A Tribute to Eric DeLony

The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles, as well as members of the historic bridge community, preservations, historians and the like are sadden to hear of the recent passing of Eric DeLony. He died last week at the age of 74. He spearheaded efforts in documenting and preserving historic bridges in the United States during his time at the Historic American Engineering Record for over three decades. He had served as Chief from 1987 until his retirement in 2003. I had met him once while in New Mexico in 1999 and had been in touch with him many times via e-mail talking a lot about historic bridges and all the problems pertaining to preservation vs modernization and found him to be open and a “walking encyclopedia” on many bridge-related subjects. It was through his influence that hundreds of historic bridges have been saved and reused for recreational purposes. It was also through him that we have the likes of Kitty Henderson, Julie Bowers, Nathan Holth, James Baughn and Todd Wilson, who have continued their efforts in the work of historic bridges, picking up where he had left off. It was also through his inspiration that the Chronicles, launched in 2010, is what it is today.

I did a tribute to Eric in January 2017 as part of the 50h anniversary of the National Register of Historic Places and the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. I’m reposting this in his honor, thanking him for his five decades of dedication and service. Our hearts go out to his family, colleagues, friends and those who knew him all these years, with two words to tell him:

Thanks, Eric.

The Bridgehunter's Chronicles

Shaw Bridge at Claverack, New York. Photo courtesy of Jet Lowe of HABS/HAER

A gifted person provides society with a gift to make it better. A person with unusual talents shapes society to benefit all.

For Eric DeLony, a person with a passion for historic bridges not only leads efforts to save them but teaches and encourages bridge lovers and historians to love them and follow his lead. My first contact with him came in 2005 when I wrote my first documents for a Master’s class on American History at the University of Jena in Germany. For the next eight years, despite not being able to meet him in person due to time and travel expenses, I kept in contact with him and he provided some great insights to any topic pertaining to historic bridges, preservation and careers available. Eric was a walking encyclopedia and forefather of historic preservation. Graduating…

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2 thoughts on “A Tribute to Eric DeLony

  1. In Memoriam: Historic Bridge Preservationist Eric DeLony (1944-2018)

    Eric N. DeLony, who served as Chief of the National Park Service (NPS)’s Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) from 1987 to 2003, died on October 23, 2018, after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. Over his career, Eric became known as a pioneer in historic bridge documentation and preservation and one of the nation’s leading experts in historic bridges. In recognition of his achievements, Eric was the recipient of the 2000 General Tools Award, the highest honor bestowed by the Society for Industrial Archeology (SIA).

    With degrees from The Ohio State University, Columbia University in the City of New York, and the University of Bath and The Ironbridge Gorge Museums under a Fulbright scholarship, Eric was hired as HAER’s first full-time employee in 1971, and was promoted to Chief of HAER in 1987. Through foresight and determination, Eric began developing the HAER Historic Bridge Program in 1973, which would become the first comprehensive national program to identify and protect #historicbridges. He worked with several states to inventory and document representative bridges with multi-disciplinary HAER field teams. In appreciation of Eric’s initiatives, The White House and the ACHP – Advisory Council on Historic Preservation presented HAER’s Historic Bridge Program with a National Historic Preservation Award in 1992.

    Under Eric’s leadership, HAER developed a long-term program with Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and NPS to document the roads and bridges of large western national parks, national battlefields, and eastern parkways from 1988-2002. Eric was also influential in securing HAER’s involvement with the National Historic Covered Bridge Preservation (NHCBP) Program. HAER received FHWA funding beginning in 2002 to document the nation’s most significant #coveredbridges, as well as developing other educational initiatives including #engineering studies, a traveling exhibition, national conferences, National Historic Landmarks Program nominations, and publications.

    Outside NPS, Eric was a longtime member of the Society for Industrial Archaeology (SIA) and developed the SIA Historic Bridge Symposium beginning in the early 1980s. Known in international circles, he represented the United States at several meetings of the International Committee for the Conservation of the Industrial Heritage (TICCIH). Eric DeLony was truly a pioneer in the world of historic bridge documentation, preservation, and advocacy. The 3,000+ bridges in the HAER Collection at The Library of Congress, and hundreds of examples of preserved historic bridges across the country are all a testament to his lifelong determination and passion for saving historic bridges.

    See HAER documentation initiated by Eric in the HABS/HAER/HALS Collection at https://go.usa.gov/xPmwe

    [Photo Caption: Eric DeLony doing field measurements on the 1870 pony truss Old Mill Road Bridge, Northampton County, PA, in 1985. The bridge was later documented as part of the Pennsylvania Cast- and Wrought-Iron Bridges Recording Project in 1991.]

    #HAERnps #PreservationThroughDocumentation #HistoricPreservation

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