Mystery Bridge Nr. 38: The Aqueducts of Rome

Aqua Alexandrina in Rome. Source:

If one ties this article in with the Mystery Bridge article about the aqueduct in Ravenna, Italy, then one should consider this part II in the search for information and answers to the role of Theoderich the Great in restoring the architecture and infrastructure during his regime. As mentioned briefly in the article about the Ravenna Aqueduct, the Ostrogoth leader defeated and later murdered Odoacre in 493 to become the second king of Italy. His predecessor had established the Italian kingdom after dethroning the last emperor of the Western Roman Empire, Romulus Augustus, son of Orestes, in 476 and held power until his death, but not before having a tumultuous last four years through war with the Ostrogoth. Theoderich ruled until his death in 526, and left a legacy that is disputable in the books. Architecturally, he spearheaded the construction of basilicas and other monuments- mostly in Ravenna, but also in other cities, like Rome and Verona.

Yet, as we saw in the article about Ravenna, he also led efforts to restoring the infrastructure- in particular, aqueducts. The question is: apart from the Ravenna aqueduct, what other aqueducts did he build?

Let’s look at the ones in Rome, for instance. Situated on the Tiber River, the present-day Italian capital once had a central network of aqueducts, which channeled water into and around the walled city from the Mediterranean Sea. 11 of them totaling over 320 kilometers were constructed between 312 BC with the Aqua Appia and 226 AD  with the Aqua Alexandrina (as shown in the picture above). Restoration of the viaducts started in the third century AD to improve the flow of water into Rome, but was interrupted with the invasion of the Germanic Tribes beginning in the 4th Century, at the time of the partition of the Roman Empire into East and West in 395. As they did throughout the region, the invaders destroyed the aqueducts and other forms of infrastructure until the Western Empire ceased to exist in 476.

Restoration did not start again until Theoderich the Great took power. Like in the times before 476, the infrastructure was the responsibility of the local governments and private residents, for the Italian kingdom was in a transition phase and did not have enough money available to reestablish itself and its institutions. Theoderich was very conservative in his plans to rebuild the infrastructure and chose the most important areas first for development: namely, Ravenna and Rome, but also in Verona and other smaller cities. While Ravenna was very important for him, and it was important to supply clean water to a city surrounded by marshland, his focus was also on restoring the aqueducts in Rome. While he had provided support to the local government to rebuild the aqueducts, he hastened the process in ca. 509 due to political corruption and other delays.

Many sources, written between 1980 and 1995 have not mentioned much about which aqueducts were restored during Theoderich’s era, and some even credited Belisarius for restoring key aqueducts after he captured Rome in 538, 12 years after Theoderich’s death. This was part of the plan of East Roman emperor Justinian to drive the Ostrogoths away from Italy and recapture parts of the lost land of the Roman Empire. Yet more information has come to light as to how the Ostrogoth restored the aqueducts during his 33-year reign over Italy, and therefore, as part of the project on the restoration of the infrastructure in Italy during Theoderich’s regime, the question is:

Which aqueducts in Rome were restored during Theoderich’s regime and who engineered these restoration efforts?

What other forms of infrastructure (not just aqueducts but also roads, bridges and canals) did Theoderich oversee in restoring for reuse for the population living in Italy?

Place your comments here or send the info via e-mail to the Chronicles at Other contact info can be found in the article on Ravenna’s aqueduct, where some information  is being sough about this one as well. You can click here to view the article. Any articles and leads on the infrastructure in Rome and Italy during Theoderich’s regime will be most helpful in completing this project.



The Oldest Bridge Book

Question for the Forum:

Here is an interesting question for you readers to start off with:

What was the oldest known bridge book you have ever read? When was it written and what was the title?

Do you know about a bridge book that is the oldest ever written?

There is an explanation that warrants this question for discussion:

I’ve been quite busy with my latest bridge project I’m doing for a history professor at the University in Jena, Germany on Roman Aqueducts, focusing on the reconstruction of the ones in Italy after Theoderich the Great took power in 493 AD. Going through the sources to find enough information can be a chore, as a there are a few books about this topic, not to mention some of the inscriptions in Latin that had to be deciphered into English to determine when the aqueducts were built, let alone rebuilt upon orders of the Goth. As I was going through the work, I happened to find a book on Roman Aqueducts, located right in the library at the University!

The author of the book is Esther van Deman and the title: “The Building of Roman Aqueducts” It featured nine examples of aqueducts that were built between 20 BC and 250 AD, with four of them being rebuilt after 476 AD, when the Western Roman Empire ceased to exist with Odoacre taking power in Italy. It also featured the art of constructing them, using various materials ordered by the emperors, beginning with Augustus, and designing them using the stone or brick arches that were engineered by the Roman builders with the goal of bringing water to the region. After all, the Romans needed water for all sorts of purposes, including the public baths in many cities, irrigation, plumbing, and even drinking.

But when was this book published?  1984?  1977?   1966?


The Carnegie Institute of Washington, DC published this work, which contained information and photos eighty years ago! This meant that with the exception of bridge examples presented by the bridge companies, like King, Wrought Iron Bridge, Clinton, or even the ones in Canton, Ohio or Pittsburgh, bridge books were being produced at least eighty years ago, with photos and all. But was this book the oldest ever published?

Doubtful!   My assumption was the book on the Great American Bridges by Donald Jackson was the oldest one ever written about (historic) bridges, being published in 1984- fifty years later. Yet I also discovered a couple more books written a year later about bridges in Pennsylvania and Australia. Yet if my assumptions are wrong by sixty years, then this means that there were many books- ancient ones- that had existed before that.

So let’s start with the forum by answering the questions I brought forward at the beginning: the oldest book you have written and the oldest known book that exists about bridges. Place your comments here or through the social network pages bearing the Chronicles’ name, with hopes that other stories will come to light.

As I’m on the same page regarding Roman Aqueducts……


Question for the Forum: Parker or Not?

Side view of the bridge. Photos courtesy of Nathan Holth.

In connection with the series on the dire state of Massachusetts’ historic bridges and plans to demolish and replace them, here is a unique bridge that is worth mentioning. Located over the Powwow River in Amesbury, the Main Street Bridge is known as one of the smallest swing bridges that still exists in the country, albeit no longer functional. Built in 1891 by the Boston Bridge Works, the green-colored bridge is 110 feet long with a vertical clearance of between 10 and 11 feet. The roadway width is 23 feet. The bridge was rehabilitated in 1998 by replacing the original flooring with steel stringers with a concrete decking, thus rendering the truss structure as non-functional but more of a decoration. Yet, the bridge is considered historical to state standards and is still being used today by residents.

Transversal view


The unique part of the bridge is the truss design, for despite its riveted connections, the truss has a polygonal top chord with the center (swing) panel having an A-frame in the middle. Even weirder is the fact that the outer panels have the characteristics of a Parker design, whereas everything else seems to be a hybrid of a Warren and Thacher design. This creates a problem as to determine what truss type this bridge really is. Was there a Parker variant of the Thacher truss that was patented after 1884 (the year the actual Thacher truss was introduced), or was there a totally different truss type that was experimented by a bridge engineer wanting to leave a mark in his legacy? It is unclear how to determine the bridge type with this bridge, for it is not necessarily an outright Parker, nor a Thacher, nor a Warren. What do you think this bridge is?

More about this bridge via, where more pictures and information on its history can be found here.

Four Massachusetts Historic Bridges Coming Down in 2014

Tunnel view of the Schell Bridge. All photos courtesy of Nathan Holth

University Avenue Bridge in Lowell already gone. Schell Memorial in Northfield, Salem Street Overpass and South Canal Bridges in Lawrence to follow.

Massachusetts- not officially the first state in the union, but the first to make history. The Pilgrims landed in Plymouth in 1620 and together with the Wampanoag Indians, celebrated their first Thanksgiving a year later. The first shots of the Revolutionary War went off at Concord, sparking an eight-year struggle that ultimately resulted in the Colonist’s winning the war for independence and the British being expelled. The state became one of the first 13 states to create the United States thanks to the ratification of the Constitution, four years later.

Massachusetts was also one of the key laboratories for experimenting with truss bridges, as various structures were built, resembling a stark contrast to the bridge types we still see today in the US and Europe. One of the first Parker truss bridges was built in 1871 at Fitchburg, despite not being patented until 1882. An unusual truss bridge built using a combination Parker and Thacher designs can be found over the Powwow River at Amesbury. Lenticular trusses are more plentiful in the state than in Connecticut, despite the design originating from there and the fact that almost all of them were built by Berlin Iron Bridge Company. And an unusual combination cantilever and Pennsylvania petit truss bridge, known as the Schell Memorial Bridge, was built in Northfield in 1903.

Sadly that bridge will soon become history- as with numerous other bridges- unless MassDOT widens its horizons and looks at other ways to preserve its historic bridges. While other bridges, like the Big Four Railroad Bridge in Louisville, Kentucky, were revitalized for recreational use, despite being abandoned for over 40 years, the state has considered many abandoned historic bridges as eyesores and have used tactics to draw enough support to demolish them, despite the potential to restore them at a fraction of the cost. This tactic worked wonders with Fitch’s Bridge in Groton last year, as the group working to reopen the 1885 double-intersecting Warren through truss bridge, backed a proposal by the city to replace the structure– one of the oldest riveted truss bridges in North America- with a welded pony truss bridge. While the group took pride in this achievement, the plan sparked outrage throughout the country by many who claimed that despite its abandonment since 1965, the bridge would have served many more years with restoration and a new roadway. But this bridge is not alone as the Chronicles’ has a preview of four historic bridges that are about to meet the cutting torches and cranes and one that has already been torn down to the dismay of many locals. Without further ado, here are four bridges that represent the reasons to overturn the decisions to tear these structures down before it is too late and one reason to cuss and swear at politicians for letting one go already.

Schell Memorial Bridge in Northfield

History is about to repeat itself with the Schell Memorial Bridge, scheduled to come down this year. Built in 1903 by the New England Structural Company of East Everett using the design by Edward S. Shaw, the bridge was originally built to connect the chateau of prominent resident and patron Francis Schell and the train station. It spanned the Connecticut River with a length of 515 feet and its portal bracings resemble similar Corinthian arches. The 22-panel Pennsylvania through truss bridge has two Wichert trusses supporting the concrete piers in the river, and all connections are riveted. Masonry approach spans are on the southeast end of the truss bridge. The bridge was in service until its closure in 1985 for structural concerns. Despite plankings being placed on each portal entry to keep everyone off the bridge, the people of Northfield still wanted the bridge saved and a group was formed to push for rehabilitating and restoring the bridge for pedestrian use. Things were working out well until late last year, when MassDOT presented the cost difference between restoring the bridge (which was $20 million) and complete bridge replacement ($5 million). The group responded by supporting replacing the bridge, using elements from the 1903, and replicating the span. This has caused some confusion for there is questions about the origin of the mathematics behind the costs. More so is why the group was so swift in deciding in favor of replacing the bridge at the cost of several thousands of dollars in taxpayers’ money. And lastly, despite having its website on the bridge and its fundraising efforts for preserving the bridge, no current information as to the plans of building the new bridge were presented. An act of bribery with a spice of cowardice on the part of the Schell Bridge group? Perhaps, but more will most likely be revealed once the bridge is dropped into the river with dynamite this spring. More so is when we find out how much of the old bridge parts will be reused for the new bridge, or whether the bridge will really look alike or totally like an ordinary mail-order welded truss bridge, as was seen with Fitch’s Bridge. More will come when the information is revealed, but this bridge is early in the lead for Nathan Holth’s Wall of Shame Awards for 2014, let alone the Chronicle’s Author’s Choice Award for the Worst Example to Restore a Historic Bridge- if one can say “restoration” for this unique artwork that has been sitting abandoned for almost 30 years but will now be sentenced to the dumpster….

South Canal Bridge in Lawrence

Sometimes, an abandoned bridge needs minimal maintenance so that it does not serve as a hazard for pedestrians and people passing underneath the structure. The South Canal Bridge, spanning the South Canal at Access Road represents a bridge that has not received any sort of treatment and therefore, been put out of sight, out of mind. End result, the riveted Pratt pony truss structure, a product of the Boston Bridge Works Company, has partially collapsed for the bottom chord has corroded away to a point where it no longer holds the decking. The outermost panel of the decking has sagged with the rest of the planks set to collapse at the next flood, unless the thick layers of snow from this past winter season has done the trick already. Good news: The bridge will be replaced this year as part of the City’s plan to reopen Access Road. A sad ending for a bridge with potential to be reused again, even if it was integrated into the new bridge as an ornament instead of a functional truss.

Salem Street Overpass in Lawrence

The logic behind the demolition of the double-barrel quadrangular through truss bridge, spanning the railroad tracks is questionable. The 1928 structure, another example of a bridge built by the Boston Bridge Works Company appear to be in pristine condition, with some minor rusts that can be fixed, according to on-field research done a couple years ago. Even the lower truss chords would warrant rehabilitation and the decking to be replaced. But instead, the Salem Street Bridge will be removed beginning in 2015 and replaced with a concrete bridge, despite the fact that concrete bridges cannot withstand massive traffic crossing it and trains passing underneath it as well as steel bridges, like this one. An illogical decision that needs to be clarified before the work begins.


Close-up of the 1913 truss span and the 1952 girder bascule span (foreground)

Bates Memorial Bridge in Groveland

Construction has been in the works for this bridge, spanning the Merrimack River in Groveland. Originally a six-span iron swing bridge with a double-intersecting Warren through truss design and A-frame portal bracings, the bridge was replaced one-by-one over the span of 132 years. Fire destroyed three of the eastern spans in 1913, and they were replaced by fixed Pratt through truss spans with riveted connections. Boston Bridge Works, which had originally built the bridge in 1882, replaced those spans. In 1952, the American Bridge Company replaced the remaining spans with two riveted Pratt truss spans and a pony girder span that functions as a bascule bridge. By the end of June 2014, that bridge will become a memory as a fixed span, constructed alongside the old span, will open to traffic rendering the old bridge as useless. Whether there is a chance to save at least one of the spans for reuse or not is doubtful.

University Avenue Bridge in Lowell

Jack Kerouac is rolling around in his grave. Many people are scratching their heads in bewilderment. A piece of history, built in 1896 is now gone. The University Avenue /Textile Memorial Bridge, spanning the Merrimack River and featuring three spans of pin-connected Pratt deck trusses, was demolished a couple weeks ago with crews removing the trusses from the piers and placing them on barges, to be dismantled. Currently, the old stone abutments are being removed. This all in the name of progress, as a new crossing opened to traffic in December. Despite the doom and gloom, the bright side to the bridge replacement is that the new structure features a blue-colored cantilever deck truss design. A rarity considering the fact that these bridge types are disappearing in vast numbers. The project to remove the Textile Memorial Bridge and improve the area for university students is scheduled to be completed by September.

How many more bridges in Massachusetts will fall prey to progress, depends on the narrow-mindedness of politicians in Boston and the MassDOT. Perhaps these examples will serve as a reminder of how important these relicts of history are to the state. If not, there are some examples of bridges that still exist and are not threatened with demolition but deserve to be restored or at least recognized for their importance. Two of them will be mentioned in the coming articles. Only when the state recognizes these bridges will they then do something about them in the name of preservation. This includes looking for more concrete facts that will justify the actions, working together with preservation groups to save their bridges, and setting examples for other states to follow.

Author’s Note: Click on the links in the paragraph to learn more about the history of these structures. Special thanks to Nathan Holth for use of his photos and Steve Lindsey for keeping the Chronicles up to date on the developments involving some of the mentioned bridges.

Red Bridge as a Romantic Pedestrian Crossing

Photo taken in August 2011

There is something very special about this particular crossing, especially when I visited it in 2011. We can start with the design features of the Red Bridge, located over the Blue River at Minor Park in the southern part of Kansas City. While it is rare to have bedstead trusses- truss spans with vertical endposts- this 1932 bridge features a curved version of a bedstead endpost, as you can see in the picture above. This is a common bridge type found in Europe, yet this bridge, whose name is because of its color, is most likely the only surviving structure of its kind in the US.  According to historical accounts, this bridge is located at the site where Daniel Boone and Jim Bridger used to settle in the 1820s. The Santa Fe Trail once ran at this location. And the original crossing used to be a covered bridge, built in 1859 by a Scotsman named George Todd, on masonry piers. It was replaced 33 years later.

When the present Red Bridge was built as the third crossing in 1932, Harry S. Truman, oversaw the design, bid and construction of the structure- as Presiding Judge of the Jackson County Court (akin to today’s County Legislature)! This was the same Truman who later became US President, taking over after the death of Franklin Roosevelt in 1945 and serving eight years. Sources indicated that the Red Bridge was his favorite of all the bridges in Jackson County, Missouri, where he spent most of his life.

Now, after 80 years, the bridge has a new purpose in life- to serve as a lover’s crossing. Since 2012, the bridge has been integrated into the bike trail network serving Kansas City, as it still crosses Blue River and goes through Minor Park and Golf Course. And given the fact that the bridge is almost 300 feet long, which includes the Art Deco-style approach spans and main piers, lovers are making use of the 93-foot curved Bedstead Parker through truss main span by doing something that was adopted by the people in Cologne, Germany with their beloved Hollernzollern Bridge: putting locks on the bridge’s railings, as a sign of permanent love and affection toward each other, and throwing the key into the river. This tradition was first used after the bridge was converted to a pedestrian crossing in 2012 and, according to latest reports, hundreds of locks have been placed on the railings.

An interesting concept that had existed for many decades with the famous Rhine River crossing, yet it is making its way to the US. It leads to the question of whether and where such practice exists on other (historic) bridges in the USA and Europe. Furthermore, are there other “Lover’s Bridges” where people don’t use locks and keys to show their love but other traditions. If you know of some stories about such bridges, place them in the comment section at the end of this article, or in the Chronicles’ facebook page. Readers would be happy to hear about such bridges that exist and the stories that go along with them.

In the nearest future, another Red Bridge article will be featured in the Chronicles. My question to you is as there are many Red Bridges in the US, where are they located? Apart from the one in Kansas City, there are two in Iowa, one in…… Any ideas?


Erie Canal Truss Bridges to be Removed

Peet Rd. Bridge over the Erie Canal. Photo taken by Marc Scotti

The bridges at Wruck Road and Peet Street are scheduled to be removed sometime this year after being abandoned for many years.

600 kilometers of boat traffic between Buffalo and Albany and one of the oldest canals in the country. Those are the characteristics of the Erie Canal. Built in 1821 and modified several times over the past 180 years, the canal still serves as a shortcut from the Great Lakes region at Buffalo and Cleveland to the Atlantic Ocean at New York City, via the Hudson River. Hundreds of bridges, many dating back to the early 1900s can still be seen, let alone crossed by vehicular traffic.

That is all except two of them in Niagara County. And they are now about to be history. The crossings at Peet Street and Wruck Road, located between Locksport and Middlesport are identical in its appearance and history. Both are double-intersecting Warren through truss bridges, measuring exactly 148 feet long, and 14.8 feet wide. Both were built in 1910, at the time of the canal’s widening. Judging by the other bridges built using similar designs, it was most likely the work of the Empire Bridge Company, a locally known bridge builder.

Both these bridges have been closed for over five years now, with signs of extensive deterioration of the piers and approach spans. The Wruck Road crossing has been closed since September 2007. Yet judging by the photos taken of the two bridges, the truss superstructure still remains in excellent shape, which has contributed to a debate on what to do with the two bridges. The New York State DOT wants the bridge removed for liability reasons. There’s no use for it over the canal, esp. as only a couple families live nearby but can use alternative crossings. Opponents to the plan claim that the plan is a waste of taxpayer money and the value of scrap metal far outweighs the benefits of restoring the bridges for pedestrian use, an argument that has been questionable for some time.

Yet with the two trusses being in excellent shape, there are two alternatives for restoring them: 1. Restore them in place but with new piers and decking or 2. Dismantle them and relocate them to places to be reused for recreational purposes. Both these options are cost-effective and would encourage residents to know more about these two bridges and their connections with the Erie Canal. Question is whether tourism will trump the tear-down of the two bridges for the price of a commodity that has been unstable since 2008.

At the present time, the contract was being let out for bridge removal, yet even if the contractor accepted the job, it has not been etched in stone. This means opinions on what to do with the two bridges can still be voiced, let alone interest in purchasing the truss spans before they are eventually cut up and shipped away for scrap (Rumor has it that the spans will be cut into half and transported away by barge.) And while it appears that the bridge removal may not happen before the summer at the earliest, now is the time to save a piece of history that can be reused for the price much less than for demolition.  If interested, please contact Marc Scotti at NYSDOT at this e-mail address:

The Chronicles will keep you informed on the situation with the two bridges as it plans to tour the Erie Canal Region with some bridges in similar situations as the two here being brought to the attention of the readers.

Wruck Road Bridge. Photo taken by James Baughn in 2009

Mystery Bridge 37: Truss Bridge in Christian or Greene County (Missouri)?

Photo courtesy of Wayne Glenn

Our next mystery bridge goes back to Missouri, and in particular, Christian County. As you all know, the county is home to Riverside Bridge, winner of the 2013 Ammann Awards for Best Historic Bridge Preservation. Yet the county residents cannot get enough of the historic bridges, as many locals have been digging up old photos and interesting facts about the historic bridges in the region.

This bridge is one of them. Wayne Glenn, a local historian, received this old picture of the bridge from a person with a collection of photos from Ozark, and brought it to the attention of others, including Kris Dyer and other pontists. It’s a through truss bridge, built using a Pratt design and featuring A-frame portal bracings. Judging by the design of the plaques on each portal, there is a debate as to whether it was built by the Wrought Iron Bridge Company or the Canton Bridge Company, both of which are located in Canton, Ohio. Most of the bridges in Christian County were built by CBC between 1904 and 1915, including the Riverside Bridge (which was built in 1909), with only a couple more truss bridges built by the Pioneer Bridge Company of Kansas City, according to James Baughn in an e-mail correspondance with other pontists. Yet, as he added, there is a possibility that the bridge may have been built in Greene County, as a structure similar to the picture above was built by WIBCo in 1896 but was rehabilitated by CBC in 1904, as the former became part of American Bridge Company in 1901. That bridge spanned Clear Creek northwest of Springfield but was replaced in 1991.

Clear Creek Bridge northwest of Springfield. Photo courtesy of HABS/HAER

But looking at the old photo by Glenn, it appeared that it was taken on a Sunday afternoon, when everyone was in their Sunday dress, yet it is unknown when the photo was taken, let alone how the two gentlemen in the photo managed to climb up to the top of the truss structure, as a ladder seemed to be absent. One has to assume that the bridge existed between 1890 and 1910, during the time of the existence of the two Canton Bridge builders. Reason for that was the early usage of steel and the letter-style portal bracings that replaced the ornamental Town lattice type, yet pin-connected trusses were still in extensive use. It would not be until 1910-15 that riveted connections were introduced for truss bridges.

This leads to the following questions:

1. If the photo was taken in or around Ozark, where was this bridge located? Who built the bridge- the Canton companies or Pioneer? It is doubtful that the bridge was a predecessor to the current structures that existed, like the Red, Green or even the Reed Road Bridges, just to name a few. Furthermore, as the characteristics of a CBC Bridge features the X-frame ornaments, as seen on the Riverside Bridge, the old photo featured none of that, leading to the question of whether WIBCo built the bridge but was modified with the replacement of the portal bracings. This leads us to the second question.

2. If the bridge did not come from Ozark, where was it originally built? Was the structure the one at Clear Creek in Greene County, or did it originate elsewhere?

Any information on the part of Glenn and Co. would be very useful. You can provide that at the Chronicles at or Kris Dyer at Christian County prides itself on its history and ways to preserve its heritage. After seeing Riverside Bridge be saved, history is being taken seriously. This includes finding artifacts which serve as pieces of a puzzle that is being put together by the many people who take pride in the county, its history and its heritage.

Bunker Mill Bridge Update: Hot Riveting Restoration Demonstration to take place February 18th

Bunker Mill Bridge southeast of Kalona, Iowa.  Photo taken in August 2011

This article starts off with some bad news for people wanting to see how a historic bridge is being restored. The annual Iron and Steel Preservation Conference, which takes place in March at the Lansing Community College in Lansing, Michigan has been cancelled for this year, due to unforseen circumstances that were beyond the control of the event organizers. The 2015 conference is in the works and more information will come when it becomes available.

And while the conference features workshops on how to rivet, straighten metal and perform other tasks related to restoring a historic bridge, people interested in seeing this live have a grand opportunity to do so- in Iowa!  Specifically, at the Bunker Mill Bridge, located over the English River southeast of Kalona.

The demonstration on how to hot-rivet truss parts together and restore portions of the bridge is scheduled to take place February 18th, beginning at 10:00am at Max Cast at B Avenue in Kalona. Work will then proceed at the bridge site, with Nels Raynor of BACH Steel leading the demonstrations. There’s no admission to attend the event, and lunch will be available at the Chamber of Commerce with a free-will donation open for those willing to donate money for the project. Cast iron flowers made using removed steel railings will be made for sale at a first come, first served basis. For more information about the event, click here for more details, or contact Julie Bowers using the information provided here.

Bunker Mill Bridge after the removal of the entire bridge deck. Photo courtesy of Julie Bowers and Nels Raynor. Used with permission

The Bunker Mill Bridge, a Pratt through truss bridge that was built in 1887 by the King Bridge Company and modified in 1909 by the Iowa Bridge company, has been literally rising from the ashes, bit by bit. Once considered dead by and condemned by the county after a raging fire this past August, which destroyed the entire bridge decking, the Friends of the Bunker Mill Bridge, in cooperation with the Grinnell-based  Workin Bridges Company and BACH Steel (based in Michigan), have been raising funds for Phase I of the project. There, the main span was jacked up to allow for repairs on the southern abutment and its shoe portion which holds the truss bridge’s end posts and stringers in tact. At the same time, many truss parts, including the stringers, will be repaired or replaced, some of which will be done with this workshop on the 18th. The work will be completed in the spring with the addition of new planking, much of which will have been bought by doners whose names will be on there.

Nels Raynor and crew working on the shoe on the south abutment. Photo courtesy of Julie Bowers. Used with permission.

Phase II of the project will feature the replacement of the sloping northern approach span (as seen in the very top picture) and the bridge railings with that resembling ornamental features that were typical of truss bridges during their hey day in the 1880s and 1890s. A plaque with all the donors will be incorporated into the railings, and a park will be added. This will be done, once phase 1 is completed.

Your help is needed for the completion of Phase I. $20,000 is needed to complete the task. Apart from purchasing bridge memorabilia, the group has offered customized bridge planks at $100 per donor, $400 per set. You can also purchase a stringer for $450, or a C-clip for $10. The stringers for the bridge is used to support the bridge decking (the planks), with the C-clips holding them together. According to Bowers, 1700 of these clips are needed. More information on how to purchase them can be found here.

Bridge memorabilia for sale. Photo courtesy of Julie Bowers. Used with permission.

The Bunker Mill Bridge project has brought together bridge experts and many who have no background knowledge of bridge preservation but have an interest either in this profession, saving the bridge, the county history, or all of the above. It is hoped that once the restoration of the bridge is completed, that it becomes not only another example of how a bridge made of metal can be restored for generations to come, but one which involved people from all aspects, seeing how a bridge can be built and rebuilt, learning new things that can be used for their own purposes, including restoring their own bridges, which are enough to go around.

Author’s Note: More on the project will come through the Chronicles. You can also check out their page on facebook for more photos and other items of interest. Thanks to Julie Bowers for the use of her photos for this article.  

Ammann Awards for Lifetime Achievement Post Humus: James Hippen

Black Bridge spanning the Iowa River west of Belle Plaine in Tama County, Iowa. Photo taken by Quinn Phelan

Back in January, the winners of the Ammann Award for Lifetime Achievement and Best Example of a Preserved Historic Bridge were announced in the Chronicles page, with certificates being mailed off via post. Two of them to be exact, which should arrive in their respective mailboxes very soon.

But there is a third certificate that is going neither to Minnesota nor Missouri, but to the heartland of the US, the state of Iowa. Once this recipient receives it and reads the article that goes along with that, then everything will make sense.  The Ammann Awards for Lifetime Achievement also includes one for Post Humus, awarded to a pontist who devoted much of his/her life to preserving historic bridges, but passed on before being honored for his work.

James Hippen may not have been a naturally born Iowan- he originally came from Oklahoma and studied history in Massachusetts (receiving a Masters and PhD at Harvard), but he was an Iowan by heart, moving to the state in the 1970s, taking up a job as professor of history at Luther College in Decorah. From there, he made history, not to mention the fact that the rest was ALL history.

Realizing the historic and aesthetic value of historic bridges in the state- especially in his area of residence, Mr. Hippen, traveled through the state photographing historic bridges and collecting information on their histories and identifying bridge types and bridge builders. Using that information, he wrote several articles and books about them, including a catalog on the historic bridges in Winneshiek County, finding historic bridges in Eastern Iowa, and the history of the Rainbow Arch Bridges that were first conceived by Iowan bridge builder James B. Marsh, just to name a few examples. He also assisted on some other works as well, including the bowstring arch bridges, whose numbers still put Iowa in the top 10 of the highest number in the country. His work was contributed greatly in a comprehensive study of historic bridges in Iowa for the Historic American Engineering Record, which was carried out by Fraser Design during the 1990s, and through this, he identified several historic bridges that were eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, most of which have long since been listed and are still in use today in its present shape and form. This include the bridges in the following counties: Winneshiek, Jones, Linn, Tama, Fayette, Story, Dallas, Crawford, Harrison, Van Buren, Marion, and Boone, just to name a few. Historic bridges included are the Cascade Bridge in Burlington, the Ellsworth Ranch Bridge east of Estherville, the Black Hawk Bridge in Lansing, and the historic bridges in Des Moines.  In addition, a historic bridge park west of Iowa City (FW Kent Park) features nine historic bridges that were researched and documented by Hippen.

Chimney Rock Bridge in Winneshiek County, Iowa. Photo taken in 2009

Mr. Hippen’s enthusiasm of history (and in particular, infrastructural history, if we add the dams, railroads and railroads) led to his involvement on many boards, including that of the State Historic Preservation Office, Iowa DOT, and several counties, and many people becoming more interested in the history of the state, and its contribution to American history during its time of industrial expansion and the development of the country’s infrastructure.  On a personal note, I was in contact with him via e-mail a couple times with regards to information on Winneshiek County’s historic bridges, and he provided me with a lot of his work on this subject, which contributed to my further interest in historic bridges in the state. The unfortunate part was not having a chance to meet him in person and thanking him for what he done for the state and for the people who are interested in historic bridges.

Ely Street Bridge in Bertram in Linn County. Photo taken in August 2013

James Hippen passed away at his home in Decorah on 24 February, 2010, leaving behind his wife and personal assistant in his research on historic bridges, Elaine, and two children, Ben and Susan.  On 9 August, 2013 a dedication dinner and presentation honoring Mr. Hippen took place at the General Store and Restaurant in Stone City, located west of Anamosa. There, Elaine and former county engineer of Fayette County, Bill Moellering spoke about his work and successes in front of many pontists and family members. Some of the best stories that were mentioned include a joint effort to keep many of Fayette County’s historic bridges in place while replacement bridges were built alongside of them, including the West Auburn, Dietzenbach Bottom and Quinn Creek Bridges because of the cost to demolish them were too high, along with the historic value of the structure themselves. These bridges were profiled in a brochure which can be picked up when visiting the county.  But the grandest story came when Jim himself photographed a tractor and plow crossing one of the Marsh arch bridges in western Iowa- and barely making the width clearance! That picture is featured on the back of the book, bearing its name. The photo stressed the importance of compromise between having a functional bridge that fulfills today’s traffic standards, while maintaining the historic integrity of the vintage bridges, even if it means reusing them for recreational use only.

West Auburn Bridge in Fayette County. Photo taken in 2011

Mr. Hippen’s work has served and should be serving as a signal for many states to look at their historic bridges and find many ways to save them, no matter what the costs and efforts are needed for the compromise to work. This has led to Iowa having the fifth largest number of historic bridges built before 1950 in the country, behind Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas. His passion for history has rubbed off on many people, encouraging them to engage in efforts to discover history in their own domain and preserve it for future generations to come. Because of his tireless efforts to the very end, the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles has presented the Lifetime Achievement Post Humus to the history professor at Luther College, who left a legacy for many of us to see for many years to come.

Author’s Note: Some more profiles of the county’s bridges will be presented in the Chronicles in the near future. This includes the disappearing bridges of Winneshiek County, and a tour guide through the bridges of Linn County, just to name a few.


Des Moines Arch Bridges to Disappear???

Grand Avenue Bridge in Des Moines- slated for replacement in 2015. Photo taken in 2011

Grand Avenue Bridge scheduled to be replaced next year. Other arch bridges over the Des Moines River to follow?

The City of Des Moines cannot seem to keep itself out of the spotlight lately, when it comes to historic bridges and preservation.  While the city finished second in the Ammann Awards in the category of City Tour Awards for US historic bridges, and an agreement was made on a joint venture to restore the Green Bridge over the Raccoon River at Fifth Avenue SW, trouble is now looming for one of its treasured landmarks: the arch bridges. When we talk about arch bridges, it does not necessarily mean the modern structures we see at Center Street over the Des Moines River that was built in 2010 or the George Washington Carver Bridge spanning the Raccoon River at Martin Luther King Drive that was built in 2005, or even the tied arch pedestrian crossings that span I-235 and were built at the same time.

We’re talking about the concrete arch bridges that are over 100 years old and are in need of some upgrades to accommodate increasing traffic in Des Moines. The first bridge in line for an upgrade is the Grand Avenue Bridge, spanning the Des Moines River. Built in 1918, the 495-foot long bridge features six closed spandrel arch bridges, built using two different types of concrete resembling two different colors. This was one of the typical works designed by James B. Marsh  and built by Koss Construction Company, both prominent firms serving Des Moines during that time. Despite being the youngest of the four arch bridges spanning the Des Moines River in Iowa’s state capital, recent inspection reports found deterioration that was worst than anticipated. End result: instead of extensive rehabilitation, the City has recently decided to tear down the bridge in 2015 and replace it with a new bridge.

The question is with what design? Some city council members are advocating a generic bridge type, featuring either a girder or beam design, which would be the cheapest. Yet, opposition to that plan has sprung into force almost immediately, not only within the city council, but from many residents and media news outlets, some going as far as Miami! Jack Porter, former city council member and current preservation architect working for the Iowa Historical Society mentioned in a news interview that the Grand Avenue Bridge presented an obstacle when it was originally built and it later tied the city together, connecting the city center with the eastern parts of the city. He believes that the new design should replicate the one that is scheduled to be replaced. He is backed by city council member Chris Coleman, who supports the plan to have a structure that conforms to the historic district.  Yet Deputy City Engineer Pam Cooksey believes that the arch design does not meet state standards. She supports a modern structure.

While the design for the new Grand Avenue Bridge is being considered, keeping the arch design in mind, other arch bridges are being targeted for a thorough inspection to determine their needs as well. The city council recently hired local bridge company Shuck-Britson to undertake this mission together with several other bridges in the city, regardless of bridge type. This is the same company that had previously inspected the Cascade Bridge in Burlington and the Green Bridge in Des Moines, the latter of which prompted its immediate closure in March 2013 to all cyclists and pedestrians.  The bridges in visier of the inspection by SB include the Court Avenue Bridge, Walnut Street Bridge, Locust Avenue Bridge, Red Pedestrian Bridge, and the Meredith Trail Arch Bridge. A link to these bridges, profiled by the Chronicles last year can be accessed here.

This leads to the question of the future of the arch bridges, for if the other bridges are targeted for replacement, how will that affect the city and its logo, “The City of Arches?” Christine Hensley in an interview with the Miami Herald claimed that it would be a mistake not to maintain the arch bridges. Des Moines has had a record of destroying many places of historic interest over the past two decades, including the destruction of the Chicago and Great Western Railroad Bridge last year, a multiple-span through truss bridge spanning the Des Moines River that had been sitting abandoned for many years. Another Grand Avenue arch bridge spanning Walnut Creek was replaced with a generic structure a year earlier. And while the city has been transforming itself to make it attractive and pedestrian friendly on one hand, but protect it from massive floods that put portions underwater in 1993, 2008 and 2011, some of the transformation has come at the expense of the historic places that had been part of the city’s history. In some cases, the attempt to integrate modernism into a historic district ended badly with the modern structures becoming an eyesore.

Some residents are suspecting foul play as the City is looking at modernizing at any cost, selling the safety issue of the bridge and the high costs for rehabilitation as reasons for demolishing the Grand Avenue Bridge and replacing it with a modernized structure. Others see the project as the first of successive bridge projects being tied together with plans to raise the dikes and structures to allow for the Des Moines River to flow more freely, especially during flooding. Already in the works is raising the Red Bridge by four feet with portions of the dikes to be raised at the expense of the historic levies dating back to the 1920s. Yet the question remains: how often do the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers flood the city, and is this grand project worth its cost, especially if it comes at the expense of the city’s downtown arch bridges?

And while some people in the forum have claimed a bridge is a bridge and we should build something that lasts, the fight to save the arch bridges in Des Moines has already begun, with government officials and the majority of the city’s population and businesses backing ways to preserve them to conform to the surroundings of the historic business district, which includes the corridore connecting downtown and its bridges with the State Capitol. And no wonder, as there are plenty of examples of arch bridges that have been strengthened and widened, but restored to their original forms. This includes the bridges in Erfurt, Germany, six of which received the same treatment as what many are hoping should be done with the Grand Avenue Bridge (see the Chronicles’ articles here).

Still there is a year a left, and the plan for replacing the Grand Avenue Bridge is in the early stages. Yet there will be many questions to be answered as to how the new bridge will look like, if it is necessary to replace it to begin with. People from many groups, including the Friends of the Green Bridge, Lost Des Moines and the City’s Historical Society will be watching over the developments very carefully to see how this project will impact the other bridges in the city. Will the bridge be like the rest or stick out like a modern sore thumb? Will the other arch bridges follow? And lastly, will the City need a new logo should all the arch bridges disappear? Learning the lessons from the Green Bridge, the City may want to keep in mind that people are watching them to ensure that what happens with the Grand Avenue Bridge in the end will not affect the other arch  bridges they love very much in the city. The arch bridges are the third most popular places of interest according to the survey conducted by the Des Moines Register. If they are gone, so will be a key piece of the city’s legacy, something that they cannot afford.

Interesting Fact: Erfurt won the 2012 Ammann Awards for Best Kept Secret with the city’s historic arch bridges, which includes the Kramer Bridge, the largest housed arch bridge in Europe.