What to do with a HB: The Fate of the Sartell Bridge open

Overview from the current bridge. All photos taken in December 2010

Located over the Mississippi River in Sartell, one of the suburbs to the northwest of St. Cloud, Minnesota, the Sartell Bridge is one of those bridges, whose awkward location makes it impossible to photograph unless confronted by security guards. And with the adjacent paper mill now closed, the situation regarding the bridge’s fate is even awkward.

Returning from Little Falls and beating a nasty weather front that was bound to bring an arctic blast of snow and cold by New Year’s Day 2011, I found a few minutes of time to stop in Sartell for this bridge before meeting some friends at a New Year’s Eve celebration in the south of the Twin Cities.

Located over the Mississippi River near the business district, the Sartell Bridge, built in 1914 by the Minneapolis Steel and Machinery Company in Minneapolis, features a cream colored structure with three Camelback through truss spans which can be seen from the First Street Bridge, approximately 700 feet downstream. Given its location and the amount of trees that line the western bank of the river, one cannot see the bridge up close, not even from nearby Watab Park, without having to climb down the cliff. But even then, that is tricky for reasons to be mentioned later.  The bridge features a builder’s plaque on the westernmost portal bracing of the bridge, A-frame portal, which was used when building the bridge. All bridge parts are pin-connected, which was being phased out in favor of the standardized truss bridges with riveted connections. When the state of Minnesota ratified the law requiring bridge builders to abide by these new standards in 1913, it signalled the end to bridge building with truss designs that were considered obsolete and the usage of pinned connections on truss bridges, as they would not be able to accomodate the increasing amount of traffic.  The Sartell Bridge is one of the last of the bridges that were built using pinned connections and using the Camelback design, as they were both phased out after its completion. After 1914, riveted Pratt, Warren and Parker trusses were being used for bridge construction, even though a few examples of riveted Pennsylvania petit and Camelback truss bridges were also found in Minnesota and elsewhere. This include the Broadway Avenue Bridge in St. Peter (Pennsylvania truss), The Highway 250 Bridge over the Root River in Lanesboro (Pratt truss) and a pair of truss bridges over Sulphur Lake and Minnesota River near Morton (featuring a Camelback through truss over Sulphur Lake (now closed) and a combination Parker through and Warren pony trusses over the Minnesota River (now gone)).

Oblique view of the bridge, taken through the trees. This was as far as the author could get as the cliff was steep.

The Sartell Bridge was replaced by the First Avenue Bridge in 1984 and plans were in place to open it to pedestrians. However, the location was awkward as apart from climbing down to the bridge from the west bank of the Mississippi, the bridge is located next to the Verso Paper Mill on the east bank, providing a potential to compromise security to the facility.  The end result was the bridge being closed to pedestrians with security patrolling the bridge, which still carries utility lines to the paper mill.

The Verso Paper Mill had a history that lasted 107 years but ended in tragedy. It was founded by the limberjacks in 1905 as Watab Paper Company and remained a local entity before it was taken over in 1946 and renamed St. Regis Paper. It remained in business until it became part of the merger with Champion Paper in 1984. At that time, the Sartell Bridge was replaced by the current structure and plans to convert it into a pedestrian bridge was in place, only to be  scrapped later. Before the tragedy in May 2012, the company had three paper machines in operation, a power plant, a woodyard, a TMP plant producing pulp and a storage facility for paper.

The days of Verson Paper Mill came to an end through an explosion and fire on 29 May, 2012, killing one worker and injuring four others. On 2 August, it was announced that Verso was closing down the facility permanently, citing inprofitability and costs for rebuiling the paper mill as  reasons. 260 people were left to look for other jobs and the shock was felt across the town as the paper mill was one of the main anchors that stabilized the community of 11,000 that was next door to the fourth largest city in Minnesota.

Like the paper mill, the future of the Sartell Bridge is also in the air. The bridge and its creme colored truss spans are one of the highlights for people to see while passing through Sartell. The bridge is one of the last of the pre-1945 truss bridges remaining along the Upper Mississippi River and is on the National Register of Historic Places because of its construction at the time of the introduction of the standardized truss bridges and its association with the bridge building empire serving Minneapolis. Yet, the three-span Camelback truss complex is located in an awkward setting, and while it is possible to reopen the bridge for pedestrians, that plan would have to depend on the future of the paper mill- whether another company will take over, or if it will be completely demolished in favor of new development, or if it becomes a museum covering the paper mill’s 107-year history.  The bridge is located 10 feet above water levels, making it prone to flooding. This leads to the question of whether it makes sense to raise the bridge 10-20 feet if it was to remain in its original place or if it is even feasible to relocate all three truss spans. Given the good maintenance done on the bridge, even by the paper company, it would be a waste of money and a slap in the face to tear the bridge down, especially as it is protected by the NRHP.  The next 2-3 years will be crucial to determining not only the future of the Sartell Bridge, but also the adjacent paper mill, victim to tragedy by fire and by its subsequential closure that followed.

Close-up of one of the three Camelback through truss spans- zoomed in and taken from the current bridge

The question for the forum for the Sartell Bridge:

If you were the mayor of Sartell, what would you do with the Sartell Bridge, given the circumstances provided in the article? Do you:

a. Tear the bridge down and have a monument commemorating the bridge’s existence,

b. Keep the bridge in tact and use it as a pedestrian bridge, but raise it 20 feet to protect it from floodwaters,

c. Relocate the trusses,

d. Leave the bridge in place and hope the next developer will take it with the purchase of the paper mill, or

e. Other suggestions

And in connection with the Paper Mill, what would you do with it? Do you:

a. Sell it to a developer, who will most likely tear it down and turn it into a residential property,

b. Convert it into a museum owned by the city and/or state, or

c. Sell it to a business person who will turn it into a company attracting people to Sartell for work.


You can leave your suggestions here under comments or through facebook under the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles. Also please click on the underlined words for links to the examples and the articles featured in this article.


2013 Iron and Steel Preservation Conference

Waterford Bridge in Dakota County, Minnesota: One of a few bridges awaiting restoration and conversion into a bike and pedestrian bridge. Photo taken in August 2011

Historic bridge preservation can take on various form. While some bridges are sandblasted and repainted, some bridge parts are welded together to make them look like they were just recently built.  And as the need for welders for preservation projects are as high as ever, Vern Mesler and Lansing Community College in Lansing, Michigan are once again hosting the Iron and Steel Preservation Conference, a two-day event that takes place on 4-5 March.

Apart from showcasing live welding demonstrations, such as oxygen welding, pack rust removal and straightening metal through heating,  many speakers will be participating in the evening presentations, among them, Michael Mort, owner and producer at Equity Studios, who published a book entitled  “A Bridge Worth Saving, A Community Guide for the Preservation of Historical Bridges” in 2010, which has won many awards in Michigan and elsewhere. Other speakers participating at the event include Cynthia Brubaker of Ball State University, who will talk about the history of bridge companies in Indiana, Dario Garspini, Chris Marston and Kevin Whitford, who will talk about Moose Creek Bridge in New Hampshire, and Mark Bowman of Purdue University, who will talk about Evaluating and Repairing Metal Structures in Indiana.

Cost for the event is $175 for one day and $300 for both days. Information on how to register is available by clicking here, or contacting Vern Mesler either at (517) 483-9583 or by e-mail using the form here.

Waterford Bridge to be restored- mainly decking and abutments

For the people working on restoring the Waterford Bridge northeast of Northfield in Minnesota, an event like this might present them with a chance to pick up some useful skills to use and share with other preservationists. As recently as this month, a survey on the structure conducted by Workin’ Bridges revealed that the steel truss structure is in great condition and the majority of the work being conducted on the bridge is the decking and abutments. This is good news for the preservationists who are striving to incorporate it into the bike trail. A contract has been let out by Frank Wergin of Waterford Township to rehabilitate the structure, which can be viewed here.  More information about the project is made available via Julie Bowers at Workin Bridges, Liz Messmer of the Waterford Iron Bridge Organization and Frank Wergin at the township. Mr. Wergin’s e-mail address is: waterfordtownship@gmail.com.. Ms. Bower and Ms. Messner can be reached through their respective pages available via facebook.

Other good news regarding historic bridge restoration:

Gilliecie Bridge in Winneshiek County, Iowa- another bridge under the radar of Workin’ Bridges as it will be replaced in 2014. Photo taken by the author in Oct. 2005










Gilliecie Bridge to move to Sunny Brae Golf Course-

Spanning the Upper Iowa River on Cattle Creek Road in Winneshiek County, Iowa, this bridge, which also goes by the names of Daley and Murtha, was one of over two dozen bridges that were constructed in the county by the Wrought Iron Bridge Company of Canton, Ohio between 1870 and 1890 and one of three bowstring arch bridges that existed over the same river (the Lower Plymouth (now extant) and Freeport (now located at a park in Decorah) were the other two). The structure, built in 1874 and has a length of 129 feet (main span), sustained heavy damage to the top chord of the structure and was scheduled to be replaced in the near future (2014). Yet the bridge may soon have a new home as a golf course bridge at Sunny Brae in Osage in Mitchell County.  As soon as funding is available, the move of the bridge to the golf course could take place by the end of next year and open to all traffic in the coming golf season in 2015. Mitchell County will then have four through truss bridges in use for recreational purposes, which includes the Otranto Bridge and two through truss bridges along the Wapsi Bike Trail northwest of Riceville. More information on how you can contribute to the relocation of the bridge can be sought through Workin Bridges.

 Rothrock Bridge to reopen as a pedestrian bridge

Located over Blue River at the Harrison and Crawford County border in Indiana, this Parker through truss bridge was built in 1916 and had a length of over 155 feet long. It was replaced by a pony truss bridge in 2005 and the future of the structure was unclear. Less than eight years later and a full restoration later, the bridge is awaiting to be placed onto new foundations at the Hayswood Natural Preserve southwest of Corydon.  The $1.4 million project featured the dismantling of the entire structure, sandblasting and welding, fixing and replacing broken parts, painting the bridge parts and reassembling it at its new site. The last phase of the project will be to reinstall it over the new piers over Indian Creek at the preserve and integrate it into the bike trail that is being constructed. The project is scheduled to be completed by spring. An article on the restoration can be found here.  It will be the third historic bridge to be restored in both counties, yet another bridge, the Breeden’s Bridge may soon follow as it is scheduled for restoration this year. It is unknown however when this bridge will be used again and for what purpose.


Ghost Bridge to come down but not without a fight.

Ghost Bridge in Lauderdale County, Alabama. Photo taken by Ben Tate

The news of the massive demolition of the historic bridges has raised several eyebrows and are leading to questions as to how to better protect historic bridges from neglect and pointless demolition; especially as there is considerable interest in saving these structures.

The Ghost Bridge, located over Cypress Creek on an abandoned road in Florence in Lauderdale County, Alabama, is one of those bridges that are on the chopping block. Built in 1912 by the Virginia Bridge and Iron Works Company on the eve of the Good Roads Movement, this 140 foot long pin-connected Pratt through truss bridge with Howe Lattice Portal Bracing (with 45° subdivided heel bracing) has a history that dates back to the Civil War period, as this bridge was the second structure at this spot, replacing a covered bridge built  after the war. The covered bridge was built to replace the ford which carried a road connecting Florence and Savannah, Tennessee.  It was the site of conflict near the bridge, as well as several lynchings during the 1920s, resulting in ghosts of Civil War soldiers and people murdered at the bridge site being reported by passers-by. But while the name Ghost Bridge originated from the haunted stories told about the site (which competes with another bridge in Missouri, the Enochs Knob Bridge, now extant), the real name of the bridge was the Jackson Ford Bridge, named after James Jackson, who owned a plantation near the crossing prior to the Civil War.

The bridge has been abandoned since 1996 when the eastern approach was closed to traffic and the western approach was vacated in favor of private property. Now Lauderdale County officials are pursuing the removal of the truss structure due to damage caused by vandalism and liability issues. This has sent alarm bells off among local residents and preservationists who are now fighting to stop the demolition process from commencing. The bridge is the last of its kind in the state that has not been rehabilitated and has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. And while the county commissioners have signed off on the bridge to a contractor, who has been mandated to remove the sturcture within 30 days, there are a lot of legal issues that were not taken into account, including Section 106 of the Historic Preservation Laws, plus other environmental mitigation laws. Furthermore, those opposing the demolition have claimed that they were not properly informed of the situation with the bridge, let alone were allowed to present their proposal to save the bridge. While the guard railings and decking are being removed at the time of this report, the protesters are planning to stop the process both at the site as well as through the legal system in hopes that there is hope to save the bridge, or if removal is a necessity, relocate the bridge to a site where it can serve as a park.

Oblique view. Photo taken by Ben Tate

I took the opportunity to ask members of the Save the Ghost Bridge Committee if they were interested in answering some of my questions I had about the bridge and the situation involved. Evan Tidwell, who is head of the organization to save the bridge, stepped forward and provided some useful information, which is presented as an interview below. Please note that the content was edited for length.

Why save the Ghost Bridge?

Why do we love it, you mean?  Well, I lived just up the road from it when I was a teenager; it’s actually the first place I drove to when I got my driver’s license.  It has always attracted people; history buffs, ghost hunters, or people who just wanted a cool place to hang out.  It was one of the local “parking” spots as well, so that gives people a very personal attachment to it.  But most of all it’s the ghost stories that people told their kids to scare them as they drove across it.  Those times are good memories for a lot of people.  The bridge and the stories that go along with it is a part of our local folklore, part of the fabric that makes us who we are.
Why was the bridge abandoned for such a long time?

The eastern approach road was closed in 1996, and the roadway deeded to the adjacent landowners who no longer wanted a county road through their property.  This according to the local paper “effectively closed the bridge”.  One of the residents on the west side, however, was against the closing and fought to keep the road open.  Some say it sat there for years because the county just didn’t want to spend the money to tear it down.  However, the gentleman who fought to keep the bridge open passed away in August.  Two commissioners and the Chairman were re-elected in November.  And the announcement that they planned to tear the bridge down came at the end of November.  Purely speculation on my part, but I think that gentleman promised a good fight if the commission had moved to demolish the bridge while he was alive.
When was the issue brought to the county’s attention? To your attention?

I have no idea when it was brought to the county’s attention.  I guess it’s been in the back of their minds since they closed it in 1996.  The Chairman of the County Commission and the County Engineer were involved in the closing, and they are still serving.  Our local newspaper published an article about the bridge at the end of November and that’s how I heard about it.

The newspaper article about the bridge can be found here.


Tunnel view of the bridge. Photo taken by Ben Tate

How are you bringing the bridge to the attention of the residents?

Oh, it’s already receiving their full attention.  They have refused to attend our meetings or even discuss the matter.  One or two have stated their opinions in a newspaper interview, but they have not even attended any of the commission meetings to say why they want it gone.

Author’s note: four residents are located at the bridge with one of them favoring repairing the bridge. More information can be found here.
Why are the neighbors (and other people) dead set on seeing the bridge removed? What would it take for them to change their mind?

According to what the commission says they have been told, and according to the residents quoted by the paper, they say it’s because of crime at the bridge.  But according to law enforcement officials, the crime is actually taking place on private property adjacent to the bridge.  (The western approach to the bridge is an isolated dead-end road)   I don’t know what it would take to satisfy the residents, because they have refused to talk with any of us.

There has also been a big deal made about the holes in the wood deck.  But the deck was replaced in 1992, only four years before the bridge was closed.  So the wood is nowhere near as old as some people say.  (The holes were burned or knocked out by vandals, it’s not rotten)  The deck would be the least problematic in a full restoration.  In fact, a wood & steel bridge in neighboring Colbert County is actually being re-decked with fresh timber this month, and that bridge is still open to vehicle traffic!
When will the bridge be removed? What’s being done to stop the process? 

I’m assuming sometime in January, because the original proposal said it would be demolished within 30 days.  There seems to be nothing else to do besides file an injunction to stop the demolition, which is something my group did not want to do starting out.  But we have exhausted all our other options.

According to the latest article by the local newspaper, the contract was signed to demolish the bridge on 14 January.
What would you like to see done with the bridge? 

I’d love to see it renovated and turned into a foot bridge/overlook with a small park and canoe launch at the approach to the bridge.  Getting some lights up out there and clearing out the brush would make it less attractive to the people who want to go out there and do illegal things, namely cooking meth.

Have you heard of Section 106 of the Historic Preservation Law and is this being carried out on the bridge?

I think Section 106 only applies to Federal Agencies, but I may be incorrect.  I have repeatedly queried the Tennessee Valley Authority and Army Corps of Engineers, but they maintain they have no restrictions placed on the section of Cypress Creek where the Ghost Bridge is located.  The Alabama Department of Environmental Management has also told the county that they need no environmental studies performed prior to demolition, even though Cypress Creek is home to endangered species of fish, and is the source of the City of Florence’s municipal water supply.  (The intake for the treatment plant is downstream of the bridge)  I’m really concerned about the lead paint on the bridge as well as the creosote used to treat the wood.  If I lived in Florence, I don’t think I would want that in my drinking water!

Author’s Tip on Section 106 can be found here, although a simpler and more elaborate version will be produced and posted here in the future.
If there are people interested in helping you save the bridge, how should they help?

If we are able to delay demolition and get ownership of the bridge, we’re going to need a good grant writer for one thing.  But other than that, every dollar donated and every minute of volunteer time would be valuable to the preservation of this bridge.  It’s going to be a long, expensive, difficult task.  But it would be well worth the outcome.  Another group successfully saved the nearby Tennessee River Railroad Bridge, so we hope we can pull off a repeat.

Author’s note: The Save the Ghost Bridge Organization can be found on facebook with contact information as to how to get involved.

Silohuette view of the bridge’s portal entry. Photo taken by Ben Tate

To summarize, the situation with the Ghost Bridge is dire and the county and some residents are deadset about demolishing the bridge at any cost. Yet if the process is completed, there is a potential that other demolition projects involving historic bridges will proceed without consultation from the public and awareness of the laws that exists that protect historic bridges from being demolished without first conducting surveys that could provide alternatives. Yet the abandonment of the Ghost Bridge to allow it to deteriorate to a point of its removal has led to questions involving abandoned bridges and common sense. While abandoned bridges and leaving them to nature and private owners is one way to leave them in tact for years to come, the issue of liability comes when one uses the bridge (most of the time by trespassing) and vandalize it, making it prone to collapse. An article on abandoned bridges will come in the near future, but we need to take care that if a bridge is vacated, it should be in the hands of an owner who is willing to maintain it without having to deal with such misfortunes as was the case with the Ghost Bridge. And while liability is important for historic bridges, common sense, by not trespassing onto a privately owned bridge without asking, causing damage to a point of no repair, and obeying certain regulations and having a sense of self responsibility is just as important, if not even more important. With the Ghost Bridge, such common sense was missing and that may end up in a piece of history to become a pile of scrap metal.


The author would like to thank Ben Tate for allowing for his photos to be used for this article.



Massacre of Historic Bridges in the USA Underway?

Nine-span Bridge in Hammond, Indiana- one of over a dozen historic bridges that are coming down. Photo taken by Nathan Holth

At the beginning of this year, fellow pontist James Baughn predicted in his website, the Historic and Notable Bridges of the US, that there would be fewer demolitions for 2013, providing hope for many people wanting to save their historic bridges that are threatened with demolition and replacement.

Perhaps this prediction should be retracted.

While some well known bridges, like the Fort Keogh Bridge were removed last year and a few others have been slated for replacement for this year, the most recent reports by many pontists believe that 2013 may be a record-setting year for replacement of bridges built in 1945 and earlier. Many of them are being taken off the map with little or no input from the public, let alone regard to the policies protecting the ones listed or eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. The claim: liability, safety and the end of its useful life as many officials and engineers have claimed with these bridges.

The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles has compiled a list of historic bridges that are scheduled to come down within the next 2-3 months or are threatened with demolition.  A couple of bridges are being reported on by the Chronicles and will be presented in separate articles. It is hoped that this list of bridges will serve as a wake-up call for change in terms of policies protecting historic bridges in the US while finding more constructive ways to better inform the public about the future of these structures, and to encourage them to take action to save what is left of American history for generations to come. Links to the bridges are provided when clicking onto the underlines titles and phrases.  Without further ado, here are the list of bridges that one should see before they are gone forever- falling victims of the wrecking ball:

Portal view of the Harvey Dowell Bridge in Arkansas. Photo taken by David Backlin in 2005.












Harvey Dowell Bridge in Washington County, Arkansas:

Built in 1926, this bridge is one of the rarest in the state whose top chord of the riveted Pratt through truss bridge has an H-beam shape. The bridge has taken a beating by overhead trucks and tractors and is one of the reasons why county crews are going to remove it in favor of a wider bridge. Demolition will commence at the end of January, and the replacement bridge should be finished by this summer.

Mill Street Bridge in New Castle, PA. Photo taken by Nathan Holth

Mill Street Bridge in New Castle, Pennsylvania

Spanning the Neshannock Creek carrying Mill Street, this Parker through truss bridge, built in 1917 by Thomas Gilkey, features a rather unique skewed portal bracing, where at each entrance one end post is vertical and the other is slanted at 50°. While this bridge is the last of its kind in Pennsylvania and one of the rarest to find in the US, Lawrence County officials signed it off to be converted into scrap metal in favor of a steel beam bridge with a goal of making it conform with the town’s business district. Demolition will begin in the spring and should be finished by the end of this year.

Tunnel view of the Nine-Span Bridge in Hammond, Indiana. Photo taken by Nathan Holth
Close-up of the skewed portal bracings on the Nine-Span Bridge in Hammond, Indiana. Photo taken by Nathan Holth

Hamond (Nine-Span) Bridge in Hammond (Lake County), Indiana

This story will surely be in the running for Worst Example to Preserve a Historic Bridge for 2013. This 1935 bridge, featuring ten Parker through truss spans with skews and unusual portal bracings, spans a railroad year and with a total length of 2,137 feet, it is the longest bridge of its kind in Indiana. Although this bridge has been on the state’s historic bridge market page for five years, the IndianaDOT has decided to demolish the entire structure in favor of a longer and wider beam bridge. One of the spans however will be dismantled, put in storage and made available for purchase between now and 2023! Any takers for the lone span? Demolition has begun with the removal of light posts, utility poles and roadbed, which will be followed by a series of implosion taking place in the spring. The new bridge should be completed by the end of this year, perhaps into next year.

Overview of the Ghost Bridge in Lauderdale County, Alabama. Photo taken by Ben Tate

Ghost Bridge in Lauderdale County, Alabama

This story will be followed up here at the Chronicles, as the struggle to stop the bulldozers and wrecking balls by a bunch of bridge lovers and local residents has heated up. The Ghost Bridge, a pin-connected Pratt through truss bridge with Howe lattice portal bracing, was built in 1912 by the Virginia Bridge and Iron Works Company, replacing a wooden covered bridge built during the Civil War. The bridge has a lot of history and ghost stories. Yet since its abandonment in 1996, it fell into disarray with the deck being partially removed or damaged and people using drugs and falling through the deck into Cypress Creek. Most recently, county officials let out the contract to remove the bridge within 30 days, despite it being listed on the National Register. Yet the preservation group and other residents are currently pursuing an injunction to stop the process, claiming that there was no formal hearing and there is a potential that some regulations involving protecting this bridge may be illegally circumvented. Already, crews are beginning to remove the roadway and railings and plans are in the making to remove the structure before the end of this month. However, protests to stop the process will begin this week both at the county courthouse as well as at the bridge itself. The Chronicles has a separate article on the developments and will be posted after the release of this article.

Hammond Pennsylvania Truss Bridge in Humboldt County, CA

Humboldt County, located in northwestern California, has a wide array of bridges built using many bridge types and dating as far back as the late 1800s. However, the county cannot seem to maintain this bridge, a Pennsylvania petit through truss bridge over the Mad River connecting McKinleyville to the north and Pacific to the south. Brought in from Washington state in 1941, the 1905 bridge used to serve rail traffic until it was converted to a pedestrian trail in the 1960s. Yet thanks to no maintenance work since that time, the bridge has fallen into disarray to a point where the decision was made to demolish the structure in favor of a concrete beam bridge for safety reasons. A classic example of a bridge that could have been rehabilitated for a fraction of the cost of a new bridge. Demolition will commence sometime this year.

Goose Creek Bridge in Leesburg, Virginia

Located at Keep Londoun Beautiful Park south of Leesburg, this two-span steel Warren pony truss was built in 1932 replacing an iron through truss bridge that was relocated to Featherbed Lane over Caoctin Creek south of Lovettsville. While the bridge served as a look-out point at the park since it was made obsolete by a beam bridge in the 1980s, it fell into disarray to a point where the county decided that instead of providing funding to rehabilitate the structure, it would be removed. While the contract was let out recently, the cost for the project will be more than expected, raising questions of whether the decision not to take on funding by the state to restore the bridge in 2006/7 was a mistake that could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars more for its removal than for its restoration. The removal of the bridge will commence in the spring.

Side view of the abandoned Boscawen Bridge in New Hampshire. Photo taken by Nathan Holth

Two Merrimack County (New Hampshire) Bridges:

New Hampshire, as mentioned on a pair of occasions in October, has a reputation of treating and demolishing historic bridges to a point where even state representatives have recommended people visiting neighboring Vermont if they want to visit any historic bridges made of concrete and metal. Add two more reasons to avoid the state with a pair of through truss bridges in Merrimack County scheduled to be demolished before the Spring thaw. The Depot Street Bridge in Boscawen, a two-span Parker through truss bridge built in 1907, has been abandoned since 1965 and residents are looking forward to seeing the safety hazard removed as a contract was let out to have the bridge dismantled. It will be lowered onto the icy Merrimack River, dismantled and hauled away as scrap metal. The Sewell Falls Bridge over the same river at Concord was written off as unsalvageable through an engineering survey and county officials are inquiring about its removal. Fortunately, while the demolition will not commence before 2014, the public will still have  a chance to voice their opinion about the bridge and the options available between preservation and demolition and replacement. The Chronicles will keep you posted on the latest.

Photo taken by the author while on a bike tour in 1999. Note, this was taken underneath the McKennan Hospital Car Park Complex

McKennan Pedestrian Bridge in Sioux Falls, South Dakota

The City of Sioux Falls has been undertaking a beautification of its downtown area, along the Big Sioux River, which includes establishing parks and recreation areas and expanding the bike trail. However, it will come at the cost of this two-span Howe pony truss bridge, located between the 8th Street and 10th Street crossings. It was converted to a bike trail in the 1970s when the railroad abandoned it and can be seen together with the McKennan Hospital Car Park from the 10th Street Bridge. Together with the parking garage (which occurred last year), the bridge will be demolished in favor of a newer truss bridge, the second one built in two years, which will raise questions about its conformity to the rest of the cityscape. Unless the bridge is saved in the last minute, demolition will most likely begin in the spring.

Washington Street Bridge in Sedalia, Missouri

Spanning the railroad in Sedalia’s business district, this pin-connected Pratt through truss bridge with Howe lattice portal bracing, built in 1911 by the Midland Bridge Company in Kansas City, is one of the landmarks serving the county seat of Pettis County and is one of two bridges of its type left in the county. Sadly, this bridge has been closed to traffic and is scheduled to be replaced this year, even though it is unknown when the demolition will commence….

Fitch’s Bridge in Groton, Massachusetts

Located west of Lowell in the town of Groton, little has been known about the double-intersecting Warren through truss spanning the Nashua River, except that it was built in the late 19th century by the Berlin Iron Bridge Company of Berlin, Conn., and has been abandoned since the 1960s, with the bridge being used as a diving board into the river. Plans are in the making to either remove or remove and replace the bridge. According to an organization wanting to save and rehabilitate the bridge, there is an option three which has yet to be presented with persuasion. More on the developments to come here at the Chronicles.

Book of the Month: The Bridges of Madison County

Reading Owl

Let’s start the very first Book of the Month for 2013 with a question for the forum:

Can you name a book or literary piece that features a bridge (or bridges) serving as a centerpiece to an even bigger story?

Speaking from a literary critic’s point of view, one of the most successful stories that feature bridges as a centerpiece is the book “The Bridges of Madison County,” by Robert James Waller. Published in 1992, the book was turned into a film three years later and became a smash hit. The Chronicles will summarize both works to compare the plot and sturcture for reasons to be mentioned below.

I was first introduced to the book while living in Germany as an exchange student 13 years ago, but in the German version. It was the first book I read in a language other than English and regardless of which language the book has been translated (it was translated into 50 languages), the book serves as a starting block and should be considered for reading material either in the classroom or in one’s leisure time.

The setting of the book is in Madison County Iowa, where Robert Kincaid, a photographer for the National Geographic, was looking for covered bridges, when he meets Francesca Johnson, a farmer’s wife whose husband and two children left for four days to exhibit their prized stier at the Illinois State Fair, while inquiring about the Roseman Bridge. She leads him to the bridge but after some photo sessions, she invites him to dinner. Robert returns the favor the next day by inviting her to a photo session of the Holliwell Bridge and they eventually opened the door to three days of romance and rediscovery of onesself, the sides of themselves that revealed their true identities in contrast to the ones they were accustomed to. Yet the last day of solitude brought a decision that would change their lives forever- whether Francesca should leave the farm in favor of Robert or if Robert should leave Francesca because of her devotion and love to her farm and family- the climatic conclusion in the story! While Francesca decided to stay put, despite the warning Robert gives him that “…the decision comes but just once in a lifetime,” as stated by Kincaid in the film (played by Clint Eastwood), the book led to discussions among literary critics, sociologists other people alike with the arguments going along the line I’m about to state: Francesca was in the middle of one of the covered bridges, with one side representing her farm, family and the way of life that she was used to, and the other side representing Robert, individualism and the way of life that she could have been. Either decision made would be hedonistic for one side will be hurt effectively, leaving scars, while the other may benefit but she would still suffer from the decision. The only way she could not do is jump from the bridge, for it would lead to questions that both sides would not be able to answer.

The kids, Michael and Caroline do not know about the affair until they went through the papers and other records after Francesca dies. This is where the story stops in the book, which in literary terms has an open plot until the very end, but is extended in the film, which features a closed plot, looking back into the past.  In the film, the setting begins with Francesca dying and the children meeting at the farmstead. Both characters (Caroline played by Annie Corley and Michael played by Victor Slezak) have problems with their relationships with their spouses- the former is being cheated on; the latter is incompatible with his wife, Betty- which are exposed as they find the journals written by their mother about the relationship with Robert Kincaid. As they read the journals, they were taken to the past where it all happened as Francesca (played by Meryl Streep) unfolds the story in detail, going from a farmer’s hand on a small farm to one on an adventure with Robert.

While the climax between Robert and Frnacesca was kept in the book, the climax of their portion of the story comes at a park in the middle of the night where each one vents their frustration out about their spouses over a bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey, and how the morals taught to them by their parents were put into question by Francesca’s affair with Robert.  In the end, as Francesca made her sacrifice in favor of her husband, both Caroline and Michael made decisions to make themselves and their spouses happy, although it was unclear how their relationships would have ended- either redo the relationship with the same person or redo the whole relationship with someone else. The best quote came from Michael, who told his wife Betty (after worrying about him not contacting her) “Do I make you happy, because I want to, all the better.”

The film serves as a compliment to the book and has extended the discussion about happiness among all people associated with the book. While many films, based on literary pieces, either copied the work exactly as it was written, as seen in the Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald or dilluted it to alter the meaning stated in the book, as happened in the book The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCollough, which was converted into a two-film series to the dismay of the author and the audience, the Bridges of Madison County was carefully crafted so that not only the story was kept the same but was extended in a way that it kept to the plot, even though the book featured an open plot (where many items were open, waiting to be closed) and a closed plot (where everything is closed and finished and it was just a matter of flashing back to the past). The setting was the same and takes a person back to the 1960s, where rural life was peaceful and moral, families were being established after being off to war (and this was mentioned in many scenes in the story), and rock music was in its infancy, taking over jazz music bit by bit. 57 Chevies ruled the Iowa landscape, even though No Passing Zone signs were not on the roadways just yet. And stories of the past were revealed so that all the characters can take them with, think about what they can do better in life, and share them with their children.

From an educator’s point of view, the Bridges of Madison County belongs to a certain canon dealing with post modern fiction in the period of social crossroads in the 1950s through the 1970s, where American culture suffers its own version of the Big Bang Theory, where tradition and modernism meet and coincide, romance and moral values have new meaning, and where new bridges were built between these two. It definitely will lead to discussion that will leave the classroom and out onto the street.  From a historian’s point of view, the Bridges of Madison County has left a mark in the county’s history, which will be seen by many people who visit the region, not just in the forms of the remaining covered bridges that exist, but also the places where the film was shot, and where Waller wrote his piece. The book is a must for those who either has an interest in literature, culture and history or one who has an interest in reading. And if you are learning a foreign language, this book should be one you should read for it is easy to understand and it leads to discussions that can be conducted in a language other than the original English.

Author’s note: I would love to hear from you about this book or any literature that deals with bridges and its plot that people should read, based on the question I asked in the article. Please leave your answers and thoughts either here or in the facebook pages The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles.





Mystery Bridge 19: The Holliwell Truss Bridge

Photo taken in December 2007
Holliwell Covered Bridge (as reference)
Built in 1880
























Author’s note: This is a follow-up on yesterday’s article about the Bridges of Madison County, Iowa. For more information, please click here.

There are many features that make visiting the Holliwell Bridge, located over the Middle River on the road bearing its name, worth visiting. One has the historic features, as mentioned in the article on the bridges of Madison County, being a covered bridge built in a unique fashion that one will rarely see by a local bridge builder who left a mark in the county. It is located in the wooded valley, making it a grand location for fishing and picnicking. And as a bonus, located to the east of the historic covered bridge is yet another historic structure.
Comprising of a pin-connected Pratt pony truss bridge, this structure was relocated to the site from an unknown location many years ago, and nobody knows where it originated from and how it got there. It is clear that when it was relocated to its present site, it was erected on a concrete floor and remained there as a marker with no name and no history. Judging by the way the bridge was assembled that it was built in the 1880s or 1890s, long before truss bridges were standardized to feature riveted connections.

Madison County had built hundreds of truss bridges in addition to the covered bridges that makes it the most populous and famous in the state of Iowa, still to this day. Half of the truss bridges that were constructed between the 1880s and the 1940s were pony truss bridges.

However, there may be a lead to this bridge that is in connection with the film “The Bridges of Madison County,” starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Street, based on the book by Robert J. Waller.  In the scene where Robert Kincaid (the photographer played by Eastwood) meets Francesca Johnson (the housewife played by Streep) for the first time, they both took a trip to the Roseman Bridge. On the way there, they crossed a pony truss bridge resembling the similarities of the one located at Holliwell Bridge.  While it may be a bit naive to assume this because many pony truss bridges like the one at the site have been decimated due to a lack of information on their history and significance to the communities they served, it is possible that the pony truss used in the film was saved from destruction and was relocated to the present site. A clip of the scene in the 11th minute will show you how Kincaid and Johnson crossed the bridge enroute to the bridge, and eventually into four days of life-altering romance that lasted a lifetime. Yet comparing that scene with the photo, it may be that the one in the clip is a bit shorter than the picture.

One can make many assumptions as to how the truss bridge at the Holliwell Covered Bridge site managed to be preserved in a way that it is giving Madison County a pristine reputation towards preserving historic bridges, or one can find out more about how the bridge’s history and replace the theories with facts and stories about it. If you know more about this bridge that will help solve this intriguing mystery, please leave your comments at the end of the article or contact the author at the Chronicles at flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com.  The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles helps solve mysteries of historic bridges like this one in order to preserve them for future generations to come.

The Hunt for the Truth about Historic Bridges 1: The Bridges of Madison County, Iowa

Roseman Bridge. This and the following photos were taken by the author and his wife Birgit while touring Madison County in December 2007

This is the first of many series to come in the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles as we focus on finding the truth behind the historic bridges that we know about but have some questions to answer and missing gaps to fill. Some of them are in connection with the book project the author is doing on Iowa’s historic truss bridges (please click here for more details), but others are in connection with inquiries made by other readers for their own purpose. If you have an inquiry about a historic bridge that you would like to see solved, please contact Jason Smith at the Chronicles at flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com and it will be posted.

This is the first of many to come.

When the words covered bridges and Iowa come to mind, the first place a person would mention is Madison County. Located southwest of the capital of Des Moines and its county seat being Winterset, Madison County is one of the most attractive places to go when visiting Iowa. It is the birthplace of western actor John Wayne. It also was the scene of the romantic film starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep based on the book written by Robert James Waller bearing the same name as the theme of this article, winning a rainbow’s worth of awards both as a film as well as the literary work. (Note: The book was written in 1992).

Yet the county also has a wide array of covered bridges, still after all these years. Counting the Roseman Bridge, six covered bridges, all built between 1870 and 1884, still populate the county, four of which were built by local contractor, Benton Jones. Another covered bridge, the McBridge covered bridge, built in 1871, was destroyed by arson in 1983 and was subsequentially replaced afterwards with a concrete slab bridge.  All of the bridges, including the McBride remains have been marked with signs and placed on tour guides that one can pick up at the tourist information office in Winterset. They include the following bridges:

Cutler-Donahoe Bridge at the park on the south end of Winterset
Built in 1871; relocated to its present site in 1970


Cedar Bridge
Built in 1883; destroyed by arson in 2002; rebuilt in 2004 and open to traffic
Hogback Bridge
Built in 1884; bypassed and rehabilitated in 1992
Holliwell Bridge
Built in 1880
Imes Bridge at local park in St. Charles
Built in 1870; located twice (1887 and to its final destination in 1970)

And lastly, the photo at the beginning of the article is the Roseman Bridge, built in 1883.

The Hunt for the Truth is: These were not the only bridges of its kind that were built in Madison County. While at a café in Winterset, a waitress provided my wife and me with a placemat with a map of all the historic bridges that had existed before they were replaced by steel truss bridges and later concrete bridges. The number is more than three times the number of bridges that exist in the county. Therefore, the questions for the forum are the following:

1. How many covered bridges were built in Madison County and

2. Where were these bridges located and what were the local names for each of them?

Anyone willing to share some information are asked to contact Jason Smith at the Chronicles. The information will be useful not only to solve the case, but also for the book on Iowa’s truss bridges, under the section of wooden truss and covered bridges. However, many people who have interest and background information on historic bridges, Iowa history and Madison County would also like to know how many covered bridges were built and how they were named. Furthermore, the author would like to know if there were other contractors that built covered bridges in Madison County or if Benton Jones was the lone contractor. Any help would be much appreciated.

To end the first hunting expedition, the author would like to share a note about the McBride Bridge. The bridge was destroyed by an arsonist who was upset about his wife leaving him. He and his wife met and carved their names at the bridge and the break-up was too much for him. He turned himself in, was convicted for arson and was sentenced to community service, consisting of working with other people in restoring historic bridges, a punishment that turned into a treat for him, as his love for historic bridges grew, and he worked well past the end of his sentencing in preserving historic bridges. What a way to convert him into a pontist and a selfless person. Any help on who this gentleman was would be much appreciated.


Mystery Bridge 18: The Bridges of Quedlinburg, Germany

Adelheidbruecke overview. Photo taken in December 2012

Located at the foot of the Harz Mountains on the north side in Saxony-Anhalt, Quedlinburg with a population of 24,000 inhabitants may be a typical small town, which like its counterparts, used to have industry during the Communist era before the Revolution of 1989 and German reunification in 1990, but is suffering from demographic changes. Yet it is one of the most famous tourist attractions in Germany for various reasons. It was founded in 922 and much of the architecture that exists today- the castle complex (founded by Henry Fowler and built by Otto the Great in 936), the Quedlinburg Abbey (founded by Fowler’s widow, Saint Mathilda), and streets upon streets of Fachwerk houses (houses built with a wooden truss skeleton- date back to the period between 922 and the 1600s. It survived almost entirely unscathed in World War II and this contributed a great deal to being nominated as part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.  During Christmas time, Quedlinburg hosts the Advent market, held every weekend. Winter sports festivals take place in February, and the town is one of the main tourist attractions in the summer time.

As Quedlinburg is situated along the Bode River, which starts in the Harz Mountain region and empties into the Elbe near Magdeburg, and has several tributaries snaking its way through the historic district, one would think that the town would take pride in their historic bridges, just like its northern German counterpart Friedrichstadt, right?

Think again.

Quedlinburg has over a dozen bridges spanning the Bode River, Word Creek and other tributaries flowing through the town. While many have been replaced over time because of neglect caused by the GDR Government not financing enough to restore them, there are quite a few bridges, whose historic value is high, yet there is no information in terms of its construction date, the builder and any stories that are associated with them. Unlike all the records kept in Quedlinburg, including the Annals started by the Frauenstift (founded by Saint Mathilda), the records on the bridges in town seem to be non-existent, or are they?

The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles needs your help. If you have any information in forms of old records, old photos and stories pertaining to any of the bridges in Quedlinburg, please contact Jason Smith at the Chronicles at: flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com. You can include them in the comment section. Information in the German language is also acceptable and the author will be happy to translate it into English.  Once all the information is gathered, a summary and tour of the bridges in this historic town will follow.

To give you a taste of what Quedlinburg has to offer, here is a small gallery of bridges with information to help you start off the search for information on the town’s bridges. As Germans would say, “Vielen Glueck mit dem Jagt.”


Close-up of the Adelheid Bridge. Almost all of the bridges are arches, but this one is unique because of its artwork on the spandrel. Can you identify what that is and where the picture came from? Adelheid Bridge is located over the Bode at the junction of Adelheid and Turnstrasse
Bahnhofsbruecke over the Bode at the train station. This used to be an arch bridge before it was replaced. The abutments and some stone railings were saved and incorporated into the new bridge.
Word Creek crossing at the entrance of the old town from Word Garden. This is near Carl-Ritter-Strasse.



Now accepting the TRUSS Awards for 2013

Meade Avenue Bridge in Meadville, Pennsylvania. Photo taken in August 2010

After taking a much needed holiday break to spend time with family and friends, the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles is back, ringing in a year that should hopefully be more prosperous than the previous one for many people.  To start off the year, a website of a fellow pontist and colleague, James Baughn of the Historic and Notable Bridges of the US is hosting its annual TRUSS Award (Top Ranked Unique Savable Structure), giving it to a historic bridge that has high value in terms of its features and history and has potential to be preserved if measures are carried out to save it from demolition or being left abandoned.

If you know of a historic bridge that deserves this award, please follow this link and nominate the bridge (and its location) before 18 January. An announcement of the winners will be made sometime in February.  The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles will include its top five TRUSS Award candidates, as usual. To give you an idea who won the award last year at about this time, here is an article with the links for you to look at and help inspire you to choose your favorite bridge:

2012 TRUSS Award Results and Top 5

2013 will be an interesting year for historic bridge preservation versus progress, although many claim that the latter will not be as many as last year. But as we saw this past year, anything is possible; it depends on how people treat their historic bridges. The Chronicles will be keeping you inform of the stories of historic bridges from the US, Europe and beyond, while continuing to provide people with interesting stories and interview involving historic bridge preservation and tourism. So sit back, relax and enjoy the articles, interviews and other items to come for 2013.