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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Wilischthal Viaduct Renovated and In Service

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ZSCHOPAU (SAXONY), GERMANY-  Four kilometers to the south of Zschopau in the village of Wilischthal, deep in the valley of the river that bears the same name as the city of 9,600 is a piece of artwork that most recently got a much-needed facelift. The Wilischthal Viaduct was built in 1901 and features a series of different arch types. The main span is an open-spandrel arch bridge which stretches 31 meters across the River Zschopau.  The three approach spans, each of which are over 10 meters, spans a rail line connecting Annaberg-Buchholz with Riesa and Chemnitz on the east side next to the main highway, S228, a state highway. The entire bridge was built using natural stone, taking well over a year to build. It was open in 1901.  For 10 years, the bridge had been open for only one lane of traffic. Now the bridge has been reopened to traffic and two cars can meet from each direction. Furthermore, pedestrians can cross it without any hindrance.  According to news story from the Chemnitz Free Press, bridge was rehabilitated at the cost of 1.3 million Euros ($2.1 million) and included replacing the decking with a wider one (the original deck width was 6 meters; the new one is now three meters wider) and installing beautiful blue railings. Furthermore, the arches were strengthened to accomodate heavier loads. All of the renovation work lasted two years and it included partial and full closures, thus making access to nearby villages  Gelenau and Scharfenstein difficult.

Nevertheless, the renovation was worth it during my visit at the bridge. There will be more photos of the bridge to come as the tour guide on the bridges in Zschopau is being made, but the whole bridge itself looks just like new.

And for a 117-year old bridge, this IS telling. 🙂

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Saving the Bockau Arch Bridge Day 9: Concrete Bed in the River

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A first in the Bockau Arch Bridge series since July and a lot has changed since then. It goes beyond the change in the color of the leaves in the fall, as you can see from the picture of the trees flanking the Zwickau Mulde from the old bridge.

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It goes beyond the fact that workers have poured the concrete on the new structure built adjacent to the old bridge. This was done in August and according to latest news from the Chemnitz Free Press, the new B-283 Bridge is scheduled to be open to traffic by Christmas, thus ending the detour of Highway B-283 between Aue and Eibenstock in the western part of the Ore Mountains, which has until now been rerouted through Zschorlau and Schneeberg.

It has to do with a finding that was discovered during our most recent visit to the bridge and our Friends of the Bockau Arch Bridge Association Meeting on October 9th, something very unpleasant and will most certainly cause legal action because of the violations committed. Despite many headaches trying to download this clip from my camera, this 5-minute film tells all, even without the commentary in English…..

And after crossing the old bridge to get to the Bockau side of the span, we could see the “Schandfleck” in detail. A total “Schande” (shame) because of several reasons!

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According to several sources, the old bridge is supposed to remain in place until it is demolished and removed in the spring in 2019 with a pair of very important exceptions:

1. Since the bridge is still protected by the Denkmalschutzgesetz (German Culture Heritage Law), documentation of the structure will need to be carried out before its removal, which includes ist history, description and historical significance to the Region. If following the Guidelines that exist in the USA, that process could take 1-2 years to complete.

2. The Investigative Committee (Ausschuss), located in the state parliament in Dresden, which took on the petition to save the bridge back in March, has yet to decide on the bridge’s fate. At the present time, the association has three possible suitors that are willing to take ownership of the bridge once the new B-283 Bridge is completed. If Dresden says yes to the proposal, then the association has until March to name the suitor willing to take over ownership of the old bridge. If not, then the green light will have been given to proceed with the removal.

3. Even if Dresden says no, a copy of the Petition was forwarded to Berlin; specifically the Deutschen Bundestag (German Parliament) and the  Deutsches Nationalkomitee für Denkmalschutz (Geman National Committee for Cultural Heritage), for the bridge carries a federal highway and if therefore responsible for the ownership of the bridge, which is still protected by the Cultural Heritage Laws (Denkmalschutzgesetz). That Petition has been accepted and the bridge is being considered for a program to protect places of interest, thus providing funding for restoring and repurposing the bridge.

Having the concrete bed in the river, according to multiple choices may have violated these agreements and then some, for the Zwickau Mulde is protected by several natural preserve laws on both the state and federal levels. With the concrete bed in the water and despite the two pipes running underneath, it will have the potential to hinder the flow of fish flowing downstream, which could cause unrest from some of the local fisheries and fishing clubs along the river.  Despite the need for having the bed there for the eventual removal of the old bridge, having the bed there is too early and could possibly cause some violations that could result in some legal actions.  A gallery with pictures taken by the author will provide you with some Details.

Photo Gallery:

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To summarize, the old bridge is still standing and can be crossed despite being partially blocked off. Yet the concrete bed indicates that workers want to go ahead and demolish the bridge before Christmas. The new bridge is almost completed and will open between November and December. The fate of the old bridge falls in the hands of both Berlin and Dresden, yet as the bridge is the ownerhship of the federal government, Berlin will have a say, yet if and how the old bridge can be saved is still open. There are interested parties in owning the bridge but the group cannot push forward until the government has a say in the whole debacle. And even if the group gets the go ahead, the decision of who owns it has to be made before spring 2019. And even then, funding will be needed to rehabilitate and restore the bridge.

In other words, one has to happen after another in sequential order, yet some people are trying to make haste by putting the carriage before the horse- meaning tear the bridge down before the ownership transfership is approved and inspite of violations they make be committing.  This mentality is clearly American and has been the target of comments by the German far-right party AfD to compare modernization in Saxony at the cost of historic places of interest to the works of the Taliban in Afghanistan. This commentary, albeit very harsh, is not far from the truth, and should the old Bockau Arch Bridge come down too prematurely, it may serve as a basis for more voters to flock to the AfD and for the current government in Saxony to topple come the state elections in 2019. If the party uses the slogan “Remember the Rechenhausbrücke!” similar to the Alamo in Texas, the people in Saxony will understand why.

Membership to join the Friends of the Bockau Arch Bridge (Freunde der Rechenhausbrücke):

There are many ways to join the Friends of the Bockau Arch Bridge. To join and simply follow the page is as easy as clicking here and liking the page. But to really get involved and help out in saving and supporting the bridge financially and/or through other means, please contact Ulrike Kahl at this E-Mail address: ulrike.kahl@gruene-erzgebirge.de She can provide you with a membership application form and other information on how you can help. You can also contact Jason Smith at the Chronicles if you only speak English but still would like to join.

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Rebuilding the Blenheim Covered Bridge- a PBS Documentary

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The Blenheim Covered Bridge in New York State is one of a few covered bridges that deserves attention because of its unique design. Built in 1855 by Nichols Montgomery Powers, the 232-foot long bridge is a Long through truss bridge with a single gable supporting double barrels. Even though the bridge was modified four times, the last being 1897, the wooden bridge remained in service until 1932 when it was bypassed by a newer bridge. It remained in place until it became victim of Hurricane Irene on 28 August 2011.

Seven years later and with the help of bridge building experts, planners and restorators, the Blenheim Covered Bridge is back in service after two years of a painstaking task to rebuild the structure from scratch. The American public TV provider PBS produced an episode from the NOVA series on this project entitled Operation: Bridge Rescue. There, the nearly hour-long documentary focuses on the reconstruction and relocation of the covered bridge to its final resting place where it can be used again after 87 years of no service.  While a preview of the program can be seen here, a link to the entire program can be found at the end of the article. Enjoy the film and think of some other covered bridges that deserve to be reconstructed for reuse. You may have ideas yourself. 😉

 

Link: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/tech/operation-bridge-rescue.html

 

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Iron Bridge Reopens After Six Months

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Century-old, two span pedestrian bridge to be part of new bike trail.

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AUE (SAXONY), GERMANY- Back in March of this year, many hikers were irritated with the fact that their favorite crossing over the Zwickau Mulde, connecting Bad Schlema with points to the east and south, was closed to all traffic. They were forced to take a detour 3-4 kilometers away or even ditch the notion of going by foot and driving by car. Since the beginning of this month, the Iron Bridge has been in use again, six months after it was closed to traffic. The two-span Parker bowstring arch bridge spans the Zwickau Mulde and was built in 1900, replacing a covered bridge that was destroyed in a flooding. And while the truss superstructure remains the same as is, some work was done on the bridge to ensure that it is safer for use, even for cyclists. For instance, new railings were installed to ensure that no one falls off the bridge. At 1.5 meters high, they are 0.5 meters higher than the originals. Furthermore, new acorn-colored varnished wooden decking replaced the previous one that was developing cracks and dry-rot after years of extremities due to weather. The decking is thicker and will be able to withstand stresses caused by increased in traffic by bikers and pedestrians.

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The rehabilitation is part of the project to construct the Mulde Bike Route, taking it off its current path that shares a street connecting Bad Schlema and Aue and running it along the river. At the same time, the Carlsbad Route is being extended, which will cross the bridge and end at Bad Schlema at the railway station. Currently, the bike trail starts in Carlsbad (Karoly Vary in the Czech Republic), and after going through the mountains and over the border at Johanngeorgenstadt, joins the Mulde Bike Trail at Wolfsgrün and terminates in Aue.  Despite the completion of the rehabilitation, which costed approximately 430,000 Euros, the realignment of the trail, combined with a new bridge over the rail-line Zwickau-Aue, a new picnic area on the eastern side of the Iron Bridge and the rehabilitation of the Stone Arch Bridge at Bad Schlema will delay the completion of the entire project until 2020, at the earliest.  Therefore the bridge will continue its local traffic until then, and people will have to put up with vehicular traffic along the original route along the Mulde.

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The Chronicles will continue to keep you posted on the latest regarding the project.

 

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The Rehab of the Hirschgrundbrücke in Glauchau: A Wine Glass Half-full or Half-Empty?

GLAUCHAU (SAXONY), GERMANY- The construction projects in and around the Castle Complex in Glauchau, which has been in motion since April (as a whole), is like eating in an exclusive restaurant: No matter what the menu offers, including drinks, there’s a lot to eat and a lot to discuss at the table.   The main course, which features lamb chops, is the front yard that leads to the gates of the castle. This is the meat of the project which one will find to the south of the city center, just a three minute walk from Market Square. This was once filled with lucious trees and bushes but also home to the ice skating rink that had occupied the area; it is being torn up in favor of a multi-complex featuring picnic areas, a pavilion and bike racks. This despite opposition from those who preferred to keep the area all green and in its natural form. A comment by one of the opponents, an architect, during a conversation on facebook recently, says it all.

Then we have the natural bridge, crossing the deep ravine connecting the castle’s south side and its adjacent park, sitting idle for many years, closed to all because of safety reasons and now blocked off to the castle park. This stone arch crossing is no more except for the pylons and the outer arches!

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The Hirschgrundbrücke has been the “vegetarian” main dish for dinner and conversation for many years for many reasons: 1. How to renovate the bridge after sitting idle for 40 years, 2. What is the real name of the bridge: Hirschgrund or Hirschgraben, and now this: Is this bridge a complete renovation/ rehabilitation or a complete tear-down and rebuild?

There are many ways of describing how the bridge is being put under the knife. Yet to better understand how this project is being carried out, I had a chance to talk to the city engineer who showed me the plans of rebuilding the structure during my frequent visits to the City Administration Building. He was also the engineer in charge of overseeing the design and construction of The Wave near Wernsdorf in 2017.  During my interview in March, he mentioned that the bridge was going to be stripped down to the bare bones, leaving the outer arches and the stem of the pylon that used to hold the center arches. The plan to leave them in place was based on an agreement with the Ministry of Cultural Heritage of Saxony (Dt.: Denkmalschutz) in order to keep the bridge listed in the Cultural Heritage Book (Denkmalschutzbuch), similar to what Americans have with the National Register of Historic Places. The old materials would (for the most part) be discarded, while some will be reused together with new materials made of sandstone and other rock-based materials to rebuild the structure to make it resemble its original form, when it was built in the 1700s. The project was announced in the Free Press in April and it is expected to be completed by November 2019.

During my most recent visit in Glauchau, I decided to have a look at the progress of the bridge and found some observations worth noting:

Film and commentary on this bridge:

This was filmed from the castle side with my newly-acquired Motorola moto 6 out of Pittsburgh. Incredible phone/camera and Glauchau was an incredible place for “target practice.” 😉

My observations of this project is best compared to a glass of wine that is half-full; half-empty. One can technically consider this project a total rehabilitation, where the bridge is stripped down to its arches, the original materials reused for the rebuilding process. This has been done on thousands of bridges of this kind throughout Germany, including the bridges in Erfurt, Dresden, Magdeburg, and Berlin, just to name some examples. It is similar to the coined-term “in-kind” restoration but with arch bridges, not truss structures.  However one could call this a total replacement because 90% of the original structure is completely gone; the materials used for the structure recycled and being replaced with similar materials that are used for other arch bridges. From an American modernist’s point of view, when a superstructure is replaced but the approach spans or even the original piers remain, it is a complete replacement, regardless of how you look at it.  Leaving the outer arches and the pylon stems in place kept the bridge from being completely destroyed and replaced, something that had been considered given its condition of being on the verge of collapsing, as you can see in Glauchau’s bridge tour guide.

So to sum up, this rehabilitation  project is one that is considered a wine glass that is half-full and half- empty. It is half-full because some of the important historic elements are being left in place, to be used as a foundation for the new materials that will come on top of it to retain its historic appeal. It is however half-empty because much of the original materials are not being used for the rebuild. Nonetheless, the bridge will retain its historic status in the books, yet my question I have, which will be answered through photos and commentary  during the course of this project, will be whether the bridge- the vegetarian main dish- will be the same as before? Or if it will be totally different, just like with the new multi-complex at the entrance to the Castle Complex- the main course dinner with lamb chops?

In simpler languages: will the architect be right about the changes not conforming to the castle surroundings, or will the people embrace the new form of history which features a cosmetic makeover but keeping its original historic form?

Stay tuned! 🙂

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The Bridges of Bridgeport/ Frankenmuth (Michigan)

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Bronner’s Bridge south of Frankenmuth.  Photos taken in July 2018

There are tourist traps and then there are tourist traps with historic bridges involved. The tour guide provided here clearly belongs to the latter, and it has a story behind it. As we were travelling north on Interstate 75 in the direction of the Mackinac Bridge, we came across a bilboard that directed us to Bridgeport, home of Michigan’s number one historic bridge. I had known about the first bridge on the tour guide prior to the US trip, yet we also learned about Bridgeport’s next door neighbor, Frankenmuth, a typical German community that was full of surprises. We decided to pull off first at Bridgeport and then head over to Frankenmuth and found more surprises than what we learned about. What will a tourist find in the bridges in Bridgeport/Frankenmuth apart from what is highlighted by links and in the Instagram pages will motivate you to spend a couple days in the region that is only 10 miles south of Saginaw.

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State Street Bridge (Bridgeport):  When travelling North on Interstate 75, one will come across a bilboard that says Bridgeport, home of Michigan’s number one historic bridge. A first where a bridge is a centerpiece, a tourist attraction, a magnet. However, from a bridgehunter’s point of view, together with his family members who were also armed and dangerous with Lumixes and Pentaxes, the city’s chamber of commerce was right and then some. 🙂  The Bridgeport Bridge spans Cass River at State Street. Built in 1906 by the Joliet Bridge and Iron Company, the bridge features a pin-connected, two-span Pratt through truss bridge with three-rhombus Howe lattice portal bracings with 45° heels. The bridge is a distant cousin of one in Jackson, Minnesota at Petersburg Road, which was built a year later but was removed after flood damage in 1995. The difference is the length of the structure, which is nearly twice as long as the one in Jackson: two 126-foot long truss spans with a total length of 252 feet. Jackson’s was 130 feet, but the total length was 150. After serving vehicular traffic for almost a century years, the bridge was closed to traffic because the center pier was being undermined by the currents, causing the western span to tip over. Yet thanks to efforts conducted by Nathan Holth of historicbridges.org, who documented the Bridge in detail from 2004 to date, the Bridgeport community collaborated with the state and an engineering group, Spicer Group to conduct an in-kind restoration, overseen by Vern Mesler. This was done in 2010 and consisted of dismantling the two trusses off site, sandblasting the bridge parts, and reassemble the bridge exactly as it was built, but with new bolts and eyebars in many cases. The only “new” aspects of the bridge was the new center pier, new abutments, railings and the approaches to the Bridge. That was in addition to a picnic area and pavillion as a bike trail connecting Bridgeport and Frankenmuth was being constructed. The bridge today looks just like it was when it was originally built, including the wooden decking, thus presenting a historic appeal.  Yet there are two more reasons to visit the bridge and pay homage to those who restored it. First of all, there is a historic town park on the eastern bank of the river, where a “revived” main street is lined with historic stores, church and houses dating back a century ago. The Bridgeport Museum, which owns the property, is located along this historic street. Yet it would be a crime to miss out on reason number two, which is the eateries that are located across the Dixie Highway from the bridge, going to the east. The Butter Crust Bakery is located on the corner of Sherman Road and Dixie, and from 6:00 in the morning until 5:00pm on all but Sunday and Monday, one can enjoy jelly-filled donuts, long-johns, mini-cakes and even a glazed ugly (caramel filled pastry with hazelnuts and/or almonds for a very low Price. All of them are locally made and use all natural ingredients- have been doing so for over a half-century. 🙂  An ice cream parlor at State Street just off the highway offers the finest ice cream in the region, including Rocky Road (ice cream with fudge, dark chocolate and marshmallows) and Michigan Pothole (dark chocolate with chips), the latter is named after a typical curse one will find on all Michigan’s roads- potholes, big and small. Both of which are highly recommended, whereas one can see the bridge from the parlor and can even enjoy watching people cross it from the inside.  🙂

 

CSX Bridge

Bridgeport (CSX) Railroad Bridge: To the north of the Bridgeport Bridge at State Street is another through truss bridge that gives the photographer on the State Street crossing a chance to get a few shots. The Bridgeport Railroad Bridge spans the Cass River, carrying the CSX Railroad, located approximately 300 feet away. The bridge is considered the longest of the bridges profiled here in the Bridgeport/Frankenburg area, for even though the main span- a Warren through truss with riveted connections and heel portal bracings- is 130 feet long, if one counts the trestle approaches, especially on the southern end, the total length is 530 feet. The bridge was constructed in 1908-09 by the American Bridge Company in New York. The 1908 date came from the concrete abutment, whereas the truss bridge was brought in a year later; the plaque is on the bridge. Together with the Bridgeport Bridge at State Street, the CSX crossing is one of a handful of bridges that still has a railroad and a road crossing running along side or adjacent of each other, but are trussed. The bridge is basically an accessory to the other one nearby and all its historic places located next to it, that it is basically a win-win situation for bridgehunters and historians alike. One cannot photograph one without getting the other.

 

Photo by James Baughn

Gugel Bridge at Beyer Road: Spanning the Cass River, this unique crossing has had a share of its own history as the 114-year old structure is the oldest surviving bridge in the county. The pin-connected Pratt through truss bridge with Town Lattice portal bracings and a pony truss approach span, was originally built to accommodate the Dixie Highway until 1919. It was then relocated to this site where it served traffic until it was closed down in 1979. 25 years later, William ‘Tiny’ Zehnder led efforts to restore the bridge to reincorporate it into the bike trail connecting Bridgeport and Frankenmuth. There are historic markers and benches at the bridge for people to relax when taking a break, while enjoying the natural surroundings of the Cass.

 

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Frankenmuth Covered Bridge:

In the eyes of fans of iron bridges, this bridge is a modern “Schande” to the City of Frankenmuth. In the eyes of German tourists this bridge is too “Kitschisch” just like with the rest of the predominantly- German community whose resorts and restaurants resemble those in the Alps, even though the origin of Frankenmuth is from the Franconian Region of Bavaria. Yet in the eyes of covered bridge fans and those who have never seen Frankenmuth before, this bridge is considered the crown jewel for the community, competing with the Bridgeport Bridge at State Street for the best historic Bridge in this tour guide.

Yes, the Frankenmuth Covered Bridge, built in 1979 by Milton Graton & Son of Ashland, New Hampshire, is considered historic, even though in ten years time, it could be listed on the National Register of Historic Places because of its unique truss design, its aesthetic features and its association with the community. The bridge is 239 feet long and has an A-Frame gable roofing which covers not only the one-lane road deck but also the pedestrian walkway that is on the outside of the bridge, separated by its Town Lattice truss design. Its gabled attic roofing on the sides make it resemble a covered Bridge in the Swiss  For cyclists going from Zehnder’s Restaurant on the west bank to the Bavarian Inn Lodge on the eastern side it is best to push your bike across on the pedestrian walkway as this covered Bridge sees a lot of traffic on a regular basis. The bridge, which carries a weight Limit of 7 tons, is a backdrop to the scenery on both sides of the river. On the east end, there is the Bavarian Inn and Restaurants which includes a park and many acres of green. On the western end there is the Business district, which includes small shops, restaurants and an open-air stage where polka and Bavarian-style music are played daily.  The bridge is next to the docks where boat tours are available to explore Frankenmuth. The Frankenmuth Covered Bridge has several names, but the most common is Holz Brücke (although the words are together in German), whereas Zehnder’s is also used for the masterminder behind the bridge was the town’s entrepreneur, William “Tiny” Zehnder (1919-2006).  Zehnder was the face of Frankenmuth because of his establishment of the Bavarian Inn in 1959, which was basically an extension of one of the restaurants he had owned prior to that. From that time until his retirement in 2004, Tiny carved a place in the history of Michigan by turning original small-town businesses into that of a Bavarian-style architecture which not only revived the town’s Franconian heritage but also made the community of over 6,500 people a popular attraction. Tiny died in 2006, but his family still runs the Bavarian Inn complex today.

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Frankenmuth Pedestrian Bridge  Perhaps the most interesting bridge in Frankenmuth and on this tour guide that is worth mentioning is this pedestrian bridge. The bridge is the newest one on the block and can be seen from both the covered bridge as well as the Highway 83 Bridge leading into downtown. The bridge is a concrete pony girder, using a similar art Greco design and flanked by flags and ornamental street lanterns on both sides. The bridge is estimated to be between 150 and 170 feet Long and about 10-12 feet wide. The first impression was that with a design like that, it was probably 80 years old. Yet with the structure being between 15 and 30 years old, one could conclude that the bridge could serve as an example of fancy pedestrian bridges that can be built if engineers and city leaders would not worry about the costs but more on the Geschmack the community would like to live with. Not everything needs to be made of just a slab of concrete.

 

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Bronner’s (Black) Bridge:  When entering Frankenmuth from the south along Michigan Highway 83, this is the first bridge you will see. Bronner’s was once located over Cass River at Dehmel Road, having been built in 1907 by the Joliet Bridge and Iron Company. The bridge features a Pratt through truss design with A-Frame portals, whose top chord is decorated with curved lower-cased m and n patterns. The bridge has a total length of 180 feet with the main span being 151 feet long. The decking is 16 feet wide and the height clearance is 14 feet. After 75 years in service, the bridge was relocated to this site, over Dead Creek at Grandpa Tiny’s Farm, one of the ideas concocted by William “Tiny” Zehnder because of his years of farming, alongside his role as Frankenmuth’s well-known entrepreneuer. It has been in its place ever since then, yet it is heavily fenced and secured with cameras to ensure no one walks onto the property unless it is open to tourists. However, you can photograph the structure from both the highway as well as the road going past the farm, at Townline Road. The bridge is located only 500 feet from Bronner’s, the largest store in the world that sells Christmas ornaments and lighting. Regardless of which country and the nostalgia, if you are looking for as special ornament or lights, you will find it there. That includes bubble lights, an American past time that is trying to make its comeback yet they are rare to see.

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There are more along the Cass River, but this tour guide will hopefully Show you the bridges you can visit while experiencing a mixture of German heritage on the part of Frankenmuth and local heritage on the side of Bridgeport. Being only six miles apart, the bridges are easily accessible, both by car as well as by bike or foot. The evidence can be seen in the map below as well as by clicking onto the highlighted links in the guide. There one will see that the Bridgeport/Frankenmuth Region is Michigan’s number one hot spot for bridges spanning over a century’s worth. It is definitely worth a stop for a few hours before travelling to the Mackinac Bridge and the state’s Upper Peninsula to the north.

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