Augusta Bridge on the Verge of Collapse

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Photos courtesy of Jim Lytton

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AUGUSTA, KANSAS-  Abandoned Bridges. They hold secrets to the past, how they once served farms and communities, and how they were constructed. They fit the natural scenery, and sometimes, they are best left as is, right?

Unless they have little or no value and are best served as fishing piers, natural habitats and photo opportunities, there are some bridges that have been left in tact for years that deserve to be preserved because of their beauty and history, alone. With the Augusta Bridge, spanning the Whitewater Bridge northwest of town, the answer is clearly no.

Built in 1886 by P.E. Lane Bridge Company in Chicago, the bridge is one of the last surviving iron through truss bridges in the state, featuring pinned connections and unusual portal bracings. The through truss type is a typical Pratt and the overhead strut bracings are V-laced supported by 45° angle heels. The bridge has eight panels and the length is over 150 feet with a width of approximately 15 feet. Its portal bracings are unique as they feature Town Lattice portals with heel bracings bearing the same pattern. Town Lattice portal bracings, which were commonly used for iron truss bridges in the 1870s and early 1880s were becoming rarer at the time of the construction of this bridge, as Howe lattice and letter-frame portals (A, X, W, M, and WV)  were becoming more common for use. The structure has been sitting abandoned since SW 90th Street was vacated by the county in 1975.

Fourty-one years later, the bridge is still standing, but who knows for how long. Built on stone abutments and piers, the bridge is on the verge of collapse, as high waters from recent flooding has resulted in the scouring of the stone piers and debris from falling trees are left dangling in the top chord of the structure. Unless construction crews can find a way to remove the debris and carefully dismantle the bridge and take it to shore for storage and potential reuse, the next flood could be the last one for the bridge.

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Already two historic bridges, both in Iowa, have fallen victim to flash floods this year, as the Maple Hill Bridge in Washington County, which had been abandoned for many years with the decking removed, collapsed under weight from floodwaters and a pile of debris from fallen trees. The bridge was also a Pratt through truss with A-frame portal bracings and was built in 1896 by the Iowa Bridge Company. Ice jams and neglect brought down one of four spans of the Wagon Wheel Bridge west of Boone in March. That bridge is currently being removed after sitting abandoned since 2007 and sustaining damage by fire, vandalism and flooding in the last eleven months. Should there be no attention brought to the Augusta Bridge soon, chances are very likely that another historic bridge with a potential to be reused for recreationa purposes will vanish as well.

The Augusta Bridge is one of a handful of examples of bridges built by this prominent Chicago bridge builder, as he built bridges between 1880 and the early 1900s. He was the same person who reused trusses from a Ferris Wheel built for the Chicago World Expo in 1893. Two of these bridges: the Dunn’s Crossing in Indiana and Sugar Creek Chapel Bridge in Illinois are still standing and used for pedestrian traffic. He is not the same person who invented the Lane Truss (Daniel Lane patented the truss in the 1870s), but it is unknown if the two were related or had any business during the golden age of building truss bridges in the later half of the 19th Century. Counting this and the two Ferris bridges, the Augusta Bridge is one of only six bridges left in the country built by Lane, all but two are now designated for pedestrian use.

While it is clear that in situations like this, the bridge would need to be dismantled to allow workers to repair the scoured stone piers,it is highly unlikely, given its remote location, that the Augusta Bridge would be left in place for use as a trail. However, many examples of bridges in similar situations like this bridge, have been relocated and restored for reuse. The question is how the public sees the importance of this local artefact with a unique design, loaded with history, and what measures, if any, are taken to relocate the bridge without destroying it, and restoring it for recreational use. One thing is for certain: time is running out on this bridge. Unless action is taken, mother nature may have plans for this unique piece of artwork….

….and it will not be pretty.

If you are interested in taking the bridge for reuse, please contact the Butler County Engineer’s Office, using the contact information here.

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Mystery Bridge Nr. 68: The Pedestrian Bridge at Schkopau

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In connection with the series on Saxony-Anhalt through sister column, The Flensburg Files, we have another mystery bridge to solve. This one is between Grosskorbetha (where the railroad overpass is located) and the city of Halle, in the town of Schkopau. Located along the Saale River north of Merseburg, the town has 10,900 inhabitants, located along the Saale River, and has a castle dating back to 1177. It is sandwiched between the natural wildlife refuge of the Saale and Elster Rivers to the north and the chemical district of Leuna to the south, both of which are easily accessible by rail line and light rail between Halle and Leipzig via Bad Durremberg.  Before the viaduct north of town was completed in 2014 to accomodate ICE-trains between Erfurt and Leipzig/Halle, there were only two rather unknown bridges in Schkopau: the railroad bridge and this overpass.

The overpass spans the rail line which connects Halle and Naumburg via Merseburg and Grosskorbetha and features a 10-panel pony truss bridge with riveted connections and a curved connection between the end post and the top chord. Judging by its appearance, with little rust as it has, the bridge appears to originate from the East German period, having been built after the close of World War II by the Soviets. What is interesting is the fact that the approachs feature inclined concrete arches that appear older than the truss span. Furthermore, even though the span accommodates pedestrians, it only crosses one set of tracks and not both. It only provides access from the west side of the track to the platform which separates the two tracks. According to Googlemap, the rail line splits the town into two. This leads to speculation that there once was a bridge or two bridges that crossed the entire track, but one of them was removed.

If that is the case, then when, and what did the bridge look like before it happened? Any information on the bridge’s history would be useful. You know what to do there, right?

Happy bridgehunting! 🙂

Test yourself on your knowledge of Saxony-Anhalt by clicking here to try out the Guessing Quiz. Answers will come very soon. 🙂

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Times Beach Bridge: Time Is Ticking for This Historic Bridge

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Photo taken in 2011 when the deck was still present

EUREKA/ ST.LOUIS, MISSOURI-  When tourists think of or visit the US, one of the characteristics they will mention first is The Mother Road, also known as Route 66.  Ninety years ago this year, US 66 was established, connecting Chicago with Los Angeles, passing through St. Louis, Springfield, Tulsa, Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Flagstaff. It was part of the first national administration establishing the US Highway System, which was partially supplemented and partially supplanted by Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway Act, signed 30 years later. Five years after Route 66 was established, this bridge was built to accomodate traffic from this popular historic highway.  The Times Beach Bridge spans the Meramec River at Route 66 State Park near Eureka. Built in 1931 by the Frazier-Davis Construction Company of St. Louis, this riveted Warren deck truss span, based on the state standardized truss bridge design, features three main spans of 130 feet each, plus multiple approach spans, totalling 1009 feet with a roadway width of 30 feet.  Once serving US 66 until it was realigned onto neighboring I-44, the bridge used to serve traffic until the Missouri Department of Transportation(MoDOT) closed the structure in 2009. The bridge’s decking has been absent since 2013. And its future is questionable.

The Great Rivers Greenway district, consisting of local and regional organizations and volunteers in and around St. Louis and the surrounding area, is working on a project to repurpose the Times Beach Bridge into a recreational crossing, while at the same time, incorporate it into the adjacent Route 66 State Park and into a bike trail network which would extend to St. Louis to the east.  Trailnet and other organizations are helping Great Rivers in the push to save this bridge. Already, a study was conducted to determine its feasibility as a bike and pedestrian crossing, and some images of the bridge after its restoration have been presented on their website (click here). “This bridge is not only a significant and vital connection across the Meramec for walking and biking, but it is rich with history and one of the region’s outstanding cultural assets,” said Ralph Pfremmer, Trailnet’s Executive Director, according to its website. “It is prudent to seek funding, considering the generous commitment made on behalf of Great Rivers Greenway and the work already achieved on behalf of the coalition.”

Currently, the bridge is under ownership of MoDOT, and the consortium  needs to raise $1 million by 31 December, 2016 before ownership can be transferred to the state park. Additional funding will be sought to rehabilitate the structure and reopen it to recreational use. Currently, $425,000 has been allocated by MoDOT ($325,000) and the State Park System ($100,000), while $6,000 has been raised privately. $569,000 is needed before ownership can be transferred on 31 December. Failure to achieve this goal will result in the project being scrapped and the historic bridge being demolished early next year.

Several key bridges along US 66 have been restored or are scheduled to be restored in the coming years in an attempt to preserve the relects of the historic highway as memorials of the highway’s existence. They include the Chain of Rocks Bridges along the Mississippi River and its eastern channel in St. Louis, Bird Creek Bridge in Oklahoma,  Colorado Boulevard Bridge in Los Angeles, Devils Elbow Bridge, Gasconade River Crossing (both in Missouri), and the drawbridges in Chicago, just to name a few. For these bridges, problems involving ownership and liability combined with fundraising efforts were also typical at first. Yet because of their connections with the history of the communities, the Mother Road and American infrastructure, locals, historians and businesses contributed their finances, manpower and expertise to restore these structures for future use, many of them have been repurposed for trail use, while ones, like the Bird Creek Crossing were relocated and repurposed as memorials.  A book was recently written about these crossings which provides background information on how they contributed to making US 66 a great highway to travel on. It can be ordered here.

Still, there is a long way to go before reaching the goal of $1 million, yet the goal is doable and there is enough time to contribute what you can to save this bridge. If you or someone or some business you know would like to contribute to the cause, click on this link and donate.  The Times Beach Bridge is one of only four of its kind left in Missouri, but one that was part of a popular highway that people in the USA and around the world have seen and/or even travelled on. The bridge belongs to a historic site that many people would like to know more about. Let’s make America great again and donate to this bridge and preserve it, along with the rest of history along the Mother Road.

Check out the photos taken by the author during the 2011 Historic Bridge Weekend below:

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