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:

Website: http://newyorkkingbridge.webs.com/about

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 webs.com. 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:

flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com

Thank you.

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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 HistoricBridges.org, 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 HistoricBridges.org and the author would like to thank him for the usage.

Interview:

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: flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com.

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

Photos:

Side view. Photo taken in 1952
Portal view. Photo taken in 1969
Oblique view. Photo taken in 1983, shortly before its closure.

Interview with James L. Cooper

Photo Courtesy of Tony Dillon

There are many people who have a special interest on a topic and spend a great deal of their free time working on it and presenting it to the general audience. Some of them even spend a great portion of their lives on it. With regards to historic bridges, if one looks back 40 years ago, there were only a handful of people- namely academics, historians, photographers and other enthusiasts- who were passionate about historic bridges- regardless of bridge type, builder, or even history- and worked in this field to generate interest among the common public. The work of people like James Cooper, professor emeritus at DePauw University, has paid off, for the public is more informed about historic bridges and ways to preserve them than they were when he started on this topic 40 years ago.

Phi Beta Kappa Graduate of Wooster College (located between Canton and Mansfield in eastern Ohio) and a Masters and PhD graduate of history at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Cooper has become known as the father of Indiana’s historic bridges, publishing four books on historic bridges in Indiana and historic bridge preservation over the past 25 years and reviewing over 100 literary works written by many scholars in the field of history, science and technology, and historic preservation, and presenting his topic both live in front of a large audience as well as on TV and radio. He has received many honors and is part of many organizations dealing with history and preservation, including in the field of historic bridges, The Historic Bridge Alliance and the Historic Bridge Foundation, both located in Austin, Texas. Cooper was the keynote speaker at this year’s Historic Bridge Conference, which took place on 21-23 September.

I had a chance to send him some interview questions about his role in historic bridges and he was happy to send me some of his responses in short form to be posted here in this article. He is in the process of posting some of his work as well as literature that is still for sale on a website dealing with Indiana’s historic bridges, which you can click here to access.

Here are some thoughts about his role as the main influential figure in saving historic bridges in the Hoosier state and informing the public on their importance in history….

 

a. What interested you in historic bridges in general?
I started in the late 1970s with an introduction to material culture studies as a supplement to documentary research.  HAER contacts led me into bridge survey work in Indiana which I combined with more traditional research in my survey publications.  Then Indiana Landmarks Foundation contacted me to turn bridge surveying/historical research into preservation efforts.
b. What is so special about the historic bridges in Indiana?

Indiana was an outpost of eastern transportation forms, routes, and fabrication.  By the 1870s, Hoosiers began to make their own contributions to transportation design and fabrication.  Indiana is part of the process of national development.

c. You have been working with historic bridges for over 40 years. Can you summarize what accomplishments you have made  apart from books and presentations?

Since I regard myself as a professional historian, books and presentations are more than “not just.’  I have also played a role in the preservation of bridge company documents and records.  Have been a member “of a village” leading (a) to the preservation of a number of structures and (b) to arguments for historically-sensitive repairs rather than replacement one-member-at-a-time.

d. From your point of view, how big of interest do the people in Indiana have in historic bridges in comparison with other states?

I don’t know about the % of interest by state.  We have an active Covered Bridge contingent.  We have more and better-positioned resources (preservationists, craftsmen, engineers) than most states to support local folk interest in retaining a historic bridges of all materials.

e. From your point of view, how has the US handled its infrastructure since the Minneapolis Bridge Disaster on 1 August 2007?
The engineers who studied the I-35 event found (a) that the bridge collapsed because of a drafting design error with a given gusset plate, (b) that the Minn Dept of Transport was aware of the plate bucking at least a year before via inspection w/o really addressing same, (c) that the authorities precipitated what was an impending difficulty by allowing the placement of massive construction weight on this part of the bridge.   Much of this agency incompetence got subsumed in the press by pushing forward the annual FHWA/AASHTO/DOT PR over the number of structurally deficient and obsolete bridges on American highways as the implicit “cause” of the disaster. (Note: FHWA means Federal Highway Administration, the AASHTO stands for American Association of State Highway Transportation Office and PR means public relations)
 
Indiana?
In Indiana, the FHWA and INDOT used the occasion to target historic metal-truss bridges.  Note that I-35 was not that old or historic…but no matter for the PR and agency opportunity.
And the US since Obama took office in 2009?
The old federal system for funding transportation through gas taxes has rather run its course.  The politicians are not willing to increase those taxes nor to provide significant supplementary funding.  Republicans in the House of Reps have even voting to end the dedication of the gas tax to transportation.  Slowly the hwy engineering agencies are beginning to think about more repair rather than more knee-jerk replacement, but we are a way yet from economic and engineering efficiency as the primary values here.
f. Who will win the Presidential Election in November and why?

I don’t know who will win in Nov.  If the Democratss get enough in charge of the congress as well as the presidency, they may cobble together some fix for the old funding system.  If the Republicans take charge, we may be in for new transportation funding rules.

Thank you for the interview.

Historic Bridge Conference 2012: Indiana

Inside the Triple Whipple Bridge over Laughery Creek Bridge in Dearborn County. Photo courtesy of Nathan Holth of historicbridges.org

 

Author’s Note: This is part III of the series on Indiana’s historic bridges and the Historic Bridge Conference that took place on 21-23 September.

When you see or hear the word historic bridges, what are the first words that come to mind? Do you know of a historic bridge(s) that you grew up with? What were some fond memories? Were there attempts to preserve or destroy that particular structure and why? And if the structure was destroyed, was it because of lack of information on how to preserve it or was it because of lack of interest?

Each of us grew up knowing a rickety old vintage structure that was nearby, where we crossed on our way to our grandma’s house, or went on family walks or gone fishing. We also saw our favorite bridge succumbing to progress without any knowledge of ways to preserve it for uses other than being a road bridge. But there are some people who are of the opinion that times change, concrete is better than metal bridges that rust and corrode and they are not worth saving….

Not in the eyes of the Hoosiers living in Indiana. The state has one of the highest number of historic bridges in the United States, and one of the highest ratio of those preserved. It was not long ago (15-20 years to be exact) that the number of historic bridges were plummeting, prompting calls from the public and private sectors to take action and preserve what is left of the bridges. Unlike in some states, like North Dakota, Nevada and Pennsylvania where the numbers are either very low or are dropping like a falling meteor, the calls were heeded and today, one can see at least three or four through truss bridges and at least two stone or concrete arch bridges in each county- on average.  How was this done?

The success story of Indiana’s historic bridges became the focal point for this year’s historic bridge conference, which took place in southern and central Indiana. A large turnout gathered in Indianapolis on the evening of the 21st of September to listen to Julie Bowers, Nathan Holth, Marsh Davis, and Dr. James Cooper speak about historic bridges. Ms. Bowers provided the public with a presentation and documentary on historic bridge preservation (the summary on the DVD can be found here), using the Piano Bridge in Texas and the McIntyre Bridge in Iowa as examples. It was followed by Nathan Holth, who recently released a book on the moving bridges in Chicago (vertical lift, swing and bascule), providing some details on the movement to make the City by Wind not only modern in its time (with skyscrapers made of steel) but also movable, with bridges opening to shipping traffic. While Marsh Davis talked about historic bridges and the role of Indiana Landmark, the keynote speaker for the event was Dr. James Cooper, professor emeritus of history at DePauw University at Greencastle (located southwest of Indianapolis). Mr. Cooper spent 40 years writing about historic bridges and presenting to thousands of historians and interested citizens about this unique topic, the history and connection with the development of the state’s infrastructure over the past 150 years, and ways to preserve them through policies and practice. And for over an hour, he spoke about the successes of historic bridge preservation on the Hoosier state. A Q&A session with Mr. Cooper is found in the next article in the Chronicles.

The number of bridges visited is very high; some dealt with bridges that were on the itinerary, like the Cedar Grove, the Madison-Milton and Triple Whipple Bridges, but there were some that were not on the itinerary, but were beautiful enough to stop for a few minutes of photo opportunities, as many pontists and those interested traveled from west to east to see them.  Nathan Holth of Historic Bridges.org provided me with some classic examples of historic bridges that were visited while on tour and a gallery is provided below, with links to the historic bridge pages that were profiled. Have fun viewing them. More to come….

Photo gallery:

 

Guiford Red Bridge in Dearborn County
Vernon Fork Bridge in Decatur County
Lost Bridge in Dearborn and Ohio Counties
George Street Bridge in Aurora (Decatur County)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Galbraith Bridge in Bartholomew County. Previously closed for repairs, it was reopened in time for the Historic Bridge Conference.
Flat Rock Creek Arch Bridge in Jennings County: one of a few in the state where two historic bridges are located next to each other. This 1900 structure is next to a 1920s concrete slab bridge.
Cave Hill Road Bridge in Ripley County
Champs Ford Bridge in Decatur County
Furnas Mill Bridge in Johnson County
Flat Rock Creek Stringer Bridge in Jennings County: located next to its successor, the Flat Rock Arch Bridge

Author’s Note: The interview with James Cooper can be found in the next article. Special thanks to Nathan Holth for the use of the photos for this and other articles pertaining to this topic. Very special thanks to Tony Dillon who coordinated the three-day event and brought in a huge crowd to the event.

The next Historic Bridge Conference (2013) will take place in Iowa. More details will come as the planning progresses.