metal truss bridges in Somerset County.

Finally, it is worth noting that the exact same thing goes on in Washington and Greene Counties. Both counties heavily promote their covered bridges but little is done with their amazing collections of historic metal truss bridges.



It breaks my heart to think of all the tourists who use these covered bridge tour guides and probably drive right by these bridges, unaware of their existence and significance.



It is my opinion that an article or a series of articles exploring historic metal truss bridges in Pennsylvania would be unique content for the newspaper and of interest to readers. It certainly would be some subject matter that would be fresh and new. You can explore all the historic bridges in Pennsylvania that I have visited on my website here: Another excellent resource on historic bridges in Pennsylvania is located at




-Nathan Holth