Fort Steuben Bridge Comes Down- Bridge Parts Saved

 

Photos taken in August 2010

 

Here are some good news and some bad news for the bridgehunter community and those who are familiar with local history.  We will start out with some bad news. On Monday at 7:15am local time, the Fort Steuben Bridge was dropped into the Ohio River by a series of explosives.  As can be seen in a video provided by a local TV station out of Wheeling, the implosion was controlled and started with the roadway and trusses, which was then followed by the cables and finally, the towers, which were decapitated and fell into the far ends of the Ohio River.

Links on the demolition: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IVNM8LFVzUE

http://www.wtov9.com/videos/news/fort-steuben-bridge-implosion-videos/ln2/#comments

The bridge, located approximately 70 kilometers west of Pittsburgh and 35 kilometers north of Wheeling, West Virginia, was one of the last suspension bridges of its kind in the USA.  Built in 1923 by the Dravo Contracting Company of Pittsburgh, the bridge features a series of eyebar suspension cables, anchored at the piers located on both sides of the river, whose suspender (secondary vertical) cable supported the roadway that was reinforced with Warren pony trusses. Despite the extra support of the pony trusses, the tension on the cables (caused by the roadway) is far greater than with today’s suspension bridges because of the dead weight of the roadway. There are a handful of these bridges left in the country, a couple of which can be found nearby along the Ohio River with the Market Street Bridge in nearby Steubenville and the Newell Bridge, located 100 kilometers south of Youngstown, Ohio.

The Fort Steuben Bridge was closed in 2008, 18 years after the opening of the New Steubenville Bridge, a cable-stayed suspension bridge which has come under scrutiny recently because of weakening cables and other problems identified in an inspection report conducted by the Departments of Transportation (DOT) in West Virginia and Ohio.  Attempts to save the bridge to be reused as a bike trail that would have connected Washington, DC and Indianapolis was quashed by officials of the Ohio DOT, who wanted to keep cyclists and pedestrians off the newly constructed Ohio Hwy. 7 expressway running along the west side of the river. The strive to demolish the suspension bridge persisted despite opposition from locals and preservationists wanting the bridge saved and reused for recreational purposes. Finally on Monday 20 February, 2012, officials from both states got their wish as a piece of history that tied Weirton and Steubenville together came crashing down without any remorse. In one of the videos of the demolition, one of the Ohio DOT officials stated “When ODOT’s not out plowing snow or repairing the roads we also enjoy blowing up old bridges.” Already the remark has drawn fire from critics like Nathan Holth, who compared destroying historic bridges in Ohio and surrounding states to bridges being destroyed by bombs in Europe during World War II. Needless to say, the demolition has left a bitter taste in the mouths of many with fond memories of the bridge which will linger for a long time, even after the next four historic bridges along the Ohio River are destroyed in favor of progress.

New Steubenville Bridge, the suspension bridge’s successor

The fortunate part about the Fort Steuben Bridge is at least a tiny portion of the bridge has been saved as memorabilia to be used as an education incentive to encourage students to learn how to preserve artifacts made of steel. During the visit with Holth and Luke Gordon in August 2010, I had an opportunity to examine the bridge further to see what (if anything) can be done to preserve the bridge. There were many sections in the truss superstructure that had rusted away to a point where one could punch a hole in the structure without breaking his knuckles and obtain a piece of history.  A piece rusted steel shown here in the picture below shows how neglected the bridge was prior to its closure in 2008.

Piece of history in one’s hand

 

If bridges like the Fort Steuben were maintained and painted regularly, like it is the case with the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, there would have been a chance that the new bridge would not have been built, wasting hundreds of dollars of the taxpayers’ money. Proper maintenance and rehabilitation would have cost a tenth of the amount needed to demolish and replace the bridge.  Instead the DOTs decided to neglect that notion and moved in the name of progress, regardless of the opposition. There still would have been ways to save the structure had all parties involved decided to undertake this venture, which would have consisted of sandblasting the trusses and painted them, as it happened with the Market Street Bridge, which is open to traffic.

Still the need to exert power by using dynamite on the part of the DOTs was and is still strong. If statements like the one by the Ohio DOT persist, what would their reactions be like when a modern bridge, like the New Steubenville Bridge is slated for demolition? Would they take the same pleasure of demolishing a modern bridge as they would with a pre-1950 bridge?  Perhaps not, but when the public finds out, changes in the way bridges are maintained will come forcing the state agencies to veer away from the ideal bridge- a 100 year old bridge that requires no maintenance- and embrace in bridge maintenance which may be expensive in the short term but cost effective in the long term. This applies to historic bridges, many of which are still in good shape and can last another 100 years if cared for properly.

While the Fort Steuben Bridge may be gone, its legacy will continue as the strive to save what is left of American History will continue with a goal of jumping ahead of progress and bringing it to a halt. This is the only way to force state agencies to look at alternatives to demolition and encourage people to learn about historic bridges and their ties to the development of the US regarding its industrialization, societal issues and the cultural perspective. While it may be interesting to read about them in books, as it will have to be the case with the Fort Steuben Bridge being gone, it is even more interesting to visit and cross the bridges, like the ones at Steubenville and Newell to learn more about the history from a close-up view. It is much better than having to collect pieces of history from a bridge that was demolished to keep in the bridge collection. That is what I’m doing with mine as it is sitting on my desk waiting to be reused for my next class.

Photos of the Ft. Steuben Bridge can be seen here.

News Flyer: 

1. Another preservationist and columnist, Kaitlin O’shea of Preservation in Pink (based in Vermont), recently wrote a column on how to photograph a historic bridge. This is a small guide for people interested in visiting and photographing these pieces of artwork that are dwindling in numbers. To access the article, please click on this link below:

http://preservationinpink.wordpress.com/2012/02/02/how-to-photograph-a-bridge/

Sabo Bridge at night. Photo taken in August 2010

2. Cable-stayed bridges are becoming more and more scrutinized because of supporting cables that are either wearing out more quickly than expected or in one case some that have snapped. The New Steubenville Bridge recently received bad reviews based on an inspection conducted by the two aforementioned DOTs, while a near disaster was averted on the Martin Olav Sabo Pedestrian Bridge south of Minneapolis, as two pairs of cables snapped, causing the Hiawatha rail line to suspend service and Hiawatha Avenue, a main artery connecting the largest city in Minnesota and Bloomington to be restricted. Reinforcements are being added to the bridge and an inspection is being conducted to determine the cause of the damage.

Link: http://www.startribune.com/local/minneapolis/140084813.html

and http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2012/02/22/sabo-bridge-repair/

The Winners of the Top Ranked Unique Savable Structures (TRUSS) Award

Meridan Street Bridge in Puyallup, Washington. Photo taken by K.A. Erickson, used with permission.

 

After some delays because of non-bridge related commitments on the part of the author as well as the webmaster of the Historic Bridges of the US website (James Baughn), the winners of the 2012 TRUSS Awards as well as the honorably mentioned have been announced. It is very difficult to pinpoint which bridge is the most targeted for preservation before they become a pile of broken stones and twisted metal as there were many MANY nominations that were submitted and the painstaking task to narrow them down based on appearance and urgency. Many bridges nominated for the 2012 TRUSS Awards were either winners or honorably mentioned last year and were omitted from the list. Yet there is a link to the 2011 Award winners here:

2011 TRUSS Award Winners: http://bridgehunter.com/story/1147/

In either case 15 historic bridges were awarded the prestigious prize, five of which will be mentioned here together with five of the 16 honorably mentioned bridges. In either case, the full list of winners and nominated structured can be found here:

2012 TRUSS Award Winners: http://bridgehunter.com/story/1172/

and the honorably mentioned: http://bridgehunter.com/story/1171/

 

Jason’s Top Five TRUSS Bridge Pics

1. Meadows Road Bridge (Northhampton County, Pennsylvania). This stone arch bridge over Saucon Creek was built in 1858 and is one of the oldest bridges in the state. Yet patchwork and alterations on the bridge make it less appealing to Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, who wants to see this bridge replaced. This bridge is a classic example of a wrong attempt to give the bridge a face lift while keeping its unique appearance intact. Already, historic bridge preservationists including Nathan Holth are leading an attempt to convince PennDOT to change their minds and leave the bridge in its place while allowing a new structure to be built on a new alignment.

Link: http://bridgehunter.com/pa/northampton/meadows-road

2. Cedar Grove Bridge (Franklin County, Indiana). Indiana has had an excellent reputation of preserving, restoring and reusing pre-1930s metal truss bridges for recreational use, for an average of six of these bridges have been spared annually, thanks to efforts on the part of Indiana DOT, the governor Mitch Daniels, and other actors from the private and public sectors. This leads to my question of why INDOT wants to demolish this 1914 Parker through truss bridge that was built by an in-state bridge company. According to Ed Hollowell, they and Franklin County have been at odds over the ownership of the bridge and the former highway it carried across the Whitewater River, Hwy. 1. With INDOT’s request to demolish the bridge submitted to the state historic preservation office, another party is now involved and there is hope that this request will be denied and that the ownership issue be settled; especially as many locals would like to see this bridge reused again, even if it is for recreational purposes.

Link: http://bridgehunter.com/in/franklin/cedar-grove/

3. Meridian Street Bridge (Pierce County, Washington). After the fall of the Liberty Memorial Bridge in 2008, this bridge in Puyallup is perhaps the last of the Turner Truss bridges ever constructed in the United States. Turner trusses have a polygonal upper chord with Warren trusses resembling an A-frame shape, as seen at the beginning of this article. Washington DOT plans to accelerate the construction schedule and remove the bridge before 2013, yet attempts to halt the progress because of its National Register eligibility may delay these plans by a couple years. More on the fate of this bridge will come as the story unfolds……

Link: http://bridgehunter.com/wa/pierce/meridian/

4. Black Bridge (Albany County, New York). This bridge is one of two TRUSS Award winners where the public is taking a prudent stance in their attempts to save the bridge. A railroad bridge in Eau Claire, Wisconsin is the other candidate. Both are abandoned railroad bridges, yet this bridge (located in Cohoes) presents the good, the bad and the ugly with regards to good intentions and tragedy. On New Year’s Eve a man ventured onto the abandoned bridge, only to slip and fall into icy the Mohawk River. His body was found a day later. Despite a petition and demand by many citizens demanding that the bridge be torn down, the mayor took a stance opposing the demolition. This was hailed as a success by many in the pontist community and plans are still in place to repair the bridge and convert it into a pedestrian trail this year. With this staunch support for revitalizing the bridge, there is hope that instead of leaving a huge void in the cityscape (as it would have been the case with the bridge removal), that the bridge will make the city more attractive. As popular as the fallen person was, it would not be surprising if the newly converted pedestrian bridge would be named in his memory.

Link: http://bridgehunter.com/ny/albany/black/

Link to the Eau Claire Railroad Bridge: http://bridgehunter.com/wi/eau-claire/bh36335

Note: Additional links to the Black Bridge can be found under a summary written about the structure when it was announced the winner of the TRUSS Awards.

5. Hulton Bridge near Pittsburgh (Allegheny County, Pennsylvania) I visited this bridge during a tour of the region in 2010 and was awed by its impressive design: five Pennsylvania petit truss spans with the main span being over 500 feet long! This far outspans most of the bridges of this type west of the Mississippi and is second behind its cousin bridge the Donora-Webster Bridge in terms of its length of the main span in the greater Pittsburgh area. Todd Wilson of bridgemapper.com has been working together with students of his alma mater (Carnegie Mellon University and other actors in finding ways to preserve the bridge intact even though some difficulties in terms of its geographical location may make any attempts to stop the replacement process futile; especially if Pennsylvania wants to modernize its landscape and improve its infrastructure at the expense of the numerous historic bridges that exist.

Link with sublinks on the bridge: http://bridgehunter.com/pa/allegheny/hulton

WILD CARD: Murray Bridge (Humboldt County, Iowa): While most of the historic bridges in the upper Midwest have disappeared to progress, one can see a couple pieces of silver lining nearby. The Murray Bridge over the Des Moines River between Bradgate and Humboldt is unique because of its association with a local bridge builder who left its signature in a form of ornate design on its portal bracing. Yet it had been the most neglected bridge as it was not considered historic to state and national standards and is still on the county engineer’s list of bridges in dire need of replacement. After being given the TRUSS Award for 2012 and after providing an article to the local newspaper on the part of yours truly (who has visited the bridge twice already and even nominated the bridge for this year’s prize), maybe some minds will be changed on the part of Humboldt County. We will have to see.

Link: http://bridgehunter.com/ia/humboldt/murray/

Note: More on this bridge will come soon as an article on Humboldt County’s bridges is in the making.

Ellworth Ranch Bridge in Emmet County, Iowa. Photo taken by the author in August 2011

The Honorably Mentioned:

1. Mahned Bridge near Hattiesburg (Perry County, Mississippi): Anandoned for many years, this bridge has a checkered past that is bone-chilling.

Link: http://bridgehunter.com/ms/perry/mahned

2. Arkadelphia Bridge (Clark County, Arkansas): Slated for replacement, this bridge is up for the taking, and would be considered a “nomadic bridge” as it would be relocated for a second time, a feat rarely seen for a historic bridge.

Link: http://bridgehunter.com/ar/clark/arkadelphia

3. Ellsworth Ranch Bridge  (Emmet County, Iowa): One of only two King Bridge Company structures carrying the Thacher truss design left in the country, this bridge has been closed since 2010 and the question of its future is unclear.

Link: http://bridgehunter.com/ia/emmet/ellsworth-ranch/

 

4. Champ Clark Bridge (Pike County, Missouri). Now that the Missouri River has been “cleansed” of all the “hideous, ugly, and scary” truss bridges, the Mississippi River is now the next target of progress. This speaking as a devil’s advocate who frowns in the name of progress that is to be had on this bridge, a five-span Pennsylvania peiti truss bridge.

Link: http://bridgehunter.com/mo/pike/champ-clark/

 

5. Chambers Ford Bridge (Tama County, Iowa). If there is a way to bring down a historic bridge the “civilian” way, try torching this two-span Pratt through truss over the Iowa River, as it happened recently. Fortunately the bridge is still intact but there is hope to beautify and reuse the structure before arsonists strike again.

Link: http://bridgehunter.com/ia/tama/chambers-ford/