Bridgehunter Chronicles supports the victims of Superstorm Sandy

We have seen many disaster films where megastorms, whether they are hurricanes, snowstorms, sandstorms or a combination of them and then some burrow in on the cities, destroying buildings, places of interest and the lives of thousands of people. The film that depicted the wrath of Mother Nature at its worst and is still one of the best of all time was “The Day After Tomorrow,” produced in 2004. In that film, half of the US and the world underwent unprecedented weather changes where series of storms caused by global warming caused the area to become nothing more than ice and snow.

Superstorm Sandy, consisting of a hurricane originating from the Bahamas, Cuba and Jamaica, as well as a Noreaster storm from the west and an Arctic cold front from Canada, may not have turned the northeastern portion of the United States back towards the Ice Age, like it was depicted into the film, but the moment the storm made landfall on Monday, it was 100% clear that the livelihood of the 50+ million people living in the area and the landscape would change forever. After taking a look at the pictures provided by many mediums, including CNN, all one can say is unbelievable. Worse than Katrina, Worse than Andrew. And with the snowfall that accompanied the storm, it made the Winter 2010/11 look like a dwarf with 3-4 feet of snow in one punch. It is only a miracle that the casualties are light (only 31 dead in the US and Canada at the time of this entry).

It is unknown how many historic bridges have been damaged or destroyed, as the information is lacking at the present. But as the cleanup continues, it is certain that many of them may have become part of the infrastructural casualties, for like the transit system that links Washington and New York and is still shut down, many of the structures over rivers and ravines may have been washed away by flood waters, burned to the ground because of electric fires or flattened by falling trees. In either case, it will take a few days before we know how many bridges were sacrificed in this storm of the century, let alone which ones and where.

But you can help. If you know of a historic bridge that was affected by Superstorm Sandy, please write to the columnist and provide some information about the bridge (its location, history and bridge type) and how it was affected by the Superstorm. There are three ways to inform the readers about the bridges: One is directly to the columnist using the following e-mail address: The stories will be posted individually and in separate articles. You can also put your information in the Comment section at the end of this article. And you can also post your stories through the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles page on facebook. Photos of the bridge before and after the storm are strongly encouraged. Your name will be anonymous if requested. The goal is to inform the public on a wider scale about the structures affected and allow them to contribute in rebuilding them.

It will take months for people to recover from this disaster, which is still ongoing. But what they need from you is help, in rebuilding their lives, their homes and their communities and their history. There are many organizations both in the US and internationally that are available. Please contact them if you are interested. Some links to the ones I found are below.  The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles has thoughts and prayers going out to those affected by the storm and is right behind you all the way in the recovery efforts.

Organizations that are assisting people in need because of Superstorm Sandy:

American Red Cross  (

AmeriCares (

The Salvation Army  (

Operation USA  (

Presidential Elections and Historic Bridge Preservation: An Interview with James Garvin

Meadow Bridge in Shelburne. A bridge where two of its spans were moved onto shore. Its future is in doubt. Photo taken by Craig Hanchey

This article is the second part of the series on the dire state of New Hampshire’s historic bridges and its connection with historic bridge preservation policies and the upcoming Presidential election in November. While the first part focused on the dire state of historic bridge preservation policies based on the interview with Rep. Steve Lindsey (you can click here for more details), this part focuses on the problem with historic bridge preservation on an even wider scale, based on an interview with historian James Garvin, who has worked with historic bridge preservation in the state for over 25 years. While the answers to some of the questions are lengthy, they do present some light on some of the policies that exist and for the most part, should be improved. Mr. Garvin presented a proposal to President Obama in 2008 to integrate historic preservation into the grand scheme to faster economic growth despite the recession the country was in as a result of the Great Economic Meltdown. Was this issue addressed by President Obama? Or did he brush it past and allowed for challenger Mitt Romney, who resides in neighboring Massachusetts, to bring this issue to the public’s attention. We’ll find out as Mr. Garvin tackles the issues of policies and the shortcomings that still exist both in his state as well as the rest of the country. Here is the interview in full length:

How long have you been working with the topic of historic bridges and preservation? What aspects did your work focus on?

I began to work on the preservation of historic bridges some twenty years ago, shortly after joining the staff of the New Hampshire Division of Historical Resources (the State Historic Preservation Office).  My employment as state architectural historian entailed regular meetings with the New Hampshire Department of Transportation (NHDOT) on many bridge and highway projects, with particular emphasis on projects involving historic bridges.  While New Hampshire has a strong commitment to the preservation of wooden covered bridges, the commitment toward preservation of metal truss and concrete bridges was almost nonexistent when I started to work for the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO).

The weak impetus toward preservation of these more modern bridge types was strengthened in 1987, the year I began to work for the SHPO, with the passage of the Surface Transportation and Uniform Relocation Assistance Act (STURAA). This act created a national historic bridge program that codified a Congressional finding that it is in the national interest to encourage the rehabilitation, reuse, and preservation of bridges that are significant in American history, architecture, engineering, and culture (23 U.S.C. 144(o)).  The passage of STURAA required (and funded) a statewide survey of historic bridges in New Hampshire, providing the state with the first inventory of bridges that should be given special consideration for preservation.  Despite the existence of that inventory, New Hampshire still has not made an earnest commitment to the preservation of historic bridges other than covered bridges, and about 50% of the metal truss bridges that were extant in 1987 have since been lost.

On a scale of 1 to 10 (one being best), how would you rate historic bridge preservation in New Hampshire in comparison  to the state’s infrastructure as a whole?

I would rate New Hampshire’s efforts at preservation of historic bridges at 8 on a scale of 10 (one being best).  As one example, New Hampshire has lost about half of its metal truss bridges during the past 25 years.  As mitigation for demolishing historic bridges, NHDOT several years ago made a theoretical commitment to drafting a bridge preservation plan and creating areas for the temporary storage of replaced metal bridges for re-use elsewhere, but there is little if any indication of actual progress on these fronts, at least in a way that guarantees the preservation of key bridges.

A few New Hampshire bridges have been selected for preservation as mitigation for the removal of others of their kind, but NHDOT has several times reneged on its commitment to preserve even these few.  One such bridge, the open-spandrel concrete arch Vilas Bridge (1930) over the Connecticut River between New Hampshire and Vermont, was guaranteed perpetual preservation when a similar bridge was demolished, yet Vilas Bridge is now closed to traffic with a severely deteriorating deck, and NHDOT has not included its rehabilitation in the state’s next ten-year highway work plan.  As a result, the Hampshire Preservation Alliance, a statewide non-profit preservation advocacy organization, designated Vilas Bridge as one of New Hampshire’s most endangered historic structures in October 2012.

Another theoretically preserved bridge, a double-intersection Warren pony truss of 1925 in Dover, was replaced but safely set aside on new piers for perpetual preservation in 1986.  It was not maintained or interpreted as a historic engineering structure, but just placed next to the new bridge.  Because of its ensuing cosmetic deterioration and pressures from neighbors, the bridge has reportedly been removed from preserved status and offered for sale.  It will be demolished if no buyer appears.

One bridge of national significance, the state-owned 1897 pin-connected multi-span Pratt truss Meadow Bridge in Shelburne, N. H., won a Save America’s Treasures grant in 2005–only the second SAT grant ever made for a historic bridge.  Despite this, Meadow Bridge faces potential demolition.  This threat derives from a NHDOT policy that, if rehabilitated, the bridge must become the property and responsibility of the Town of Shelburne, a community of fewer than 400 people.  Because of this impasse, the Save America’s Treasures grant has lapsed and been forfeited.  The bridge is deteriorating with no action plan for its rehabilitation and interpretation.

This poor record of preservation caused the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance to declare all surviving metal truss bridges, as a group, to be among the state’s most endangered historical resources in 2008.   Despite this designation, such bridges continue to be demolished.  Few if any have been permanently preserved since 2008.

Rumor has it that the number of HBs in the state are dropping rapidly because of policies that encourage replacement over rehabilitation.  Do you agree with this and what are your reason for your argument?

When New Hampshire carried out a federally mandated bridge inventory under STURAA in the 1980s, the state had 92 metal truss bridges, 79 of them in vehicular use. Today, New Hampshire has 63 metal truss highway bridges, a number of them bypassed, abandoned, or in ruinous condition.  The number of such bridges still in service has dwindled to 39—a loss of nearly 50% in two decades.  Some of the 92 bridges of twenty years ago have been bypassed rather than demolished, but their preservation is not guaranteed.  Most of those 92 bridges that are no longer in service have been destroyed.

Federal laws encourage the preservation and continued use of historic bridges, but these laws have proven to be only marginally effective as a preservation tool. The loss of historic bridges is a national phenomenon as well as a New Hampshire crisis.  Despite the pervasive recognition of the significance of these structures, a workshop on historic bridges held in Washington, D. C., in December 2003, came to a dire conclusion:

. . . recent statistics suggest that half, if not more, of our Nation’s historic bridges have been lost in the last twenty years—two decades in which transportation and preservation consciousness was at a high level. This is an alarming and sobering statistic. (Author’s note: this comment was stated by Eric DeLony, historian emeritus of the Historic American Builders Society and the father of historic bridge preservation.)

This “alarming and sobering” nation-wide loss of fifty percent of historic bridges over twenty years is mirrored almost exactly by New Hampshire’s statistics.

Many statements by Congress and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) assert that historic bridges are significant elements of our national heritage and should be preserved.  Yet there is a widespread perception among bridge preservationists that highway engineers, who often lack historical perspective and sympathy for the work of their predecessors, have discovered an effective antidote to the expressed will of Congress.  By  delaying maintenance on such bridges long enough, these structure can often be found, after a decade or so of neglect, to be “beyond rehabilitation,” with “no alternative” but replacement.

Such a scenario unfolded with Memorial Bridge between Portsmouth, N. H. (1923), a vertical lift bridge designed by the eminent engineer J. A. L. Waddell as  the first major bridge of its kind in the eastern United States.  At its dedication, Memorial Bridge had the longest lift span in the country (297 feet), making it the direct prototype for later vertical lift bridges with clear spans of over 300 feet.  Plans for the rehabilitation of this bridge were approved by the New Hampshire and Maine DOTs, the two states’ SHPOs, and the Federal  Highway Administration in 2006.  When rehabilitation bids came in higher than predicted by the DOTs, the bridge was patched and kept in service for a few more years.  Because of its vulnerability, the National Trust for Historic Preservation declared Memorial Bridge to be one of the “Eleven Most Endangered” historic properties in the United States in 2009.

Memorial Bridge, a structure of national significance, was ultimately found to be “beyond rehabilitation” and demolished in 2012.  A replacement is now being designed.

Chesterfield- Battlebro Bridge over the Connecticut River. The 1937 steel through arch bridge (right) was replaced by the 2003 version (left) but was left in place. It is one of many success stories of bridges along the border with Vermont. Photo taken by Craig Hanchey

How about on the federal level: are you satisfied with the policies pertaining to bridges and historic bridge preservation?  What improvements do you think should be made here?

Commitments to bridge preservation at the federal level are theoretically strong, yet have proven to be ineffectual.

Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act of 1966 allows the federal Secretary of Transportation to approve a transportation project that requires the “use” of a historic resource only if (1) there if no feasible and prudent alternative to such “use,” and (2) the project includes all possible planning to minimize harm to the historic resource resulting from such “use” (49  U.S.C. 303 §771.135 Section 4(f)).2

The National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 similarly requires that every federally-funded or -permitted project must avoid doing harm to National Register-eligible resources whenever possible.  If harm cannot be avoided, it must be minimized and/or mitigated.  The public must be invited to participate in the process of planning for preservation.

The directive in the Department of Transportation Act of 1966 to the Federal Highway Administration to work toward bridge preservation was strengthened in 1987 with the passage of the Surface Transportation and Uniform Relocation Assistance Act (STURAA). This act created a historic bridge program that codified a Congressional finding that it is in the national interest to encourage the rehabilitation, reuse, and preservation of bridges that are significant in American history, architecture, engineering, and culture (23 U.S.C. 144(o)).

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has likewise developed a policy on the rehabilitation of historic bridges for continued vehicular use when possible, noting that

historic bridges are important links in our past, serve as safe and vital transportation routes in the present, and can represent significant resources for the future. . . . Bridges are the single most visible icon of the civil engineer’s art. By demonstrating interest in the rehabilitation and reuse of historic bridges, the civil engineering profession acknowledges concern with these resources and an awareness of the historic built environment.3

Perceiving the gap between these theoretical commitments and the catastrophic losses in the field, the Standing Committee on the Environment of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) entered into an agreement with the National Cooperative Highway Research Program of the Transportation Research Board to produce general guidelines for bridge rehabilitation and replacement, hoping that such protocols might be adopted across the nation. The resulting report, Guidelines for Historic Bridge Rehabilitation and Replacement (March 2007), states that:

while the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (amended) and Section 4(f) of the US Department of Transportation Act of 1966 specify nationally applicable processes for considering preservation or replacement of historic bridges (defined as those that are listed in or have been determined eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places), there is no corresponding protocol that ensures a nationally consistent approach to determining when rehabilitation is the appropriate decision or when replacement is justified. State and local transportation agencies have developed a wide variety of approaches for managing historic bridges . . . but few of the processes are founded on written protocols or guidelines that ensure balanced decision making that spells out to all stakeholders when rehabilitation is the prudent alternative. (Source: Guidelines for Historic Bridge Rehabilitation and Replacement, published by Patrick Harshberger, et. al. in 2007)

Guidelines for Historic Bridge Rehabilitation and Replacement is a relatively recent offering that so far is unsupported by any mandate or initiative from AASHTO. As yet, it seems to have had little impact on individual states and certainly has not yet had the anticipated effect of standardizing the treatment and preservation of historic bridges across the nation.

Instead, state and regional highway agencies, intent on building anew instead of preserving, often fail to perform adequate maintenance to ensure the preservation of historic bridges.  When the resulting deterioration reaches a critical stage, agencies commonly ignore the Congressional mandate to engage in all possible planning to avoid harm to historic bridges.  Moving quickly, often with minimal public participation, to a decision that there is no “prudent” alternative to the removal of a bridge, these agencies consistently condemn historic bridges to oblivion.

Despite the laws and studies cited above, this pattern of behavior has been recognized among transportation agencies nationwide.  In some states, two-thirds of metal truss bridges have been lost since 1984. (These comments were made by DeLony and Terry Klein in a literary piece, Historic Bridges: A Heritage at Risk, published in 2004)

All this regulation is threatened by lack of funding for continued maintenance of such bridges.  Lack of funding for preservation leads to a culture of total replacement or removal, for which funding usually has been available.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation offered its “Vision for the Obama Administration” in 2008.  Because of the weaknesses of federal policy in guaranteeing effective bridge preservation, National Trust included four recommendations affecting historic bridges:

Promote the reuse rather than the demolition of historic bridges by removing current obstacles to their repair or relocation;

Include additional [enhanced] historic preservation-based language in the new 2009 Transportation Authorization Bill to encourage the adaptive reuse of the existing transportation infrastructure;

Ensure that Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act of 1966 and the National Environmental Policy Act [NEPA] are not weakened in the 2009 Transportation Authorization Bill;

Continue to fund Transportation Enhancement [TE] grants, which have been instrumental in aiding the preservation of historic bridges.

In a similar vein, the New Hampshire Division of Historical Resources drafted a position paper to be conveyed to the Obama transition team in 2008.  This paper attempted to promote bridge preservation as an aspect of stimulus for a deeply damaged economy.  A stimulus package, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), was ultimately enacted, but it contained no special provisions for historic preservation of any kind.

The position paper of the New Hampshire Division of Historical Resources outlined the following recommendations for improving or strengthening federal bridge preservation initiatives:

A Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) mandate, with funding, to develop statewide bridge preservation programs;

An FHWA mandate, with funding, to develop a national context for historic bridges;

AASHTO backing for preservation and better maintenance for all bridges, with further studies like Guidelines for Historic Bridge Rehabilitation and Replacement (2007);

Congressional appropriation for the preservation of historic metal truss bridges, comparable to the National Historic Covered Bridge Preservation Program, including funding for study, planning, development of a national database of National Register-eligible bridges, and identification of national “best practices” for bridge preservation;

Enhancement of the provisions of Section 4(f) to allow 200% of the estimated cost of demolition (rather than 100%, as at present) to be applied toward the preservation of historic bridges that are bypassed, and to encourage the use of those bridges for alternate transportation uses such as hiking, bicycling, and off-highway recreational vehicles;

Provision of dedicated Transportation Enhancement [TE] funding specifically for historic bridge preservation.

Do you think President Obama has done a good job addressing the issue of infrastructure and the deficiencies involved?  If not, do you think Romney will do better if elected President?

As noted above, the New Hampshire Division of Historical Resources drafted a position paper to be conveyed to the Obama transition team in 2008.  Whether or not this paper was ever given careful study by that team or the Obama administration, none of its recommendations appear to have been implemented during the past four years, or even to have risen to the level of a national discussion.

Yet it must be said that the Transportation Authorization Bill, wherein most of these recommendations would be implemented, is the province of Congress, not the President.  The subject of bridge preservation is apparently regarded as of little importance by Congress; I know of no preservation leaders who presently serve in the House or Senate.  Given the apparent blindness of Congress to this issue, I do not see that progress in bridge preservation lies within the purview of a President, whether Obama or Romney.  Bridge preservation at the federal level is an issue to be debated in Congress.  A President could influence this issue through impassioned advocacy, but I cannot envision either Obama or Romney making such advocacy a priority in an economic climate in which any preservation effort is likely to be seen as elitist and branded as wasteful of funds that could be “better spent” on other national priorities.

Who do you think will win the election and why?

Political forecasting is outside of my fields of training or experience, but I do not expect the next president to make the preservation of historic bridges a high priority.  I have not heard either Obama or Romney mention historic preservation as an interest of theirs.

The author would like to thank Sheldon Perkins and Craig Hanchey for the use of their photos in the two-part series. These bridges represent clear examples of what improvements that need to be done in New Hampshire.

Presidential Elections and Historic Bridge Preservation Part II: New Hampshire’s Historic Bridges

Memorial Bridge at Portsmouth. A 1923 vertical lift through truss bridge that was demolished in February 2012. Photo taken by Craig Hanchey


This is the first of two parts dealing with the US Presidential Elections, Historic Bridge Preservation and in this case, New Hampshire.

One of the original 13 colonies of the United States, New Hampshire, the fifth smallest state with its mountainous features and historic small towns, is one of many states in the Union that has multiple covered bridges and prides itself with having one of the highest density of these bridge types in the country, with over 45 located in the state. It also has one of the highest density of stone and concrete arch bridges, with over 30 of them located in the state. And lastly up to now, it has a fair number of pre-1950s truss bridges. Sadly though, it appears that the state is following suit of many in the country in trying to eradicate “structurally deficient” bridges, making way for modern structures, whose aesthetic appeal is not to the liking of many residents growing up with the structures. The best example is the Memorial Bridge in Portsmouth, a vertical lift bridge with one of the most ornamental portal bracings a person can see in New England. The lift bridge and all of the Parker through truss spans, built as a memorial for the war veterans, was torn down to make way for another vertical bridge, trying to copy the feature of its predecessor, but to many residents, the design is too modern and too bland. Other bridges have been targeted for either replacement or removal, like the Depot Street Bridge in Boscawen or the Lilac Bridge in Hooksett.  According to James Garvin, a historian who has worked with the subject of historic bridges in the state for over 25 years, two thirds of the historic bridges in the state have been replaced since 1984, half of the metal truss bridges have been lost since 1987 with the trend that the state seems to be more concerned with protecting the covered bridges than other bridge types.  While some of these bridges have been preserved for pedestrian use, more is needed to preserve what is left of the state’s bridges. Yet, according to two people, it seems to be not happening.

Depot Street Bridge in Boscawen. Photo taken by Sheldon Perkins, used with permission

The Chronicles invited two people who are associated with the state’s historic bridges to put their two cents worth into the subject in hopes that the issue of decreasing historic bridges in the state is brought to the attention of the readers: Representative Steve Lindsey and historian James Garvin, the latter will be featured in part II which follows.  Mr. Lindsey has been advocating for the preserving New Hampshire’s remaining historic bridges- the other, more neglected bridge types- for many years and recorded his disdain towards the state’s preservation policies to a point where he even recommended tourists to visit neighboring Vermont if they want to visit historic bridges on one of the bridge websites. Unlike the majority of politicians who either are indifferent towards historic bridge preservation or would rather favor modern but tasteless structures to support an increasing amount of traffic, Mr. Lindsey is one of a few who are bucking the trend and is looking for answers to stop the progress, both on the state level but also to a certain degree, on the national level. Here is the interview with the state representative:

1. How would you rate the infrastructure in your state of New Hampshire in comparison to the rest of the US?  And with regard to bridges in general?

Poor and poor.  Lacking a broad-based tax and a hesitancy to tax overall, New Hampshire has a girdled revenue stream problem.  We have an aging roads system that was always behind the rest of the nation in modernity. The exception being the politically power Merrimack River Valley which receives a disproportionate share of state and federal infrastructure moneys.  The same goes for our bridges  We have a large percentage of Red List bridges.

2. How would you rate the policies regarding historic bridge preservation in your state in general (1-10 scale; 1 being best)? What factors contributed to the way historic bridges are being treated as they are?

I would rate New Hampshire a “8” or “9”.  While we do not seem to overtly target the replacement of historic bridges as appears to me to be the case with PennDot, New Hampshire has no love of historic metal truss or other bridges.  Some appreciation of covered bridges extant is supported weakly by the state government, but even here most of our covered bridges are supported by towns.

This year alone, we’ve lost two historic steel trusses bridges. At this rate, all will be gone in 30 years and the struggle to save them over.  This would almost be a relief.

It is so bad I am considering writing a Swiftian essay “Let’s Get it Over” advocating the state systematically demolish all its historic truss bridges except the Connecticut River spans, and put up road signs pointing tourists in the direction of Vermont should they want to see some of our nation’s civil engineering heritage.

Early in my bridge preservation years (1990s), I went to the NHDOT headquarters in Concord to garner some information.  The commissioner whom I did not know came down to talk to me without identifying himself.  In a sense spying.  Such was the condescending attitude.

I also submitted an essay to the NHDOT newsletter and they wouldn’t run it. I was told later by the PR man, a fine fellow, that he had never seen anything before censored in the newsletter and was himself taken aback and sadden by this.

The public just doesn’t support the preservation of our civil engineering heritage like they do in Indiana and Ohio.  There is nothing to work with.  The state’s newspaper, the Union Leader, did give us some positive coverage, but most New Hampshirites are preoccupied with national and state politics as we have the nation’s first in the nation primary.

Newport, NH even celebrated the razing of a rare iron arch truss in the late 70s by erected a plaque next to the I-beam bridge honoring the selectman for standing up to Concord.

Which leads to to the infamous “Bridge to Nowhere” incident with candidate Romney.  This spring he gave a speech about the waste of federal monies on projects and choose Hillsboro’s Sawyers Crossing bridge which was restored as a pocket park but no longer carries traffic—at its south end a channel was cut for future flood relief and even foot traffic stops at the second arch, making it more like a pier. This image of Romney pointing to the bridge hit the national TV with Romney denouncing such projects.

New Hampshire is largely a libertarian-conservative state and there is a distrust of big government and federal expenditures.  There also is the traditional distrust of cultural educated elites, of which historic preservations are considered part of.

Our preservations groups are weak and separated.  The NH Div of Historic Resources counts itself lucky to even survive, and have survived by being quite and little noticed.  Remember that the New Hampshire legislature is dominated by the ascendent Tea Party which is steeped “in” property rights activists.

The NH Preservation Alliance, an advocacy group is likewise cowed, circulating its newsletter and email missives among a self-selected group of preservationists, rarely taking public stances, instead, relying on its supporters for funding and for back discrete projects.

The Alliance would not even show up for hearings on a bill I sponsored for creating a historic bridge storage depot system based on Vermont’s successful model.  It would not have cost anything, and even the NHDOT, while weary, considered it.  I never forgave the Alliance for its betrayal.


3. Can you present a couple examples to support your argument?

Yes.  This year, the state replaced the Memorial Bridge in Portsmouth, the state’s most highly rated historic bridge.  In a nod to our port city and its heritage, a slightly modernized replica is being constructed.  Even this replica was criticized by some for not being modern-looking enough.

While our state does not target historic bridges for removal, it has no preservation ethic either.  The Canterbury-Boscawen bridge was to be removed this summer as an attractive nuisance and liability.  It was abandoned and unused.  But there was no support by either town, and the state of course, while one of the nation’s richest, has no monies either.

Local newspapers have shown no support for saving our dwindling number of historic iron and steel truss bridges.  One, the Concord Monitor, actually editorializes against saving one near its printing plant.  This would be the Sewells Falls bridge.  Some detractors say the paper wants its tractor trailer trucks to have access to that rural/suburban road that are now limited by the bridge, one of the few surviving designed by NH’s engineer John Storrs.


4. Why would you recommend people visiting other states to see historic bridges (you mentioned Vermont as the best bet for people to see Hbs)?

No, with the exception of the Connecticut River Valley.  New Hampshire has been loath to spend money on bridges to Vermont, so a number have survived.  Now with a greater appreciation of said structures, they may continue as they make attractive gateways from the Green Mountain State, seducing monied tourists over the river.  We need more than cheap cigarettes and state liquor stores to keep quality visitors around.


5. In your opinion, do you think the US government is doing a great job in terms of improving infrastructure in general?

No. We’re doing a terrible job.  We seem preoccupied with our ongoing wars and maintain a non viable tax structure that favors the owning-class


6. What about historic bridge preservation in general?

With notable exceptions, we are doing a poor job of saving the best of our civil engineering heritage.  The public hasn’t been educated.  The engineers and architects are mute about the work of their forebears.  There seems to be little understanding of its importance with rare media forays like the documentary on the Roeblings and their bridges.  History and culture just are not embraced by the masses and our ruling classes are not providing good leadership here.


7. What would you like to see improved regarding the policies involving infrastructure, bridges and historic bridge preservation?

I would like to see the American nation cherish its heritage as the British and Commonwealth nations seem to do.  Instead we seem distracted by our day-to-day needs and wants.


 8. Who do you think will win the Presidential elections in November and why?

I’m not sure.  Neither candidate projects a strong, clear image.  Rather a murky situation arises, encouraged by the media which benefits greatly from the horse race mentality.



Mystery Bridge nr. 14: A draw bridge with valuable history

Photo courtesy of the City Archives of Friedrichstadt (Dt. Stadtarchiv Friedrichstadt)

The mystery bridge is in connection with the article on the Bridges of Friedrichstadt in western Schleswig-Holstein in northern Germany. It’s part of a book project on the bridges in the state and if you are interested in contributing, feel free to click here for details on how. It includes a contact form where you can send the info.

Friedrichstadt, a town of 2,600 that is located seven kilometers south of Husum, may be a typical small town in Schleswig-Holstein that is famous for houses with roofing made of tree branches, boating and fishing given its proximity to the river and the North Sea, the delicacies made with fish, and the people speaking a Frisian dialect, a primitive form of German that is spoken exclusively in the region. Yet, the town has a Dutch setting that makes it worth visiting: Dutch style housing, canals and especially, bridges. Located at the junction of the Eider and Treene Rivers, the town has least 18 bridges spanning the two rivers and the canals that make the town look like its Dutch counterpart, Amsterdam.

This bridge is one of them. The city archives found this bridge while compiling some information and photos for the article being put together, and it raised some eyebrows for many reasons. The bridge is a double-leaf bascule bridge, typical of bridges in Holland where two half-spans open outwards, using the weight that is suspended in the air by two towers. Only a dozen of these bridges exist in Germany, a fraction of the number that its next door neighbor has.  Looking at it closer though, the towers were made of cast iron and resemble that of one that exists over the former Eider Canal in Kluvensiek (located between Kiel and Rendsburg). That bridge was built in 1850 using cast iron provided by Carlshutte in Rendsburg, a company that was founded in 1827 by Karl von Hessen and folded through bankruptcy in 1997.  A photo of the Kluvensiek Bridge is at the end of the article. It is unknown when this bridge was built, we only know that the bridge was replaced in 1896. With all the conflicts that happened in Friedrichstadt’s time, including the wars of 1850 and 1864, it is likely that the bridge either was built before 1850 or during the interwar period and was destroyed in the conflict, or was built after the Danes were driven out of the region by the Prussians during the 1864 conflict. Please note that the Danes took the city from the Prussians during the 1850 conflict.

The mystery bridge was originally located at the Westersielzug area, where the Highway 202 Bridge now crosses this waterway connecting Treene Lake and the Eider River to the south of the town, next to the Blue Bridge, another double leaf bascule bridge that was constructed in 1991 and serves pedestrians. More on that bridge later when presenting the topic on Friedrichstadt’s bridges. A map with the location is found here. It is possible that the Blue Bridge was built as a replacement of the mystery bridge discussed here, yet the pedestrian bridge today clearly does not look like the this antique that no loner exists.

This leads to the following questions to be answered about this bridge:

1. When was this bridge built?

2. Where in the Westersielzug area was this bridge located?

3. Who built this bridge? Was Carlshutte Iron the company responsible for the construction of the towers similar to the one at Kluvensiek?

Any information, regardless of whether it is in English, German or Dutch should be sent to the Chronicles, using the following contact details below:

Also, as the city archives is still looking for information about this bridge, for courtesy sake, please also submit the information to the following address below:

You can also access the museum’s website by clicking here.


The article on Friedrichstadt’s bridges can be found by clicking on the link below. It has been updated recently as some photos went missing when BHC left areavoices and became an independent website in 2018. Some photos were added during the visits in 2017 and again in 2021.

Link: The Bridges of Friedrichstadt, Germany


Bridge at Kluvensiek:

Towers of the Kluvensiek Bridge Photo taken in April 2011

Moderne ou Historique? The newly rebuilt Sutliff Bridge

Oblique overview of the bridge. Photo taken by Quinn Phelan

What is modern and what is historic, when we look at bridges in general? This question is very difficult because it is based on the individual bridge and its appearance. Sometimes we cross a truss bridge that looks as old as the oldest members of the Baby Boomer generation (between 67 and 70 years ofn age) even though it was built in the 1980s. But we have crossed concrete bridges that appear to be modern, but are at least between 70 and 90 years of age. In the eyes of many people, a bridge is historical if and only if they are older than 50 years of age and it has a unique value that can be tied in with the history of architecture and as a whole, the history of the US. Modern bridges are those whose aesthetic value may be next to nill at the present but will increase over time as the bridge ages and the legacy of the bridge designers and contractors are mentioned. Modernization and history never ever mix on one particular bridge.

Or does it?

Looking at the Sutliff Bridge in northeastern Johnson County in Iowa, this debate has certainly been at the fore front recently, as the easternmost span of the bridge was reerected, and the bridge is now open to traffic. One has to take a look at the background information to understand its history. Built in 1898 by J.R. Sheely and Company of Des Moines, the bridge became the centerpiece of the village of Sutliff, consisting of a country store, blacksmith shop, outdoor movie theater, a nearby school and a park and pavilion. The three-span pin-connected Parker through truss bridge served as a main artery to the village until it was replaced in 1983. In 1984, the bridge was given to the Sutliff Bridge Authority (SBA), who converted the structure into a pedestrian bridge. 15 years later on 11 September, 1999, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, with Ray Brannaman (founder of the SBA) quoting that “Our hope is that it’s never torn down.”

Unfortunately, on 13 June, 2008 at 12:23pm, the eastern Parker through truss span was knocked off its foundations by the raging waters of the Cedar River, carrying it 100 yards down the river before it became a pile of twisted steel at the bottom of the river. It was the same year that the 500 year flood took place, which inundated two thirds of Iowa and the cities of Cedar Rapids and Waterloo.  For four years, the bridge was nothing more than an island of two Parker truss spans. I was at the bridge twice in 2010 and last year providing my observations which can be seen by clicking here.

Fast forwarding to the present, October 2012, the bridge has been reconnected and is now open to traffic. It is still listed on the National Register of Historic Places. And the people are happy to see their bridge back in service, thanks to the efforts conducted by all parties involved, from the SBA to Johnson County to the state and federal government, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which authorized the use of federal money for the bridge, and the State Historic Preservation Office, which ensured that the rebuilt bridge matches that of the original structure to meet the guidelines of the National Register of Historic Places. Then there is the bridge builder, Iowa Bridge and Culvert, who reconstructed the bridge.

However, there are some features on the new structure that are somewhat different than the original bridge. Looking at the pictures provided by Quinn Phelan, the Historic Engineer’s Record and yours truly, can you identify them and post them in the comment section?

Going back to the topic of modern bridge versus historic bridges, many people have scoffed at the notion that the rebuilding of the Sutliff Bridge was a waste of FEMA money, while some preservationists have claimed that the rebuilt Sutliff Bridge is nothing more than just a modern bridge. What do you think of that notion? Do you think that the bridge was restored as much to its original form as possible, or do you think the truss span is just a plain modern span which is modern in its form? And if that is the case, do you think the newly built Sutliff Bridge represents a case where modern bridge meets historic bridge, and if so, do the rebuilt and original spans conform to each other or are they contrasting to each other?

Look at the pics and I’m looking forward to your thoughts on them. A follow up on the topic with some interview questions with parties involves will follow this article. Stay tuned.


Original eastern span of Sutliff Bridge. Photo taken by HABS/HAER

Underneath the Sutliff Bridge. Photo courtesy of HABS/HAER

The two spans that survived the floods. Photo taken by the author in 2010. More photos of the bridge can be seen here

Side view of the two surviving spans. Photo taken in 2010

Portal view of the rebuilt span. Photo taken by Quinn Phelan

Vertical posts of the original Sutliff Bridge. Photo taken by Quinn Phelan

Vertical post of the new span. Photo taken by Quinn Phelan

View of the rebuilt Sutliff Bridge taken from the porch of Baxa’s Bar and Grill. Photo taken by Quinn Phelan




Eau Claire Bridge to open to pedestrians; National Register listing on the way?

This photo taken by John Marvig

There is a misunderstanding as to determining which truss bridge type is a Whipple and which one is a Quadrangular Warren or even a Lattice truss bridge. Therefore before making the announcement about this bridge, one should look at the differences, beginning with the Warren Truss:

The simple Warren truss bridge was invented by James Warren in 1828 and features a truss span with alternating diagonal bracing, resembling the letter W. The Warren truss bridge can feature vertical posts but there are some that have either alternating vertical posts or none at all. Here are a couple examples to help you:

The Ditzenbach Bottom Bridge over the Turkey River in Fayette County, Iowa: An example of a Warren truss bridge with vertical beams. Photo taken in August 2011.

The Stray Horse Creek Bridge in Hamlin County, South Dakota: An example of a Warren truss bridge without vertical beams. Photo taken in September 2009

A double intersecting Warren truss features two Warren trusses that are reciprocal of each other, thus creating a rhombus-shaped Lattice design. An example of that bridge is featured here:

Buck Creek Bridge northwest of Atlantic in Cass County, Iowa: an example of a double-intersection Warren Lattice truss bridge. Photo taken by Julie Bowers

A Whipple truss bridge features diagonal beams that crosses two panels beginning at the top chord of the truss. For the end panels, two beams start at the top chord with one crossing one panel and the other two panels. An example of a Whipple truss bridge is here:

Wilkerson Park Truss Bridge over the Shell Rock River in Cerro Gordo County, Iowa: An example of a Whipple Truss bridge. Photo taken in October 1998









And finally the Quadrangular Warren truss features Lattice-like design where the diagonal beams cross each other four times. An example is here:

Windom Railroad Bridge over the Des Moines River in Windom, MN: An example of a Quadrangular Warren truss bridge. Photo taken in December 2010

There is one truss bridge that stands out as the lone truss type of its kind in the world, and this bridge is the focus of our news story. The Chicago and Northwestern Railroad Viaduct, spanning the Chippewa River in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, is one of the main icons of the city of bridges (an article about the tour of Eau Claire is found here.) Built in 1880 by the Omaha Railroad, the railroad served traffic connecting Milwaukee and St.Paul, enroute to Sioux City and all points to the south and west. The bridge is 890 feet long with the longest span being 190 feet and the height is 85 feet, which can be seen by many people regardless of where they are situated (at the river side or up the hill). Approach spans were added by Lassig Bridge and Iron Works of Chicago in 1898. The bridge was in service until its abandonment in 2007. Yet by the beginning of 2013, the viaduct may have a new life as a pedestrian bridge.

Photo taken by John Marvig

Work has been underway to convert the bridge into a bike trail. connecting the business district on the west bank and the Dells Pond Area on the eastern side. It is expected that the viaduct will become part of the bike trail network by the beginning of 2013. What is so special about the viaduct is that it is the only Quintangular Warren Lattice bridge in the world. This means that diagonal beams cross each other five times, thus creating a Town Lattice design. To all memory, there is no other bridge in the world that has such a truss design.

Photo by John Marvig


Once the bridge is open to traffic, there will surely be talk about it being nominated for the National Register of Historic Places because of its bridge design and its connection with the history of Eau Claire and the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad, which bought the Omaha Railroad before folding into the Union Pacific Railroad conglomerate. It is unknown when and how it will be nominated, but it will be inevitable because of its unique design. It would also not be surprising if it receives the international recognition it deserves, joining the likes of the Bollmann Truss bridge in Maryland or even some of the bridges in Europe. But for now, the city, which owns the viaduct, is working hard to ensure that the bridge receives a new life as a bike and pedestrian bridge. This is something that the city of Eau Claire can take pride in alone.


Mystery Bridge 13: A bridge named after a politician

Photo courtesy of Nathan Holth


This mystery bridge article starts off with a pop quiz- three questions to be exact:

1. What bridges do you know that are named after a politician?

2. Which was the very first bridge that was named after a politician?

3. Who was Henry Clay?

It has become a trend in the last decade to name new bridges after renowned politicians either on a local or a national level, while questioning the credibility of these politicians because of patchy records that dismayed the public and thus forcing many to question the validity of the named bridges. The first name that comes to mind is Christopher ‘Kit’ Bond, former Senator and Two-time governor of Missouri who was scrutinized for his anti-environment and anti-homosexual and multiple marriage policies and was accused of stealing moon rocks from the Apollo 17 mission, but was lauded for his free trade agreements producing jobs for Missouri. There are two Missouri River bridges named after him: one in Kansas City (open in 2010) and the other in Hermann (open in 2007). Here, one has to ask whether naming more than one structure after a politicians that was disliked by many was really necessary. But that is for Missourians to decide.

But this mystery bridge, located in Kentucky, was named after another famous politician; this one more colorful and can be found in most US History books. Henry Clay was the voice for the state of Kentucky for 41 years, serving as Senator, House Representative, Speaker of the House (on three separate occasions) and Secretary of State under President John Quincy Adams. He was the presidential candidate for the Whig Party, one of three parties he was associated with during his political career, during the 1844 elections, which he lost to James Polk. He was one of the war hawks, who voted in favor of war with the British Empire, leading to the War of 1812, and later favored to settle the northern border dispute with Canada (which was part of the Empire). Furthermore, he favored the emancipation of slaves and worked to establish a border between North and South, resulting in the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and Compromise of 1850, yet he opposed the annexation of states like Texas, for it would have provoked a major debate over slavery as well as war with Mexico, which occurred during the years 1846-48.  Together with Daniel Webster and John Calhoun, the they became the three musketeers and represented the interests of at least the northern half of the US, fostering the development of industry and infrastructure as well as freedom for minorities.

There are many institutions and buildings throughout the US and other places that have been named after him, including the Clay Dormitory at Transylvania University, and an educational institution in Venezuela, as well as streets, counties and even towns bearing the name Clay or Ashland for his estate, which his surviving sons inherited after his death in 1852. But it is unknown how many bridges were or are named after this famous politicians, except this bridge in Kentucky, as depicted in a black and white photo submitted by Nathan Holth. According to the description, the bridge was named after Henry Clay, yet it is located in a town bearing the name Valley. According to maps provided by Google, there is no town or city in Kentucky with just the name Valley, but there are two communities that carry the name Valley: Renfro Valley and Peewee Valley. Renfro Valley is located on the eastern end of Lake Linville north of Mount Vernon, and is connected by US Hwy. 25 and Interstate Highway 75 linking Lexington and Knoxville, Tennessee. Peewee Valley is located northeast of Louisville.  Given the proximity of the Ohio River, the author would favor the bridge being located near Peewee Valley, for the community is located 10-15 kilometers from the major waterway. Yet, one has to look more closely at the bridge and its surroundings to see that the third variable is possible.

Close-up of the same bridge, zoomed in by the author.

The Bridge features two long Warren through truss spans with no vertical beams. Judging by the width of the river crossing, it would not fit the width of the Ohio River, which is between a half mile and one mile in many areas, including a width of a mile in Louisville. In order to fulfill the length of the bridge, one would need at least eight or nine more through truss spans similar to the 200-250 foot long truss spans the Henry Clay Bridge offers. Therefore, it is possible that a town bearing the name Valley may have existed between 70 and 130 years ago but died off because of economic reasons and competition from nearby communities.  Judging by the trusses seen in the picture, it appears that the bridge may have existed between 1880 and 1890, which would fit the time of the existence of the town of Valley. As wide as the two-span bridge was, it seems that it was a wagon bridge used to carry horse and buggy and later cars across this river.

So despite the fact that a Henry Clay Bridge did exist in Kentucky, the question remains where exactly was this bridge located? Was it located in or near Renfro Valley over a segment of Linville Lake? Was it located near Peewee Valley, north of Louisville? Or was it located over another major valley in a small town that once existed, and if so, where?

There are two ways to send the information: one to Nathan Holth, who is doing some work on this bridge, the other here to the Chronicles. Both contact details are enclosed below. Once the mystery has been solved, the Chronicles will post the results in a posting of its own.  Happy History Hunting and read up on Henry Clay and his Three Musketeers of Capitol Hill, for their policies had an influence on how America is today.

Contact info:

Nathan Holth:

Jason D. Smith at the Chronicles:


King Bowstring Arch Bridge in Newfield, New York

There are many historic bridges out there whose historic value is one of utmost importance, but never receive the attention needed before it is too late. There are some historic bridges that deserve the attention needed because of success stories of saving them from becoming a pile of scrap metal.

The Newfield Bowstring Arch Bridge is one that is a success story worth noting.  Built in 1873 by the King Bridge Company in Cleveland, Ohio, the 60 foot long pony bowstring arch bridge is one of only five of its kind left in New York State. Originally constructed on Beech Road, the bridge’s fate was on the limb when the decision was made to demolish the bridge in 2002. Yet, thanks to help by one individual, Karen Van Etten, the bridge was preserved in place, and a park was constructed next to the bridge, incorporating the structure. Since 2003, the bridge has been open to pedestrians. It is eligible for posting on the National Register of Historic Places.

Ms. Van Etten has created a website that deals with the success story of this bridge, including some pictures and an autobiography about her and her efforts to save this structure. You can access the website either here or under the Individual Success Stories page which has recently been created for the Chronicles:


It is rare to see an individual historic bridge become the focus of a successful preservation effort, for many websites feature bridges that are in danger of being destroyed in the name of progress, with pleas from the public to provide the know-how and some support to save the structure. While these websites have drawn interest from the public and many historic bridges have been saved thanks to sending the pleas out into the world wide web, what is lacking is individual historic bridge websites dealing with how people came together to save their historic bridge and restore it for reuse as a recreational page. While the Historic Bridge Park website comprises of a cluster of historic bridges that were relocated to a park to serve as a place of exhibition, the Newfield Bridge serves as an example of an individual bridge that was restored for reuse in a park. It is normal that many people take pride in restoring their historic bridge and then let it run its course along with other bridges carrying traffic, what is missing are the motives behind their efforts, let alone how the historic bridge was saved and preserved. As the interest in saving historic bridges increases by the year, and with it the new fields of work that deal with historic bridge restoration, such as welding and bridge building, it is important that individual historic bridges that were recently restored also receive some attention, as they can serve as a guidance for other preservationists to follow. They can also serve as a leverage to those who claim that a historic bridge has no use anymore and should be converted into scrap metal. There are many people, especially politicians, who fall into that category and should spend time looking at success stories of historic bridges like this one, to ensure them that it is possible to restore a precious structure, like the bridge in Newfield, without having to destroy it in the name of progress.

In closing, I would like to ask all preservation groups who have recently restored their historic bridges, regardless of whether it was the Bridgeport Bridge in Michigan, the Bentonsport Bridge in Iowa the Quaker Bridge in Pennsylvania or even the Silverdale Bridge in Minnesota, to follow suit in creating their websites with pictures of their beloved structure, and stories about the successes and shortcomings of preserving their historic bridge. This also applies to those who are in the middle of restoring their bridge or are about to begin their project. After all, we would love to hear about these stories and learn from them so that we can use these facts to restore our precious structure for generations to come.  I am hoping that the people behind the reconstruction of the Sutliff Bridge in Johnson County, Iowa will do the same.

Speaking of Sutliff Bridge…….

Note: The author would like to thank Ms. Van Etten for the use of one of her photos for this page, let alone providing a website domain to create a website, which is This domain is free and one can create some really cool websites.

And yes, there is a new page on there devoted to individual success stories of historic bridge preservation. If you have a success story you want to share with the audience, please send the info, photos and if possible (but highly recommended), your website to the following address and be rest assured, it will be posted here in the Chronicles:

Thank you.

Presidential Elections and Historic Bridge Preservation: Interview with Nathan Holth

Parshallburg Bridge in Chesaning, Michigan: It was one of only five Thacher through truss bridges remaining in the United States before flooding and ice jams destroyed the newly restored structure in 2008.

Author’s Notes: This is the first of many interviews that will be posted on the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles, as the column will look at the successes of President Obama with transportation policies and with it, historic bridge preservation, what challenger Mitt Romney will bring to the country if elected President, and how the Presidential elections will impact the future of America’s infrastructure and bridge preservation and maintenance in general, which despite improvements since the Minneapolis Bridge disaster on 1 August, 2007 (see part I and part II for more details), there are still some critical flaws that need to be addressed, even after the November 6 elections take place.

The first interview is with Nathan Holth, webmaster of, a website focusing on historic bridges, preservation and some interesting facts that he has gathered since the website was launched in 2005. Most of the coverage is in the eastern half of the US and large parts of Canada. In addition to that, he has been actively involved in the Section 106 and Section 4f Process of the 1966 Historic Preservation Laws and has worked with many parties in ensuring that historic bridges targeted for replacement are preserved, regardless of whether they are in place or in a different location.  Here are some questions I had for him, which he took some time to answer. Note that all pictures in this article are courtesy of and the author would like to thank him for the usage.


1. How big of a role have you played in historic bridge preservation since Obama was elected in 2008?
In May, 2011 myself and Luke Gordon worked to remove five abandoned pin-connected truss bridges in danger of collapse in Monroe County, Michigan and place them into storage for future restoration and reuse in new locations. In 2009, myself and Vern Mesler worked to provide the city of Mt. Pleasant, MI with information about the historic significance of a pin-connected pony truss (which turned out to be an 19th Century truss built by Wrought Iron Bridge Company) and the feasibility of its restoration. These efforts helped the city decide to rehabilitate the bridge for pedestrian use rather than replace it with a modern bridge. I have also participated as a consulting party in a number of bridge projects that triggered Section 106.

One of many pony truss bridges in Monroe County, Michigan

2. How would you rate the transportation policies in the US in comparison with the policies regarding preserving historic bridges?

Current United States policy toward all bridges (not just historic bridges) encourages deferring maintainance and repair of bridges while encouraging demolition and replacement projects even though these practices cost taxpayers more money in the long run. This is due to limited federal and state aid to help local agencies with costs of basic bridge maintainance and repair (these costs come exclusively out of local bridge agency’s pockets) while at the same time if a bridge has a sufficiency rating of below 50% (a rating that takes into account many aspects of a bridge including structural condition) the agency is elgible for and frequently awarded a huge grant from the federal and/or state government. As such, bridge agencies tend to be rewarded for allowing their bridges to deteriorate, since the grant money is more widely available for demolition and replacement of under 50% sufficiency bridges. From their perspective, they are saving money because the federal government or state pays for it. However from a taxpayer perspective, this will cost more in the long run and is wasteful in this time where the country needs to lower the national debt and budget deficits, while dealing with aging roads and bridges. The current policy is harmful to historic bridges because it is not possible to build a new historic bridge, a historic bridge can only continue to exist by being maintained or rehabilitated.

3. What improvements would you like to see made?

A far greater percentage of federal and state grants to bridge / transportation agencies should be devoted to aid for projects that involve maintaining, repairing, and rehabilitating existing bridges. This is a policy that would be beneficial for all bridges, not just historic bridges, although historic bridges would greatly benefit. Because it benefits bridges in general, such a policy should enjoy widespread support from the people, since even people who could care less about historic bridges could see the value in maintaining bridges better.

From a historic preservation perspective, it would be nice to see Section 106 apply to all public bridges, not just those with federal involvement. This may be tricky to make reality however because it would touch on a greater issue of states rights and sovereignty. It would also be nice to see Transportation Enhancement grants expanded, or a specific funding program for historic bridges be created similar to the Federal Highway Administration’s  covered bridge funding program, except that this program would preserve all types of historic bridges.

Bridge Street Bridge in Portland in Ionia County, Michigan. One way street, but it appears the politicians are going the wrong way regarding transportation policies and bridge preservation.

4. How would you rate Obama’s performance with regards to what was mentioned in nr.2?  Do you think it will have an impact on the presidential elections?
Obama has not made any improvements to the way in which bridges are funded. The focus continues to be on demolition and replacement projects with limited to no funding for improving existing bridges.

5. Do you think Romney will do better?

Romney would not do better. Both Obama, Romney, and also the various Senators and Representatives that hold positions on surface transportation committees appear to lack understanding of what actually goes on in the world of bridges. They hold the position that this country suffers from “aging” or “crumbling” “infrastructure” as they loosely describe it. They are correct that the “infrastructure” including bridges is crumbling, however I do disagree that “age” is a problem, since if an old bridge is properly maintained in good condition, it can still be safe and functional. These politicians feel that increasing funds is the primary solution to solve the crumbling infrastructure problem. They seem unaware that if we spent more money on rehabilitation and repair that we might be able to make each dollar go further and make greater improvements to infrastructure without increasing the level of funding. They also seem unaware of how wasteful it is to focus only on demolition and replacement.

At the same time, because liberal policy focuses on having government provide people and businesses with assistance to make sure everyone can be successful, liberals (like Obama) are more likely to continue to provide funds for infrastructure. Conservatives like Romney would more likely believe that the people do not need help from government and therefore feel that maintaining a government-owned system of roads and bridges is not a priority. As such I suppose in the short term reduced transportation funding would prevent some historic bridge demolition and replacement projects from moving forward. However it would not bring a halt to the deterioration of these bridges and they would eventually fail and have to be closed. We really do need funding for bridge projects. We just need to change the focus of those projects to maintaining existing bridges.

6. In your opinion, who will win the elections and how will that impact the transportation policies as well as that of historic bridge preservation?

I expect Obama to be reelected and I see no changes in existing surface transportation policy. However, if Romney is elected, I do not see any changes to surface transportation policy. There is a risk that Section 106 and Section 4(f) could be abolished under Romney however, because these protections for historic structures would be seen as government regulation. With the exception of social/religious issues, where Republicans strongly support big government and heavy regulation, Republicans support drastically reducing the role of government. Since historic preservation is not a religious issue, it is undoubtedly something Republicans wish to get rid of.

7. What are your future plans regarding historic bridge preservation?

I plan to continue projects similar to those I outlined above. Continued work through Section 106, and selective direct efforts to save specific bridges.

Thank you, Mr. Holth for your time and assistance in answering some of my questions and best of luck to you.  More interviews between now and 6 November are yet to come.

Mystery Bridge 12: The Bridge out in the middle of nowhere

Oblique view. Photos courtesy of MnDOT This one was taken in 1962

Some time ago, as I was gathering some information for one of the articles I wanted to write for the Chronicles, I happened to scroll around the Root River region using Bing (please refer to an earlier article on Binging for Bridges here.) The region has been and is still filled with metal truss bridges that were built in the 1920s and earlier, even though some of them have been recently closed to traffic due to structural concerns. The river starts in several different areas of Fillmore and Olmsted Counties before converging into one single entity near Whalan (located east of Lanesboro) and slithering like a python enroute to the Mississippi River east of Hokah, a length of over 200 miles counting the main branches. The river is surrounded by high hills and forests and is accompanied by a bike trail which starts at Fountain and (after joining another bike trail at Preston), follows the trail up to Houston.

East of the Houston between county highway 9 on the north side and Minnesota highway 16 on the south end, one will find a hidden jewel that remains over the Root River- the last of its kind. Unlike its counterparts, which have long since been replaced over the past 20 years, this Camelback through truss bridge was built in 1928- according to records provided by the Minnesota Department of Transportation- but has been sitting abandoned since 1986. The bridge has A-frame portal bracing and riveted connections, and the total length is 154 feet long, with the truss span being 148 feet.

It is unknown who built this bridge except this was probably built using state standards introduced in 1914, where pin-connected truss bridges and the creative designs that were invented by many bridge engineers were considered void in favor of the standardized truss bridges with riveted connections- namely Pratt, Parker, Camelback and Warren, although a handful of bridges in Minnesota were built using the Pennsylvania and Baltimore designs, including the Broadway Avenue Bridge in St. Peter.

It is also unknown about the history of the bridge in connection with the nearby community of Houston- 1 mile west of the structure. We do know that a group of citizens in 1985 petitioned to the county to have the bridge taken off the public road system and put into private hands. It was approved in August 1985 and by 1986, the bridge was privately owned, which still holds true today. Access to the bridge is only possible through a narrow dirt road off of county highway 9 on the north side, even though permission to walk on the bridge is needed if one wants to photograph the bridge.

However, stories and the history of the bridge are needed to round out its story, including the motives behind transferring ownership of the bridge to private owners and vacating the road in 1986, a rarity for private owners of a bridge have to assume as much responsibility for the bridge as the local, state and even national governments. But this successful attempt to gain ownership of the bridge has its reasons and it must be heard so that other people who want to own a unique bridge like this one can do so. So please share your stories about this bridge via Jason Smith, using the contact information provided below:

Jason Smith:

To freshen your memory of the bridge, some pics, courtesy of MnDOT are below. Looking forward to hearing your stories.


Side view. Photo taken in 1952

Portal view. Photo taken in 1969

Oblique view. Photo taken in 1983, shortly before its closure.