Mystery Bridge 21: Bahnhofsbruecke

Overview of the bridge, taken from the platform at Flensburg Railway Station. Photos taken in May 2010

While traveling through a small city, like Flensburg, Germany, it is very important to not only find the bridges that are well known by the majority of the population, but also those that are unknown by many, but have information on its history and significance to the area it serves that is to be discovered.  The Bahnhofsbruecke, located just north of Flensburg’s railway station is one of these structures that belong to the latter category.

Oblique view

The arch bridge that carries Schleswiger Strasse over the rail lines connecting the city with Denmark, Hamburg and Kiel, is one of the first structures you will see when getting off the train but before entering the underground corridor leading to the train station building.  It is unknown when the bridge was constructed, but judging by its physical appearance, combined with its wear and tear (with black marks underneath the arches and some erosion on the outside), it appeared that the bridge was constructed in the early 1920s, shortly after the construction of the train station building (that was built in 1919).  With the exception of the addition of railings and the street being widened to accommodate an increasing load of traffic, its historic integrity has remained unaltered.

Close-up of the inner part of the spandrel underneath the arch bridge.

Yet from an engineer’s point of view, the deck arch design on this bridge is deceiving. From the outside, the bridge has a closed-spandrel arch design, meaning the vertical columns supporting the arch and roadway are filled with either concrete or brick, making it the sturdiest of the deck arch designs. Yet after taking a closer look at the bridge, one can see that in all reality, it is an open-spandrel arch bridge, consisting of an arch bridge supported by just the vertical columns. The outer arch portion of the bridge is used as a facade to further support the road deck of the bridge. It is unknown whether it was added during rehabilitation of if it was originally part of the entire structure.

But independent of the engineering design, the Bahnhofsbruecke, the third longest bridge in Flensburg behind the Peelewat Viaduct (located southeast of the train station) and the viaduct along the Ostangente, lacks information on its history- namely, when it was actually built, who built it and whether any modifications were made on it in order for the bridge to be functional for traffic. And this is where your help is needed.

Any information on this bridge? You can comment on it at the end of the article, post it on the facebook page under the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles or contact the author directly at  Once the information is collected, the bridge will be profiled as the Chronicles will tour the bridges of the rum capital of the world, the city by the bay known as Flensburg.

You can also view the film with the author’s commentary, which can be found here.

Mystery Bridge 20: The bridge that used to house a bike shop

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Photos taken in May 2010

Flensburg, Germany. Located at the German-Danish border, the city of 90,000 inhabitants is home to two universities, a top-class handball team (SG Flensburg-Handewitt) and 800 years of history involving shipping and trade. It is deep in the heart of the Angel region, whose inhabitants invaded England in the 4th Century and became the first group to introduce the English language. There’s the local breweries of Hansen’s and the Flensburger, the latter of which have produced over a dozen types of beer that can still be tasted today.  And lastly, it is the birthplace of the rum industry, where over a dozen rum distilleries and another dozen sugar processing plants dominated the region up until the 1950s. The distilleries of Pott and Johanssen still exist today with over 300 years of tradition.

Then there are the bridges. Over a dozen bridges serve the city and a radius of 10 kilometers, much of them feature girder types like this one, the mystery bridge which can be found at the junction of Angelburger Strasse and the Suederhofenden at the southern tip of Flensburg’s city center.  It is unknown when it was built, except to say that because pony girder bridges were commonly used for railroad bridges during the first three decades of the 20th century, that it is assumed it was constructed in the 1920s. It used to serve a rail line connecting Flensburg’s railway station (located to the south of the city center) and the docking area (located in the vicinity of the Schiffsfahrtmuseum, Hansen’s brewery and a collection of clipper ships). This line has been abandoned for some years and with that, the bridge, one of at least six serving the spur, is still in tact.

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V-laced truss bracing that supports the bridge’s decking

Now why choose a girder bridge like this one, apart from its unusual truss railings resembling a Howe truss style and the bottom truss bracing resembling V-lacing which can be seen while walking under the structure? Have a look at the following photos taken while visiting Flensburg in 2010 and take a wild guess, asking why the northern abutment is what it is in the picture:

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FL Up1FL Up4After looking at the northern abutment, one is probably asking whether it is possible to house a business or residence in the abutment. While it may be inconceivable in the United States, it is common in Germany and other places in Europe. In places like Berlin, Halle (Saale) and Frankfurt (Main), one can see many businesses embedded in the brick or concrete abutment and wall with trains passing over them without incident. The reason is simple: the population density which makes this move a necessity and the proximity to railway stations and other important points where people can board the trains provide it with an opportunity to catch any passers-by. Judging by the appearance on the abutment at the railroad underpass in Flensburg- with the words “Fahrräder” above the entrance and window, which was walled in, and the bike wheel facing the street passing under the bridge- it appears that the northern abutment of the railroad used to have a bike business. The question is, when was the area abandoned and why. Furthermore, were the original inhabitants the Petersens, whose bike business is now located up the hill at Hafermarkt 19, approximately 300 meters east of the bridge? And lastly, why was the northern abutment of the bridge holed in to create a business in the first place? Who was the mastermind behind this scheme?

Before touring Flensburg’s bridges, the Chronicles is gathering information on the bridge’s history. If you have any information on this bridge that will be useful, please contact Jason D. Smith at the Chronicles at You can also add your comments and facts about the bridge under Comments at the end of this article or on the Bridgehunter’s Chronicle’s facebook page.  The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles is an online column that focuses on historic bridges, with a specialty in solving mysteries of such historic bridges like this one in the US, Europe and elsewhere.

While in Flensburg, there is another bridge whose information is lacking and will be shown in the next Mystery Bridge article. Stay tuned and enjoy the rum and the discussion on this bridge.

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Sabula-Savanna Bridge to be given away- any takers?

Side view of the Sabula-Savanna Bridge crossing the Mississippi River. Photo taken by Quinn Phelan in 2010.

Here is a question for many who are involved in marketing historic bridges: 1. What types of bridges have you marketed and sold, 2. How big were they, 3. Were they sold in chunks or in its entirety, 4. did you have to finance the relocation or did the parties do it themselves and 5. (most importantly), were there any takers?

From the point of view of the pontist and historian, the realistic answers for these questions are mainly truss bridges (mostly single span pony trusses) whose length did not exceed an average of 150 feet, although most multiple spans were sold in chunks, parties had to pay for the relocation and rehabilitation costs unless state and federal grants were available and finally, only 10% of the people were interested and actually took the bridge, even though another 40% were interested but did not have the financial resources to cover them. While some states, like Indiana, Texas, Iowa and Vermont have had more success than others, these statistics are alarming and also sobering, as mentioned by Eric Delony in a publication on the disappearance of historic bridges, published in 2003.

Which brings us to this case study involving the Sabula-Savanna Bridge. Spanning the Mississippi River and connecting the former in Jackson County, Iowa with the latter in Caroll County on the Illinois side, this half a mile long bridge was built in 1932 by the Minneapolis Bridge Company and features a Pratt through truss approach span and a cantilever through truss main span, all blue in color. The SaSa Bridge is unique because it represents one of the rarest examples of historic bridges built by the Minneapolis Bridge Company, one of a half dozen bridge building companies located in the largest city in Minnesota. While the Minneapolis bridge building empire dominated much of Minnesota and all areas to the west during the time span of 1880 and 1940, its influence was not as big in Iowa and Illinois thanks to their own set of bridge builders that existed during that time, like the Federal Bridge, Iowa Bridge, and Wickes Construction (all of Des Moines), the Clinton Bridge and Iron Company, the largest of the bridge builders in Iowa, and Illinois Steel, which built numerous bridges in Illinois and parts of Iowa.  Even more unique is the cantilever truss span, which features a K-truss design. K-trusses are different from other trusses, where two diagonal beams, which start at the same vertical beam on one side of the panel meet in the midle of the next vertical beam, creating a K-shaped truss. These trusses were developed in the late 1920s and became popular around the world, as K-truss bridges were built for railroad crossings in Europe. Here in the US, one can find a large quantity of K-trusses in Oklahoma and Pennsylvania but here in Iowa, only one bridge of this kind exists, which is this bridge.

The situation with the bridge is as follows: The Illinois Department of Transportation wants to replace this bridge with a modern one to accomodate more traffic passing through the region. Construction on the new bridge is set to begin in 2015 and upon completion in 2-3 years’ time, the old structure will be removed. However, the IDOT has decided to give the bridge away- for free! All 2,500 feet of the structure is yours if interested, except for one catch: you need to relocate the bridge and maintain its historic integrity in the process, while the DOT will pay for the costs to equal that of the demolition costs. Plus you are responsible for maintaining the bridge and the liability that goes along with that. Plus the bridge would have to be gone within 30 days of the opening of the bridge.  Still interested?

The offer has created an outcry among historians and pontists alike, which ranges from being “unrealistic” to “laughable.” One even mentioned that the costs of maintaining the bridge “forever” is ironic for IDOT has had a bad record of maintaining and preserving historic bridges in their state not counting the greater Chicago area. As mentioned in an earlier posting, the same agency is pursuing the demolition of relict bridges along US Hwy. 50 in order to expand the highway to four lanes. The opinion on the IDOT side has been indifferent as well as one person mentioned that no takers would be expected.

No takers means preparing the bridge’s obituary early then, is it not?

There are some questions though that will result in having the offer being revised at the convenience of other agencies working either at the same level or above the IDOT. Firstly, the SaSa Bridge is also owned by the State of Iowa, which has had an excellent record of preserving the remaining existing historic bridges in the state- mostly in an area east of the Des Moines River, with reports of many truss and arch bridges being relocated to parks and picnic areas for reuse and some being reused as part of the bike trail. Yet according to their website, there seems to be little or no cooperation with its next door neighbor, opening the door to ownership disputes.

Secondly, while environmental impact surveys are being carried out, there is no mentioning of Section 106 of the Historic Preservation Law, which focuses on alternatives to demolition and the documentation of the bridge prior to the project beginning. As the SaSa Bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the states are required to conduct the survey before construction starts.

And finally, as it is impractical to relocate a bridge of that size and mass, records have indicated that bridges like this were given to county authorities for use in their system as soon as the new highway bridge is in use. Many examples of such arrangements exist, among them, the St. Francisville Bridge over the Des Moines River at the Iowa-Misouri border. The cantilever Warren through truss bridge, built in 1927, was made obsolete by a freeway bridge, made to carry the Avenue of the Saints linking Mason City and St. Louis, and was subsequentially taken over by the counties of Lee (Iowa) and Clark (Missouri), which has maintained it as a street bridge ever since.

Keeping these arguments in mind, one has to ask himself whether this arrangement of giving the bridge away like IDOT is doing is both legal and practical or if there will be legal action to force the agency to revise its proposal to allow other parties to take over the bridge in its place, to use either for local traffic or part of the bike trail. Given the landscape of the Mississippi River valley and the counties affected by the bridge project, leaving the bridge in place and maintaining it “forever,” as IDOT stated in its offer just makes sense for everyone involved. The fortunate part is construction will not start for another two years, which means more meetings and other proposals will be brought forward before the project is finalized and the excavators can start digging for a new abutment for SaSa’s replacement. Story to be continued…..

More information and photos of the bridge can be found here, as well as in the words marked and underlined in the text.


Big Four Bridge in Louisville, KY- open to pedestrians after being idle for 45 years

Approaching the bridge via loop ramp with a railroad sign indicating that people are now entering the famous landmark of the Big Four Railroad. All photos courtesy of Jonathan Parrish

In spite of the gloom and doom that we have seen with historic bridges lately, there is a glimmer of hope for some that did receive a new life. For the Big Four Bridge, spanning the Ohio River in Louisville, Kentucky, the bridge received a new lease in life after being abandoned for almost 45 years. Consisting of the cities of Chicago, Cleveland, Cincinnati and St. Louis, the Big Four Railroad owned the railroad bridge, consisting of six spans of steel through truss bridges, which the company abandoned in favor of progress. Jonathan Parrish, a fellow pontist who lives near Louisville, had the opportunity to visit the bridge when it was reopened to pedestrian traffic on 7th February of this year, and as guest columnist, is providing you with some background information on one of the relicts of Big Four’s past as well as some impressions of the bridge during its grand opening.

February 7th, 2013  Louisville, KY:

The bridge was built in 1893 for the Big Four, B&O, and C&O railroad as the main crossing over the Ohio River. In 1927, the Big Four bought out the interest owned by the C&O Railroad. Two years later, the Big four decided to move from a bridge with pin connections to one that is riveted and therefore, the current bridge was built around the old bridge so that railroad traffic could continue to use the bridge. One year later, the New York Central Railroad took over the Big Four and the bridge carried traffic for almost 40 more years, before it was finally closed to traffic.

After 1969 the approaches were scrapped and the main trusses were allowed to sit, the bridge became known as the bridge to nowhere due to the inability to access the bridge. But that of course has changed as close to 1,000 people were lined up that morning to at the bottom of the ramp for the soft opening of the Big Four Bridge. The grand opening will be this spring once the Jeffersonville approach is finished. After some speeches were finished by the mayors of both towns and the Lieutenant Governor of Kentucky, the noses of a railroad crossing started across the PA system. You could hear a steam engine and the bells from the crossing, and the opening was official when the railroad crossing gates were lifted. I could personally see no better way to open the bridge.

Closed since 1969 when the Penn Central Railroad decided to route traffic away from the structure,  the bridge gained a new life when it reopened at 11am on February 7th as the center piece of waterfront park. This project has been years in the making and has been looked upon with great anticipation.

The youngest to the oldest made their way up to the bridge and started the little under 1 mile hike across to last truss. You could hear the grandparents their grandkids talking about the bridge when it was opened and all alike were amazed by the structure. As someone who has been following the opening of this bridge since 2007, I was not only relieved by its opening, but I was a like a child who had just walked in to a toy store. Later that evening I revisited the bridge figuring the hype would have died down, only to find the bridge was as busy as when I left 3 hours earlier. I have to congratulate the state of Kentucky and Indiana for getting together on this project and completing it. Along with the people who run waterfront park. The bridge is beautiful and looks to stand and carry people for the foreseeable future. If you happen to be in Louisville be sure to come check out the bridge it is worth every moment. The views are outstanding and the bridge will just blow your mind.


Author’s note: According to Parrish, the Indiana side of the bridge is scheduled to have a new approach ramp added in the near future and when completed, it will serve as a major thoroughfare for pedestrians and cyclists, connecting Louisville with the neighboring communities on the opposite end of the Ohio River. More information will come as soon as construction on the approach ramp is completed. In the meantime, the bridge serves as a semi-ramp, crossing the Ohio River but ending in mid-air on the Indiana side.

 The author would like to thank the guest columnist for the article and the photos included which can be seen below:

Oblique view


Kentucky entrance
Side view of one of the Parker spans with an approach ramp seen in the foreground
Hundreds of people gathered on the bridge at the time of its grand opening, which lasted through the evening hours


Note: More photos of the bridge can be found in the Bridgehunter website, which can be seen here.