Tearing down the Bockau Arch Bridge: Lessons Learned from the Loss

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I would like to start off this entry with this quote: If my uncle was rich and had a couple million dollars, enough to purchase and restore the historic bridge at the Rechenhaus, the Saxony Ministry of Transportation (LASUV) would double and even triple the price to make that purchase impossible. My uncle owns an arena football team in Texas known as the Jackalopes and has made a profit ever since taking ownership a couple decades ago. Like the states’ residents, the state of Texas takes pride in its historic bridges through policies and practice. One in three historic bridges have either been restored for reuse or bypassed by a concrete bridge with half of those having been restored at a later time. Whether my uncle would have tolerated LASUV’s price-jacking in an attempt to keep the bridge for the demolition crews would have been questionable, for Texas has one of the toughest legal systems that makes libel and fraud a crime punishable with prison. Having lived there for over four of his six decades of life, he has dealt with and used these laws wisely. In either case, the stench of libel and kickbacks would have set him off as much as our group, the Friends of the Bockau Arch Bridge, as well as locals who have followed us and expressed anger over this mishap.

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As of this entry, LASUV had it its way and our 150-year old stone arch bridge is no more. We had our send off on Tuesday of last week with a documentary by German public TV channel MDR. The next day, on a beautiful Wednesday afternoon, the last of the four main arches was downed by the digger. Filming the scene with my camera, I had a difficult time trying to comprehending what had just happened. A mix of anger, sadness, confusion, perplexity and just being lost in translation flowed through me and it would be a small photo tour of the historic bridges in Zwickau and Glauchau that helped me regain my composure and find some lessons behind this debacle.

The whole theme behind this demolition was the fact that we had no chance. LASUV wanted it gone because no two bridges should be allowed to stand side-by-side, a concept that exists in many places due to policies and practice, like in Texas. The agency was determined to see the structure gone and was diligent enough to repel those interested in the bridge for reuse as a pedestrian and bike bridge. And despite attempts to bring the issue to the table, none of the communities wanted it- neither Zschorlau nor Bockau, where the old bridge used to cross, nor any of the communities in the Ore Mountain District (in German: Erzgebirgskreis), from Aue to Schwarzenberg. Even with the smallest of amount to purchase, all of them considered the bridge a liability even though the arch bridge was still structurally sound. All of them said: “We have the future generations to worry about.” In other words, Smartphone gaming and malls trump history and outdoor recreation.  I myself was about to turn to the people in Glauchau, in the Zwickau district for help. After all, they are rebuilding their own arch bridge in the Hirschgrund at the Castle Complex and they would probably have had some ideas of their own.  That idea vanished with every drill of the digger. And lastly, the state parliament in Dresden turned down our petition to save the bridge, days after the last arch of the bridge was gone.

And to put the icing on the cake, because of the lack of will to even talk about reusing the old bridge, the Rechenhausbrücke is the first bridge ever to be used as bait for a replacement project despite its historic status! That means when building a replacement on a new alignment, one has the option to demolish the historic structure even if it is a historic landmark. This practice is common in the USA for national historic landmarks, which make the laws very weak and forces locals to jump in to save the structure with their own funds, even though as a national landmark, grants and other financial incentives are available for restoring historic bridges. For Saxony, the only incentive to save and restore the Rechenhausbrücke is if an uncle has a couple million Euros to purchase it and even then, there’s no guarantee that the purchase will happen.

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So what can we learn from this experience to pass onto our future preservation groups? After all, there are other historic bridges that are under the loop for replacement and from this experience, no bridge that is protected by cultural heritage laws is safe when it comes to progress. It’s easy to point fingers, but it’s more sensible to learn some lessons for the next project even though they are rather tough to achieve. From my personal perspective, here are some items to keep in mind for those who have a historic bridge that is worth saving and repurposing for other use:

1. Start as early as possible. If you learn of a project to replace the bridge you want to keep, you have to begin as early as you can. The window of opportunity will close quicker than you think. This was probably one of the painful reasons we lost our bridge. We just could not keep up with LASUV and the politicians who wanted to turn a blind eye at any cost (and did so).

2. Get actively involved in the discussions. Do not stand on the sidelines nor allow others to influence you. We had voices but need more of them to bring the issue to a head. Not to mention a couple trips to Dresden to get some politicians on our side.

3. Create an organization to save the bridge. This one we did a bit too late but we gained some traction in the process. Your organization should have some people with deep pockets full of money and resources as well as a will to share your interest and help. This one we lacked a great deal but part of that was LASUV’s unfair hat trick.

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4. Have some capital with you if you want to (fight to) own the bridge. Despite the T-shirt idea, fundraising should be done once you create your group. However, that requires a lot of time and effort to achieve your goal. What is needed is money right away from sources that are willing to help you. Even grants and financial support from the private sector helps a great deal. That one we didn’t have in the end, even if we had the 1.7 million Euros LASUV offered.  By the way, the T-shirts are still selling. If interested in a memorabilia, click here.

5. Know your friends and the ways to repel your enemies. This one we learned the hard way for our organization did form a nucleus of friends, many of us will remain in contact. Yet we didn’t know who our friends from outside were. Especially at the April 2018 at the bridge, where despite the invitation to many members of three ministries and several parties, many of them were either clueless about the situation of the bridge or showed no interest in saving it. The latter was very obvious with a “behind closed door” meeting that occurred after our meeting between the head of the petition committee and the two mayors of the communities which the old bridge connected- two opponents of keeping the bridge.

6. Involve the parties at every meeting, including the media. This one we did a great job of, especially with Heike Mann at the Chemnitz Free Press, Aue Office, plus people at MDR-TV based in Leipzig-Halle and the Leipzig Glocal via Chronicles. Being a journalist on the side, it is difficult getting the information needed to write a great story on it. What I found disturbing was their exclusion from the meeting in April where they all waited about 50 meters away while we had a great debate going. Fortunately, I played Terry Bradshaw of the Pittsburgh Steelers and bootlegged a story out of it as I could do it in English. Normally one’s head could get ripped off for that. However, we did forge great ties with our media correspondences and they were able to get it done objectively, which helps when they are involved in every phase of the project.

7. Know the preservation laws, the options in saving the historic places and the loopholes involved. I did some research on German preservation laws for a presentation in 2010 and compared them with the National Historic Preservation Laws in the US. Both have one common denominator involved: They are flawed! When you know them early enough, you can come up with a strategy to fill in the holes. Make sure every exit is covered and no wide receiver is open before the quarterback throws the ball.

8. If you are ready to buy the bridge, know your responsibilities. It’s like owning a car: your car, your responsibilities. If anything happens, make sure you have enough capital to fix the problem. I believe we had enough money to buy the bridge, yet the need to maintain and perhaps rehabilitate the bridge, would require help from outside, which was impossible to get, in the end.

9. If they argue for demolition, make sure they have clear cut evidence. Also with the historical documentations. This was one that irked us the most. The process from replacing the bridge to offering the old bridge to a third party lacked transparency and evidence to justify the reasoning behind the actions carried out.  We wanted to document the bridge before it was demolished. According to LASUV, it was documented, but there was no hard evidence. We wanted reasons behind the cost for rehabilitating the old bridge compared to demolishing it after the new one opened. We received numbers that were arbitrary and lacked evidence behind the facts and figures. The petition was supposed to be discussed in parliament- it was after the demolition had started! The arguments for demolition lacked hard and sufficient evidence to justify the claims. If you are not sure about them, ask them and have them provide you with evidence. Then compare with other projects to see if they are standard or fixed to their advantage. Chances are the claims against your arguments are flawed. Be empirical about the claims.

10. Involve the public- hold a referendum! This was never held although if it had, the outcome would have been different. There were no reasons behind not having held it except for the mayors to save their faces, which they have lost along with the bridge. Yet while they will certainly be voted out in the mayoral elections later on this year, you can force your city officials to hold a referendum. Petitions, active involvement, constant phone calls, that’s all they are needed to get the city officials to carry it out, even if it takes a lot of effort.

And lastly, know if you are in the right and fight for it! In the end, we knew we were in the right when we saw several flaws in the whole bridge replacement process. We saw the lack of flexibility and ability to compromise. We saw the lack of interest and will in saving the bridge and helping the group achieve the goal. And lastly, we saw the lack of enthusiasm that is needed for saving a piece of history and heritage. After all, a bridge is a bridge, but if it has history, unique design and character, it does have a chance to be saved.

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I’d like to end this entry with a quote by Sharad Vivek Sagar that best fits the ending of a tragedy of this story: “For too long, information, opportunities, and resources have been constraints, they need to be the bridges.”  We have been limited by the color of money, the lack of information on the laws protecting historic places, the lack of will to cooperate and compromise and the inflexibility, all in the name of progress and power. Learning the lessons the hardest way possible, we need to take these  and teach the next groups about the importance of our heritage and ways to protect them. In an ever-changing environment where everything is being modernized, preserving what is left of our history is of paramount of importance so that we can learn about our region and our heritage. It’s for the sake of future generations. Otherwise what do we have to teach our children?

 

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Saving the Bockau Arch Bridge Day 11: A Flicker of Hope?

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A Tale of Two Bridges: The Stone Arch Bridge in the foreground and the New Bridge in the background. Photo taken on 23 January, 2019

This entry starts with a little bit of irony. The bridge was supposed to be torn down beginning the 14th after the organization Friends of the Bockau Arch Bridge was unable to purchase the historic stone arch bridge for 1.7 million Euros- a price that was considered too high and the figure to fictitious to anyone’s liking. Because of a massive snowstorm that brought life in Saxony and parts of Germany to a complete standstill, it was pushed back to the 21st. As of this entry and visit to the bridge on the 23rd, the old stone lady is still standing, with no digger, no crane, no driller, no construction worker. At temperatures well below zero Celsius, it makes the planned demolition impossible. And with more snow and cold in the forecast, chances are very likely that the planned work may not even commence until sometime before Easter.

And that is a long ways away. However, this may be that window of opportunity that we need to turn it around and pull off an upset- a hat trick that is even bigger than the bunny the Ministry of Finance and Transport pulled. Already suggestions from nearby communities in Saxony indicate that people don’t want to part ways from this historic bridge just yet. In the newly consolidated Aue-Bad Schlema for example, there was a proposal to divert funding for renovating a club to go to purchasing and renovating the bridge.  In Beiersfeld near Schwarzenberg, one official suggested at least leaving the bridge piers so that a wooden bridge is put in its place. If covered, it would be a first in over 150 years. And even in Berlin, the petition to save the bridge is being examined as the federal government still owns the bridge and the highway that crosses it, although it’s crossing a new bridge on a new alignment.  So in other words, while the state is dead set on removing the structure, attempts to pull an upset is in the works. And as long as Old Man Winter hovers over the Ore Mountain region, there is still some hope to pull this off.

But how to do it?

We’re looking for any ideas to halt the demolition process. Rallies are possible, for we’ve seen this at many historic bridges in the US and Canada. Concerts as well. There is a possibility to donate to the group Friends of the Bockau Arch Bridge. But more importantly, we need some sources and people willing to step in and save a piece of history, one that can be used as a crossing for cyclists and pedestrians, fishermen and photographers, anybody who would rather see a piece of history in tact as is, and not in rubble.  The old bridge has potential, and is stable enough for use. We need some ideas and your help…..

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….as long as the snow is there and no green.

You can send your suggestions here, but you can also contact the following representatives of the Friends of the Bockau Arch Bridge (Freunde der Rechenhausbrücke) using the e-mails below:

 

Contact details:

Ulrike Kahl <ulrike.kahl@gruene-erzgebirge.de>,   Hermann Meier hermann.meier50@gmx.de , Günther Eckhardt <geck-art@gmx.de>

Please note that you should have your German language ready for use!

 

To close this, I would like to use a Cree Indian quote but adapted in this context, which goes like this:

Not until the the decking has been taken out

Not until the arches have been removed

Not until the piers are imploded

Not until the materials are hauled away

Not until we realize what we’ve done to our local history

That it cannot be replaced with memories.

We will fight until the last brick leaves Rechenhaus.

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For those who joined the Chronicles via Skrive, you can collect the information on the bridge by clicking here, and then following the updates so that you get a bigger picture and perhaps help.

Check out our facebook page here for photos and other information. You are free to follow and join in the conversation, regardless of language.

 

 

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Röhrensteg Reopened, Still Work to be Done

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ZWICKAU (SAXONY), GERMANY- A cold afternoon lingers over the Ore Mountains, the fingers tingling and icy cold, yet the brave soul prevails as he crosses a historic landmark for the first time in almost a year. The Röhrensteg, a 1500s-era covered bridge spanning the Zwickau Mulde on the south end of Zwickau is now open to traffic. After seven months of being closed due to a massive makeover, the bridge now provides access to Reinsdorf and all points east after pedestrians and cyclists were forced to take a detour either via the Schedewitz Bridges to the southwest or the Paradiesbrücke to the northeast.

While scaffolding is still on the bridge due to some minor cosmetic work done on the bridge, one will have a chance to take a look at what changes were done to the bridge, both up close and personal, as well as from a distance. To find out how much work was done, I’ve created an activity for the readers to compare and discuss. Have a look at the Röhrensteg in its original form when it was filmed and photographed in 2016 and compare it to the film I produced on the day of its posting, as well as the photos and answer the following questions:

1. What is different in the bridge after its rehabilitation in terms of its sturcture and design, both inside and out?

2. What was left as is?

3. What could be worked on further?

4. How satisfied are you with the reconstruction? With this question, I have a poll for you to grade on.

 

Have a look and feel free to comment as well.  🙂

 

Röhrensteg Before the Rehabilitation

 

 

 

 

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Rohrensteg after the Reopening and Rehabilitation 2018:

 

 

 

Link to gallery below here.

 

Additional photos via Google Photos here.

A tour guide on Zwickau’s historic bridges can be found here.

 

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2018 Ammann Awards Results

Paper Mill Bowstring Arch Bridge in Newcastle, Delaware. Winner of the Best Example of a Restored Historic Bridge and Bridge of the Year. Photo taken by Julie Bowers

Last Year the Awards will be given using the name Othmar H. Ammann. Next year it will use the name Bridgehunter’s Awards.

First podcast on the Award results with table results here.

Results of the Awards under Best Photo

ZWICKAU (SAXONY), GERMANY/ SCHWARZENBERG, GERMANY/ KANSAS CITY/ LAWRENCEBURG (INDIANA)/ NEWCASTLE (DELAWARE)/ SAN FRANCISCO-

This year’s results of the Ammann Awards is nothing like anyone has ever seen before. A record setting number of votes were casted in eight categories, and with that, a lot of suspense that is comparable to any bowl game in college football and waiting under a Christmas tree for Santa Claus to provide gifts. It was that intense. And with that, a lot of commentary that led to making some new changes in the award format and that of the Chronicles itself.

For the first time in the history of the Ammann Awards, there will be a podcast with commentary of the Awards in all but one of the categories. This can be found here but also via SoundCloud. You can subscribe to Soundcloud by scrolling down on the left column, clicking and signing up once you arrive there. Details on how podcasts will be used for the Chronicles will be presented in the next podcast, which will also be posted here.  The table with the results of the Ammann Awards are presented here but in the order of the podcast so that you can follow. As in last year, the table features the top six finishers with some honors mentioned, but color coded based on the medals received in the following order: gold, silver, bronze, turquoise, quartzite and iron ore.

And so without further ado, click here to access the podcast but keep this page open to follow. The results in Best Photo is yet to come here.

2018 Ammann Award Results:

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And lastly, the results of the Ammann Awards under the category Best Bridge Photo:

1st place:

Photo 5: Sigler Bridge in White County, IL by Melissa Brand-Welch

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2nd Place: 

Photo 13: Trolley Bridge in Waterloo, Iowa by Diane Ebert

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3rd Place:

Photo 10:  Manhattan Bridge in Riley County, Kansas by Nick Schmiedeleier

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4th Place:

Photo 3: Chesterfield-Battleboro Bridges by Dan Murphy

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5th Place:

Photo 11: Route 66 Gasconade Truss Bridge in Missouri by Dyuri Smith

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6th Place:

Photo 2: Tappan Zee Bridge in New York by Dan Murphy

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The full table with the results can be seen here.

As mentioned in the podcast, next year’s awards will be the same but under a new name: The Bridgehunter Awards. The name Ammann will be relegated to the Tour Guide Awards for US and international bridges; whereas the Best Example of a Restored Historic Bridge will be renamed the Delony Award, after the late Eric Delony.  An additional category is being considered for a historic bridge threatened with demolition but has the potential to being saved and reused. The Author’s Choice Awards will remain the same as is.

While we’re talking about those awards, you can see the results and commentaries here.

To those who won in their respective categories, as well as those who finished in the top 6 or were honored, congratulations. You may now bring out the sect and champaign and celebrate. Prost! 🙂

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2018 Author’s Choice Awards: Mr. Smith makes his picks

Lowe Bridge in White County, Illinois. Photo taken by Melissa Brand-Welch

Before announcing the official winners of the 2018 Ammann Awards, it’s time to take a look at the winners of the Author’s Choice Awards. Here, the author of the Chronicles (yours truly) picks out the best and worst in terms of bridges. And for this year, there is plenty of fame to go around. So without further ado, let’s take a look at my picks to close off a busy year.

 

Spectacular Bridge collapse

USA:

Florida International (niversity Bridge in Miami- There are accidents with fatalities that are caused by natural disasters, then we have some caused by human error. The Florida International University Bridge in Miami, which had been built by FIGG Bridge Engineering was one that collapsed on March 15th, killing six people was one that was caused by human error. Faulty design combined with a lack of thorough inspection caused the double decker bridge to collapse in broad daylight, turning a dozen cars passing underneath into steel pancakes. Most of the fatalities were from people who were squished underneath. It was later revealed the FIGG and four other companies had violated seven regulations resulting in fines totalling $89,000. Yet they are not out of the woods just yet, due to lawsuits pending against them.  It is unknown whether a new pedestrian bridge will be built.

Honorably mentioned:

Kingsland Bridge in Texas- We have accidents caused by mother nature that produced no fatalities and not even the most modern of bridges can withstand. A pair of runner-ups come to mind on the American side: The bridges that were lost in the worst forest fire in California history, and this one, the Kingsland Viaduct, a 50-year old bridge spanning Lake Llano that was washed away by floodwaters on October 6th. Fortunately here, no casualties were reported. A new bridge is being built.

 

International:

Morandi Viaduct in Genoa, Italy- It was the collapse of the year. The Morandi Viaduct in Genoa in Italy collapsed on 14 August during a severe storm. 22 people were killed, many of them had been crossing the concrete cable-stayed suspension bridge at the time of the collapse. The work of bridge engineer Ricardo Morandi had been under scrutiny due to defects in the decking and concrete cables and it was a matter of a simple storm to bring part of the bridge down. It served as a wake-up call for the Italian Government as it introduced strict standards for bridges afterwards, also in Europe. Other Morandi bridges are being examined with replacement plans being put together. As for this bridge, the 54-year old structure is currently being replaced with a steel/concrete beam viaduct, which is expected to be finished by 2020.

Chiajara Viaduct in Colombia- Runner-up here is another cable-stayed bridge, but located in the forest near Bogota. Here one didn’t need a storm to bring down the partially-built bottle-shaped cable-stayed suspension bridge, which happened on 15 January. 200 people were attending a seminar when the collapse happened, unfortunately those who were on the bridge- about 20 workers- were not so lucky. Eight were killed and others were injured, some critically.  The completed half of the bridge was taken down six months later. It is in the process of being rebuilt.

 

Biggest Bonehead Story:

We had a lot of eye-rolling and forehead-slapping stories in this category. So we’ll start at the place where anything can happen: The United States

USA:

Man Destroys Historic Bridge in Indiana, Gets Sentenced and Asks for a Retrial- This really bonehead story goes back to the now extant Hohmann Railroad Bridge, which used to span the Grand Calumet River near Hammond. The person was arrested and tried on federal charges of not only trespassing onto the bridge, but destroying property for the sake of scrap metal- without even a permit. His claim: no one owns it so the metal was his. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison without parole, yet he just recently asked for a retrial- for treating him unfairly in court and for wrongful judgement! Mr. President (Donald J. Trump): I have the perfect candidate for you to replace Elaine Chao as Head of the US Department of Transportation! He’s that type of guy!

Truck Driver Destroys Covered Bridge in East Chicago Days after Its Reopening- If the mother of this driver was at the scene of this rather careless accident, the person would have had a lesson of a lifetime, known as You break it, you fix it! On 28 June, 16 days after it reopened and was designated as a historic structure, Mr. Eriberto Orozco drove his truck through the covered bridge, ignoring the warning signs and sensors, and plowing smack dab into the newly restored structure. When he got out of the truck, he smiled. He has since been cited for reckless driving and destruction of property. The covered bridge is considered a total loss.

 

International:

Three-Bridge Solution in Saxony- The battle between preservation and progress got a bit hairier and went way over the top with this story: A stone arch bridge had to be rebuilt elsewhere, moved aside for a modern bridge. Unfortunately, as you can see in the video, things went south in a hurry. Watch and find out what happened and why we have three bridges instead of one. The story is in the documentary Voss & Team and starts in the 11th minute.

 

Best example of a restored historic bridge: 

 

International:

Blackfriars Street Bridge-  This year’s awards are the year of the bowstring arch bridge for there were some great examples of restored bridges of this kind that have been reported. While the Paper Mill Bridge won the Ammann Awards in two categories, the Author’s Choice goes directly to the Blackfriars Street Bridge because of the painstaking task of dismantling, sandblasting and repairing (in some cases replacing) and reassembling the structure back into place. All within 18 months time, keeping the historic integrity in mind and the fact that the bridge still holds the world’s record for longest of its kind. This is one that will be discussed in the historic bridge community for years to come and one that deserves some kind of recognition of sorts.

Silk Road Bridge in Turkey- Runner-up in this category goes to the Silk Road Bridge in Turkey. The over 700-year old structure features a multiple span stone arch bridge, built at the beginning of the Ottoman Empire. The bridge underwent an extensive renovation project to strengthen the arches and super structure and put new decking in. The bridge looks just like new. A link to the project is here: https://www.dailysabah.com/turkey/2018/12/26/restoration-of-5-centuries-old-silk-road-bridge-in-central-turkey-completed

USA:

A pair of bridges visited during my US trip definitely deserve some recognition for its work. The Broadway Avenue Bridge in St. Peter, Minnesota is one of them. The 1930s two-span through truss bridge underwent a makeover in 2017 with new decking and lighting, fixing some truss parts and a new coat of paint. The forest green colored bridge looks like it was newly built. It’s definitely one for the ages.  The other bridge worth noting is the State Street Bridge in Bridgeport, Michigan. The 112-year old two-span Pratt through truss bridge was restored in 2016 where the trusses were taken apart, sandblasted and painted. Some of the truss parts were bent and needed to be straightened. A new pier and new decking followed. The bridge is now one of the key components of the county historical museum, where a collection of historic houses and a park line up along Main Street, adjacent to the Cass River crossing.

 

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The Hidden Gem: Best Find of a Historic Bridge

Originally meant for finding only one historic bridge, I had to make some exceptions for two of the notables that deserve to be recognized. Henceforth, let’s have a look at the winners of the Author’s Choice in this category:

USA:

The Bridges of White County, Illinois- Fellow Bridgehunter Melissa Brand-Welch found a collection of abandoned truss bridges in this southeastern Illinois county, each of which had its unique design and history. There are at least six through truss bridges and numerous pony trusses that one can find here. Each of them have potential to be restored and reused as a bike/pedestrian crossing. This county got second place in the category of Tour Guide for American Bridges in the 2018 Ammann Awards, while Ms. Brand-Welch won in the Best Bridge Photo category with her oblique photo of the Siglar Bridge. Winning the Author’s Choice Awards in this category should be the third and most convincing reason for county officials to act to collaborate on saving these precious structures. If not, then Ms. Brand-Welch has at least three accolades in her name.

Camelback Girder Bridge in Wakefield, Michigan- Runner-up is this small crossing. Michigan is famous for its camelback girder bridges of concrete, for dozens were built between 1910 and 1925. This bridge, located 500 feet away from a park in Wakefield, is easy to miss unless the oversized chair next to the shelter catches you. Then during your stop for a photo and picnic, you will see it. May be a boring concrete structure to some, but it is unique enough for a brief stop.

International:

In the international category we have three bridges that deserve recognition because they are either rare to find or are rarely recognized by the public. We’ll start off with the first bridge:

Höpfenbrücke in Pausa-Mühltropf (Vogtland), Germany- Located just off a major highway, 15 kilometers west of Plauen in Saxony, this bridge was built in 1396 and was an example of a typical house bridge- a bridge with houses either on the structure or in this case, on the abutments. This structure was restored recently after flood damage forced its closure. The bridge is definitely worth the stop as it is one of three key points the village has to offer. The other two are the palace and the city center, where the bridge is located in.

Pul Doba Suspension Bridge- One of the fellow readers wanted some information about this bridge. It is one of a half dozen in India whose towers is shaped like one of the towers of a castle. It was built in 1896 but we don’t know who built it. We do know that this bridge is a beauty.

The Bridges of Conwy, Wales-  How many bridges does it take to get to a castle? Three, according to the city of Conwy in Wales, which has three structures that lead to one of the most popular places in the country: an arch bridge for traffic, a chain suspension bridge for pedestrians and a box through girder with towers for trains. Not bad planning there, especially as they fit the landscape together despite its space issues with the channel and the penninsula.

 

This sums up my picks for 2018. While we will see what 2019 will bring us for historic bridges, we will now take a look at the results of the Ammann Awards, which you can click here. Remember the results include a podcast powered by SoundCloud.

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World’s Longest Bowstring Arch Bridge Reopens to Traffic

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Blackfriars Street in London, Ontario reopened to traffic after five-year closure and one year extensive restoration work.

LONDON, ONTARIO (CANADA)- At 225 feet (68.6 meters), it is the longest bowstring arch bridge in the world. It was one of the longest ever built by the Wrought Iron Bridge Company in Canton, Ohio At 143 years of age, it is one of the oldest historic bridges of its kind left in Canada and North America. It is one of the rarest bridges to find in the country because of its dwindling numbers. And now, after five years including one year of a complete restoration, the Blackfriars Street Bridge in London, Ontario is back in business.

Thousands convened to the bridge on December 1st to commemorate the reopening of this unique bowstring arch bridge, located at Blackfriars Street, spanning the North Branch of the Thames River connecting Blackfriars Park on the west bank and Harris Park on the east bank. This included a ribbon-cutting ceremony followed by a parade of cars that crossed the newly restored structure.  The cost for the complete restoration was $8.6 million, which was split between local and federal funding. For many residents and bridge enthusiasts, it is a relief to have the structure back in service while at the same time, retain its historic and cultural integrity. Many have had great childhood memories of the bridge and were happy to see the bridge open to traffic. From its build date of 1875 until its closure in 2013, the bridge served vehicular traffic before structural deterioration forced its restriction of the bridge to solely pedestrian cyclists in 2013. In November 2017, the bridge was lifted off its place, cut in half, then dismantled to be transported to an offsite complex where it was sandblasted and welded, with several parts being replaced.

This bridge restoration was met with hefty criticism, especially from bridge preservationists who dubbed the Blackfriars Street Bridge Restoration as a complete replacement. In a statement posted by Nathan Holth in the historicbridges.org homepage, “A 2018 rehabilitation project essentially replaced nearly every surviving piece of original material on this bridge with new material that looks completely different than the original design.” Holth added that “this may be due to a lack of sufficient consultation with experts in bridge restoration, or a lack of open minds on the part of engineers who may have consulted with experts in bridge restoration.” And while the website acknowledged that rehabilitation was needed, this type of work was more of a modernization of the bridge than in-kind restoration, stating “with an in-kind restoration, many parts of the bridge would still have been replaced, but they would have been replaced with replicas of the original design. The bridge’s bowstring trusses today are almost unrecognizable.”

While his claim is that with the complete replacement of bridge parts with new materials is as bad a bridge replacement, one needs to look at the difference between the Blackfriar’s Street Bridge before and the structure after the replacement to see the difference. It is clear that the portal bracings and the upper chord are different; the portals veered away from its three-tiered Lattice and X-frame portal bracings with heel bracings and was replaced with simply the X-frame with heels, whereas the original beams with Phoenix columns have been replaced with rectangular beams, much of the vertical and diagonal beams appear to be the same. One needs to have a look at the bridge for himself to see the difference.

Nevertheless, inspite of the criticism, the restoration of the bridge and its reopening of the crossing will provide drivers, cyclists and pedestrians alike with an opportunity to gain access to the university complex on the western bank of the Thames from the greenery area on the east side, where the two branches form the Thames. But most importantly, the City of London got back their beloved historic bridge, one of only a handful of historic landmarks left for the city, but one of the most important that a person should see when passing through. This is one that is not only in the running for this year’s Ammann Award in the category of Best Example of a Restored Historic Bridge, but one on the places to visit list for many, like myself, who have yet to see the structure and judge for himself how much alteration was actually done.

The Blackfriars Street Bridge has its own Twitter website, where you can follow up on the bridge and read the stories behind the structure and the love affair the people have with the longest bowstring arch bridge in the world. Click here and follow for details.

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Obituary: Eric Delony (1944-2018)

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Eric Delony (right) with fellow historian and preservationist Mary-Ann Savage at the Bollmann Truss Bridge in Savage, Maryland. Photo taken in 2014

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Author’s update: Funeral Arrangements are being planned for historic bridge preservationist Eric Delony, who died on October 23rd. According to Information from Christopher Marston, it is being scheduled for January 2019. When and where has yet to be determined, but the Chronicles will inform you in due time as soon as everything is finalized.

Mr. Marston, who worked with Eric for many years, write a much-detailed version of the obituary, honoring him for his three decades-plus work in documenting and saving historic bridges, much more than what the Chronicles covered when having honored him with the Ammann Awards for Lifetime Achievement. This was done in 2016. With his permission, the detail of his life and work are written below. More Information on him and the stories behind his historic bridge preservation will follow. For now, enjoy reading about Mr. Delony from Christopher’s point of view:

Eric N. DeLony, who served as Chief of the National Park Service’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.

 

Early Years at HAER

After graduating from the Ohio State University in 1968, Eric was first hired as a summer architect on the New England Textile Mills Survey, a joint project of the Smithsonian (under the leadership of Robert Vogel) and the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS). The following year he became a member of the Mohawk-Hudson Area Survey, HAER’s very first field team. This ambitious project documented several industrial sites and bridges in the Albany area, and team members were challenged to devise new recording techniques for manufacturing and engineering structures. His detailed drawing of the Troy Gasholder remains the logo of the Society for Industrial Archeology to this day. Once he completed his Master’s in Historic Preservation at Columbia University under James Marston Fitch (where he first met his lifelong friend and colleague, preservation educator Chester Liebs), Eric was hired as HAER’s first full-time employee in 1971. HAER began recording a variety of bridges and other industrial structure types as part of state inventories and themed surveys. These included surveys of the Baltimore & Ohio and Erie railroads, Paterson and Lowell mill towns, and later mining, steel, power, and maritime-related sites, among others. Eric also helped initiate “SWAT teams” to record endangered structures prior to demolition. By 1987, Eric DeLony had been promoted to Chief of HAER.

 

HAER Historic Bridge Program

In collaboration with Emory Kemp of West Virginia University, Eric began developing the HAER Historic Bridge Program in 1973, which would become the first comprehensive national program to identify and protect historic bridges. Through Eric’s efforts, HAER developed partnerships with the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP), the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP), and state historic preservation offices (SHPOs). The first goal of the program was to promote comprehensive historic bridge inventories in each state. When inventories were required by law in 1987, Eric’s initiative became a catalyst in making highway bridges the first class of historic structures to be nationally evaluated.

After the preliminary state bridge inventories were completed, HAER partnered with state departments of transportation (DOTs) to undertake HAER summer documentation projects that would more intensively document representative bridges, with the first taking place in Ohio in 1986. Using funding from a variety of partners like the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), DOTs, and historic groups, HAER recording teams collaborated with national and local experts to produce large-format photographs, histories, and drawings of hundreds of historic bridges in Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Washington, from 1987-2001. Eric also worked with engineering professors such as Dario Gasparini at Case Western, Stephen Buonopane at Bucknell, and Ben Schafer at Johns Hopkins to hire students to compile detailed engineering analyses of a variety of historic bridge types, going beyond traditional architectural history reports. In appreciation of Eric’s initiatives, the White House and ACHP presented HAER’s Historic Bridge Program with a National Historic Preservation Award in 1992.

In addition to the nation’s highway bridges, the historic roads and bridges in the National Park system were also deteriorating from neglect and overuse. HAER developed a pilot project in the National Capital Region of the National Park Service (NPS) in 1988 to survey the historic and significant transportation-related structures and designed landscapes at various NPS units. With support from FHWA and NPS, this program expanded in 1989 and continued until 2002 to document the roads and bridges of large western national parks, national battlefields, and eastern parkways. HAER also partnered with New York and Connecticut to record several historic local parkways. The drawings of these projects are compiled in America’s National Park Roads and Parkways: Drawings from the Historic American Engineering Record (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 2004).

Eric DeLony was also influential in HAER’s involvement with a third major initiative involving FHWA and historic bridges. Realizing that covered bridges were a beloved but endangered resource, Vermont Senator James Jeffords proposed legislation to save them. The resulting National Historic Covered Bridge Preservation (NHCBP) Program was established by FHWA in 1998 as part of the TEA-21 transportation bill. HAER received research funding beginning in 2002 to document the nation’s most significant covered bridges, as well as developing other educational initiatives including engineering studies, a traveling exhibition, national conferences, and National Historic Landmark nominations. With the benefit of continued FHWA support, HAER Project Leader Christopher Marston has continued Eric’s vision and is in the process of finalizing several research projects. These include the 2015 publication Covered Bridges and the Birth of American Engineering, co-edited with Justine Christianson, and dedicated to Eric DeLony. Rehabilitation Guidelines for Historic Covered Bridges will be published later in 2018.

 

Nationwide Advocacy

Eric was a longtime member of the Society for Industrial Archeology (SIA) and developed the SIA Historic Bridge Symposium beginning in the early 1980s to allow experts to share research and preservation experiences. Eric attended his last one in 2011; the 25th was held in 2016 in cooperation with the Historic Bridge Foundation in Kansas City, Missouri. He was also an active participant with the Transportation Research Board (TRB)’s Committee on Historic Preservation and Archaeology in Transportation (ADC50) beginning in the 1990s, which was comprised of professionals from state DOTs, SHPOs, and consultants involved in preservation issues on federally funded transportation projects. Research and best practices on preserving and maintaining historic bridges was always a major focus of the committee. As a subcontractor to Parsons Brinckerhoff, Eric DeLony co-authored A Context for Common Historic Bridge Types with Robert Jackson, for the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCPRP Project 25-25, Task 15) in 2005.

Not satisfied to just record historic bridges, Eric was also determined to see as many bridges as possible saved and preserved. Some of the projects that Eric championed included: the 1828 Blaine S-Bridge and the 1868 Zoarville Station Bridge in Ohio; the 1869 Henszey’s Bridge in Pennsylvania; and the 1858 Aldrich Change Bridge in New York. As Ohio DOT’s Tom Barrett reflected, “Through Eric’s encouragement, I feel that the historic bridge inventory in Ohio has stabilized and improved in many ways. We strive to explore all plausible alternatives to demolition and find ways to educate everyone on proper rehabilitation and design solutions. Hard-fought successes here and nationwide in bridge preservation will always be a part of Eric’s legacy.”

Eric’s advocacy extended beyond bridges to roads as well. As Preserving the Historic Road conference founder Paul Daniel Marriott stated, “Eric appreciated that roads and bridges were intertwined. He was one of the first people to acknowledge that historic research and advocacy [were needed] for historic roads. Eric DeLony was instrumental in establishing the historic roads movement.”

 

International Influence

Eric studied at Ironbridge with Sir Neil Cossons in 1971-72 as a Fulbright Scholar, and this experience led him to encourage collaboration between HAER and industrial archeologists and preservationists in Europe and other countries. Eric consistently hired International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) foreign exchange students for his summer field teams beginning in 1984.

He represented the United States at several meetings of the International Committee for the Conservation of the Industrial Heritage (TICCIH). He also worked with several prominent European scholars, such as Barrie Trinder at Ironbridge and Louis Bergeron at Le Creusot, on various publications, exhibitions, and conferences. Another issue that Eric championed has finally shown dividends; after several decades, the U.S. delegation finally nominated the Brooklyn Bridge as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2017.

 

Post-career Legacy

After retiring to Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 2003, Eric became a bridge preservation consultant. Maintaining “The Pontists” email list, he advocated for various bridge preservation causes and initiatives, and continued to write and teach.

An avid collector of rare books, technical reports, and images of historic bridges, Eric donated his collection to two prestigious archives. The “Eric DeLony Collection of the History of Bridges and Bridge Construction” was established in 2010 at The Huntington Library in San Marino, Calif. In 2013, the Linda Hall Library in Kansas City, Missouri received the “Eric N. DeLony Engineering & Bridge Collection.”

After health issues removed him from public life, Eric continued to receive various honors acknowledging his legacy. Beginning in 2014, David Wright of the National Society for the Preservation of Covered Bridges established the Eric DeLony Scholarship, an annual prize awarded to a college student interested in historic preservation. Eric was also a recipient of the 2016 Othmar H. Amman Award for Lifetime Achievement from The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles.

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.

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