Endangered T.R.U.S.S.: The Dresden Suspension Bridge in Ohio

All photos courtesy of Nathan Holth of historicbridges.org. Many thanks for allowing use of the photos.

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DRESDEN, OHIO- There are several towns in the United States that are named after the German city on the Elbe in Saxony. Dresden in Germany, with a population of 550,000 inhabitants, prides itself in the Baroque architecture, much of which was rebuilt after World War II. It has several historic bridges spanning the river which has provided commerce for as long as the city has existed, many of them are over 130 years old and survived the bombings in World War II. Four of them have been restored to their former glory and they are considered one of the places a person should visit, for there will be many stories about them.

And with that, we will look at another Dresden which has a unique suspension bridge. This village has a population of just under 1700 inhabitants and is located in Muskingum County, Ohio. It was founded in 1799 by Jonathan Cass when his family created a farmstead. By 1835, it became a small town. It profited from the Ohio and Erie Canal, which connected Lake Erie near Cleveland and the Ohio River at Portsmouth and was in use during much of the 1800s. The triple lock has been preserved as a historic monument. The Episcopal Church and the Union School, both dating back to the 19th Century have become part of Dresden’s historic town. And lastly, we have the town’s suspension bridge, which the town has taken pride in.

This suspension bridge was built in 1914 by the Bellefontaine Bridge & Steel Company based in Ohio, with Clyde T. Morris overseeing the project. It had replaced a wire suspension bridge that may have been built by Roebling because of the design. But it is unknown if he had constructed such a span, let alone when it was built. We do know that either a bridge collapse due to overweight or flooding may have warranted the replacement of the original bridge with the current span, built higher and using all steel.

The suspension bridge spans the Muskingum River at the junction of state highways 666 and 208. The bridge is built all of steel, including the towers, the eyebar suspension cables, and the steel turnbuckle beams that serve as suspenders. The decking features a continuous Warren pony truss with lattice railings. At present, the decking is all steel and pavement. The bridge is one of a handful of eyebar suspension bridges in the USA and has been on the National Register of Historic Places since its listing in 1978. The bridge has a total length of 705 feet, its main span is 443 feet.

Despite its national significance, the bridge is owned by the Ohio Department of Transportation and it is planning to tear down this historic structure. The transportation agency is working to shed off some of its historic assets because of the lack of interest in keeping the structure in tact. At a virtual meeting that took place on January 24th, 2022, officials addressed the issue with the bridge and presented the following arguments justifying the bridge’s removal:

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Costs for Renovation:

According to Ohio DOT, the cost for restoring the bridge is estimated to be at around $6 million, whereas removing the bridge would cost only $1 million. Should the bridge be demolished, ODOT would salvage some of the bridge parts to erect a memorial. To add salt to the open wound, the restoration would not guarantee that the bridge would last into the later part of the century, an argument that can be countered, if we look at the success stories involving the restoration of other bridges of its kind, including and especially the Sister Bridges (Rachel Carson, Roberto Clemente and Andy Warhol) in Pittsburgh, built in the same time period as this bridge and still maintaining its original form since having been rehabilitated.

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No Interest in Owning the Bridge:

Neither Muskingum nor the village of Dresden have the finances to own the bridge outright and given ODOT’s current situation with regards to historic bridges falling apart, the agency, which owns the bridge, would like to relieve itsself of the obligations of owning the bridge. That argument was countered with the county being at a disadvantage regarding receiving funding for restoring, replacing and even fixing its bridges, a problem that has been recurrent and at the online meeting, was brought up to the table. Auctioning the bridge like it was the case with the Roche de Beouf Bridge in Waterville would be possible but only through parties willing to restore it and cover the costs including liability. The Roche de Beouf Bridge is scheduled for removal as early as 2023 because the interested parties could not come up with a concept to restore and reuse the partially collapsed arch bridge.

The future of the bridge is in limbo because of its location out of the way of much of the major highways and bike routes. Still the bridge is not out yet, as there are several creative options available to save the bridge. Many of the options are being used for other historic bridges. The Roche de Beouf Bridge was an epic fail with the auction because of a pair of collapsed arch spans- one wonders what the interested parties they saw in the bridge that was doomed to failure even with the money invested in securing it as a historic monument. The Dresden Suspension Bridge is in pristine condition with the only problem being that of the roadway that is drawing weight on the lower chords causing rust and corrosion. In a conversation with fellow pontist Nathan Holth, he mentioned the removal of the decking and converting it into a monument being an option, and perhaps the only option if county and local officials want to keep people off the suspension bridge.

Auctioning the bridge to a party that is willing to invest in restoring the bridge as a monument may be the best option to relieve ODOT of its duties in keeping the bridge. It would stay in Dresden and people can still enjoy the structure. If the option is chosen, it would have to include not only the local parties but also those from outside who have an interest in restoring the bridge to its original glory. As a park is next to the bridge, the bridge could be integrated into the area with information on its history.

Despite the aforementioned proposals, there are many other options available but with little time to spare. ODOT would like to demolish the bridge at the earliest in 2025/26 and has already stated that it would use its own funding and not contact federal authorities for permission. Already there is a growing opposition to the plan and given its National Register status, there may be some unknown bureaucratic red tape and other mines and traps that ODOT will have to go through in order to make its plan a reality. It will be interesting to see what proposals will be open to save the bridge- whether it can be auctioned off, converted into a park using state funds or even the craziest idea yet- relocate the bridge to Dresden, Saxony, Germany- where it would make the best company with the city’s finiest bridges spanning the Elbe and other rivers. All roads are open and ODOT will have to acknowledge that the story of the suspension bridge is not over with- not without a fight.

The Chronicles will keep you posted on the latest with this bridge. The story is unfolding even as we speak. If you want to express your concerns and ideas for saving the bridge, ODOT will receive public opinion to the Dresden Suspension Bridge until February 25. Contact ODOT District Ty Thompson using the following e-mail address: ty.thompson@dot.ohio.gov

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