2013 SIA Conference in Minneapolis/St. Paul

Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis. All photos courtesy of Amy Squitieri


Author’s note: There are a lot of unique features that make the Twin Cities in Minnesota worth visiting. One of those has to do with the bridges. Regardless of type, hundreds of them can be seen while travelling through the area by car, boat or even by walking, dating as far back as 1884 with the Stone Arch Bridge, the Merriam Street Bridge built at the Broadway Avenue crossing site in 1887 before saving and relocating one of the spans to its present, or even the arch bridges that have been spanning the Mississippi River for over 80 years.  This year’s Society for Industrial Archeology Conference took place in Minneapolis and St. Paul. And as the author could not make it because of time commitments, another colleague and fellow pontist Amy Squitieri, who works at Mead & Hunt located in Minneapolis, Madison (WI) and Austin (TX), was there and was happy to provide you as the reader with the highlights of the three-day event that took place May 30- June 2. Here are the highlights and photos, all of which speak for themselves. Enjoy!

From Amy Squitieri:

Bridge enthusiasts came in force to the SIA Annual Conference in St. Paul.  Friday’s sold-out bridge tour, Mighty Mississippi: A Twin Cities Riverboat Cruise with the Expert, was organized by Bob Frame of Mead & Hunt, which co-sponsored the tour in partnership with the Historic Bridge Foundation. Tour guides included historians with expertise in bridges and the Mississippi River, bridge engineers, and the Dispatcher with Upper River Services, a barge operating service.

Our first stop during the brief land-based portion of the tour was the Seventh Street Improvement Arches (1884) in St. Paul, one of the few helicoidal stone arches in the United States. As participants gathered to take pictures (see photo), State Bridge Engineer Nancy Daubenberger welcomed us to the bridge tour and to this ASCE National Historic Engineering Landmark, one of only three in Minnesota.

Arriving at St. Anthony Falls, we left the bus and walked across the deck of the 1883 Stone Arch Railroad Bridge, the second ASCE National Historic Engineering Landmark and now a major trail crossing (photo of participants gathered mid-span for an introduction to the Mighty Mississippi). The 2,100-foot, 23-arch bridge includes a six-degree curve (photo as seen from the deck of our Mississippi riverboat, the Magnolia Blossom).

The riverboat tour began at the top of the lock chamber and proceeded down river on a cruise for the remainder of the day, ending in downtown St. Paul. We observed historic bridges of the Twin Cities from the riverboat deck, cruising from the waterpower center of the Historic Minneapolis Mill District at the Falls of St. Anthony to the traditional head of navigation at St. Paul. A full tour description is here (http://www.siahq.org/conference/twincities/fridaytour1.html)

Highlights of the tour included the Cappelen Memorial (Franklin Ave.) features a 400-ft. main span—setting the world record for a concrete-arch span when the bridge was completed in 1923 (see photo).  This bridge is among an important group of large reinforced-concrete arch bridges that were built in the Twin Cities, particularly over the Mississippi, in the 1920s.

As we passed by the Omaha Railroad Swing Bridge (1915), the operator opened it for us (see photos of bridge opening). One participant noted that “operation of the swing bridge was a WAY COOL high point.”  Near the end in St. Paul, we saw the beautiful rainbow arch Robert Street Bridge (1924-25).

The program for Saturday featured the 23rd Historic Bridge Symposium with 13 speakers from as close as the Twin Cities and as far as Vermont and Texas. Represented were cultural resource professionals at State DOTs, consultants, reps of Army National Guard and National Park Service, advocates and enthusiasts. The audience ranged from about 25 to max of 50 during the day-long symposium.

The Historic Bridge Foundation sponsored the symposium and director Kitty Henderson served as moderator. Speakers and topics, with quick highlights, were as follows:
Session 3A
Michael Krakower, “Restoration of the Oaklawn Concrete Bridge” – Early reinforced arch and only bridge by renowned architects Greene & Greene
Deborah Baldwin Van Steen, “History vs. Technology: Emergency Repairs to the Route 33 Bridge, Hightstown, New Jersey” – Bridge washed out in flood and was restored with modified railings to meet current safety guidelines
Christopher H. Marston, “Salvation, Documentation, and Reconstruction of the Moose Brook Bridge Howe Truss” – A wood bridge burned and was carefully rebuilt with lessons about timber strength and craftsmanship
Session 3B
Scott Newman, “Historic Bridge Projects: A Preservation Reality Check” – Shared several recent VT rehab projects including the famous Checkered House Bridge, a widened truss.
Katherine Haun, “Bridge Engineering from the Bottom Up: Substructure Matters on the Red River of the North” – A fascinating look at how the abutments and bearings were designed to accommodate sinking soils
Raina Regan, “The Bailey Bridge: Misconceptions in Identification, Significance, and Preservation” – Her detailed research has shown that extant US “Bailey Bridges” post-date World War II
Session 3C
Rebecca Burrow, “How to Date a Bridge: Case Studies on Steel Truss Design”
Nathan Holth, “Creative Bridge Building in Early 20th Century Chicago”
Mark M. Brown, “Bridges of the Recent Past: Three Texas Case Studies” – Entertaining!
Session 3D
Gary W. Houston, “Two Lessons for Historic Urban Bridge Protection Offered by San Antonio’s Hays Street Bridge” – Lesson 1: Public art shouldn’t be forced onto a historic bridge; Lesson 2: Public bridges are for public users, not private concessionaires
Amy Squitieri and Kristen Zschomler, “Minnesota’s Bridges: Lessons Learned and Current Best Practices” – We shared recent rehab projects with a focus on common challenges of railings, rivets, stone/concrete repair techniques, adequate width and capacity
Justin M. Spivey, “Crowd-Sourcing Historic Bridge Research” – You can find out a lot on the web, some good and other info is more suspect

Session abstracts and speaker bios are available here;

Click to access SIA2013PaperPresentations.pdf

On a personal note, it was a great pleasure to see my colleague at Mead & Hunt, Bob Frame, receive SIA’s most prestigious honor, the General Tools Award, for his lifetime contributions to industrial archeology. As one of the leading historic bridge experts in the country, Bob conducts research, completes evaluations and documentation, and leads historic bridge assessments.  He has contributed to eight statewide historic bridge surveys. Details about Bob’s accomplishment are included in a blog post (http://www.meadhunt.com/insights/historic-preservation/frame/)

Bridge fans should make plans to attend next year’s SIA conference in Portland, Maine, and the 24th Historic Bridge Symposium. The conference is tentatively scheduled for mid- or late-May. Updates will be provided on the SIA website http://www.siahq.org/conference/SIAconf.html


Author’s Note: Some of the bridges mentioned here will be profiled separately in the future as there are some interesting stories that went along with them and how they were preserved. The Chronicles will do an interview with Bob Frame as well, for he devoted over 40 years to historic bridge preservation, including publishing inventories on historic bridges in Minnesota, the oldest version of which I still have in my possession and have been using to track down the history of the bridges in Minnesota.

Another colleague, Kaitlin O’shea of Preservation in Pink, was also there and provided highlights of the Conference from a preservationists point of view. You can see the article with pictures here.

Special thanks to Amy Squitieri for her help in providing us with information and photos of the event, the latter of which can be seen below:



Robert Street Bridge in St. Paul

Side view of the Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis

Cappelen Memorial Bridge in Minneapolis

Seventh Street Arch Improvements in St. Paul

Railroad Swing Bridge in a closed position….
….and in an open position

Walking across the Stone Arch Bridge