Endangered TRUSS: Grand River Bridge on Old Highway 5 in Daviess County, Missouri

JB

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Sometimes historic bridges are better off when they belong to nature and are left untouched. Yet there are some that have a potential for being reused as a pedestrian bridge. There is a story behind this Endangered TRUSS species that I’m presenting you here and it goes back a decade to the time of the Historic Bridge Weekend in Missouri.

We were on our last day together- myself, James and Todd (Wilson) and had just completed a long day of bridgehunting in the western part of Missouri and part of Nebraska. The Weekend was marred by one natural element which hindered my ability to keep to my original schedule- flooding! The Missouri River flooded its banks and 90% of the valley was under water. The valley included areas between Kansas City (where we were staying) and Sioux City, Iowa, and included the greater Omaha area. The highways were not passable, towns were completely under water and much of the infrastructure, including bridges, were either damaged or destroyed.  Instead of combing up the western half of Iowa, I was forced to replan everything to include stops in Des Moines and in central Iowa on my way back to Minnesota.  The problem was which bridges could I stop along the way?

That was where James came in and showed me a few locations for photo opportunities. Daviess County was one of them, and it was loaded with historic bridges. Dozens of metal truss bridges were on my path going to Iowa, many of which were a maximum of 10 minutes away from Interstate 35, which connects Des Moines with Kansas City.

JB

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Of the 8-9 bridges I photographed, I found this structure to be the most unique. The bridge spans the Grand River just a half mile west of US Hwy. 69 south of Pattonsburg. It features a two-span through truss design, the larger being the Whipple and the smaller being the Pratt. Each have pinned connections and Lattice portal bracings. The bridge has a total length of 330 feet. It was built by the Kansas City Bridge and Iron Company in 1883, using steel from the Carnegie Steel plant in Pittsburgh. The bridge used to serve a main highway (Old Hwy. 5) until it was bypassed by US Hwy. 69 and its bridge in 1932. 35 years later that would be bypassed by Interstate 35 located two miles to the east.  It continued to serve traffic until the early 1990s and has been sitting unused ever since.

JS

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When I visited the bridge in August 2011, the entire structure was closed off and part of the decking disappeared, thus making crossing the bridge practically impossible. What made the bridge unique was because of its location next to the forest. In one of my photos, the smaller Pratt truss span was partially hidden in the trees. Given its proximity to the river and to the trees nearby, plus the fact that the old former highway is closed off on both sides of the bridge, one could wonder if the bridge and the road would make for a bike trail. It doesn’t necessarily mean a new stretch of road needs to be built. But it would be a trail that followed the original highway between Pattonsburg and Santa Rosa, but terminating at a nearby town to the south, like Alta Vista, or it could curve to nearby Lake Viking, using sections of the road that are in place already.  And even if it connected Pattonsburg and the bridge, where it could be converted to a picnic area, it would be enough to satisfy locals wishing to get some fresh air and go walking or even biking.

JS

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Since that time, four of the bridges I visited on my tour from Kansas City back to Iowa have been replaced, others may be up, especially if liability issues come about. Yet if there was a choice, this structure should be the first one saved. The bridge has some connection with the history of the development of roads in the area, yet it has more potential than that, if people come together with resources and all to make repurposing and revitalizing the area around the bridge happen. The bridge is eligible for the National Register and its history in connection with the region will make the structure a really attractive place to go for an afternoon picnic and all. It’s a question of finding the will to do just that. 

JB

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More information on the bridge can be found here.

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JB: Photos taken by James Baughn in 2010

JS: Photos taken by Jason Smith in 2011

Bostian Bridge Tragedy: 27 August, 1891

Photograph by William Stimson, courtesy of Betty Boyd. North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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We’ve heard of a lot of ghost stories involving bridges in our lifetimes. However the next film documentary presented here in the Chronicles has to do with one of the worst in its history. The story takes us to Statesville, in Iradell County, North Carolina and to one of the most haunted bridges in the state- Bostian’s Bridge. The bridge features five concrete closed spandrel arch spans, spanning Third Creek carrying the Norfolk and Southern Railroad. The bridge is 260 feet long and the deepest point oft he ravine is approximately 60 meters.  It is unknown when the bridge was built or who built it, the bridge is infamous for a tragedy that happened 130 years ago. On August 27th, 1891, a train disaster happened on the bridge which was so gruelsome, the historians have pegged it as one of the worst train-bridge disasters in the history of American railroad, sometimes comparing it tot he Ashtabula Railroad Bridge disaster of 1876. The disaster, as will be told in this documentary presented here, eventually produced supernatural encounters that have lingered to the present, eventually causing another train-bridge disatser 119 years later. Have a look at the story:

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This is what the bridge looks like today, the photo courtesy of Royce and Bobette Haley:

The train still serves traffic to this day, yet should the line be discontinued at some point, there will definitely be some hesitancy in repurposing the bridge because of its haunted past. Chances are likely that it will eventually succumb to nature, which will take over, and allow the ghosts to be at peace. For some haunted bridges, they are best if left as is without altering or even destroying it.

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Mystery Bridge Nr. 155- An Unusual Vierendeel Bridge in Missouri

Our 155th Mystery Bridge takes us to Vulcan, in Missouri and this unusual bridge. The bridge was built by Missouri Pacific Railroad in 1949 and spans not only Highway BB but also a small stream running alongside it. The bridge was built using concrete and features a rather unusual style that is similar to a rare truss design, the Vierendeel.

Arthur Vierendeel patented the design and it consists of trusses where only the vertical beam supports the upper and lower chords of the truss. Normally, truss bridges use triangular beams, consisting of a combination of vertical and diagonal beams needed to support the span. Because of the lack of diagonal members, Vierendeel trusses employ moment joints to resist substantial bending forces.. Vierendeel trusses are more common in Europe, with most of the trusses being located in Belgium. This includes the first truss built in 1902 at AvelgemBelgium. Most of the spans can be found in and around the metropolitan areas of Brussels and Antwerp. While Vierendeels are seldom to be found in the United States, the city of Glendale, California has three Vierendeel truss bridges: the Geneva Street, Kenilworth Avenue, and Glenoaks Boulevard bridges, all two-lane bridges spanning 95 feet. They were built in 1937 as part of the Verdugo Flood Control Project, the first project of the United States Army Corps of Engineers after passage of the Flood Control Act of 1936.

While steel Vierendeels were common for bridge construction, it was not unusual to find them made of concrete, which takes us back to this bridge in Vulcan. One can see clearly that the spans are Vierendeel using heel supports to ensure that the bridge maintains its stability. Originally the bridge was built as part of the project to introduce fast moving trains between Missouri and Texas. The structure is still being used by Union Pacific Railroad to this day. The question is who was behind the design of this bridge and what were his/her motives for using the Vierendeel?

This is one for the historians and pontists to find out. 😉 Happy Bridgehunting, folks.

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BHC Pic of the Week Nr. 157 Tribute to James Baughn

Here’s a quiz for the forum: How many spans of a bridge have you tried to photograph into one picture? Panorama photos have their pros and cons, speaking from personal experience. One pro is if you find the right angle, spot and location, you may be able to get the whole length of the bridge. But this is granted that you have the right lighting and setting, let alone the safety precautions in case something goes wrong. The disadvantage is no matter how many spans you can get in one shot, something may go wrong in one way or another- either poor lighting, lack of focus, camera shaking, or in one case, if trying to get multiple shots into one panorama view, the photos may be shifted to a point where you may have a panorama shot that looks more like a Picasso or Dali instead of a real shot. This is the reason why panorama photos should be done if and only if you find the right location for it and the right photo program to doctor it up to make it more genuine and more like a profi.

And with that, we go to this bridge, the Cairo Railroad Bridge, which spans the Ohio River at the Illinois and Kentucky border. This bridge was built in 1952 and features a six-span polygonal through truss bridge with riveted connections. In the data provided by bridgehunter.com, the bridge features an A-frame portal bracing and was built on the piers of a series of Whipple through trusses, built by George S. Morrison and the crew at Union Bridge Company in Buffalo in 1889. The bridge was replaced span by span with the current trusses during the three-year replacement project by sliding the old span off, which was carried away to be cut up. The new span was slid on in its place. This process was later practiced with other multiple-span truss bridges, especially those that are at least a half mile long. The total length of the present-day Cairo Bridge is at least a mile long, yet when James Baughn photographed this structure in 2015, it showed all six truss spans in one frame. An amazing shot but one to envy especially those who have tried and failed to make a picture as perfect as this one. Now how did he get this shot?

Still no matter how this picture was taken, there is one word of advice to give to the photographers- the best ones always experiment and expect the unexpected. When the eye says take it, then you take the shot. Chances are greater that way than if you plan a shot and watch your plans be foiled by mother nature or other elements.

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Covered Bridge in Maine Destroyed by Arson

Photo taken by Jack Schmidt in 2014

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LITTLETON, MAINE- One of Maine’s handful of century-old bridges was incinerated and the state fire marshal is looking into the possible causes. The Watson Settlement Bridge was a covered bridge featuring a Howe through truss design. It spanned the Meduxnekeag Stream on Former Carson Road in Littleton in Aroostook County, located between US Hwy 1 and the US-Canada border. It was built in 1911 and had served traffic until 1984 when the current concrete structure was built on a new alignment and the historic bridge was converted to a pedestrian crossing. Listed on the National Register since 1970, the 170 foot long bridge was named after the nearby Watson Settlement and was a magnet for photo opportunities including graduation photos.

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Soruce: Citizens of Littleton

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Fire Crews were called to the scene of a fire on Monday afternoon at 2:45pm Eastern Time only to find the covered bridge engulfed in flames. Three different fire departments from Littleton, Houghton and Monticello were at the scene to put down the blaze. The State Fire Marshal Office arrived at the scene an hour later to investigate. The entire structure, consisting of charred beams and a partially collapsed roof, has been considered a total loss and will have to be torn down. It is unknown at this point whether a replica will be constructed. The area has been barracaded off to keep people from going on the bridge due to its structural instability. The State Fire Marshal is looking into any information to determine the cause of the fire, including finding any potential arsonists. People with information on the fire should contact their office at 1-888-870-6162.

The Chronicles will keep you posted on the latest involving the bridge, the fire and what happens next.

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BHC Pic of the Week Nr. 154 Tribute to James Baughn

With bridgehunting come one event that happens each year in the summertime. The Historic Bridge Weekend was introduced in 2009 through a coalition which featured Todd Wilson, Nathan Holth, Kitty Henderson and James Baughn, among others. The 3-4 day conference brought in many experts in bridge preservation and maintenance, as well as engineers, historians, and many interested bridge enthusiasts and locals with a passion for history.

The first two years of the conference took place in western Pennsylvania, which had one of the highest number of iroan and steel truss bridges in the country, yet it was the same state where the rate of replacing historic bridges was one of the highest in the US. Many of the bridges lost to modernization had ties to bridge building firms in the greater Pittsburgh and Cleveland areas. In fact most of the bridge building companies building bridges west of the Mississippi River prior to 1900 came from Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio and New York, with the likes of King, Groton, Nelson and Buchanan, Lassig and Wrought Iron among others stamping their labels on the portals and endposts, with some ornamental decoration that went along with it.

This picture was taken of the Quaker Bridge by James Baughn in 2010. It was my first year attending the conference and the very first time I met Mr. Baughn, with whom we worked together on his website bridgehunter.com, which is now owned by the Historic Bridge Foundaton. It was this bridge and the movement to save it that caused the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) to turn the tide towards bridge replacement and decided that instead of tearing down history, one can save it, even if it meant relocating the structure for reuse, for the agency had been notorious for being too passive in its policies towards historic bridge preservation.

The Quaker Bridge was built in 1898 by the Cleveland Bridge Company with James R. Gemmill overseeing the project. The bridge is a Pratt through truss span with pinned connections, Town lattice portal bracings and finials on each corner. PennDOT had originally pushed for plans to tear down and replace the bridge as far back as 2004. Yet it took the efforts of Nathan Clark to purchase the bridge and persuade the agency to retract its plan and construct a bridge on a new alignment. The project was completed in 2006 and the truss bridge has remained in place ever since- still in pristine condition as shown in the picture taken over a decade ago but now part a hiking trail, although one can use the bridge for fishing and picnicking.

The Historic Bridge Weekend focused on efforts to preserve historic bridges and maintain them for future use, visiting historic bridges that are frequently visited, while some of them were the focus of preservation efforts. We included a lot of bridgehunting tours in addition to the talks that were given by many including myself. It drew hundreds of people to the event, many from the far outreaches of the country. After the first two events in Pennsylvania, we had our next one in Missouri in 2011, Indiana in 2012, Iowa in 2013 and Michigan in 2014 before it became an informal event afterwards where bridgeshunters gathered to just visit the bridges in the areas of interest. The event in Missouri (James’ home state) included tours of bridges in St. Louis and Kansas City with a big gathering to save the Riverside Bridge in Ozark, an event that reunited friends and made the preservation attempt at Riverside a smashing success. 🙂 The event in Iowa in 2013 was one I coordinated with an open-air speech on James Hippen’s legacy by his wife Elaine at a restaurant in Stone City, a large scale informal event at Sutliff Bridge and its nearby Bar and Grill and in Pella at the golf course with a chance to explore the bridges in the Bluffs region, Des Moines and Boone and along the Mississippi.

What we learned from these events was that there was a large interest in saving these historic bridges by the public, yet the problem is trying to convince government officials to cater to the demands of the public. In some cases, we were greeted with lip service, while behind-the-door deals were carried out to have it their way and not with the people. Sometimes, the media sometimes distorts the information on the bridge without thinking that the bridge has a unique value in terms of its history and its association with the community. Still, the word gets around faster with social media than what modernists and government officials championing bridge replacement try conveying, which led to the creation of this online column and its social media pages in 2010. In turn, we have over three dozen pages devoted to historic bridges and preservation around the world on facebook, twitter and even Instagram. Some focus on bridge photography, which is the most liked because they contain brief information on the structures’ history. Yet there are individual pages that focus on preserving a bridge which has gained thousands of supporters each bridge. Save the Riverside Bridge in Ozark had over 3000 supporters on its facebook page, for example. In any case, the Historic Bridge Weekend has produced a large interest in bridges around the world, and when word on a historic bridge being a target for replacement comes around, the interest in saving the structure will be there, each with ideas on how to save it and each one with ties to the bridge and the memories that go along with it.

The Historic Bridge Weekend brought back a lot of memories of friends and bridges, ideas and stories and with that, a circle of pontists that has gotten tenfold bigger since its inauguration. It is hoped that the tradition will continue in the US, Europe and beyond, so that more people can take interest in bridges, its design and especially ways to preserve them for generations to come. The event is not just for pontists but for everyone with an interest in bridges, their histories and how they are tied together with community.

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Eau Claire Viaduct Closed due to Urgent Structural Issues

Photo by John Marvig

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Crack in the Pier is the reason behind the closure with its future in doubt.

EAU CLAIRE, WISCONSIN- A beloved railroad viaduct spanning the Chippewa River has been closed due to advanced structural deterioration. Its future is in doubt as crews are looking into a pier that has deteriorated beyond repair. The Northwestern Viaduct spans the Chippewa River near the Big Pond site and city dam. It was built in 1880 by the Lassig Bridge and Iron Works Company of Chicago and the Leighton Bridge and Iron Works Company of Rochester, New York- the latter of which was responsible for the bridge’s signature Lattice deck truss design. The bridge has a total length of 890 feet, the largest span is 180 feet. The bridge is considered the highest in the state of Wisconsin, at 82 feet tall above river levels. The bridge used to be operated by Chicago and Northwestern Railroad until it was abandoned in 1991. Excel Energy purchased the bridge from Union Pacific in 2007 to save it from being demolished. In 2015 the bridge opened to pedestrians and cyclists.

Crews on Monday closed down the bridge as they discovered a major crack in one of the limestone piers that was also spalling, thus causing the bridge span to sag. In a statement provided by the City’s media relations:  

The High Bridge was initially closed to the public on Monday, June 21, in order to repair a section of railing that was damaged by fallen tree limbs. Meanwhile, a heave had been observed in the bridge deck caused by a crack in one of the piers that supports the bridge. This week an outside Engineer examined the structure and recommended further investigation and repair before re-opening to the public. Since that examination, additional changes in the condition of the bridge have occurred, making this a more urgent situation. Additional fencing and water barriers are being installed to keep boaters, pedestrians, and bicyclists away from the structure for their safety.

The bridge was last inspected in November of last year. City officials and engineers are looking into ways to either repair or replace limestone pier, while at the same time, work to preserve the bridge’s structural integrity. This includes a range of options from making minor repairs, adding additional bracing, encasing the pier or simply removing the affected spans and rebuilding the entire pier from scratch before putting the spans back on. The last option was practiced with the Red Jacket Trail Bridge south of Mankato, Minnesota in 2011 for the exact same reason as the situation being seen with this bridge.  When and how the repairs will be made, how long and the costs involved remain open at the time of this press release. The structure is considered a nationally significant monument not only because of its history but because it is the only bridge of its kind left in the country- a quintangular Lattice truss bridge.

Eau Claire is considered the city of bridges but ist main attraction is the one currently receiving (inter)national attention but for the wrong reasons. It is hoped that there is solution to this problem that will not alter the bridge’s integrity, but at the same time, make the crossing safer for people wishing to enjoy the view oft he city, ist bridges and the areas along the Chippewa.

The Chronicles will keep you posted on the latest. Check out the tour guide in the Bridges of Eau Claire, which was created in 2012. Photos and places of recommendation courtesy of fellow pontist, John Marvig. Click here and enjoy the tour.

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BHC Pic of the Week Nr. 152 Tribute to James Baughn

After reading the answer to the Guessing Quiz from last week on the unusual truss bridge in Mississippi photographed by James Baughn, our next bridge in the Pic of the Week series paying tribute to Mr. Baughn takes us to Iowa and this bridge. The Black Bridge is a two-span truss bridge where the main span features a pin-connected Pratt through truss bridge with X-laced portal bracings, and the approach span is a Warren pony truss with alternating verticals where each panel has an A-frame shape. The connections are riveted. The total length of the structure is 250 feet, the main span has a length of 168 feet.  Not much information is mentioned about the bridge except the fact that the structure was built in 1914, though it is likely that the spans were imported elsewhere because at that time, the pin-connected trusses were being phased out in favor of riveted connected trusses. It is likely that the through truss span is older than the date given, say between 1880 and 1895. The Warren span was probably built at this time, yet it may have been added when the bridge was rehabilitated in 1972. Evidence is needed to confirm one theory or another.

This portal view was photographed by Mr. Baughn in 2013, during his bridgehunting tour through Iowa. It was at that time there was the Historic Bridge Weekend which took place in the eastern half of Iowa plus Iowa and Boone. Apart from his home state of Missouri, Mr. Baughn’s favorite places to photograph also included Iowa and Kansas, where he spent a lot of time photographing the bridges there. Iowa was probably the second most popular destination with Kansas and Illinois on the state’s heels. One can see his photos in the bridgehunter.com website. While Iowa may be at the front in terms of deficient bridges, the number of historic bridges in the state still belongs to the top five of the highest number in the USA, together with Texas, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Oregon.  While some key structures in the state, like the Wagon Wheel Bridge near Boone, Shaw Bridge in Anamosa, the I-74 Suspension Bridges in the Quad Cities or the three historic bridges in Winneshiek County (Henry, North Bear Creek and Gilliecie) are no longer extant, the state still has a wide gallery of bridges spread out throughout the state, including Tama County, which still has 15 truss bridges in the area.  

This bridge is located in Tama County spanning the Iowa River at 360th Street, two miles west of Chelsea at Duffus Landing. While the structure is closed to vehicular traffic, and has been since 2016, the bridge is still reachable and can be crossed by hikers and used as a fishing area. It is unlikely that it will be torn down because of its popularity in the area. Yet repairs may have to be made in the future to ensure that the structure can be used by all but cars.

In case you want to share more about this bridge, feel free to comment here or on the Chronicles‘ facebook page.  Happy bridgehunting, folks! 

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Joliet Bridge and Iron Company

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Bridgeport, Michigan. August 2018. Standing on a finished work of art. The Bridgeport (State Street) Bridge spans the Cass River. The structure had been rehabilitated, turning a pair of rusty and partially twisted Pratt through trusses leaning on a center pier into a structure that had just been put together for the first time. Hours of welding and new bolts, restoring it in-kind and complete with new decking and new railing. The Bridgeport Bridge has become a centerpiece of tourism in a town, which neighbors another popular tourist attraction, Frankenmuth.

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Petersburg Road Bridge in Jackson Minnesota. Photo taken by MnDOT in 1979

The bridge itself is a cousin resemblance to a pair of bridges built in Jackson County, Minnesota, where I grew up. This was one of them: The Petersburg Road Bridge which was built in 1907 by a company that became a primary supplier of bridges for a decade, the Joliet Bridge and Iron Works Company. The portals are typical of such a bridge built by Joliet, the one that was later adopted by other bridge builders. Another bridge of similar features was built two years later, spanning the same river as this one: West Branch Des Moines River, but just south of Windom. Both structures are now extant.  Another feature are the builder plaques that represent either a shield or a New York-style trapezoid, as you can see in the Bridgeport Bridge shot.

Still what was the bridge company all about?   I did some research on this while writing a book on Jackson County’s bridges a decade ago and found that the Joliet Bridge and Iron Company was like a fame flower (Phemeranthus rugospermus)- it built dozens of bridges during its short existence.

The company was founded in 1896 by Robert C. Morrison and had agents throughout the USA, including Max J. Frey, the company’s agent in St. Louis, who may have been responsible for the Upper Midwest.  Much of the work was concentrated in the South and Midwest, mostly in Michigan, Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois and Minnesota, though the company also built bridges in countries outside the United States. It garnered international reputation for its prompt action and good workmanship.  At its peak, 400 people were employed at Joliet by 1914 with its bridge building headquarters located on Collins Street, right next to the penetiary.  A subsidiary plant under the direction of George Larimer was in operation in Memphis, Tennessee from 1909 until its closure by 1912. Apart from the Bridgeport Bridge, some of the noteworthy bridges built by Joliet during its almost 25 year run include the earliest known existing bridges- a pair of twin suspension bridges at Chautauqua Park in Pontiac, Illinois, constructed in 1898.  Other examples include the existing historic bridges in Michigan, such as the Black Bridge at Tiny’s Farm and Church in Frankenmuth, the Gugel Bridge south of Frankenmuth, Currie Parkway Bridge and Smith Crossing both in Midland. The Bello Street Bridge at Pismo Beach in California is the only example of a bridge built the furthest away from Joliet’s coverage.  Minnesota once had a lot of bridges built by Joliet, eight of which in Jackson County. All of them have since disappeared.

Despite its popularity in bridge construction, the Joliet Bridge and Iron Company was forced to shut down briefly when Robert C. Morrison died in 1913. His son Raymond K. Morrison took over operations afterwards and reorganized the company as the Joliet Bridge and Construction Company in 1920.  That company continued to construct bridges in the region, despite the decline in steel mills due to the Great Depression and later lesser demand for the product. The company ceased all operations by 1985, making it one of only a few bridge companies that had dominated bridge building at the turn of the century and survived through the Reagan era of the 1980s.  Key structures built during Ray’s era included the Algoma Street Drawbridge in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and the Braceville Arch Bridge in Illinois, which used to carry Route 66. Both structures no longer exist, but it does lead to questions of what other structures had been built by the company before it folded permanently. Just as important is which bridges in foreign countries were built by Joliet, regardless of which era. 

 

Joliet Bridge and Iron is not related to another company located in the same city, the Joliet Iron and Steel Works Company. That company was founded in 1869 but constructed many steel parts for buildings, bridges and the like. That company was taken over three times before it became part of US Steel in 1936. The company closed down by the early 1980s but the site was later converted to a historic site.

The Joliet Bridge and Iron Company represents a bridge company that survived many mergers and crises and still built many structures that represented fine examples of infrastructure that expanded throughout the USA during the first half of the 20th Century. Its innovative designs and great workmanship has resulted in many structures still standing today, most of which in Illinois and Michigan. Many of them have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places and some have even been restored to their former glory. Nevertheless there are still many that have long since disappeared that deserve recognition because of their association with the company and the Morrison family. You can find a database of the bridges that were built by Joliet below:

bridgehunter.com database: http://bridgehunter.com/category/builder/joliet-bridge-iron-co/

HistoricBridges.org: https://historicbridges.org/b_a_listings.php?bitem=builder&bsearch=Joliet+Bridge+and+Iron+Company+of+Joliet%2C+Illinois

HABS/HAER/HALS: https://www.loc.gov/search/?fa=contributor:joliet+bridge+%26+iron+company

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Mystery Bridge Nr. 148: The Lima Bridge in Iowa

LIMA, IOWA- If there is one county that has a wide selection of through truss bridges that have been left in their places with concrete bridges serving as functional crossings- and observation points for passers-by, it is Fayette County, in northeastern Iowa. At least 10 unique crossings can be found in the county, each with its unique history behind its bridge builder, let alone the local history associated with it. Some are well documented, while others are not but their value is worth researching.

The Lima Bridge is one of those that belongs to the latter. The bridge spans Volga River on Heron Road at the state recreational area between the villages of Albany and Wadena. The structure features a pin-connected, seven-panel, Pratt through truss span with M-frame portal bracings and V-laced struts supported by heel bracings. The bridge is clearly visible from the concrete bridge which has been in service since 1979, yet when accessing the bridge, one has to be aware of brushes and other vegetation. In fact given the vegetational overgrowth on the bridge during my visit in 2011, the bridge’s structural integrity is stable and there’s no doubt the relict will remain there for years to come.

There is little history about this bridge in general, except to say that if we count the current concrete structure, this is the fourth crossing at this location. According to history, the first bridge was a bowstring arch span, built in 1865, though there was no mentioning of the builder of the bridge. Judging by the outriggers and the H-beams, this bridge may have been built by the King Bridge Company, as it had been established in 1858 by Zenas King, seven years before the first crossing was built.

Source: http://www.angelfire.com/ia/z/limastore.htm !: For the following two pictures

The crossing was subsequentially washed away by floodwaters in 1875 and was replaced with another crossing. This is one where the debate comes in. Sources have pinned the current through truss span as its replacement crossings. However, its portal bracings show that the truss span was built much later, between 1890 and 1910. During the 1870s and 80s, portal bracings were characterized by its Town Lattice features, supported with ornamental shapes that were sometimes curvy. Beginning in the 1890s the portal bracings based on alphabets were introduced, which featured frames resembling the letters A, M, V, W, VW, MA, and X. Howe lattice portals that feature rhombus shapes were also introduced at the same time and they became common for use through the first three decades of the 20th Century. Today’s letter-style portal bracings are predominantly A-frame but M-frames and Howe lattice are also commonly used as well.

This leads us to the following questions to be settled regarding this bridge:

  1. Was the bowstring arch bridge built as the first or second crossing?
  2. If it was the second crossing, what did the original crossing look like?
  3. If it was the original crossing, what did the second crossing look like, when was it built and by whom?
  4. When was the through truss truss bridge built? In the second black and white picture there was a builder’s plaque which has since disappeared.

In theory, there were four crossings that have served this location since 1865. The only argument that would justify three crossings built would be if repairs were made to the through truss span, such as replacing the portal bracings. This was practiced with some of the through truss spans during the introduction of the letter-based portal bracings in 1890 and two examples can be found in Washington County, at Bunker Mill near Kalona and Hickory Avenue Bridge over the English River, the latter has since been abandoned in place.

Another theory was that a flood in 1947 knocked the bridge off its abutments but was later put back into place and continued to serve traffic until 1979 but that would mean finding out how the bridge was washed away and how this truss structure came about.

We do know that the Lima Bridge is one of three relicts that is left from the town of Lima. It was founded by the Light (Erastus and Harvey) Brothers in 1849, when they constructed a saw mill along the river. In addition to over a dozen houses, a church, lumber yard and general store were later added, though the general store itself survived through the 1960s when it was torn down as part of the conservation project. A railroad line also went past Lima but had only provided service until 1938. The church on Heron Road north of the bridge and an adjacent cemetary on Fox Road are the other two structures left of the community that once had over 200 people during its heyday. More information on Lima’s history can be found in the links at the end of this article. Ironically, Lima is located just three bird miles east of another village, Albany, which also boasts a through truss bridge spanning the same river. The town is now a campground area, while the bridge, which is on Hill Road is only open to pedestrians.

While there is a lot written on Lima’s history, the history of the bridge itself has many questions that have yet to be answered. We know that the through truss span still exists and serves as part of the town’s history. We know that its predecessor was a bowstring arch bridge. Yet what we don’t know at all is how many crossings have existed on Heron Road since its first one in 1865?

And for that, it’s now your turn to discuss this.

You can find more about the bridge by clicking here. This includes its predecessor (here). For more on the history of Lima, Iowa, click here.

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