So close, but no cigar! There have been many substantial attempts to save the twin-span Cobban Bridge, spanning the Chippewa River between Jim Falls and Cornell, including moving it off-river and become a permanent display. The Pennsylvania petit through truss bridge with Howe lattice portals with heels even garnered an international award with the Ammann in the category of Bridge of the Year in 2017. Still, disputes on how to reuse the bridge, combined with the inflexibility and lack of compromise doomed it to the wrecking ball.
Now, crews are tearing down the product of Modern Steel Structural Co. of Waukesha, Wisconsin, having been built in 1908 but has since been occupying the County Road TT since 1918, at least still as of this post. Since August 11, crews have been removing the wooden decking of the bridge, exploiting the rust and corrosion of the lower decking which justified Chippewa County officials to close the bridge in 2017 and thus setting the wheels in motion to save the bridge. When the decision was made to replace the bridge on the site of the current span, the bridge was offered to any third parties for reuse under the condition that it was relocated elsewhere for use and that its historic integrity was not compromised. There were several possibilities to reuse the bridge, including one provided in detail by the Wisconsin Trust for Preservation (click here to read more about it). Unfortunately, the costs involving the relocation, combined with conflicts of interest and other forms of regulation was proven too much and henceforth, the plans were scrapped in favor of demolition. From a columnist’s point of view, in order to preserve a gigantic but rare structure like the Cobban Bridge, one needs some flexibility and compromise involving all parties in order for the project to become successful, even if it means providing a little extra support in terms of money. With the failure of saving and reusing the Cobban Bridge, it sends a significant signal to government agencies, preservation groups and locals that there has to be changes in the preservation and bridge replacement policies to guarantee that flexibility and ability to compromise. If it means splitting the two Pennsylvania spans and sending one elsewhere for reuse and keeping the other one as a monument, then make it so. At least a piece of history would be preserved. Better to have one section reused and another relocated than to say it has to be this way. A lose-lose situation as we see the structure come down and be replaced.
According to news sources, not all of the bridge will be gone. Parts of the bridge will be going to the new building of the Chippewa County Historical Society, while a section of panel will be put on display next to the replacement span, near the historic marker. This is in addition to the online display that was put together by the Wisconsin Trust for Historic Preservation when it proposed relocating the bridge. A new, 500-foot long bridge with two lanes of traffic will be in its place and open to traffic by the end of October, 2023. Information on the project can be seen here. Please pay attention to traffic restrictions along State Highway 178 at the junction with the bridge as there is no parking on the shoulders for 1500 feet on each end of the bridge. You can also watch the demolition process on the Friends of the Cobban Bridge facebook page. Predictions are that the truss spans will be gone by the end of September.
To finish off the article, a song by Michael Droste pays tribute to the Cobban Bridge. Produced in 2016, it features the bridge and its bygone era, something we hoped to have preserved for future generations just by walking across it. But in the end, the Cobban Bridge history will live on- in a museum and on display. May she rest in peace. ❤