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.

 

Sartell Bridge spared demolition

Photo of one of the three Camelback through truss spans.

SARTELL, MINNESOTA- At about this time last year, the future of the Sartell Bridge, a 1914 three-span Camelback through truss bridge that was built by the Minneapolis Steel and Machinery Company was up in the air, as a huge fire destroyed a vast portion of the 100-year-old Verso Paper Company in May 2012, prompting the immediate and permanent closure of the company, putting over 250 workers on the unemployment line. The Sartell plant was sold to the conglomerate AIM Development Inc. for $12 million, with its plan to optimize the facility.

Since September 2013, the old Verso facility is being demolished, bit by bit, as part of AIM’s plan to redevelop the area for reuse. The plan was approved by the city council, and called for the complete demolition of the facility, with the exception of the dam, the old hydroelectric power plant and a pair of buildings that belonged to Verso prior to the fire.

And as for the bridge?  Well, according to the city’s development coordinator in correspondance with the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles, the creme-colored vintage bridge spanning the Mississippi River at the paper site will be spared, as it is not part of the demolition plans.  Is this good news? Yes and no. The bridge is one of the main points of interest that is beloved by the Sartellians and historians alike. Yet as the bridge is currently not listed on the National Register of Historic Places, as confirmed by the State Historic Preservation Office in St. Paul, it does put the sturcture in a vulnerable position, for most non-listed bridges are more likely to meet the wrecking ball than those that are either listed or elgible for listing.

But it does not mean automatically that the bridge will eventually be demolished, for the redevelopment plan that is being put together by the City and AIM may also include reutilizing the bridge. Since its closure in 1984 because the current structure, located 700 feet downstream, is serving traffic, the bridge has been used to transport utility lines across the Mississippi, even though at one time it was open to pedestrians. It is possible with Verso becoming history by October, that the plan to reopen the old bridge to pedestrians will be brought to the table for approval. If this is the case, then people will not have to worry about security personnel keeping them off the bridge, as was the reason for the structure being restricted to utility use only in the early 1990s. Instead, a safer but key access between the old Verso site and Watab Creek Park through a historic crossing known to Sartell for 100 years will be open to all to use for all time to come.

Sartell Bridge with the Verso Paper Company in the background. At this time next year, this bridge will be the last one standing. Photo taken in December 2010

More on the Sartell Bridge’s dire state can be found here with some questions to ponder.