How to fix an antique metal bridge: DVD on Historic Bridge Restoration by Julie Bowers

Hendricks Ford Bridge in Bartholomew County, Indiana. Photo taken by Nathan Holth of historicbridges.org

Author’s Note: This article serves as a twofold function: 1. It is part of a multiple series on the Historic Bridge Conference, which took place last weekend (21-23 September) in Indiana, where the documentary was shown, and 2. This is the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles’ Book of the Month, but in a form of a DVD and documentary. An interview with Julie Bowers on historic bridge preservation was conducted earlier this year and can be viewed by clicking here.

There seems to be a belief from many people that historic metal truss bridges cannot be restored because the metal used for the structure has outlived its usefulness, and that restoration and/or relocation is either too expensive, outdated, or is not heard of. The last part was in connection with a comment made by a congresswoman in Ohio in May of this year.
Little do these critics realize is that restoration exists for metal truss bridges, and in the case of welding, the profession is making a comeback, as there is an increase in interest in this sort of work. And for the remaining truss bridges that are still standing in the country, this may be a blessing that could buck the trend of eliminating this truss type, especially after the I-35W Bridge Disaster of 2007 in Minneapolis, Minnesota (USA).
Using the Piano Bridge in Texas and the McIntyre Bowstring Arch Bridge in Iowa and with the support of songs by The Grateful Dead, Julie Bowers of Workin Bridges, a non-profit organization that deals with historic bridge restoration, produced a documentary on historic bridge restoration, bringing a profession back from the dead and, with step-by-step demonstrations and easy to explain concepts by the professionals, providing educational opportunities for welders, historians, agencies, bridge enthusiasts and people interested on how to restore a historic bridge.
The DVD starts with the McIntyre Bridge before and after the flood that destroyed the structure in August 2010 with the question of what to do with the structure. While Workin Bridges was in its infancy when this occurred, the organization’s biggest break came with the request from the people in Fayette County, Texas to restore the pin-connected Pratt through truss bridge, built in 1885 by the King Bridge Company of Cleveland, Ohio. Together with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) the restoration process started, first by taking the truss bridge off its original foundations, followed by taking it apart, putting rivets on the bridge, using heat to straighten out the eye bars, and doing other work with the parts, before putting the truss bridge together and placing it back on new foundations. The step-by-step process was filmed and photographed, with experts demonstrating to the viewer how these processes work, thus encouraging people to at least look at how restoration works, but with a long range goal of taking up the profession. Welding is an old technology that was developed in the 1800s, went into hibernation for many decades, but is making a comeback in a new form, which is restoring historic places made of metal. Yet for many people, the profession is new and exciting, but should be taken seriously, as it takes time and effort to form and reform structural parts to make a building or bridge look just like new. Here are some interesting facts about welding that were in the film and are worth noting:

  1. Rivets are more effective than nuts and bolts in a way that they keep the metals intact and ensure that rust and weather extremities do not cause the metal parts to crack. One of the cracked parts discovered on the Piano Bridge led to the structure’s closing and the quest for someone to come and fix it.
  2. Heat stripping is a process of placing the torch on a section of metal, straightening it out with clamps.
  3. The Piano Bridge is made of wrought iron, which has a low heating temperature. Therefore, one needs to be careful not to have heat on a section of metal for a long time or else the material falls apart like wood. This contributed to many structures failing during the Great Chicago Fire on 3 October, 1871, which destroyed 80% of the entire city.
  4. Steel can be welded to wrought iron to ensure its stability for many years, despite claims that it can be bent to a point where it breaks.
  5. Most interesting fact: rehabilitating historic bridges means adding parts to support the structure. It does not mean restoration, as in taking apart and reassembling the structure.

While the welding process was progressing on the Piano Bridge, there were discussions about historic bridges and their fate, especially in connection with the I-35W Bridge Disaster.  While many agencies have striven to have certain bridge types eliminated, as well as those that are structurally deficient, including those in Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ohio, for example, other agencies, like TxDOT have worked to find ways to restore historic bridges and/or relocate them for reuse if deemed necessary. It is part of a two-way approach where the costs are analyzed and engineering thought is put in to determine not whether a historic bridge can be restored but how. John Barton of TxDOT denounces the knee-jerk approach to historic bridge replacement, as it has happened in many places, but claims that engineering is a way to address the variables, both systematically and methodologically and should be taken seriously.

The film ends with some example bridges that have either been restored, like the State Street Bridge in Bridgeport, Michigan, or are targets for restoration efforts, like the Long Shoals Bridge in Kansas, the Cascade Bridge in Iowa, and the Enochs Knob Bridge in Missouri, the last two of which are being scheduled for demolition, although Workin Bridges is working to claim the Cascade Bridge to be restored. The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles will have that article for you as soon as the series on the Historic Bridge Conference in Indiana is finished. But it shows how each bridge could be restored thanks to the demonstrations that were presented in the film.

There are many demonstrations on welding techniques that are either available online or through seminars, like the annual welding seminar offered by Vern Mesler in Michigan. The DVD takes you up close to see how historic bridges can be restored through welding techniques that exist. It provides people with a chance to see how the process works and has the dos and don’ts to welding, let alone to restoring a historic bridge. Furthermore it advocates the need to do restoration work instead of rehabilitation, setting the standards very high for reasons of safety and integrity, while at the same time, restoring the bridge is more cost effective than rehabilitation or replacement.

The video is 47 minutes long and from a teacher’s point of view, if you have a class of students of civil engineering, conservation and restoration or even architecture, it is recommended that they see the film to provide them with a glimpse of the work and to spark their interest in possibly joining the profession, which has been growing since 2008. Chances are likely that at least a quarter of the students in the classroom will be interested in the work.  And even if no one is interested in the profession and is only curious about how a bridge is restored, the content of the film is easy to understand and the demonstrations are up front and not too technical. For agencies and politicians who advocate bridge replacement, the DVD provides them with an alternative to demolition, convincing them that restoration is more cost effective and will prolong the life of a bridge for many decades to come.

Robbins Ford Bridge in Decatur County, Indiana. Built in 1908; restored as a pedestrian bridge in 2009. Photo courtesy of Nathan Holth of historicbridges.org

I would like to end this review with a food for thought involving a question that I posed to many of my students: suppose you have a 120 year old truss bridge that is due for replacement and you have the following choices, which one would you take:

Replace the bridge with a concrete structure
Replace the bridge but leave the truss bridge in tact
Rehabilitate the truss bridge and leave it open to traffic?

Keep in mind the cost analysis for each option, the resources that are available, but most importantly, the interest of the people and their association with the structure. Without the interest, the truss bridge is history. Yet if the interest in saving the bridge is high, then one should look at the resources available and in particular, listen to the public and their suggestions. Chances are one of them may have seen this DVD and knows what he/she is talking about.

If you are interested in the DVD, please contact Julie Bowers at Workin Bridges using the contact info below: http://skunkriverbridge.org/information.html

Next up in the series on the Indiana Historic Bridge Conference: The Highlights, the Interview with James Cooper and the Madison-Milton Bridge.

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Rally to Save the Cedar Grove Bridge

Oblique view. All photos in this article are courtesy of Tony Dillon

What does it really take to save a historic bridge? Many groups created to save a precious piece of history have been creative in garnering funding and resources to restore and reopen the structure for recreational purposes. Apart from the traditional fundraising and cooperation between the private and public sectors, some have done silent auctions, marathons, music concerts, bike tours, pie sales and even bridge festivals, the last one of which is common in big cities in the US and places in Europe.

But what about a road rally?  A road rally is basically a tour of the area by a caravan of cars, with a gathering at the end of the rally. One can find that with the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in Sturgis, South Dakota, which is held every July, or the Elephant Rally in Germany, where it honors the Zuendapp Motorcycle, produced by the Germany army during World War II and is famous for its green color.  In the case of this rally, it deals with a famous bridge in an Indiana county that is a focus of efforts to restore it for recreational use.

Side view of the two spans

The Cedar Grove Bridge, spanning the Whitewater River south of Cedar Grove (located 20 kilometers southeast of Brookville) in Franklin County is a rare gem in southeastern Indiana. Built in 1914 by the Indiana Bridge Company of Muncie, the two-span riveted Camelback truss through truss bridge is one of a handful of bridges left in a state which prides itself on historic bridge preservation. The bridge is 368 feet long with each span being 181 feet; the width is 17 feet. Since the early 1990s, both the bridge and the road (old state highway 1) were a focus of a dispute between the Indiana DOT and Franklin County over who claims one of the two, with the former refusing to fix the bridge before handing it over, as demanded by the latter. The DOT had wanted to remove the bridge and went even as far as applying at the state department of historic preservation, and this despite the growth of tourism in the region.

Enter the group Friends of the Cedar Grove Bridge. For the past 10 months, the organization led by Satolli Galssmeyer, has worked together with both the county and the state in claiming ownership of the bridge, with support from Indiana Landmarks and the Whitewater Canal Scenic Byway Group. According to latest reports, the ownership is appearing to go to the group, which would be a huge advantage for the people of Cedar Grove, Franklin County and the region which prides itself in the numerous historic bridges that exist. The problem comes with funding and resources, which are needed to fix up the bridge so that it can be reopened for recreational purposes. This is when the road rally comes in handy.

Inside the bridge. Note that new decking and new paint may be part of the restoration package

On October 6, the event will come to Franklin County, starting at 10:00 am at Harrison High School in Harrison, Ohio. It will feature 60 miles of back roads, scavenger hunting and fact collecting, which will be a treat for family and friends. The Rally will end at the bridge in Cedar Grove where a large gathering is expected. Cost for entering the rally is $35 per car and team if pre-registered, $45 on the day of the event, when registration is at 9:00 am. The goal of the rally is to raise $100 per team, which would help a great deal for purchasing and restoring one of the finest faces of Cedar Grove.

For more information on the event, please contact Satolli Glassmeyer, using the details below. Should the rally be successful, it will not only be a blessing for the people of Cedar Grove and the region, who have find memories of the bridge and would like to keep it for future use, but it will also be used as a tool for fundraising efforts for other bridges in the US and Europe that are historically significant and culturally valuable but are threatened with demolition if no one wants to claim it and reuse it.

Satolli Glassmeyer:

e-mail: info@scenicroadrallies.com

phone: 812-623-5727

website: www.SCENICROADRALLIES.com
www.SCENICROADTOURS.com

 

Hastings High Bridge in Hastings, Minnesota

Photo taken in September 2010

When traveling home to southwestern Minnesota from the Twin Cities, it is almost always natural to take the shortest possible route so that one can reach their destination in the shortest time possible, whether it is through Mankato or Albert Lea.  When I travel home to southwestern Minnesota from the Twin Cities (which is my preferred destination for all German-American flights), I usually take a more scenic route, which is along the Mississippi River and through parts of southeastern Minnesota, passing through Northfield and Fairibault. The area is filled with a variety of landscapes to choose from, from hilly to flat all in the span of 30 miles. There are numerous towns and villages to see, including Hampton and New Trier, which is rich with history and heritage. But there is another reason for traveling through the area, to pay homage to a blue beauty over the Ole Miss.

The Hastings High Bridge is one of my most favorite historic bridges in the state of Minnesota. Built in 1951 by Sverdrup and Parcel, the same company that built the first I-35W Bridge in Minneapolis, this through arch/truss bridge is the only one of its kind in the state and one of a handful of bridges of its kind remaining in the US. It is one of the longest in the Upper Mississippi River Valley, at 1857 feet (the arch span being 600 feet) and is one of the towering figures of the City of Hastings.

Photo courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society via wikipedia. Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Hastings_Spiral_Bridge.jpg

The bridge also has a deep history which makes it one of the icons of the city of 18,000. It was here that the first bridge with a spiral approach was built in 1895. Designed and built by the Wisconsin Bridge and Iron Works Company (WisBI), the original Hastings Spiral Bridge featured a Parker through truss bridge as the main span followed by two wooden and steel trestle approaches. Because a high bridge was needed to clear the height clearance for ships and barges to pass through, an engineer at WisBI constructed a spiral approach in the shape of a curly Q on the south end of the bridge, providing drivers with a chance to make an easy descent into the historic business district.  The bridge became a treat for the city of Hastings and it became a poster boy for many engineers to design bridges with this spiral approach. This includes Friedrich Voss, who adopted this unique approach design for the railroad viaduct in Rendsburg, Germany, which was built in 1913 and features a spiral approach on the north end made of a combination of a grade, arch bridges over streets and steel trestles slicing through the city before approaching the main span- a cantilever through truss with a transporter underneath, spanning the Baltic-North Sea Canal. It is still in service today and is the only one of its kind in the world.  Even today, these bridges were being built, big or small, and regardless of what they carry for vehicles and people, like the pedestrian bridge in Bad Homburg vor der Hoehe, near Frankfurt/Main in the German state of Hesse.

Pedestrian Bridge at Bad Homburg near Frankfurt/Main. Photo taken in February 2008
Spiral approach of the Rendsburg High Bridge. Photo taken in April 2011
Main span of Rendsburg High Bridge. Photo taken in April 2011

Sadly, the bridge showed sign of wear and tear and in 1951, it was replaced with the current structure. The future of the Spiral Bridge was in doubt as many people wanted to keep this historic icon, yet despite the split decision, a pocket vote on the part of Hastings’ mayor sealed the structure’s fate, and the bridge was brought down by explosives, as seen in the video here.  As a consolation, one of the piers was preserved as a historical marker. However, a replica of the bridge was built in 2005, using a Thacher through truss bridge imported from Lac Qui Parle County. It is now at the Little Log House Pioneer Village, located south of Hastings.

Now the fate of the second bridge seems to be sealed. After 61 years in service, the bridge is being replaced by a tied arch bridge, which is supposed to be the longest in the western Hemisphere. Like the Spiral Bridge, the High Bridge showed signs of wear and tear, caused by increase in traffic combined with weather extremities. Even salt used for deicing the roadway has eaten away at the structure to a point where the cost for rehabilitation would be exorbitant. There are many who believe that it is not necessary for a new bridge to be built at the site of the present one. Yet the question is where should the new bridge have been built without having a negative impact on the city’s commerce? That question is difficult to answer and probably will not be presented until after the 1951 structure comes down in 2013.

Yet the people in Hastings and the surrounding area welcome the change as many are afraid that the structure will collapse. Little do they realize is they are losing another important icon, which could have been saved, had there been ways to rehabilitate it years earlier and most importantly, maintained it. The bridge’s heavy steel used for the structure provided truckers and commuters with a sense of security that it was meant to last for 100 years, as is the case for many railroad truss bridges. Yet with as much traffic as US Hwy. 61 carries through Hastings, maintaining it would mean painting the bridge biannually at least, as it is seen with the maintenance on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. The costs would be high and with the current economic problems we are facing, it would have been impossible to keep up the maintenance on the bridge.  But one should expect to dole out the funds for the new bridge as well, as it will need just as much tender loving care as the first two crossings.

We have seen many of Minnesota’s historic relicts (bridge’s included) become part of the history books, as seen in Jack El Hai’s Lost Minnesota, published in 2005. I’m sure that a second volume is in the making and that this bridge will be in there with others that have fallen victim of modernization, including its neighboring bridge to the north at Inver Grove Heights. Even though the new bridge will present a sleek design made to entice the modernists and passers-by, many people in Hastings as well as those with connections with the High Bridge will remind them of the icon that will be soon by history. It is unclear whether this bridge will last as long as the first two, but it will take time for the people of Hastings to adapt to the new bridge.

While I’ll probably visit the bridge on my next USA trip in 2013, I will always think of the Blue Beauty over the Ole Miss. And therefore, as a tribute to one of the finest landmark bridges, I’ve enclosed a gallery of bridge photos for you to enjoy, which you can click here to view. A video of the trip across the bridge can be seen here.


Side view taken from the city park. Photo taken in Dec. 2007
Oblique view. Note the retailer building was removed to make way for the new bridge. Photo taken in December 2007
Behind the portal bracing. Photo taken in Dec. 2007
Oblique view from underneath. Photo taken in December 2007
Photo taken in September 2010
Approaching the bridge and Hastings. Photo taken in Dec 2010
Hastings Bridge during construction. Photo taken in August 2011
Photo taken in August 2011
The Hastings Bridge in the background with the new bridge’s piers in the foreground. Photo taken in August 2011

 

Bear Tavern Bridge and the Washington Victory Trail gone- or is it?

This is a painting of the bridge, made in 2009 before the bridge was closed to traffic in 2009. Courtesy of Roni Browne Katz

Here’s a pop quiz to start off the article: When was the Revolutionary War in the United States? When did George Washington cross the Delaware River and in which New Jersey city did a pivotal battle take place? And lastly, which areas did Washington’s troops march through before that particular battle took place?  The answers you’ll find in bold and cursive print.
In the past 15 years and even more so since the Minneapolis Bridge disaster of 2007, there has been an increase in tendency for politicians and local government agencies to make haste in replacing historic bridges, despite their historical significance and the pleas of the local people to restore it for future use. Many of these people either have little or no expertise in historic preservation policies that exist, let alone have insufficient knowledge in the environmental impacts that take place when replacing a historic bridge in contrast to restoring it. In worst case scenario, debates over the future of the historic bridge divide the communities up by taking sides on the issue. In some cases, (emergency) elections to replace candidates are carried out using the historic bridge as a political toy to ensure that either one side or the other has it their own way.
The Bear Tavern Bridge over Jacob’s Creek in Hopewell Township in western New Jersey represents the crassest example of how a place of historic interest can divide up a community, let alone state for various reasons, four of which are presented here in this article:
First fact: The debate involves not only the historic bridge, but also a natural area with high historical value. The bridge itself was built in 1882 by the King Bridge Company of Cleveland, Ohio, during the era of its founder, Zenas King. It is the oldest bridge built in Mercer County and one whose truss design differs from others that were built at that time. It features a Pratt half-hip through truss design. A half-hip means that the outermost panels (the end post and first vertical beam) are half as long as the remaining panels on the bridge, thus having a trapezoidal design with the end posts having a 60° angle instead of 45°. These were most common with pony truss bridges as they were used for short crossings. For a through truss bridge, it was seldom used, and the Bear Tavern is one of the last remaining bridges left in the country that has this design. The portal bracing of the bridge was one of the first built and would start a trend where Town lattice portals were phased out in favor of beam portals as well as those using alphabets, such as the famous A-frame portal found on truss bridges built between 1890 and 1930. The bridge was one of a handful of bridges that survived the onslaught of Hurricane Irene last summer, despite being closed to traffic since September 2009.

The natural surrounding is the site of the famous march led by George Washington, who together with General Knox and Lt. James Monroe, directed an army of 2,400 soldiers to the battle of Trenton on 26 December, 1776, five months after the Declaration of Independence of 4 July, 1776 and a year and a half after the war started in April 1775.  The army crossed the Delaware River on the night of the 25-26 December, 1776,  defeated the Hessian soldiers at Trenton before crossing the Delaware River after the battle. The army would eventually capture Trenton on 2 January, 1777 and went on to defeat the English troops at Princeton. The battle of Trenton was the turning point of the war, as the Americans won the war six years later on 3 September, 1783. There was a trail named after the famous battle known as Victory Trail but the section near Bear Tavern is the last natural trail left. Residents fear that a new bridge would be an eye sore to the natural area, which would be altered beyond recognition. Yet the pleas have fallen on deaf ears of county commissioners, who have wanted a new crossing and new alignment for a long time….

Second fact: According to the organization wanting to save the Bear Tavern Bridge and the natural portion of Victory Trail, the drive for a new bridge and alignment has been on the minds of Mercer County for 82 years! That means the first proposal for a new bridge was introduced in 1930, even though the bridge was 48 years old and still serviceable at that time. In the many years that the author has been busying himself with the topic of bridges (25 years to be exact), there never has been such a long debate over the future of a historic bridge. In fact the average amount of time needed to discuss the need for a new bridge, carry out the surveys needed and find alternatives to replacing the historic bridge targeted for replacement is approximately 5 years.  While there has been no real reason why the drive for a new bridge has dragged on for such a long time, it is assumed that officials wanted to convert a T-intersection into one where the road curves to the bridge with a right side turn-off onto a street prior to entering the crossing. The Bear Tavern Bridge’s main handicap is its vertical clearance of approximately 12-13 feet, but the bridge is wide enough to accommodate two lanes of traffic, yet the county feels that a new bridge would bring more traffic and commerce to the Bear Tavern area, something the people of the area are against, and have been since 1930.

Third fact: A lot of political tactics and activities deemed illegal were carried out mostly by those favoring a new bridge as a way of swaying the public towards a new bridge. This includes the disregard of environmental impact surveys, which includes safely removing lead from the truss through sandblasting. There were reports of flakes of paint landing into Jacob’s Creek containing high amounts of lead and possibly arsenic. While the removal of paint was important for removing the truss span, it was not done in a safe manner with fears that chemicals would invade the ground water. But this was one of many incidences that occurred during the entire debate; especially in the five years prior to the bridge’s removal last year in October 2011. The debate sparked the drive for greed, lies and misinformation on the part of those wanting to replace the bridge, resulting in mistrust among the community. Elections in 2010 did not help the situation as the officials elected were running a choreographed line directed by the proponents of the new bridge.  Furthermore, the county tried successfully to overrun the state’s recommendation of restoring the bridge instead of cooperating, resulting in the question of how much authority the county should have in comparison to the state. This includes ignoring the suggestions made by the state historical society to restore the bridge because of its conditions. In the last proposal to introduce the new crossing in July 2012, the state department of transportation stepped aside from the issue for unknown reasons.

Fourth fact: The question of what to do with the bridge still remains to be seen. News reports in October 2011 claim that the bridge will be refurbished and re-erected on site, yet the county recently has given the green light for a 200 foot concrete bridge on a new alignment and with a 60 foot retaining wall, which will forever alter the Victory Trail site beyond recognition. This puts the future of the bridge in doubt, for even though it sits in storage waiting to be restored and rebuilt, the question is whether it makes sense from this point on. And if it does make sense to restore it and rebuild it, where would the bridge be rebuilt? After all, its old place will be taken over by a hunk of concrete and its natural relationship with nature and history has been severed permanently. The bridge may have a new life elsewhere, but for many in the Bear Tavern area, it will always be associated with George Washington’s march on Trenton and how it changed the dynamics of the war for independence.

I would like to close this article with a comment made by one of the Bear Tavern residents, who favored the replacement of the bridge: “In five years, we will have forgotten about the whole thing.” We may have forgotten a lot of our own history we learned in high school, which is a cardinal sin in itself. It is a capital sin to forget about the history of our own backyard. For Bear Tavern Bridge, to forget the bridge would mean to be ignorant of the community’s own past, which eventually comes back with a vengeance many years from now, even if the truss bridge has a life elsewhere. But the crime that will leave scars on the face of history is how the region will be altered thanks to the people who spent 82 years to make it happen. These scars will remain for many generations to come and will be talked about in private circles and elsewhere.

More information about the Bear Tavern Bridge can be seen here, including contact information in case you have any questions or suggestions: http://www.facebook.com/groups/146045364632/  Photos of the bridge taken by many members of the Bear Tavern Bridge group can be seen here.

 

Mystery Bridge 11: Wooden truss bridge in California

All photos (unless noted otherwise) courtesy of Aimee Stubbs of Lassen County, CA; used with permission

There is sometimes a misconception as to determining the meaning of a wooden covered bridge. Many people have a tendency of considering bridges, like the one above to be a covered bridge. Yet the definition of a covered bridge is different. A covered bridge is a truss bridge that is covered by siding and most of the time, a gabled roof. There are many examples of covered bridges that exist in the US and Europe, including the Marysville Covered Bridge, located at a park near Knoxville, Iowa.

Photo taken by the author in August 2011

But going back to this mystery bridge, the bridge made of wood is considered plainly a wooden truss bridge, whose wooden beams are connected with nuts and bolts but are neither pin-connected, welded nor riveted. There were numerous wooden truss bridges that were built during the second half of the 1800s and fewer that were built between 1900 and 1960. There are only a handful of these bridges that exist in the US for wood has the shortest lifespan of any bridges made of other materials, and is one with the highest maintenance- it needs to be varnished and painted regularly to ensure that they last just as long as bridges made of iron and/or steel.

The mystery bridge featured here is located in eastern California, spanning the Middle Yuba River between the Milton Reservoir and dam and the Jackson Reservoir, just 500 feet west of Heness Pass Road. The bridge features three spans of a double-intersecting Warren pony truss (shaped in a Howe lattice design) made of wood. Judging by its appearance in the pictures presented below, the wooden truss bridge features both riveted connections (on the top chords) and bolted connections, where intersecting beams are connected with bolts and nuts that were drilled into the wood.  The bridge was discovered by Aimee Stubbs while on a camping/ motorcycle trip in 2011 only to revisit the bridge again this past summer.

The bridge appears to have seen better days as it partially collapsed some time ago (although it not pinpointed as to when it happened), and only one of the truss spans is still standing. Since it served a dirt road located not far from the county road, the bridge and road seemed to have been abandoned, with nature taking its course on both. To reach the bridge via dirt road would require walking to the structure, which is challenging given the landscape where the bridge is located.  According to Stubbs, the Middle Yuba River is infamous for its recurring floods, causing damage and erosion to the bridge and the road. Yet there is no information on the bridge’s history that was found with the exception of the fact that the river separates both Sierra and Nevada Counties, two counties that were created in 1851-2 after seceding from Yuba County.

Ms. Stubbs has been researching this bridge since finding it for the first time and needs your help. With three spans, this bridge is one of the rarest in the country, if not the world. Yet its recent demise due to its collapse makes it even more important to find information on the structure so that people are aware of its existence (or at least its partial existence). If you have any information pertaining to the bridge, please contact her using the following information below.  The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles will keep you posted as soon as information comes to light on this unique structure. If you know of another bridge that is similar to the one shown here and still exists today, please contact Jason D. Smith using the contact details below as well. That information will be added as well.

The Bridgehunter connects the past with the future through research and preservation of historic bridges in the present.

Contact details:

Aimee Stubbs: stubbs95@hotmail.com

Jason D. Smith (The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles): flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com

 

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Photo of the collapsed portions of the bridge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tracking Down a Bridge’s History Part 2: Examples

Silverdale Bridge at its new location: over Manning Avenue on the Gateway Recreation Trail, east of Mahtomedi in Washington County, Minnesota. Photo taken in August 2011, three months prior to its opening to traffic.

Note: This is part II of the series on tracking down the history of a historic bridge. To view part I, please click here.

After going through some useful tips on info-tracking a historic bridge (similar to that of genealogical research), part II looks at a pair of success stories of how a historic bridge’s life was tracked down through research. Both historic bridges mentioned here were relocated at least once, yet thanks to the research conducted by historians and members of the state agencies, they were able to determine the origin of the bridge’s history, tracing its life from start to present.  One of the bridges is now enjoying its third life in service, even though it was close to becoming a pile of scrap metal, whereas the other no longer exists as attempts to relocate it a third time failed due to a tragedy. In either case, they are both worth mentioning and serving as poster boys for other bridges, whose lifespan remains to be researched.

Hansen’s Ford Bridge at Ellingson Bridge Road prior to its failed relocation attempt. Photo courtesy of Allamakee County Highway Department.

Example 1: Hansen’s Ford Bridge in Allamakee County

Location: Upper Iowa River at Ellingson Bridge Road just east of the Winneshiek/Allamakee County Border

Type: Two-span Whipple through truss bridge with Wrought Iron Bridge Company-style Town lattice portal bracing

Dimension: 278 feet long (Each span was 138 feet); 15.8 feet wide

Status: No longer exists. Destroyed during a relocation attempt in 1994 and later scrapped.

Also known as Ellingson Bridge due to its proximity to the family farmstead, the Hansen’s Ford Bridge was one of only a handful of bridges that featured two spans of a Whipple through truss bridge. The portal bracing is a textbook resemblance of the one used by the Wrought Iron Bridge Company in Canton, Ohio, the one that built the bridge. Research done by the late James Hippen of Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, and later followed up by other pontists (including yours truly) revealed that the bridge was relocated once in its lifetime. It was known as the Pierce Bridge and was originally constructed in 1878 over the Cedar River west of Osage in Mitchell County. It was one of three bridges that served the county seat. When officials wanted to grade the main highway (now known as Iowa Hwy. 9) and with that build a wider bridge, the bridge was dismantled and transported three counties over towards the east, while a new bridge was built in its place. The truss spans were constructed over the Upper Iowa River east of the county border with neighboring Winneshiek County, replacing a wooden trestle bridge. This all happened in 1939. Apart from newspaper articles and post cards, like this one, the key evidence proving its relocation was found in the blue print provided by the Allamakee County Highway Department.

Sadly though attempts to relocate the bridge for the second time failed. The bridge was supposed to be given over to a private group to be erected over the Yellow River in the southern part of the county, yet as the spans were being hoisted from the river, they fell apart and collapsed. The decision was made to scrap the bridge. It is unknown what caused the disaster, but it is assumed that age combined with lack of maintenance may have played a role in the failed attempt to give the bridge a new life off the public road system.

Silverdale Bridge shortly before being hoisted onto the foundations above Manning Avenue. Photo taken in December 2010

Example 2: Silverdale Bridge

Location: Manning Avenue on Gateway Trail east of Mahtomedi in Washington County, Minnesota

Type: Wrought iron pin-connected Camelback Pratt through truss bridge with Town lattice portal bracing

Dimension: 162 feet long and 17 feet wide

Status: In use as a recreational trail

The Silverdale Bridge has a very unique history for not only was it relocated four times- untypical of any truss bridge on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean- but it was a mystery bridge that took many years of research to solve. In particular, the question that was on the minds of personnel at the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) was where it originated from and who built the bridge?

The bridge was built in 1877, using wrought iron instead of steel. The evidence was through a laboratory study conducted in 2002. Yet visual studies concluded that the bridge was first built over Sauk Lake in Sauk Centre, in Stearns County. This was based on collaboration between MnDOT, the Historical Society in Sauk Centre and locals affiliated with the bridge.  While a plaque was located on the top part of the portal bracing, up until now, it has not been identified as to who constructed the bridge, let alone whether the plaque still exists or if it has long since been destroyed. It is unknown whether any information from newspapers as to who built it would have helped.

The bridge’s life almost came to an untimely end, when it was replaced in 1935 with a steel stringer bridge and the truss bridge was relocated to a storage yard. Interestingly enough, the stringer span survived only 65 years before being replaced with a concrete span, which still serves main traffic today. It was salvaged two years later and was relocated over 500 kilometers northeast to Koochiching County in northern Minnesota. After replacing the strut bracings with one consisting of an X-laced strut bracings with 45° heels and trimming the curved heel bracings off the bridge’s portals, the truss bridge was re-erected over the Little Fork River between the villages of Rauch and Silverdale, serving Minnesota Hwy. 65. The portal bracings were replaced in 1964 after a truck damaged the northern entrance. Upon its removal from the highway system in 2008, the bridge remained in tact with the portal bracings that were a sixth of its height. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998 and when it was scheduled to be replaced, MnDOT placed the bridge on the “most valuable historic bridge to preserve” list with hopes that someone will take the bridge and use it for recreational purposes. Fortunately, Washington County stepped up to purchase the bridge to be used as part of the Gateway Trail, connecting Mahtomedi and Stillwater. The bridge was dismantled and transported to the Manning Avenue site, where it was refurbished and reassembled. Portal bracings resemble the ones used at Sauk Centre and at the Little Fork crossing prior to 1964. Before it was erected over Manning Avenue, it was painted black. Governmental shutdown in July 2011 delayed the opening of the bridge by six months. But since November 2011, the bridge has been serving the bike trail, its third life but one that will last another 150+ years if maintained properly and if the story of how the bridge was built, transported and rebuilt, let alone how its history was researched, is passed down to the next generations.

Photos:

The bridge while serving main traffic in Sauk Centre. This photo was taken ca. 1902. Courtesy of MnDOT
The Sauk Centre Bridge after its opening in 1935. It was in service for 65 years. Photo courtesy of MnDOT
The Silverdale Bridge prior to its relocation. Photo taken by MnDOT in 2003
Damage to the portal bracing in 1964. Photo by MnDOT
The replacement portal bracing. Photo taken by MnDOT in 2003
The duplicate of the original portal bracings installed prior to its re-erection over Manning Avenue. Photo taken in August 2011

Fast Fact:

1. Sauk Centre was the birth place of author Sinclair Lewis, the first American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1930. He is famous for the Fabulous Four, four novels dealing with the flaws of American society: Main Street, Babbitt, Elmer Gantry and Arrowsmith.    He also wrote over 100 short stories and other novels. His birthplace is now a museum and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

2. Minnesota Highway 65 used to be part of US Hwy. 65 from 1926 until the portion was handed over to the state in 1934. The highway starts near International Falls and terminates in Minneapolis with half the highway being an expressway between Cambridge and Minneapolis. US Hwy. 65, which used to run through Minneapolis and St. Paul from its southern terminus of the state of Louisiana, now terminates in Albert Lea, Minnesota. Parts of it was integrated into the Jefferson Highway.

Author’s Note: The author wishes to thank Pete Wilson at MnDOT and Brian Ridenour of the Allamakee County Highway Department as well as the Ellingson family for help with this information.

Tracking Down a Bridge’s History Part I: Overview

Chimney Rock Bridge in Winneshiek County, Iowa. Photo taken in September 2009

Researching a historic bridge is like doing genealogical research. You track down your family history, finding out where you originated from, where members of your extended family are located and finding ways to connect with them. One can find out how many (first, second, third, ….) cousins you really have (including the ones that are once or twice removed), while at the same time, travel to some places where your extended parts of your family once resided. My aunt in Minnesota has done a lot of research into my  father’s side of family for about two decades, finding out that several branches of the family once resided in Europe and parts of Africa, including areas in the north and western parts of Germany, like Bingen and Marburg (north of Frankfurt in the state of Hesse) and Oldenburg (both in Schleswig-Holstein and Lower Saxony.) My uncle on my mother’s side of the family managed to trace down the origins of  the family, which was in northern Schleswig-Holstein in the village of Stein (near Kiel), but had branches of the family residing in the northwestern part of Germany and in particular, in North Rhein-Westphalia.
Researching a historic bridge is similar to doing genealogical research in many ways. While one can track down the history of the bridge builders, as Alan King Sloan has done with the history of Zenas King and the King Bridge Company in Ohio, and Fred Quivik has done with the Hewett Family, Commodore Jones and Alexander Bayne, who created the Minneapolis bridge building empire in the early 1900s, it is also possible to track down historic bridges, based on the question of where they originated from.  The reason I posed this question is simple: many historic bridges- in particular, truss bridges- were moved around from place to place. This concept was introduced in the late 1890s but was carried out extensively beginning in the 1920s and 30s as part of cost-cutting measures carried out by local communities and counties. Constructing brand new bridges were too expensive because of the scarcity of materials, like steel, resulting in the increase in prices. Other materials, like wood, were prone to weather extremities, resulting in dry rot and fungi that eat away at the wood. Furthermore they cannot resist floods and ice jams as well as those made of other materials. Relocating truss bridges is easy for they can be dismantled, transported to their destination and reassembled on site, before starting its next life serving a new round of traffic going across it.

One of the more well documented bridges in the US: The Three Sister Bridges in Pittsburgh over the Allegheny River. Named in honor of Roberto Clemente, Andy Warhol and Rachel Carson. All built in 1926. Photo taken in August 2010

Speaking from personal experience, tracking down the history of a bridge can be blessing if the structure had its service life in one place. However, when it is relocated from place to place, it can be a curse, for once the structure is moved out of the county, chances are most likely that the records are lost forever, either intentionally or through other factors. That is why it is important that when tracing down a bridge’s history, you have to have a fond knowledge of history and geography, a good memory and ability to do the math and put the pieces of the puzzle together, and most of all, the passion to do this research and solve the case. While the first few factors can be learned, if you do not have the passion for this type of structural genealogical research, then it will not be fun at all. I have compiled a few simple steps that will help you trace the bridge’s history starting from when and where it was first built, followed by the question of if and how many times it was relocated, all the way up to whether it still serves traffic or was replaced through modernization with the structure being scrapped or recycled for the next modern bridge to be built.
Step 1: Check out the records that are on file through state and county agencies: Most agencies will have bridge files (also known as inspection reports) available based on the bridge numbering system that was adopted and used for inspection and research purposes. 99% of the time, each file will have a photo of the structure as well as the date of construction. Nine times out of ten, there will be records and photos of the previous structures- the ones that had previously served traffic before they were replaced. There are two issues that should be taken into account: 1. Not all bridges have records dating back to when it was originally built, let alone when it was relocated. In other words, missing information.  That means if there is a bridge built in the 1950s, even though the design was no longer used on the roadways at that time, chances are that the bridge was imported from another region. A classic example of a bridge that falls into that category is the Chimney Rock Bridge in Winneshiek County, Iowa. Records showed it being relocated to its present site in 1952, yet the bridge was originally built in 1906 by the Continental Bridge Company in Chicago. More information can be found here through an essay written in 2007. In some cases, even in state historic bridge inventories, there are estimated dates of construction even though in all reality, the bridge existed before that date.  In some cases if there is no further evidence to support the construction date, you have to refer to other sources of information to determine whether the date is correct and if not, when exactly it was built and where.  The second issue is the fact that not all records of structures that were replaced with present structures are kept on file. Some agencies prefer to discard the files once the replacement bridge is open to traffic. The fortunate part is the fact that in the past 35 years, state and county agencies have done a better job of keeping these files available to the public, allowing people to access them for their own purposes. Yet up to the early 1970s, the practice of eliminating old records was well-known for there was little interest in preserving historic bridges at that time. The exception to the rule:  areas that were not only heavily populated with historic bridges but also had detailed records of their history, like the cities of Chicago, Pittsburgh, Minneapolis-St. Paul and New York City, for example.  Regardless of how detailed the information is, bridge files provided by the state and local governments is the starting point for your research.
Steps 2 and 3: The next two steps are the most time consuming tasks but also crucial ones. You need to look through the newspapers, court records and other documents to determine the following: 1. Whether the data provided on the bridge files is correct, 2. If the bridge is imported from another region, where exactly did it come from, 3. How was the bridge constructed and 4. If the location of the bridge matches that of what is in the bridge files you received from the agencies. For this, you need to look through as much materials as they are available, especially newspapers, as many libraries and museums have them in archives. You need to plan in days, if not weeks to trace through the archives of one or two newspapers serving one community or region. Sometimes, you have to read through the archived papers twice or three times to make sure the information is accurate. In the case that the bridge is imported from outside, travel may be required if the place of origin is determined. The same procedure applies to other documents, such as city and county records, bridge company records, as well as records from transportation entities, such as railroad companies, etc. One should have a series of maps available to trace the location of the bridge; especially if a bridge was imported from outside, it is important to pinpoint not only its location in the present, but also in the past, regardless of how many times it was relocated. There are many examples of historic bridges that were relocated more than once but research was needed to track down its history, namely through newspapers and maps. The most recent was the Mulberry Creek Bridge, which the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles wrote an article about recently. You can view the article here.

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

Step 4: Also useful are postcards and oral sources. Postcards with pictures and images of historic bridges can help a person fit the description with the bridge being researched, even though they can become blurry and difficult to see with age. Oral resources in the form of people associated with building the bridge as well as residents living near the bridge can help the researcher by providing some facts about the building of the bridge and its association with the area. It can be an interesting experience when they tell some stories that can be useful for the project. This was the case during a visit at the Durrow Road Bridge in Linn County, Iowa in August 2011, when I found that the 1920s truss bridge was brought in to replace a wooden stringer bridge in 1949 and was named after a century old farmstead located just 300 feet away. The bridge still serves traffic and has been well maintained.
Step 5: Once you have all the information gathered and exhausted all your resources for gas, travel and copies, you can start putting the information together in chronological order from the time the bridge was constructed for the very first time all the way to the present, putting in the right order the time and place where the bridge was relocated, and adding stories to help fill out the bridge’s history. One will find the story of a bridge’s life more interesting as the pieces of the puzzle come together.

South River Bridge in Warren County. Photo taken in August 2011. This is one of many bridges that was built in the 1950s but is rich in information through records and newspaper articles.

Should you run into problems with putting the pieces together, sometimes it is useful to spread the word through media sources. The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles is the latest of a handful of websites that has helped researchers by informing the public of bridges, whose information is lacking, not just in a form of mystery bridges- bridges with no information on its place of origin but was relocated to its present site, but also bridges that have existed for many years but are missing the stories and history that makes them potential candidates to be recognized on the state and national levels. James Baughn has a list of photos of mystery bridges on his website, with no information of their places of origin, submitted by various people. The same is with Todd Wilson of Bridgemapper, even though the website focuses mainly on pinpointing the location of the bridges with some basic information on some of them. In either case, informing the people through the use of media, including social media, can encourage new contacts with people with information on the bridge you are researching about, which can help you complete your research in the long run.

Heron Road Bridge over the Volga River in Fayette County, Iowa. This is one of many bridges that was replaced (this one in the 1970s) but has not been researched properly. This one has potential to be historically significant. Photo taken in August 2011. This one is used as a background photo for this website.

Why is tracing a bridge’s history really important nowadays? Many of the historic bridges are being taken off the highway system by the dozens- either through demolition and replacement, abandonment, or conversion into a recreational bridge- for they have reached the end of their service lives as a vehicular bridge. While states have carried out their research since the 1980s and have renewed the bridge inventories recently, there have been some discrepancies in terms of information that is either inaccurate, missing or both. Part of it has to do with the lack of funding and time to conduct the research. Another has to do with the lack of willingness of some agencies and people to share the information on the bridge’s history, fearing that they could be considered historically significant. As a result, many find ways to avert Section 106 4f of the Historic Preservation Act of 1966, requiring all historic bridges (both listed and eligible) to undergo a mitigation study to document the history of the structure, determine the environmental impact of the bridge replacement project and find alternatives to bridge replacement. Such aversion had worked up to the last decade, but calls have gotten louder by preservationists and other interested groups to review and revise the documentations done on their bridge to determine their historic significance, respect the policies regarding historic bridge preservation versus replacement, and consider preservation for future use.  This is one of the important pieces of the puzzle and one that can potentially save more bridges than destroying them and with that their history.
Running parallel to the need to preserve historic bridges by redoing the inventory, the interest in historic bridges through literature has increased over the past 15 years. Thanks to the likes of Mary Costello, who wrote a two-volume set on the bridges over the Mississippi River, James Cooper, who wrote a book on the bridges of Indiana and the people at the Institution of Civil Engineering at Milton-Keynes near Oxford (England), who wrote a 10-volume set on the bridges in the United Kingdom and all of Ireland, many people are jumping on the bandwagon and writing about the historic bridges in their regions, which includes info-tracking them to find out more about their history. The trend will increase over the next five years, as pontists, photographers, locals and writers will continue to churn out more materials on historic bridges, whose information will be more accurate than the information provided in previous bridge studies. Therefore it is important to treat the bridges like you are doing a genealogical study of your own family: each bridge you profile in your project must have its history traced from the present to as far back to the past as history allows it. This includes the possibility that when a bridge you are researching was relocated from another region, traveling to the place where the bridge was first constructed may be a necessity. Such a measure should not be treated as a burden, but one where you can learn a lot along the way.
While there are many examples of bridges that have traveled a long ways from their original starting point to the present, I’ve identified two examples worth noting which can serve as a reference point for you to start your bridge research. These examples can be found in the next article. Happy Bridgehunting!