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.
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.