During our recent trip to the south of Germany, we happened to visit a Medieval Town that is most beloved by many Americans and Brits alike. It was located on a small river but was walled in its entirety, thus receiving the name “Altstadt” (or old town). While the old town has two historic town squares and many churches, it also prides itself on its bridges all but one of which date as far back as the 1600s. That lone exception is our Mystery Bridge. When you look at the following pics below, you may think that this pedestrian bridge was built in the early 1900s. Yet (as the only hint given to you), it is the first suspension built of iron that was built in Germany, constructed in 1824. Another interesting feature is the number of towers that support the cable and bridge deck. Normally, a suspension bridge has even-numbered towers instead of the odd-numbered ones, like what we have here in the picture- there are only three towers that support the iron cable and decking- two on the opposite banks and one in the middle on a small island.
This leads to the following questions:
1. Do you know of another suspension bridge in the world that still exists and has odd-numbered towers and…
2. What is the name and location of this lovely bridge? (It is located next to another popular bridge built in the 1300s) Naming the city the bridge is located is also an acceptable answer.
Please leave your answers in the comment section. The answers will take you by surprise for a segment on the bridges in the region where this bridge will come later this summer. This region has one of the most popular Christmas Markets in Germany and is a great place to go skiing.
Each country has a bridge or a set of bridges which one can associate with on an international scale. France is famous for its bridges along the Rhone and Seine as well as the Millau Viaduct. Italy has the Rialto and the bridges of Florence and Venice. Canada has the Quebec Bridge and the Lions Gate. While we have two bridges in the US we can take pride in- the Brooklyn Bridge and the Golden Gate, the one that has received more recognition than the other from a foreigner’s point of view is the Golden Gate Bridge
At 75 years of age, the golden girl was the work of engineering genius Joesph Strauss and the hundreds of workers who spent eight years creating a tall orange monster that rose from the water, spanned the Golden Gate connecting San Francisco and the rest of the northern half of the Pacific Coast and created an image that is breath-taking and typical of San Francisco. It is one of the most internationally recognized structures that one can associate with, especially when it comes to the question of being typically American.
Beneath this image lies a dark side to America’s infrastructure and in particular its bridges. While most Americans take pride in the golden girl and maintain its upkeep, the majority of the bridges in America have become a victim of modernization, where old highly prized works of architecture constructed between 1860 and 1930 are becoming prey to bland architectural works that engineers and highway agencies tout as a step moving forward but in all reality are real eyesores, high maintenance, and in the end, last a fraction as long as their predecessors. Too many examples of bridges lost can be found, whether it was the Manchester and Point Bridges of Pittsburgh, The Grace and Pearlman Bridges in Charleston, South Carolina, the Fort Steuben Bridge near Wheeling, West Virginia, Eagle Point Bridge in Dubuque, Iowa, The New Franklin Viaduct in Missouri, just to name a few. These were works of art that started in the steel mills as bridge parts or quarries as stone pieces that were transported hundreds or even thousands of miles to their final destination where they were erected on site. It is unknown how many workers on average were responsible for putting these structures together and integrating them into the fabric of America’s transportation system, but the number is huge.
It is unknown why these bridges had to be replaced except to say that there are too many factors, whether it is due to a lack of maintenance of the structures or a lack of interest in preserving these structures or even a lack of funding needed to preserve them. In either case, what we are seeing are more dollars and sense and less of the history and culture that these bridges stand for. It is like there is a lack of appreciation towards these historic structures and all of the toil and energy that it took to build them. It makes a person wonder if the wrecking ball will come for the more recognized structures, like the Golden Gate Bridge in favor of a cable-stayed bridge that has a lack of taste toward the city of San Francisco and America….
Fortunately though, it is not the case. The Golden Gate Bridge is alive and well, thanks to all the money and effort needed in maintaining the structure. As for the other historic bridges that are still standing, there are a growing number of Americans that still appreciate them and are taking the efforts to save them for others to see, whether it is incorporating them into a bike trail network, as we’re seeing more and more of that, or creating a park for these bridges, like the one near Battle Creek, Michigan and Iowa City. In places like Indiana and Texas, bridges are being refurbished, piece by piece, to serve traffic for many years to come. And those that are still in use but are approaching the end of their service life, there are more considerations to saving them for reuse instead of demolishing them. The mentality of the Americans has changed over the past 20 years, going from a throw-away society to that of reusing things. Part of that is for environmental reasons but the other part is for the purpose of preserving what is left of our culture and integrating them into our lives.
As David Plowden once mentioned in a book on bridges of North America: People tend to build bridges for the purpose of achieving something and not for achievement itself. This expression was based on earlier history where architecture in America was based on building things quickly and efficiently. This may be true to an extent, yet the bridges of the past are much nicer than those of today. It has something to do with its appearance, but even more, it has something to do with its association with the people who live near them, the community it is integrated in, and the American History that should not be forgotten. While we will see more newer and fancier structures on America’s road in the future, there will be more historic bridges preserved for future generations as many Americans do care a great deal about their prized work of art and the ancestors that put it together for people to use.
The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles would like wish everyone a Happy 4th of July. Take some time to go to a nearest historic bridge near your home and think about the structure and how it was built, how it is associated with your lives and your community, how it became part of local and regional history and more importantly, how it can be preserve, should the time come for it to be retired from service. Chances are that 99 times out of 100, your bridge will be as valuable as the Golden Gate Bridge and there will be many reasons to save the structure for future use.
There is a ray of hope with regards to the future of the McIntyre Bridge in Poweshiek County, Iowa. The North Skunk River Greenbelt Association, which owns the 1885 bowstring arch bridge was provided with a grant of $10,000 by the Marilyn Taylor Jordan on behalf of the McFarlin Family. However this grant comes with a challenge- there is a challenge to match at least half the funding- meaning $5000!
The organization is looking for 250 people who are willing to donate $20 to the cause. The advantages are two-fold: 1. The names of the donors will be in-scripted either on the planks of the bridge or on a plaque at the Millgrove Access Wildlife Area, where the bridge is located and 2. A thank-you gift in a form of the DVD documentary on historic bridge preservation will be given to the donor. The documentary features the restoration of the Piano Bridge in Texas and was produced earlier this year.
The money will be used to finish the Site Survey and pier study to determine if we need to add additional height to the piers. The NSRGA has been granted $1950 for this study by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and more time has been extended for that study to be performed. It is expected to cost $4000. Grant money will be used for engineering drafts and bringing parts to the bridge site from outside so that work can proceed on rebuilding the bowstring arch bridge.
The McIntyre Bridge was destroyed by flooding in 2010 as the structure was swept downstream. A survey revealed that the bridge is salvageable and can be rebuilt, yet it is possible that new higher piers may be needed to avert further flooding. The full cost of bridge restoration and reset will cost about $134,000. This does not include money for work on the road or the riverbanks, as that will be separate and plans are in the making to work with the county on this aspect once the bridge is reset.
If you are interested in taking the challenge or have any questions on how you can help restore the McIntyre Bridge, please contact Julie Bowers at NSRGA at this website: www.skunkriverbridge.org If you want to take the challenge, you can also send a check to: NSRGA PO Box 332 Grinnell, IA 50112. The deadline to donate to meet the challenge is 31 July, 2012. Every little dollar counts in preserving a piece of America’s history for generations to come.
After completing a tour of the city’s bridges and trying out all the delicacies at the shops on the Kraemerbruecke, we now come to our first book of the month in the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles, which fits perfectly to this theme. The interest of historic bridges in Erfurt on the part of the authors went back to the 1990s, when Germany was reunited and plans were in the making to preserve the remaining historic bridges in Erfurt, the state of Thuringia and the states of the former German Democratic Republic (GDR). Research was conducted on the bridges to determine their historic significance. This contributed to the decision of which bridges were to be renovated and which ones to replace. While the Kraemerbruecke was given special status in the GDR and was renovated before 1989, almost all of the city’s bridges were not renovated until after German Reunification, and when that time came, the rehabilitation process was extensive and consuming.
Dietrich Baumbach and Hans-Joerg Vockrodt published their first book on bridges in Erfurt in 2000, entitled “Historische Bogen- und Gewölbebrücke der Stadt Erfurt” (English: Historic arch bridges in the City of Erfurt). This book focuses mainly on the technical details of the historic bridges in the city and provides an in-depth coverage on how the bridges were rehabilitated, including photos during the construction phase and after it was completed. Naturally, one would have to conclude that historic bridges consisted of all bridge types that were built prior to 1945. Yet, as one can see in the previous three parts, the arch bridges in Erfurt far outnumber other pre-1945 bridge types by a ratio of 6 to 1. While there are 17 bridges in Erfurt and countless others in the suburbs that have arch types, there are only three truss bridges, one covered bridge and one cable-stayed pedestrian bridge that exist and are worth visiting as a touring pontist. Therefore, it is logical that the arch bridges received first priority and were profiled in the first literary masterpiece. 12 of the city’s 17 arch bridges were the focus of the book and how they were built and rebuilt, using brick and stone as material for an arch bridge. For those with unique ornamental features, like the Hollernzollern, Karls, Pfoertchen and Kraempfertor Bridges, the authors provide a detailed description of how the sculptures and ornamental lampposts were built and restored to their original form.
The 2000 edition was one of the first pieces that set the precedent for efforts to restore many of the state’s (and region’s) arch bridges, for while they were plentiful- even after World War II when many of them sustained considerable damage caused by the bombing- the majority of them fell into disarray caused by neglect during the Cold War period when the GDR existed. This was in part due to the scarcity of materials and technical know-how needed to restore them. It is contradictory to the American plan to modernize the cities at the expense of historic bridges, an initiative that started in the 1960s and included the resources needed to construct newer bridges. While recent materials on restoring historic bridges (like: A Bridge Worth Saving: A Community Guide to Historic Bridge Preservation by Michael Mort) focuses on metal truss bridges, the first book on Erfurt’s bridges focuses on restoring arch bridges, but mainly those built of brick and stone. These are becoming a rare commodity universally as they are too narrow for cars to cross and many people want newer wider bridges to get them to their destination. Yet when reading the book and looking at the many ways the arch bridges are renovated, it will serve as an incentive for local agencies, engineers and contractors as well as preservation groups and historical societies to look at renovation as a tool for restoring these rare commodities and integrating them into their landscape and culture.
Little do most people realize that there is a history to every single piece of architecture that exists. It is like bread and butter. One does not know about a house, skyscraper or a bridge until looking at how it was built, how it became an integral fabric of the region’s history and culture and how it is identifiable to the landscape. In the second book “Brücken und Stege im alten Erfurt,” (Bridges in Old Town Erfurt) published in December of last year, Baumbach and Vockrodt shifted their focus on the historical aspect of Erfurt’s historic bridges, focusing not only on the existing bridges that one can see in the city, but also on those that either used to exist along the Wild Gera River before it was rechanneled and filled in to become today’s Yuri-Gagarin Ring or those that spanned the streams but were subsequentially replaced by today’s modern structures.
Baumbach and Vockrodt went out of their way to profile almost each and every one of the bridges that existed in Erfurt, providing the reader with photos and paintings for each bridge profiled. Each one has a history of its own, whether it was part of one of the mills that existed next to it, or it was part of the ever-expanding streetcar network that was developed in the 1800s or even one of those whose historical value resulted in successful attempts to relocate them to be reused for recreational purposes.
Here are some interesting facts about Erfurt’s bridges that may be of curiosity to the reader: 1. There were two covered bridges over the Wild Gera River before it was rechanneled in 1900: the Hospitalsteg and the Vogelsteg. Both were relocated as they originally served as pedestrian crossings: the former to the Little Venice Park north of the city center, the latter to Luisenpark south of the city center. The latter still exists today. 2. 36 notable bridges used to exist at one time when the Wild Gera was being rechanneled. 10 were along the Wild Gera and had to be removed when the Flutgraben was in service. The construction dates were between 1300 and 1500 for each one. 3. Only one notable arch bridge was replaced during the GDR times- the Lehmann Bridge. Built in the 1300s, it was one of the oldest arch bridges in Erfurt, next to the Kraemerbruecke and Ross Bridge. Despite government’s material rationing policies during the Cold War, the bridge’s substantial deterioration warranted an exception to the rule in 1977, with the bridge being replaced with today’s steel beam structure. 4. The Schutzturmschleuse Bridge was once a series of dams built to control the flow of water entering Erfurt. While Erfurt was located on the Ford of the Gera River, its location in the flat river valley made it prone to flooding. Most of these dams still exist, while the Schutzturmschleuse is now a partially-filled in bridge. 5. The Schlosserbruecke used to be another house bridge before it was altered: first as a pedestrian bridge and later (after it sustained heavy damage in World War II) as a multi-functional bridge, which still serves streetcar, automobile, cycler and pedestrian traffic today.
At the end, there is a directory, summarizing each of the bridges mentioned in the book, either through individual profiling or just a brief mention of the structure, containing the location of the bridges, bridge type and a brief history. This actually serves as a combination of quick reference and a starting point of the story before diving deeply into the topic of the city’s bridges. While a lot of information was found that could be found in the book, there are some bridges whose existence was found only in sketches and sources that are scarce and almost impossible to find. In some cases, some estimates were needed as the information was difficult to find; especially with regard to the bridges of the Wild Gera river, as they disappeared by 1900 thanks to the Flutgraben.
Both books provide a historical background on the development of bridges in Erfurt and identify the most important bridges in the city and how they contributed to its development as a whole. This includes the Kraemerbruecke, Karlsbruecke and those in the southern part of the city. With as many bridges as the city has, it is no wonder that the nickname “Venice of the North” was given to the city of Erfurt as the city is just as big as its Italian counterpart, but has almost as many bridges. Yet profiling the 200 plus bridges in one book is a difficult challenge in itself, for on the count of modernization in the last three decades, up to half of the bridges in a city deserve some sort of recognition and two thirds of that number are usually documented in detail because of the history. An example is with the bridges in Pittsburgh and Hamburg, whose numbers far triple that of the bridges of Erfurt and Venice combined. Literature has been written on these bridges but using only a fraction of the number and focusing on the key historical structures one should see.
In the case of the bridges of Erfurt, two books were needed to cover the structures, first by focusing on the existing structures and their technical details and then discussing about the bridges in general, whose history ties in with the development of the city itself. The authors did a splendid job of covering the aspects but keeping the information simple and straight forward. This is important when writing a book about bridges that one should not only keep the historical and technical aspects together, but also keep it simple and easy to understand for the reader who may have little knowledge of the subject. Sometimes it is the easiest to add photos and other images to simplify the explanations even further. Both of these books have a wide array of both in there- averaging two photos/images per page with the first few pages providing background information only. Sometimes it works best to have a few pages of background information before profiling the bridges in photos/images. If one wants to write about bridges in a city or region and is unsure how to approach it, perhaps the two books on Erfurt’s bridges- the technical part and the historical part, may be a good reference point to provide some ideas for one’s own work. In my experience, it always helps to have a frame of reference as a guidance for writing about this topic. It is unknown how many times I have referred to the two books for information or for reading pleasure, but since purchasing the first book in 2010 and the second in February of 2012, it has been more than enough times because of its interesting photos and the information that is thought provoking and useful.
The only caveat is the fact that the books are only in German. While it is easy for someone with substantial knowledge of the language, for non-German speakers, while the photos are interesting to look at, and one can understand some of the numbers and other detailed aspects, it would be interesting to have a version in English or other languages as many people would take advantage of the two books and use them for reference purposes, especially for those needing help with ideas on preserving stone arch bridges.
A logical explanation to why the book is in German as well as some interesting facts about Erfurt, its bridges as well as those in Germany and some ways of maintaining them are found in the fifth and final part of the series on Erfurt’s bridges, when a sit-down interview with the two authors was conducted. You will be amazed at what they have to say about the topic of bridges, preservation and history.
The Historic Bridge Alliance (HBA) is planning its fourth in a series of webinars on successful historic bridge rehabilitation projects. These are hosted and sponsored by the Federal Highway Administration and National Highway Institute (FHWA/NHI.) During our last webinar in January, we maxed out our 300 registered lines and many locations had multiple participants.
HBA is an all-volunteer community of engineers, preservationists, historians, advocates, and other public and private sector members promoting effective practices in the identification, evaluation, management, rehabilitation, maintenance, and continued use of historic bridges.
On behalf of HBA, I am seeking recommendations of people who may be willing to present a case study during our next webinar. The HBA seeks presentations conducted by someone with direct knowledge of the rehabilitation. Presentations should be fairly technical for primarily an engineering audience but also succinct and focused on key preservation challenges and how they were resolved.
Through these webinars, the HBA brings individuals together to foster multidisciplinary problem-solving and share best case examples with the goal of improving practices nationally.
Please let me know if you have any recommendations for case studies for the next, or any future, webinar. We are hoping to hold the webinar in August. Presenters are at their own desktop and we have an established PowerPoint template to follow.
Author’s note: This is an announcement for all those with expertise in preserving historic bridges as well as those who are interested in them and have some success stories to share with the historic bridge community. Thanks to Ms. Squitieri for providing the message for the Chronicles.