There are tourist traps and then there are tourist traps with historic bridges involved. The tour guide provided here clearly belongs to the latter, and it has a story behind it. As we were travelling north on Interstate 75 in the direction of the Mackinac Bridge, we came across a bilboard that directed us to Bridgeport, home of Michigan’s number one historic bridge. I had known about the first bridge on the tour guide prior to the US trip, yet we also learned about Bridgeport’s next door neighbor, Frankenmuth, a typical German community that was full of surprises. We decided to pull off first at Bridgeport and then head over to Frankenmuth and found more surprises than what we learned about. What will a tourist find in the bridges in Bridgeport/Frankenmuth apart from what is highlighted by links and in the Instagram pages will motivate you to spend a couple days in the region that is only 10 miles south of Saginaw.
State Street Bridge (Bridgeport): When travelling North on Interstate 75, one will come across a bilboard that says Bridgeport, home of Michigan’s number one historic bridge. A first where a bridge is a centerpiece, a tourist attraction, a magnet. However, from a bridgehunter’s point of view, together with his family members who were also armed and dangerous with Lumixes and Pentaxes, the city’s chamber of commerce was right and then some. 🙂 The Bridgeport Bridge spans Cass River at State Street. Built in 1906 by the Joliet Bridge and Iron Company, the bridge features a pin-connected, two-span Pratt through truss bridge with three-rhombus Howe lattice portal bracings with 45° heels. The bridge is a distant cousin of one in Jackson, Minnesota at Petersburg Road, which was built a year later but was removed after flood damage in 1995. The difference is the length of the structure, which is nearly twice as long as the one in Jackson: two 126-foot long truss spans with a total length of 252 feet. Jackson’s was 130 feet, but the total length was 150.
After serving vehicular traffic for almost a century years, the bridge was closed to traffic because the center pier was being undermined by the currents, causing the western span to tip over. Yet thanks to efforts conducted by Nathan Holth of historicbridges.org, who documented the Bridge in detail from 2004 to date, the Bridgeport community collaborated with the state and an engineering group, Spicer Group to conduct an in-kind restoration, overseen by Vern Mesler. This was done in 2010 and consisted of dismantling the two trusses off site, sandblasting the bridge parts, and reassemble the bridge exactly as it was built, but with new bolts and eyebars in many cases. The only “new” aspects of the bridge was the new center pier, new abutments, railings and the approaches to the Bridge. That was in addition to a picnic area and pavillion as a bike trail connecting Bridgeport and Frankenmuth was being constructed.
The bridge today looks just like it was when it was originally built, including the wooden decking, thus presenting a historic appeal. Yet there are two more reasons to visit the bridge and pay homage to those who restored it. First of all, there is a historic town park on the eastern bank of the river, where a “revived” main street is lined with historic stores, church and houses dating back a century ago. The Bridgeport Museum, which owns the property, is located along this historic street. Yet it would be a crime to miss out on reason number two, which is the eateries that are located across the Dixie Highway from the bridge, going to the east. The Butter Crust Bakery is located on the corner of Sherman Road and Dixie, and from 6:00 in the morning until 5:00pm on all but Sunday and Monday, one can enjoy jelly-filled donuts, long-johns, mini-cakes and even a glazed ugly (caramel filled pastry with hazelnuts and/or almonds for a very low Price. All of them are locally made and use all natural ingredients- have been doing so for over a half-century. 🙂 An ice cream parlor at State Street just off the highway offers the finest ice cream in the region, including Rocky Road (ice cream with fudge, dark chocolate and marshmallows) and Michigan Pothole (dark chocolate with chips), the latter is named after a typical curse one will find on all Michigan’s roads- potholes, big and small. Both of which are highly recommended, whereas one can see the bridge from the parlor and can even enjoy watching people cross it from the inside. 🙂
Bridgeport (CSX) Railroad Bridge: To the north of the Bridgeport Bridge at State Street is another through truss bridge that gives the photographer on the State Street crossing a chance to get a few shots. The Bridgeport Railroad Bridge spans the Cass River, carrying the CSX Railroad, located approximately 300 feet away. The bridge is considered the longest of the bridges profiled here in the Bridgeport/Frankenburg area, for even though the main span- a Warren through truss with riveted connections and heel portal bracings- is 130 feet long, if one counts the trestle approaches, especially on the southern end, the total length is 530 feet. The bridge was constructed in 1908-09 by the American Bridge Company in New York. The 1908 date came from the concrete abutment, whereas the truss bridge was brought in a year later; the plaque is on the bridge. Together with the Bridgeport Bridge at State Street, the CSX crossing is one of a handful of bridges that still has a railroad and a road crossing running along side or adjacent of each other, but are trussed. The bridge is basically an accessory to the other one nearby and all its historic places located next to it, that it is basically a win-win situation for bridgehunters and historians alike. One cannot photograph one without getting the other.
Gugel Bridge at Beyer Road: Spanning the Cass River, this unique crossing has had a share of its own history as the 114-year old structure is the oldest surviving bridge in the county. The pin-connected Pratt through truss bridge with Town Lattice portal bracings and a pony truss approach span, was originally built to accommodate the Dixie Highway until 1919. It was then relocated to this site where it served traffic until it was closed down in 1979. 25 years later, William ‘Tiny’ Zehnder led efforts to restore the bridge to reincorporate it into the bike trail connecting Bridgeport and Frankenmuth. There are historic markers and benches at the bridge for people to relax when taking a break, while enjoying the natural surroundings of the Cass.
Frankenmuth Covered Bridge:
In the eyes of fans of iron bridges, this bridge is a modern “Schande” to the City of Frankenmuth. In the eyes of German tourists this bridge is too “Kitschisch” just like with the rest of the predominantly- German community whose resorts and restaurants resemble those in the Alps, even though the origin of Frankenmuth is from the Franconian Region of Bavaria. Yet in the eyes of covered bridge fans and those who have never seen Frankenmuth before, this bridge is considered the crown jewel for the community, competing with the Bridgeport Bridge at State Street for the best historic Bridge in this tour guide.
Yes, the Frankenmuth Covered Bridge, built in 1979 by Milton Graton & Son of Ashland, New Hampshire, is considered historic, even though in ten years time, it could be listed on the National Register of Historic Places because of its unique truss design, its aesthetic features and its association with the community. The bridge is 239 feet long and has an A-Frame gable roofing which covers not only the one-lane road deck but also the pedestrian walkway that is on the outside of the bridge, separated by its Town Lattice truss design. Its gabled attic roofing on the sides make it resemble a covered Bridge in the Swiss For cyclists going from Zehnder’s Restaurant on the west bank to the Bavarian Inn Lodge on the eastern side it is best to push your bike across on the pedestrian walkway as this covered Bridge sees a lot of traffic on a regular basis. The bridge, which carries a weight Limit of 7 tons, is a backdrop to the scenery on both sides of the river. On the east end, there is the Bavarian Inn and Restaurants which includes a park and many acres of green. On the western end there is the Business district, which includes small shops, restaurants and an open-air stage where polka and Bavarian-style music are played daily. The bridge is next to the docks where boat tours are available to explore Frankenmuth. The Frankenmuth Covered Bridge has several names, but the most common is Holz Brücke (although the words are together in German), whereas Zehnder’s is also used for the masterminder behind the bridge was the town’s entrepreneur, William “Tiny” Zehnder (1919-2006). Zehnder was the face of Frankenmuth because of his establishment of the Bavarian Inn in 1959, which was basically an extension of one of the restaurants he had owned prior to that. From that time until his retirement in 2004, Tiny carved a place in the history of Michigan by turning original small-town businesses into that of a Bavarian-style architecture which not only revived the town’s Franconian heritage but also made the community of over 6,500 people a popular attraction. Tiny died in 2006, but his family still runs the Bavarian Inn complex today.
Frankenmuth Pedestrian Bridge Perhaps the most interesting bridge in Frankenmuth and on this tour guide that is worth mentioning is this pedestrian bridge. The bridge is the newest one on the block and can be seen from both the covered bridge as well as the Highway 83 Bridge leading into downtown. The bridge is a concrete pony girder, using a similar art Greco design and flanked by flags and ornamental street lanterns on both sides. The bridge is estimated to be between 150 and 170 feet Long and about 10-12 feet wide. The first impression was that with a design like that, it was probably 80 years old. Yet with the structure being between 15 and 30 years old, one could conclude that the bridge could serve as an example of fancy pedestrian bridges that can be built if engineers and city leaders would not worry about the costs but more on the Geschmack the community would like to live with. Not everything needs to be made of just a slab of concrete.
Bronner’s (Black) Bridge: When entering Frankenmuth from the south along Michigan Highway 83, this is the first bridge you will see. Bronner’s was once located over Cass River at Dehmel Road, having been built in 1907 by the Joliet Bridge and Iron Company. The bridge features a Pratt through truss design with A-Frame portals, whose top chord is decorated with curved lower-cased m and n patterns. The bridge has a total length of 180 feet with the main span being 151 feet long. The decking is 16 feet wide and the height clearance is 14 feet. After 75 years in service, the bridge was relocated to this site, over Dead Creek at Grandpa Tiny’s Farm, one of the ideas concocted by William “Tiny” Zehnder because of his years of farming, alongside his role as Frankenmuth’s well-known entrepreneuer. It has been in its place ever since then, yet it is heavily fenced and secured with cameras to ensure no one walks onto the property unless it is open to tourists. However, you can photograph the structure from both the highway as well as the road going past the farm, at Townline Road. The bridge is located only 500 feet from Bronner’s, the largest store in the world that sells Christmas ornaments and lighting. Regardless of which country and the nostalgia, if you are looking for as special ornament or lights, you will find it there. That includes bubble lights, an American past time that is trying to make its comeback yet they are rare to see.
There are more along the Cass River, but this tour guide will hopefully Show you the bridges you can visit while experiencing a mixture of German heritage on the part of Frankenmuth and local heritage on the side of Bridgeport. Being only six miles apart, the bridges are easily accessible, both by car as well as by bike or foot. The evidence can be seen in the map below as well as by clicking onto the highlighted links in the guide. There one will see that the Bridgeport/Frankenmuth Region is Michigan’s number one hot spot for bridges spanning over a century’s worth. It is definitely worth a stop for a few hours before travelling to the Mackinac Bridge and the state’s Upper Peninsula to the north.