The Bridgehunting community is mourning the loss of a great pontist, whose main goal was life is to explore new things and save the old ones for the next generations to see. James Baughn was an original. I first got to know him when he started his website, bridgehunter.com, which had been known at first as Historic Bridges of the Midwest. He was just getting started with his set of photos and information on bridges from his homestate of Missouri and after finding his website, I decided to add some of my own from where I grew up in Minnesota and Iowa. That was 18 years ago during the time I was doing my Master’s studies at the University of Jena, in eastern Germany. At that time, there were only a couple other contributors, one of them was Nathan Holth who had started his campaign to save historic bridges in Michigan and later on in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Another person to add to the list was Todd Wilson, who started bridgemapper.com and focused on the bridges in and around Pittsburgh and the surrounding area. It was James’ website that led to the creation of Nathan’s and Todd’s websites. James later expanded his website, which led to the coming of dozens of contributors, who submitted photos, articles and stories of bridges throughout the United States and Puerto Rico, some of the structures that I had never heard of before. It was through us that we now have the largest database full of bridges, past and present in the United States and second largest in the world behind Structurae.net based in Düsseldorf in Germany. It was through him that we have regular contributors, including the likes of John Marvig, Luke Hardin, Julie Bowers, Melissa Brand-Welch, Tony Dillon, Royce and Bobbett Haley, Dave King, Mike Goff and others.
I met James in person for the first time at the Historic Bridge Weekend Conference in Pittsburgh in 2010, and my first impression was that he was a quiet and introverted person, but one who was very nice and helpful. We became close friends and stayed in touch, even when we organized three more Historic Bridge Weekends afterwards- he did the one in Missouri in 2011, I organized one in Iowa in 2013. Yet it was through his website and his influence that led to my creation of the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles in late 2010. The purpose: To focus on news stories relating to historic bridges, preservation and even tourism. Many of the bridges posted in his bridgehunter.com website became the focus of my bridge tours with a goal of encouraging people to learn about them, preferrably while visiting them. Because of his success with bridgehunter.com, he won the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Chronicles in 2019 and you can read the interview I did with him in the link here:
Yesterday I received the news that he had died unexpectedly by two friends of mine in the Bridgehunting community. He had been hiking at the time of his death and it happened just days after I posted the interview. His passing happened on December 6th, just weeks before he would have been 40 years old. Needless to say, like everyone else, I am very shocked at the loss and there are really no words to describe it. James was one of a kind- a person who was really helpful and really dedicated to his work. He made a library of bridges, but he was also a writer. He helped with preserving bridges and had planned on writing a book on Missouri’s bridges in the future. Many who have worked with him found him to be the person I consider him to be: one with extensive knowledge, a lot of skill at solving the toughest of problems and one who can lead the way when it is needed. He was a very kind and selfless person and one who was there when we needed his help. We hung out a lot during our bridgehunting tours and enjoyed every stop at every historic bridge. With his loss, we lost a real great bridge librarian and an even greater friend. With his loss, it’s up to us to pick up where he had started and sadly, left off.
Funeral services will take place at a later time but you can help his family. More in the link above. A fundraiser has been created to honor James and his commitment to the historic bridge community for documenting and saving historic bridges, in particular in Missouri. Memorial contributions can be made to the Missouri Bridge Preservation Fund, c/o The Historic Bridge Foundation, 1500 Payne Ave, Austin, Texas 78757. According to recent information, the website bridgehunter.com will remain.
Leb wohl, meine Brücken-Buddy ❤