Newsflyer: 9 December, 2013

Clark’s Mill Bridge in Mercer County, Pennsylvania. Photo taken in August 2010

Historic Bridges coming down in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, Green Bridge meeting on December 16th, Bridgehunter and Flensburg Calendars for sale

Jack Kerouac, one of the well-known “road-hog” American writers of the post World War II era, crossed this bridge many times as a child and used it in his novel Dr. Sax. Now he’s wishing he was out of his grave to curse the people of his hometown Lowell, Massachusetts for destroying the bridge that used to be part of his childhood. The University Avenue Bridge, spanning the Merrimack River, a Pratt deck truss bridge that was built in 1895, was slated for demolition once the Schell Memorial Bridge was built. While a preservation group stood up to the government to hinder this progress, it recently stepped aside, thus giving the green light for demolition to commence in 2014. However, this bridge is not the only one on the chopping block, as the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles is presenting its Newsflyer to focus on the bridges that were once a struggle to preserve it, but became bait for the bulldozers as the groups backed off. Yet this is not all, for some glimmer of hope for one Iowa bridge can be seen through the darkness and if you want a great Christmas gift for your loved ones, …

Well, here we go, without ado:

Schell Bridge Coming Down: Touted as the longest single-span truss bridge in Massachusetts and one of the longest Pennsylvania truss bridges in the country, this 1903 Connecticut River crossing was built by Edward Shaw and had been abandoned for over two decades. A preservation group tried to stop plans to demolish the bridge, yet they recently agreed to tear down and rebuild the bridge, using the metal from the old span and keeping the design. Reason: deterioration of the bridge decking although the steel superstructure was in normal shape. Apart from Kerouac’s Bridge in Lowell and Fitch’s Bridge in Middlesex County, this bridge is the third one this year where a preservation group once fought for preservation but retracted because of government pressure. The Schell Bridge is located in Franklin County, northwest of Northfield. More info can be found here.

Mercer County to wipe out eight historic bridges: Once touted as one of the most populous counties in western Pennsylvania, this county is on the road to becoming the county to have one of the least number historic bridges, especially after 2016. Some of the bridges that are on the chopping block include the following:

Clark’s Mill Bridge– Located over the Little Shenango River, this 1885 Penn Bridge Company bridge is one of the shortest Pratt through truss bridges in the county, with a span of only 82 feet. Unfortunately it is one of the most corroded bridges in the county, which explains the reason why the county wants to replace it beginning in 2014. Whether it is on a new alignment or at its original location remains unclear. The one thing that is clear is that the bridge’s days are numbered.

Sharpsville Bridge– Located over the Shenango River in northeast of Sharpsville, this bridge features two crossings with an 1897 Penn Bridge Company Parker through truss serving oneway traffic and a stringer replacement of 1946 serving another lane. Both have been closed since 2010 and are slated for replacement.

Carlton Bridge– Spanning French Creek at New Lebanon Road, this two-span iron through truss bridge features unique portal bracings and finials that are typical of the Columbia Bridge and Iron Works Company, which built this structure in 1892. While one of the locals upon my visit in 2010 claimed that the bridge would remain in its place, his assumptions are about to be wrong. Closed since 2011, the county plans to tear down and replace this bridge beginning next year, although the bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A travesty? Yes, but typical of PennDOT and its behavior towards historic bridges.

Cochranton Bridge– Spanning French Creek outside Cochranton and carrying Hwy. 173, this two-span Parker through truss bridge with riveted connections was built in 1930 and has been carrying traffic with little incident ever since. Yet, PennDOT is not satisfied with the bridge’s restricted height clearance and width limits and therefore is planning its replacement span, which will take its place in 2015. This will cause headaches for a detour will be many miles long, adding more money wasted in gas and taxes to the proposed $7 million project.

Green Bridge in Des Moines the subject of important meeting:  Already the campaign to save the three-span Pratt through truss bridge spanning the Raccoon River has reached new levels with over 860 signatures and over 1050 likes on its facebook page, with more needed. 5000 bikers have been informed and have thrown their support behind the 1898 structure, together with some big-time businesses in Des Moines. One of the climatic events will be the meeting on December 16th at Des Moines City Hall. There, the City Park Board will present their proposals on the bridge to the City Council, yet the meeting will be open to the public. If you are interested in voicing your opinion about the bridge, you are strongly encouraged to attend the meeting. Like to follow the developments involving the bridge, and do not forget to sign the petition if you have not done so yet. A link to the petition can be found here.

Calendars and other Items for Sale: Looking for a gift for your friends and/or loved ones? For the second year in a row, the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles and its sister column The Flensburg Files is selling calendars and other items. This includes the 2014 calendars featuring the historic bridges of Iowa and Germany. If you are interested in purchasing one, please click here to order. More information can also be found in the Bridgehunter Chronicles Shop page. Both are powered by Cafe Press.

Mystery Bridge 35: Deck Pennsylvania Petit truss bridge in Wisconsin

Pennsylvania petit truss bridges- one of the most used truss bridge types for long crossings of 130 feet and longer. As I wrote a few months earlier, Pennsylvania trusses were used as often as Pratt, Parker and Warren trusses for bridge construction between 1875, the year it was patented, and 1940, when steel was diverted away from bridge building for the war effort, although only a handful of examples exist in each state of the US, and have been documented by the state historic preservation offices. Iowa was one of those examples (click here for more details).  Yet Pennsylvania truss bridges were used exclusively for through truss spans, like the Old Rusty Bridge north of Spencer,Iowa, as shown in the picture above, right?


Fellow pontist Luke Harden presented a unique find that featured a Pennsylvania truss bridge that was not a through truss, but a deck truss. Located in Lake Delton in Sauk County, Wisconsin, the bridge clearly shows the characteristics of a Pennsylvania truss bridge but built in a reciprocal fashion with the truss supporting the deck.  A picture of the bridge can be seen via link here. Spanning Dell Creek shortly before it empties into Mirror Lake, the bridge was reportedly built in 1908 and was between 170 and 200 feet long. It was built next to Timme Mill and Dam. The dam was constructed in 1857 and the mill existed from 1849 until it was burned down in 1957. It was the same fire that caused extensive damage to the bridge itself, and despite repairs made on the structure, its days were numbered. The bridge was demolished in the 1980s although data presents conflicting facts- one claimed it was 1981, the other 1986. In either case, the bridge was dropped into Dell Creek, surviving the impact unscratched! It was later cut up and sold for scrap metal.

The bridge was an impressive one that never deserved to be sentenced to the scrap heap, yet Wisconsin’s record in preserving places of historic places- in particular historic bridges- has always been questionable, for over 80% of the bridges built up to 1960 have disappeared since 1980. Had the preservation policies worked like in neighboring Illinois, Indiana and Iowa, chances would have been most likely that the bridge would still be standing today. Yet its demise leads to some questions that need to be clarified. Apart from determining when exactly the bridge was dropped into Dell Creek, it is important to know the exact length and width of this truss bridge and who was behind the construction of the bridge- let alone why it was built that way. My hunches are that either Horace Horton, who constructed many unusual truss bridges during his days as bridge builder may have been behind it. Yet we also have the Clinton Bridge and Iron Works, which built many Pennsylvania truss bridges in Iowa and may have built this one, because of its proximity to Wisconsin (on the Mississippi River). But the Wisconsin and Minnesota bridge builders were also influential in building bridges during that time, so they must be included.

In either case, information on how the bridge was built, etc. should be posted here or under facebook or LinkedIn. As it is posted on under the name Upside-Down Bridge in Sauk County, you can add your comments there as well. In either case, enquiring minds wants to know with regards to the history of this bridge. And the Chronicles is there to ensure that the mystery of bridges like this one is solved. So happy hunting and here with the info! 🙂