The Bridges of Eau Claire, Wisconsin (USA)

Photo taken by John Marvig

When you go out and hunt for bridges, it is not rare to find a city that has a pocket full of antique bridges. What I mean for antique bridges in this case are structures built prior to the second World War, which one can find at least a third of them in most cities with a population of 15,000 or more. However it is rare to find a city or metropolitan area with a high number of notable antique railroad bridges.  One of these cities happens to be Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Located about 140 kilometers east of Minneapolis-St. Paul along Interstate 94, the county seat with 65,000 inhabitants is part of a triangular metropolitan area shared with neighbor cities Menomonie and Chippewa Falls and is located at the junction of the Chippewa and Eau Claire Rivers. It is home to four colleges (two of which being public) and is one of the greenest cities in the state of Wisconsin.  Yet when it comes to historic bridges in the city and its surrounding area, there are quite a few diamonds in the rough, especially with regards to railroad bridges, as John Marvig discovered during his recent visit to the city.  Mr. Marvig is a photographer and writer on railroad bridges in the upper Midwest and Eau Claire was one of the stops on his bridgehunting tour. Yet little did he realize that his trip brought more than what he bargained for and is providing you with a tour of the historic bridges in the greater Eau Claire area. Some of the bridges have been converted to bicycle trails but there are others that have the potential to become part of a recreational trail and it is certain that there are many people interested in restoring them- more so after reading his tour guide here, as a guest columnist. Enjoy!

Hello, I am John Marvig.  You may have heard of my work photographing historic railroad bridges in the upper Midwest.  If you have not, then now you have 🙂 Thanks for looking and enjoy these photos!

When you think of historic railroad bridges in the upper Midwest, you probably think of the massive arches of stone gracing the mighty Mississippi below St. Anthony Falls in Minneapolis, or perhaps the massive steel arches north of Stillwater.  Or maybe you think of the bridges in places such as Green Bay.  Or what about bridges such as the Kate Shelley Bridge near Boone, Iowa?  But I doubt anyone thinks of Eau Claire, Wisconsin as a place to find large, historic railroad bridges.    After over three months of planning, I finally got to go out here on Mother’s Day weekend.  And I was not disappointed by what it produced.

We start our little tour of Eau Claire on the north part of downtown.  There lays a bridge not really famed, but definitely worthy of it! This bridge is the oldest in Eau Claire.  The four main spans were built 1880, with the current approaches being added 1898.
Northwestern Railroad Bridge
Built By: Chicago, St. Paul Milwaukee and Omaha Railroad
Currently Owned By: City of Eau Claire
Total Length: 890 Feet
Length of Largest Span: 180 Feet
Width: 1 Track
Height: 80 Feet (Estimated)
Main Type: Lattice Deck Truss
Approach Type: Deck Plate Girder
Date Built: 1880, approaches rebuilt 1898
Traffic Count: 0 Trains/day (Bridge is abandoned)
Link: http://pegnsean.net/~johnm/Northwestern%20Railroad%20Bridge.html

The bridge consists of four large lattice deck truss spans, a major difference between the warren deck truss bridge that succeeded mainline traffic just north of this bridge.
Crossing the Chippewa River, his bridge served traffic until 2007, when there was no longer a need to access the Nestlé plant.  The bridge was purchased by Eau Claire because of the gas pipeline running on the bridge.  So now in 2012, the bridge is fenced off, but easy to get to.  Several people have fallen off this bridge.  Even though there are fences and people are aware of this information, bicyclists still cross this bridge, and will continue until this bridge is the newest bridge on Eau Claire’s vast trail system.  Hopefully we aren’t too far off from that time!!!
Getting to the riverbank on the east side is easy, as there are stairs leading down from an access road.  The west end is much more challenging.  One must be able to get down limestone bluffs on steep paths and climb and crawl back out.

This photo is looking from the east bank of the river. There are stairs leading to this view.
This is what one of the approach spans looks like. This is the eastern approach.

 

And this is a typical stone abutment. It was built for the old approaches, which were smaller deck truss spans. This is the east abutment.
The bridge being as high as it is should be fenced off. This is looking west across the bridge.

 

These are bridges just east of the bridge. They cross Forest Street. They were both built 1918. The tall one served the mainline, while the shorter one served a spur.
The bridge north of here consists of a deck plate girder span, 4 deck truss spans and 3 more deck plate girder spans. This photo is of that bridge from the west end. The new bridge was built 1911 as a giant double track bridge.

This next bridge is located directly south of the last bridge.  This bridge is also over the Chippewa River.  This one is a lot smaller, and is a lot lower lying.  I now introduce, the Phoenix Park Railroad Bridge.

 

Phoenix Park Railroad Bridge
Built By: Chicago, Milwaukee St. Paul and Pacific Railroad (Milwaukee Road)
Currently Owned By: City of Eau Claire, Wisconsin DNR
Total Length: 526 Feet
Length of Largest Span: 232 Feet
Width: Formerly 1 Track
Height: 15 Feet (Estimated)
Main Type: Whipple Through Truss
Approach Type: 2 Spans Through Pratt Truss
Date Built: 1903
Traffic Count: 0 Trains/day (Bridge is a trail)

This bridge is the second bridge over the Chippewa River on the former Milwaukee Road in Eau Claire.  The bridge has a 146’ and 148’ Pratt Through Truss and a 232’ Whipple Through truss.
This bridge was abandoned 1981 after a failed attempt to put traffic back on it after the Milwaukee Road abandoned it.  Then it was turned into the state trail.  Phoenix Park was also built up very well in this area.
The best views are from Phoenix Park.  There are overlooks and grassy areas to look at this bridge.  The west bank is a little more challenging to get down to, but is fairly easy once you find a path.

 

This photo is also looking from the east bank. But this is the other side of the bridge.

 

Phoenix Park is also a trailhead. This is looking west across the bridge from Phoenix Park. 50 years ago this was all rail yards.

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The date stamp is located on the west abutment.

 

Snaking across the Eau Claire River in the industrial section of Eau Claire is this bridge.  The famed Soo Line S Bridge.

Soo Line “S” Bridge
Built By: Soo Line Railroad
Currently Owned By: City of Eau Claire
Total Length: 431 Feet
Length of Largest Span: Feet
Width: Formerly 1 Track
Height: 15 Feet (Estimated)
Main Type: Warren Deck Truss
Approach Type: Deck Plate Girder
Date Built: 1910
Traffic Count: 0 Trains/day (Bridge is a trail)

Although this bridge is wonderful as a trail, it is hard to get a clear view of the entire structure.  In fact, it is an unfortunate fact that it is near impossible.
But as hard as it is to get to, it is a good bridge.  It was converted to a trail in 2002.  It is very famed around western Wisconsin.  The bridge was built at an S shape so it could cross the river between tracks running parallel to the river.
And as far as the views go, who knows!  You may find the new best view!  Good luck and happy hunting!

This photo is looking across the bridge from the north side.
Looking from the north bank is challenging, but it can be done.
The south bank is also obstructed by trees 😦

Finishing with the major bridges directly in Eau Claire, we come to the Clairemont Ave Railroad Bridge.

Clairemont Ave Railroad Bridge
Built By: Chicago Milwaukee St. Paul and Pacific (Milwaukee Road)
Currently Owned By: City of Eau Claire, Wisconsin DNR
Total Length: 670 Feet
Length of Largest Span: 145 Feet
Width: Formerly 1 Track
Height: 15 Feet (Estimated)
Main Type: Pratt Through Truss
Approach Type: Wooden Trestle/Concrete Slab
Date Built: 1886, rebuilt at a later date
Traffic Count: 0 Trains/day (Bridge is a trail)
Link: http://pegnsean.net/~johnm/Clairemont%20Ave%20RR%20Bridge.html

This bridge is the first bridge over the Chippewa River on the former Milwaukee Road in Eau Claire.  Has 4 Pratt truss spans ranging from 128’-148’ in length.  There is also trestle approach on the south side and concrete slab on the north.    The original four main spans were built 1886.
This bridge was abandoned 1981 after a failed attempt to put traffic back on it after the Milwaukee Road abandoned it.  Then it was turned into the state trail.
The best views are from atop Clairemont Ave.  Clairemont Ave (US 12) is a large road running at an angle from this bridge.  It is a very busy road.
This bridge also might be the reason the line was abandoned.  It was abandoned because of a very weak bridge in the Eau Claire area.  And this bridge could be that bridge.  It was converted to trail use in 2004.

Looking from Clairemont Avenue will provide the best overview photos.

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Looking from the north bank can also provide some interesting photos.
There are trestle approaches on the north side of the bridge.

 

 

The Builder’s Plaque. Note: As you can see, this bridge is very old (but not as old as the Northwestern Bridge!) 🙂

Even though I did not include all the bridges in Eau Claire in this column, I would recommend if you ever have the chance, get out to this area.  You will be happy you did!  I hope you enjoyed the photos and thanks for looking!

Author’s Note: Apart from the four gorgeous looking railroad bridges one can see while visiting Eau Claire, there are a couple other notable ones one should keep in mind. One is a railroad bridge and another is an ordinary roadway bridge. More information and photos of the bridge is available by clicking on the title of the bridge.

Union Pacific Chippewa Railroad Crossing:

Type: Warren Deck Truss (main span) with through and deck plate girder approach spans

Location: Chippewa River south of North Crossing Bridge

Built: 1911 by American Bridge Company (New York City) for the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad

Status: Still In service

Comment: Mr. Marvig was also at this bridge during this tour and the only way to view this bridge is by boating on the river, as even though the deck view of the bridge is great, finding side views of the bridge from shore are difficult, as can be seen by the pics. However, one is not advised to cross this bridge as it is still in service.

 

Dewey Street Bridge:

Type: 2-span open spandrel arch bridge

Location: Eau Claire River on Dewey Street

Built: 1931

Status: Still in service

Comment: This is probably one of the most beautiful roadway bridges in the city; especially given its arch design and its aesthetic appearance and conformity to the residential area. This bridge is the third to last structure on the river as it empties into the Chippewa River on the north edge of downtown Eau Claire.

Note: You can visit Mr. Marvig’s website on railroad bridges by clicking on the link here.

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Eggners Ferry Bridge Reopened: But for how long?

Photos taken by James Baughn

There have been a lot of events that took place this past Memorial Day weekend that deal with historic bridges. One of course was the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, which was attended by tens of thousands of locals, photographers, reporters and pontists. The other celebration was at an 80 year-old bridge located across the west end of the Tennessee River between Paducah, Kentucky and Clarksville, Tennessee. The what is the difference between the two bridges?

While the people in San Francisco were commemorating the event to those who contributed to building the suspension bridge all covered in orange, the ones in Kentucky were celebrating the reopening of the Eggner’s Ferry Bridge, which is a vital access to the Land Between the Lakes National Recreational Area- in other words, an island surrounded by two lakes where the Tennessee River flows through. Built in 1932 together with the Lake Barkley Bridge that spans the east branch of the river, this bridge carries US Hwy. 68 and Kentucky Highway 80 through this area. The bridge was raised in 1943 when the Tennessee River was impounded to create Kentucky Lake. While the bridge is so narrow that only two cars can barely pass through it, it is the only direct link to the park area, for the nearest crossing after that is 40 kilometers north along Interstates 24 and 69 near Paducah.

While the bridge, consisting of six through truss spans (four Parker and two Pratt) and trestle approachs on each side, has very little historic significance, it abruptly entered the headlines in January, when a cargo ship traveling northbound on the west branch of the river struck the bridge on the 26th, destroying one of the Parker spans and misaligning the easternmost Pratt through truss span. While fog may have played a key role in the disaster, questions still remain as to how the ship managed to float up the river in the first place, let alone choose the lowest of the Parker spans in the first place.

With a vital link gone, inspections were carried out to determine the stability of the remaining structure. After revealing that the rest of the bridge was stable, an emergency operation was carried out to put a truss span in place of the Parker span that was destroyed- a process that was quick, easy and affordable. A Warren through truss with V-shaped portals (instead of the West-Virginia style ones) was fabricated by Hall Contracting and brought out by barge before being hoisted up on to the current piers, and all this before the start of the summer travel season! For states, like Kentucky, which has lost as many pre-1950 bridges as Pennsylvania and Ohio (up to 60%) since 2001 due to its draconian policies towards replacing historic bridges, such an act was unthinkable. In Pennsylvania terms, a span gone means the entire bridge is gone, no matter what the costs are to replace it. However, given the tight fiscal budget the state (as well as over half of the country) has been facing since 2008, the words “common sense” is entering the vocabulary of the engineers and politicians over there, which means it is better to fix and rehabilitate the bridge at a lower cost than to replace it with money that the state does not even have. And with hundreds of people gathering at the site of the bridge, there could be some potential to make historic bridges a tourist attraction.

Still despite this fix-up, the bridge’s days appear to be numbered, as plans are in the making to replace this one, as well as the neighboring Lake Barkley Bridge with a set of tied arch bridges, providing four lanes of traffic to and from the park on the island. Construction of the approaches will start in the Fall of 2012 and the tied arch spans will be in place by the end of 2014. Both truss bridges will be demolished afterwards, sometime in 2015, unless there are interested parties in taking a portion of the bridge home with them for local traffic use.

While it will be sad to see the bridges go, the emergency repairs done on the Eggner’s Ferry Bridge shows that the structure is not all lost if one uses common sense and examines the rest of the bridge to determine its stability before a decision is made. Furthermore, it allows the engineers and the transportation departments to look into other options to repair and reuse the existing structure, regardless of whether it is a temporary fix or a permanent one. This includes the usage of truss bridges, once touted by many to be structurally deficient; especially in light of the I-35W bridge disaster on 2 August, 2007.  And if people are impressed with (the reopening of) historic bridges because of their design and technology, perhaps finding ways to reintegrate historic bridges more into tourism should be considered rather than watching them be imploded with dynamite. While this may be a tourist attraction in itself, do not be fooled with the fact that there are more people who want to know more about historic bridges, how they are built and how they are part of American culture and history, regardless of whether the history is on a local level, like the Eggner’s Ferry Bridge is, or a national (or even international) level like the Golden Girl spanning San Francisco Bay at the age of 75.

Note: James Baughn compiled an even more detailed summary and critique on the Eggner’s Ferry Bridge, which you can find here. He posted a lot of pics for the bridge, a couple of which you can find below:

The incident on 26 January 2012

 

Still a very narrow bridge despite the fix

The Warren through truss replacement span.

The Linz Railway Bridge: At the End of its useful Life- What’s next?

All photos courtesy of the City of Linz

Located along the Danube River in the state of Upper Austria in Austria, the city of Linz, with a population of over 188,000 inhabitants, is one of the largest tourist destinations in the Alps region. One can travel into the mountains and end up skiing in 30 minutes, or visit its historic city center to see the Pöstlingberg church, the Church of St. Michael and Ursula, plus many museums and the market square, just to name a few. There is the University of Linz, one of the largest institutions of higher education in the country. Yet, when it comes to bridges spanning the longest river in Europe and the second longest river in the world behind the mighty Nile in eastern Africa, the city has one of the fewest river crossings with a total of five bridges, if one combines the suburb of Styegg, which has two spans. In terms of historic bridges, only two of them exist that were built before Adolf Hitler took over the German government in 1933 and ordered the “Anschluss” with Austria (which happened in 1938): an 1873 railroad bridge at Styegg and the Linz Railway Bridge built in 1900. Yet if the city council has it their way and the Austrian Railway Company wants to hand over ownership to the city, the 1900 railroad bridge will soon become history- replaced with a larger, three-span tied arch bridge. While the new bridge would fit the modern bridgescape, with the VOEST cable-stayed bridge built in 1972 and the Niebelungenburg Bridge, built in 1941 but is a girder bridge built on piers of a previous bridge, the historic character of the railroad bridge will disappear forever and it would raise questions about the preservation laws in Austria, one of the strictest in Europe. At the moment, the preservation office has not given the green light to proceed with the bridge replacement, even though they are open to options.


But how special is this bridge in comparison to the one in Styegg? And why does the city want to tear this bridge down at any cost? A quick oversight into the bridge reveals that one should not judge the bridge just by its type alone. The truss bridge type is a Schwedler, created by Johann Schwedler in the 1860s and is a combination of three truss spans known very well in the US: the Whipple, the Parker and the Bowstring Arch.  It was constructed by the state, which appointed the bridge building company Anton Bíro to oversee the design and building of the structure. Founded in 1854 by Anton Bíro, the company constructed hundreds of kilometers of rail lines and buildings even beyond the founder’s death in 1882. His sons took over and the company Bíro later merged with the construction agency Rudolph Phillip Waagner to create  Waagner and Bíro in 1924, a construction company that is located in the capital of Vienna and has built numerous bridges worldwide since then. The appearance of the bridge combined with its association with the builder made it eligible to receive protection status through the Austrian Historic Preservation Laws. Yet despite it being historic, opposition is mounting to see to it that the bridge is replaced. According to polls by the Linz news agent Nachrichten.at, nearly 61% of the public is in favor of the new bridge. Four of the five major parties in the Linz city council would like to see the bridge removed. A study conducted by the Technical University of Vienna also favored bridge replacement and even though the bridge serves rail, automobile and pedestrian traffic, the owner of the bridge, the Austrian Railway Company wants to see a solution regarding the bridge.


Apart from the fact that the railroad bridge is 112 years old, which technically does not count as the railroad bridge at Styegg is 27 years older and is still in use, the condition of the bridge itself may doom the structure. Rust and corrosion caused by weather extremes combined with traffic running over and under it have weakened the structure to a point where it could potentially fail.  In fact, according to a study conducted by Josef Fink of the Technical University of Vienna, only half of the bridge can be renovated as rust and corrosion on the other half of the bridge have progressively eaten away at the superstructure to a point where it would cost less to replace the bridge rather than replace the bridge parts. The report indicated that the bridge could still be used without rehabilitation for up to a year at the most- namely through the end of 2012. This has prompted the city council and other parties involved to consider the following options:
Demolish and Replace the Entire Bridge.  The new structure would represent a model similar to the truss bridge and cost 57 million Euros. The time to build the bridge would be 5.5 years.
Renovate the Truss Bridge and Construct an Additional Span. The new span would be either a concrete beam or an arch span and would be constructed first before the railroad bridge would be rehabilitated in its entirety. The cost of the project would be up to 98 million Euros and the time to complete it would be 8.5 years.
The main factors to keep in mind are that with both variants, additional bridge piers would be needed which would have an effect on the river flow of the Danube, the ship traffic going under the bridge and lastly flood protection- should flooding occur on the Danube, it could potentially cause jams resulting in flooding upstream. The decisive role in determining which option is the most feasible is the fact that only half the truss structure can be renovated, which could cost up to 40 million Euros alone, according to Fink.
Yet if the railroad bridge is in such horrible shape, then the next question would be why it was not properly maintained when it was in service in the first place. A simple paint job, combined with minor repairs on the bridge parts and annual inspection reports would ensure that the structure’s life would last beyond the 112 years it has served Linz. Yet, as we have seen in the United States, Germany and other countries, cost-cutting measures, which includes rediverting funds for infrastructure maintenance to other needs have forced the agencies to forego the necessary procedures to upkeep the bridge. In some cases like in the US, many engineers do this on purpose just to secure funds for replacing the bridge outright, and this without properly informing the public beforehand.
It is highly doubtful that it is the case with the Linz Railroad Bridge as the bridge has been heavily travelled and has survived weather extremities and other incidences (like war, etc.) which would have destroyed other bridges. Yet no solution to the bridge problem is not an option at all. If the bridge is protected by Austrian law, then perhaps one should follow Murphy’s Law which indicates that there is another option other than the ones given. The new bridge needs to be built but the healthy half of the old bridge should be preserved as an observation pier to provide people with a view of the city. While this would alter the integrity of the bridge, by removing the half that is not salvageable, saving the other half will still make the railroad bridge a landmark to see when visiting Linz. The advantages are simple: it is cheaper to salvage the part that can be saved, it will not disrupt the flow of the river and shipping traffic, and it will keep the city from having a set of structures over the Danube that are modernized but not to the liking of those who prefer to see historic places.
While it may take weeks before a decision can be made on the future of the bridge, it will have to be made before the bridge is no longer safe to use.

At present, the preservation laws and the interest in preserving the bridge from the public are the only two “hindrances” that are keeping the bridge from being replaced. Yet removing them will ultimately doom the bridge and erase a piece of Linz history, which would make the city less attractive for people to see if they want a cultural and historic experience and not go there for the skiing. An indecision is not an option as it could produce disaster for the bridge and cast a shadow on Linz itself. The easiest way is to present the three options to the public and allow them to decide for themselves. Only then will everybody be happy about it. And even if the majority votes for demolishing the bridge, a memorial for the bridge should be erected so that the public can remember the bridge. After all, contrary to the beliefs that one will forget about the bridge issue, the memory of the railroad bridge will forever remain in the hearts of minds of people who live in this wonderful Austrian town on the Danube.

Note: More information on this topic can be found here. One can also follow the topic via Bridgehunter’s Chronicles Newsroom on Twitter.

Mystery Bridge Number 2: Twin Bridges Separated?

Author’s Note: This bridge belongs to a series being constructed on the bridges of the Greater Eau Claire-Menonomie-Chippewa Falls area based on a recent visit by fellow pontist John Marvig, whose articles as a guest columnist will follow this one.

Fox Road Bridge over the Volga River in Fayette County, Iowa Photo taken by the author in August 2011

Downsville Railroad Bridge over the Red Cedar River on the Red Cedar River Trail in Dunn County. Photo taken by John Marvig in May 2012, used with permission

 

The history of bridge building in the United States up to 1950 does not come without any surprises; especially when it comes to truss bridges. These structures were easy to assemble, as the parts were transported from the steel mills to the place where it was needed, would serve traffic for a limited period of time before being disassembled into parts to be carried away to another destination, where it would be reassembled and used again. This technique was time consuming and required labor, yet for counties that needed to save money, it was less expensive than contracting to a bridge builder to construct either a larger and sturdier truss bridge (or even a cantilever bridge) or another bridge type, whether it was a concrete arch or a suspension span. Of the bridge types that were used for construction; especially during the time span of 1870 to 1920; the truss bridge was the most reliable structure used for transportation, let alone the structure that can be placed anywhere where it was deemed necessary.

Some of the truss bridges that were first built were multiple spans over a large body of water, like the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers or large lakes, like Lake Wissota near Chippewa Falls, for example. An example of this was the Dubuque Railroad Bridge, a multiple-span truss bridge consisting of six Pratt through trusses and a 360 foot swing span built over the Mississippi River in 1868. Upon its replacement beginning in 1893 and ending ten years later, the truss spans were disassembled and relocated to places far away from Dubuque. Three of these spans can still be found in Dubuque County today, one of which was recently located to a city park in Dubuque itself (see info here.)

Could this be the case with a couple bridges brought to our attention?  The Fox Road Bridge is located outside the Volga River State Forest approximately 20 kilometers east of Fayette in Fayette County. According to the records, this bridge was built in 1905 using steel from the Carnegie Mills in Pennsylvania (according to the inscription on the endpost).  The bridge is 176 feet long, 16 feet wide and has a 45° skew, in addition to its rather unique portal bracing.

The inscription “Carnegie” Steel Photo taken by the author in August 2011

The 45° skew of the portal bracing Photo taken in August 2011

 

Then we have the second crossing, the Downsville Railroad Bridge in Dunn County Wisconsin, spanning the Red Cedar River on the bike trail bearing the same name. Its truss span is 150 feet but resembles the exact appearance of its counterpart in Iowa. It is the main span of the bridge, whose approaches are mainly trestle spans (18 in all- 6 on one end, 12 on the other). Yet based on Marvig’s findings, the bridge was built by the Milwaukee Railroad although the date has not been given. The bridge is one of a few major crossings that have been incorporated into the Rail-for Trail program and is now part of the 28 kilometer bike trail connecting Menomonie and the Chippewa River and bike trail near Eau Claire.

The longer approach span and the truss bridge in the background. Photo taken by John Marvig in May 2012, used with permission

 

While an inquiry is being sought through the Fayette County Engineer and the Milwaukee Railroad Museum as Marvig is working on a page for this bridge for his website and I am pursuing information for the book on Iowa’s truss bridges, information pertaining to these two bridges will help solve this problem:

Were these two bridges part of a multiple span and if so, where was it first built and when?

What did the multiple span bridge look like if this theory turns out to be true?

Who built the bridge, let alone relocate and reassemble the two mentioned bridges? In the case of the one near Fayette County, given its steep landscape, how did the workers manage to transport the bridge down the hill to its point where it was reassemble and reused for traffic again?

Have a close look at the bridge through the lens of two photographers and compare. Are they alike and is just a question of coincidence- meaning there were many bridges of this kind built- or was it really part of a bigger bridge?

John Marvig’s photos of the Downsville Railroad Bridge can be viewed here, whereas Jason Smith’s photos of the Fox Road Bridge can be viewed here.

Please send your thoughts via e-mail or post in the comment section and as soon as the mystery is solved, you will know about it.

The author would like to thank John Marvig for allowing his photos to be used for this article.

 

Bridgehunter’s Chronicles Newsflyer: 10 May 2012

Greensburg Pike Bridge to be demolished this year. Photo taken in August 2010

 

May and June are perhaps one of the busiest months when it comes to historic preservation and bridges in general. A lot of important events are coming up that will provide people with a chance to either visit the historic bridge as part of their travel itinerary or take part in some contests and conferences. Here are some examples of upcoming events for you to keep in mind:
Photo Contests Commemorating National Historic Landmarks in the United States:
Once a year the National Park Service hosts a photo contest for photographers and historians alike, who want to showcase their talent to others and encourage others to take pride in the national landmarks in the US. Between now and 13 June, contestants can take advantage of the opportunity to “spice up” their digital photos for the right picture and submit them via flickr to the National Park Service. Please limit your entries to 10 photos per person but ONE photo per National Landmark. There are over 2,500 National Landmarks in the US but additional rules can be found here.  I’ve already chosen my pics to enter and I hope others will take part or at least encourage others to show their talent and their pride towards American history and enter. Good luck!

Historic Preservation and Downtown Conference in Vermont:
For those interested in historic preservation per se, or would like to know more on how to bridge the gap between historic preservation policy and practice (successes and shortcoming), there is the 18th annual Historic Preservation and Downtown Conference scheduled to take place on 8 June at Memorial Hall in Wilmington. Located in southern Vermont, the town was one of many that was devastated by Hurricane Irene in August of last year, but residents have been resilient in their successful attempts of restoring the historic town. This conference will feature many presentations including the importance of Main Street and recycling buildings. Tying education and preservation together is another topic that will be brought to the attention of the public through a presentation by Kaitlin O’shea-Healy of Preservation in Pink in the presentation entitled How Historic Preservation Involves YOU.  Cost are $35 for non-residents of Wilmington and accommodations are plenty. More information can be found here.

Historic Bridges in Erfurt in the Limelight:
There are over 25 historic bridges that exist in the capital of Thuringia, located in central Germany. Hans-Joerg Vockrodt and Dietrich Baumbach are the main source of authority when it comes to the history of bridges, some of which date back to the 12th century and have been since producing their own works in the 1990s and their first book on Erfurt’s bridges in 1994. Their second piece on the history of Erfurt’s bridges was released last year and on 23 May at 7:00pm at the Stapp book store in Erfurt, they will be presenting this topic to those interested in knowing about this topic. The cost for participating is three Euros. The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles will be there live and an interview with the authors will be in the works for the posting on Erfurt’s historic bridges and the book itself. Stay tuned.
German:  Es gibt über 25 Brücken in Erfurt, die Landeshauptstadt Thüringens, die im Mitteldeutschland liegt. Die Autoren, Hans-Jörg Vockrodt und Dietrich Baumbach sind die Hauptquellen für die Geschichte Erfurts Brücken, welche davon seit dem 12. Jahrhundert existiert haben, und sie haben seit der 90er Jahren über dieses Thema geschrieben, unter Anderem das erste Buch, das 1994 erschienen ist. Das zweite Buch über dieses Thema wurde im letzten Jahr veröffentlicht  und am 23. Mai um 19:00, findet ein Vortrag darüber in der Buchhandlung Stapp in Erfurt statt für diejenigen, die sich für dieses Thema interessieren. Die Eintrittkosten beträgt drei Euros. Die Bridgehunter’s Chronicles ist Live dabei und ein Artikel sowie ein Interview mit den Autoren werden geplant. 
Golden Gate Bridge to be 75 years old:
It took over 3 years, losing 21 people in the process, to achieve this feat. For 75 years, it has withstood the heavy currents of the Golden Gate as well as the earthquakes that shook the region, especially counting the 1989 earthquake. It has become a symbol for the city of San Francisco and the state of California, was used in many films, like Star Trek and Superman, and has been widely recognized by many who visit the USA from outside. This May, the Golden Gate Bridge will turn 75 years old and during the weekend of 27 May, a celebration marking its birthday will take place on the bridge. Information on the events can be found here.
Unfortunately though, the celebrations will take place without any survivors of the bridge construction. Jack Balestreri and Edward Ashoff, the last two surviving men who contributed to the building of the Golden Gate Bridge died recently due to old age and illness. An obituary of the two can be read here. These two plus a handful of others received the key to San Francisco by mayor Dianne Feinstein at the 50th anniversary celebration in 1987, it was put on display at the memorial services for Balestreri.
On a somber note, there are some bridges in the news that deserve to be mentioned as they have been a target of attempts to preserve them, most of which were to no avail due to either lack of funding or lack of interest in saving them. Here are some examples of bridges that are coming out soon:
Hulton Bridge in Pittsburgh (USA):

Built in 1909, the bridge was named after Jonathan Hulton, one of the first settlers of the Oakmont village located along the Allegheny River northeast of Pittsburgh. The bridge is famous for its long span- a 500-foot Pennsylvania petit main span with Parker truss approach spans, all colored in lavender. Sadly because of the high amount of cars crossing the bridge on a daily basis- over 25,000 a day to be exact- the bridge is scheduled to be replaced soon. Construction will start in 2013 at the latest and is expected to last two years at a cost of over $80 million. The future of the truss bridge is questionable for attempts by the students of the Carnegie Mellon University to convert the bridge into a pedestrian crossing has been ongoing. The bridge is in really good shape after being rehabilitated and painted in 1991 and has some historic significance, yet PennDOT officials elected to have a 4-lane structure to replace the vintage truss span.  The question is where to construct the bridge as both sides of the bridge are privately owned. At the time of this posting, an engineering firm has been hired to find the right place to build the new span. The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles will keep you posted on the latest there. For more information on how to contribute to saving the historic bridge, please contact Todd Wilson of Bridgemapper.com, whose contact information can be found via article on the bridge here.

 

Greensburg Pike Bridge in Pittsburgh (USA):

Work is well underway to replace the Greensburg Pike Bridge in Turtle Creek near Pittsburgh. The seven-span through truss bridge built in 1925 and featuring 45° skews at the portal bracing will remain open through September of this year, while a new bridge is being built downstream from the structure, which afterwards, the roadway will be realigned and the truss spans will be removed. As the bridge spans at least seven tracks of the Norfolk Southern Railroad, attempts will be made to minimize disruptions as the truss bridge will be dismantled. The new bridge is scheduled to be open to traffic by August 2013. More on the bridge replacement is here.

Railroad Underpass at Grevesmuehlen, Germany:

Located about 70 kilometers east of Luebeck in western Mecklenburg-Pommerania in northeastern Germany, the bridge carries a local street in the village of Grevesmuehlen spanning a two-track rail line. The bridge is a Bailey truss bridge, one of many that were built in the late 1940s to replace bridges either severely damaged or destroyed in World War II. Unfortunately, its days have been numbered as the structure has become obsolete and therefore will be replaced with a concrete bridge. Work started recently and the bridge is scheduled to be completed and open to traffic in August of this year. Rail line will not be disrupted but detours will be in place until the project is completed.

The Nussrain Bridge at Bensigheim, Germany:

Located about 80 kilometers south of Heilbronn on the Neckar Canal in Baden Wuerttemberg, the city of Bensigheim has not been too kind to its bridges, as a six-span double-barrel Whipple through truss bridge built in 1874 was replaced in 2006 with the majority of the structure being reduced to scrap metal (a small section was saved as a monument). Now it has problems maintaining its existing bridges. The Nussrain Bridge spanning the Neckar Canal between Bensigheim and Hessigheim is scheduled to be replaced, but in 2016. The reaction from the public has been anything but positive, as the structure, built sometime in the 1950s, is crumbling and it is considered obsolete for accommodating vehicular traffic, including cyclists and pedestrians. The reason for the delay is the bridge project is supposed to be tied together with improving the canal and the roadway that crosses the bridge and constructing the roundabout on the Bensigheim side of the bridge. Work is underway to push up the construction date.

Yet on a positive note, a couple of bridges are about to be rehabilitated as the demand for more stabile structures to accommodate pedestrians are needed. One of them is a covered bridge built 250 years ago located in Switzerland (near Zug).

Kleinodbruecke to be renovated:

Built 250 years ago, the covered bridge spans the Lorzel River between Baar and Menzingen in the Zug Canton and carries pedestrians and cyclists. The covered bridge is protected by Swiss law, but given the increasing amount of traffic, the covered bridge is about to receive a major facelift. New wood siding and approaches will be constructed to replace the ones that have corroded over the years, in addition to repairing some of the wooden truss parts that have dealt with weather extremities. The project has just started and will be completed in September. A substitute bridge is available for pedestrians to use during the time of the bridge work. More information on the bridge can be found here, and the construction project here.  The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles has a link to Switzerland’s covered bridges, which can be accessed here and in the links page in the lower window of the main page.

Help needed: Photos, postcards and stories about Iowa’s Bridges

Durrow Road Bridge in Linn County, Iowa Photo taken in August 2011

When looking at the Durrow Road Bridge, located east of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the first thing that comes to mind is that it is a typical through truss bridge built in the 1920s. Judging by its recent paint job, it has been maintained really well and on a regular basis. But while photographing the bridge, a resident on a farm place located just around the corner takes notice and decides to stop at the bridge to find out what I was doing (in reality, I was with another pontist who resides near Marion, located north of Cedar Rapids). It is from that point on, we have a nice long conversation about the history of the bridge and why it was named. The bridge was relocated here in 1949 from Cedar Rapids to replace a wooden trestle bridge and add a piece to the farmstead that is over a century old.

The main idea is the fact that each bridge has its own history and character that makes preserving it for future generations a must. Yet, bridges like this one are being replaced in favor of progress with the records on its history and its association with the local communities lost forever.  There are many books that have been written about these historic bridges. They include Dennis Gardner’s book on Minnesota’s historic bridges in 2008, using the materials of wood, stone, metal and concrete as the main pillars to the story of how the bridges were developed.  Another book on the bridges bridges in New Jersey, written by Steven Richman, portrays the existing bridges in New Jersey. And there are many books written about the covered bridges in the northeastern corner of the USA from Pennsylvania to Maine, many of them have contributed to the states taking pride on their covered bridges more than the other bridge types.

The truss bridges in Iowa, a project that has been launched, will be a book that will differ from all the books that have been written for two reasons: 1. Iowa’s bridges have been documented in books already but in bridge types only. This includes the Marsh Arch bridges, written by the late James E. Hippen in 1997 and the bowstring arch bridges, written by Michael Finn in 2004. Up until now, there are no sources that deal with truss bridges in the state with the exception of reports conducted by agencies, like the Iowa Department of Transportation, and other interested parties but are only limited in availability.  2. The focus of the book will be on the development of the truss bridges in Iowa beginning with the first crossings along the Mississippi River and in big cities, like Dubuque and Ottumwa and continuing on with the dominance of truss bridges over bowstring arch bridges, experiments with new bridge types, like the Thacher truss bridge, the role of the bridge builders, first from out of state and later from local Iowa bridge builders. It is then followed by the introduction of standardized truss bridges and how they waned in popularity in favor of concrete bridges. And finally the book will focus on the successes of identifying these bridges and preserving them for reuse. The book will feature truss bridges both past and present and their history and how they brought the communities together. This includes stories similar to the one of Durrow Road Bridge.

If you have any old photos and postcards of bridges (esp. those that no longer exist in Iowa), as well as any information and stories pertaining to the truss bridges in Iowa, please send them to Jason D. Smith via e-mail at flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com. Mailing address is available upon request.

The book project will take approximately 5-10 years to complete pending on the amount of information that comes in. But quality will outweigh quantity and the goal is to bring the history of truss bridges in Iowa to light (going as deep into the research as possible) so that the readers can understand how they contributed to the development of the state’s infrastructure, let alone to the development of their communities and farmsteads.  So if you have any information that is useful to this book, I would love to hear or see it. Thank you very much for your help.

Ellsworth Ranch Bridge in Emmet County. This 1895 Thacher through truss bridge is NOT the first one that was built. There is one that was constructed earlier and somewhere in Iowa. Do you know when and where the first Thacher bridge was built? Photo taken in August 2011

 

Mystery Bridge 1: Horn’s Ferry Bridge in Marion County, Iowa

This and the following photos were taken by the author in August 2011

When it comes to mystery bridges, there are two types of mysteries that exist with regards to historic bridges: 1. A historic bridge that existed in the past but there is no information on its location, let alone when it was built (or rewording it, information from oral sources probably existed, but they have long since moved on), and 2. The bridge existed but in pieces that are visible today but with little or no information as to why it was reduced to a fragment of what it once looked like when in service.  The Horn’s Ferry Bridge in Marion County belongs to both categories as this article will explain further.

According to information found on the bridge via information plaque, the Horn’s Ferry Bridge was the first bridge to cross the Des Moines River in Marion County when it opened to traffic in 1881, replacing a ferry which had previously crossed the river since 1865. The structure featured the following bridge types going from west to east: six-Pratt pony truss spans (each being 100 feet), a 200-foot Camelback through truss span, a 140-foot riveted Pratt through truss span and lastly before reaching shore, a 90-foot Warren pony truss span.  The bridge was closed to traffic in 1982 when a new crossing at the Red Rock Dam (located 700 feet upstream) was built, but remained open to pedestrians until the night of 31 August 1992, when one of the stone piers collapsed, sending 300 feet of the bridge into the river in a slow, agonizing motion. For safety reasons, that section, plus three additional Pratt pony truss spans were removed, while at the same time, to assure there is a connection for cyclists and pedestrians, a mail-order Pratt pony truss bridge was constructed by the Continental Bridge Company of Alexandria, Minnesota, approximately 300 feet north of the original crossing.  Today, the remaining four spans of the Horn’s Ferry Bridge- two 100-foot Pratt pony truss spans on the west side at Ivan’s Campground and the Pratt through truss and Warren pony truss spans on the east end at Howell Station Campground remain in tact and function as observation decks overlook the opposite banks.

The bridge was first spotted via Google Map as I was planning my US trip in the spring of last year, but from the Red Rock Dam, where county highway T-17 crosses the Des Moines River, it is easy to see the crossing, let alone access it from the two campgrounds. Yet taking a closer look at the bridge, one can see there are some questions that are left open to be answered. Some of which can be seen in the photos below. First and foremost, the bridge was one of the longest wagon bridges to cross the Des Moines River in Iowa  at 1000 feet. (some other bridges, like the Wagon Wheel Bridge near Boone and the crossings in Van Buren County are either close to the bridge’s length or even longer). A wagon bridge means that the bridge was originally built for horse and buggy and later modified to accommodate cars and trucks.  Yet the information is lacking with regards to the bridge builder, let alone what the bridge originally looked like before the structure collapsed in 1992. Therefore the bridge was not listed on the National Register of Historic Places, nor did it appear on the Iowa Department of Transportation’s Historic Bridges website, which has been unavailable for some time. In the minds of many, the bridge was put to the backburner until my visit in August last year, when I photographed and posted photos of the bridge on James Baughn’s Bridgehunter website. Since then, calls have gotten louder from those interested to pursue the inquiry.  But…

Perhaps one can also help solve the clue to another mystery located next to the bridge. At the two ends of the now converted observation deck are wood pilings sticking up vertically from the river to make it look like piers used for another bridge crossing. Both of them appeared to have aged greatly as wood splits have appeared in the piers and are spalling. Could it be that a temporary bridge was built to assist construction crews in removing the wreckage from the 1992 disaster, or are these remnants of an even older span? It is possible that the pilings were also used to guide ferries across the river  prior to the bridge being built. In either case, the quest to solve these two burning questions remains open and will be the case until someone steps up to assist in the information.

Questions about the Mystery Bridge:

1. Who was the builder of the Horn’s Ferry Bridge and what did the bridge look like before 1992

2. What do the pilings next to the bridge tell us in regards to its history: Was there a bridge built beforehand and if so, what did it look like? Was it part of the ferry service that had existed before the bridge was built in 1881?

3. What was the cause of the bridge collapse on 31 August 1992?

Please send the answers directly via e-mail or to the The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles page on facebook and as soon as the respondents provide the clues, the answer will be posted. Photos (esp. of the bridge prior to 1992) are strongly encouraged as long as you provide the source so that I can note this when posting them. Thanks!

Photos of the bridge can be seen via Bridgehunter.com, which you can click on here.

West approach with the truss spans.
The west truss spans (now an observation deck)
The wood pilings: ferry remnants, a previous bridge, a temporary bridge used to dismantle the fallen span?
The eastern spans (also used as an observation deck)
Damage to the pier of the Pratt through truss span.
Oblique view of the east spans
The eastern approach with park banches and info plaques
The Red Rock Dam, where the route between the two campgrounds now runs across.

Interesting facts:

1. This year will mark the 30th anniversary of the bridge being converted to recreational use with the main highway being rerouted over the dam. Unfortunately it will also mark the 20th anniversary of the bridge’s (near-) tragedy for unknown reasons. It was really fortunate that the groups involved fought to keep the remaining spans standing to be used as observation decks, but it would be curious to know the causes of the bridge collapse.

2. While little known to the pontist community, some people have tried to keep the memory of the bridge alive through marketing, like this attempt to sell the Horn’s Ferry Bridge mousepad, for example. There is hope that someday, a history book on the bridge will be written, although it will be mentioned in a book I’m writing about Iowa’s truss bridges. More information to come in the next posting.