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.