This week’s Pic of the Week takes us to a familiar bridge but whose setting taken by the photographer raises some eyebrows among pontists and photographers, especially those who are experts in night-time photography. This photo, taken by Danny Crelling, features the twin spans of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, just after the sun left the horizon and dusk was settling in. Unique about the suspension bridges here is the lighting. The bridges are illuminated with yellow lighting that reflects off Pudget Sound, something we don’t see much of these days. The reason: The high-pressure sodium lighting is being phased out in favor of LED lighting and its neutral white color.
When we look at the history of lighting, we can see not only the development with the use of materials needed to illuminate the lighting, but also the color the lighting illuminates. Incandescent lighting had a light brown to beige color. Mercury Vapor had a emerald green to light blue color. Magnesium had a light pink color. But high pressure sodium had a color of yellow to orange illuminating on the streets. Invented in 1956, it was introduced on the streets in 1970 and by 1990, all the towns in America were illuminating in bright yellow. It had a warm appeal for some, but for others, especially if they are utilized in industrial settings, it had a dystopian appeal which reminds me of the film released in 2011 entitled In Time, with Justin Timberlake. A trailer can be found here and it is highly recommended.
This twin suspension span will have its sodium lighting replaced with LED in the near future, as they have several advantages. First and foremost, LEDs produces less energy than its predecessors. They are brighter thus providing more security for homes and businesses as well as safety for motorists. And lastly, the colors can be adjusted either for a special occasion or to please the residents who prefer to have a good night sleep with a low light setting.
Aside from the brightness issue, the colors can be depressing, even when some communities have adjusted the color to having a purple or dark yellow setting. And the new fixtures are not being accepted warmly by many who, like me, have taken a liking to the fixtures that were produced by GE, Nemo and Westinghouse and are sure that these LED lights could actually be fitted into these fixtures. A pair of videos will show you some examples.
Nevertheless, the photo of the bridge here represents a good example of how colorful our night settings have become- nothing all yellow and dystopian but one where we can see the many different lighting in action. Whether this will continue to be the case in 10 years’ time when the last of the sodium bulbs are phased out completely depends on how communities and highway agencies will operate the LEDs and whether the people will accept them. One variable that will remain constant though, the history and unique design of the suspension bridges, especially as they were built as successors to Galloping Gertie and were the focus of a documentary which came in second in last year’s Bridgehunter Awards in the category Bridge Media and Genre. For more on that, click here. Gertie’s successors, built in 1950 and 2007 respectively, continue to serve traffic to this day and like its history, these two bridges will be around for years to come.
The Flensburg Files has an English activity that ties in the history of street lighting and grammar. Enjoy the history and the exercises when you click here.
In our last installment in the series paying tribute to the winners of the 2021 Bridgehunter Awards in the category Bridge Media and Genre, we look at the Great Bridge, the novel itself, by David McCullough. In June 2021, Essy Shapiro Dean wrote an extensive book review on this 500-page work of art, focusing on the bridge and serving as the springboard to the podcast that would be produced by Greg Jackson in October the same year. It was one of the series she wrote about the Brooklyn Bridge, as this structure has been part of her life.
I had a chance to interview her about the book review to learn more about the book and her connection with the bridge. Some of the answers will surprise you as the reader. Before you proceed with reading the interview, check out the two book reviews she did on the Brooklyn Bridge: The one by McCullough (click here) and the one by Tracey Wood called The Engineer’s Wife (click here). If you are still not so sure about the review, let alone the interview questions, I would read the books themselves. You will be amazed at the hidden treasures each book presents to the reader.
Enjoy the reviews and the interview that is presented:
1. What is your personal connection with the Brooklyn Bridge? Have you visited the bridge and if so when?
My grandmother first took me on the bridge when I was about five. I’ve walked across it several times and I never get tired of it. I’m looking forward to doing it again in 2022. Now, the East River has always been one of my favorite walking spots, and I always spend time looking at the bridge and how it was built. Emily Warren Roebling has also become one of my favorite historical women in recent years.
2. There are dozens of materials about the Brooklyn Bridge, but you decided on the book by David McCullough. Why did you choose this book?
I had wanted to read The Great Bridge for a while. It first piqued my interest when I had to read another David McCullough book, 1776, for school. At the time I was fifteen and the minutia detail McCullough included bored me, so I didn’t read it. Then last year, for the anniversary of the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge on 24 May I decided to make it a whole Brooklyn Bridge weekend on my blog, and this book was a part of that. I also wanted to read a nonfiction about the building of the bridge, which I haven’t done since I was a child.
3. Have you met Mr. McCullough in person?
No, I’ve never met David McCullough.
4. If you were to make a summary about the book, how would you describe it?
It’s the story of the building of the Brooklyn Bridge with lots of minute detail that I now revel in.
5. What points in the book should the reader pay attention to?
The actual building, the problem-solving that had to happen, how much of a force Emily Warren Roebling was after her husband, and the chief engineer of the project, Washington Roebling, was unable to come to the building site.
6. What points in the book did you find interesting?
The points that I found interesting are the same as what I’d want future readers of the book to pay attention to.
7. What points can you mention that were quite difficult to read? Why is that?
I don’t think any of it was particularly complicated to read. The hardest bits were probably the nitty-gritty of spinning the wire for the cables, and trying to visualize various engineering processes, some of which I definitely got lost in.
8. On the scale of 1 to 10 (one being the best), how would you rate the book and why?
I usually rate my books on a 5-point scale (five is best), so a bit of conversion is needed here. I also have a hard time rating nonfiction. Probably somewhere between a three and four, maybe three and a half. I really liked it, but the book as a whole wasn’t something I loved. I love the things Emily Roebling stood for and that she took on so many of the tasks Roebling could no longer do.
9. Who would you recommend the book to?
Those who like nonfiction, New York City history, American history, building or want a good story.
10. If a person starts reading the book, what advice would you give to him/her?
Try not to get too bogged down by the minutia details, it’s McCullough’s writing style. The actual story of the building of the Brooklyn Bridge is one of family, women taking a place in a man’s world, happiness, anger, struggle and success and is the type of story that can create great nonfiction.
11. Any future book reviews, especially on bridges, that we should look forward to?
There are book reviews going up on my main blog two to three times a month. I’m not sure about future reviews, that have to do with bridges, but during the anniversary weekend of the Brooklyn Bridge opening in 2021 I reviewed a historical fiction book about Emily Warren Roebling called The Engineer’s Wife by Tracey Enerson Wood.
Thank you for answering the questions and also congratulations! 🙂
To summarize, we have six people that deserve recognition for winning the 2021 Bridgehunter Awards in the category Best Bridge Media and Genre. We have David McCullough for writing the 500-page biography The Great Bridge, Tracey Wood for writing about Emily Roebling in The Engineer’s Wife, Essy Dean for reviewing both and writing extensively on the Brooklyn Bridge in her column, Greg Jackson of History That Doesn’t Suck for the extensive research on the Roebling family and creating a very interesting podcast and lastly Dave Arnold and Kristen Bennett of Infrastructure Junkies for interviewing Jackson in a two-part series. Both can be found in an article and podcast here. Sometimes it takes a team to go into detail on how a structural wonder, like the Brooklyn Bridge and make it a work of art. The bridge is interesting not just as a civil engineer or historian, but also for everyone who wants to know how America was developing as a country during the Guilded Ages and how it has developed in terms of the country’s infrastructure, bridge building and American culture in general. The Brooklyn Bridge symbolizes America in a way that when you think it, when you design it and when you have the stamina to build it, you can make it a work of art for others to use and to take pride. When I cross the bridge next time when visiting New York, I will think of not only the Roeblings for actually building the bridge but the winners of the 2021 Awards for bringing the history to light, right down to the wire cable. 🙂
After talking about the podcast History that Doesn’t Suck (click here if you haven’t read the interview yet), we’re going to move on with the interview with Prof. Jackson about his masterpiece on the Brooklyn Bridge and the family that left their mark on its construction, from the planning to the realization of the historic landmark. Born in Mühlhausen in the German state of Thuringia, John Roebling had already established a reputation for his perfectionism and his inventions. He had already invented the wire suspension bridge and prior to building the bridge in Brooklyn, he had already left his mark with the Cincinnati-Covington Suspension Bridge as the longest of its kind in the world and the suspension bridge at Niagara Falls as the first suspension bridge with double-decking. Little did he realize that designing the Brooklyn Bridge was easy, building it presented more obstacles than necessary and after he died in 1870, the responsibility fell to his son, Washington and his wife Emily, who would complete the job even though the bridge opened in 1883.
This is just a summary. Yet the juiciest details would come in the form of a podcast Jackson created in June of 2021. It was then followed by a two-part interview with Dave Arnold and Kristen Bennett of Infrastructure Junkies in October. Both of these can be found in part 2 of the interview I did with Prof. Jackson. The first will start with the actual podcast which is enclosed below. It will then be followed by my questions and lastly, the two-part series by Infrastructure Junkies.
We hope you enjoy the show and will get an appreciation of how people come together to build a bridge that not only crosses a river but a landmark that helped America be what it is today. 🙂
And so, without further ado, here we go:
After listening to his podcast, here are the questions I had for him and his responses:
1. What got you interested in the topic on the bridge and with that, the Roebling family?
Well, the Gilded Age is often thought of as kind of a “downer” in US history. I wanted to tell some stories that highlighted the good in the era too. Among those, in my mind, are the magnificent construction projects undertaken in the time. I’d call the Brooklyn Bridge one of the most outstanding among those.
It also has such a compelling story in terms of its construction. It is Roebling family’s multi-generational work! The blood and tears in that thing (literally) makes it a compelling tale.
2. Have you visited any of the Roebling sites, including bridges, historic residences, and even the birthplaces including John’s in Mühlhausen, Germany?
Alas, I’ve only been to the Brooklyn Bridge. But you can bet I walked it, both ways, slowly, admiring every Roebling cable spanning the bridge and running into the anchors.
3. Did you have an opportunity to read the novel by David McCullough on the Brooklyn Bridge or any of the works about the bridge?
I have read David McCullough’s most excellent history of the Bridge. In researching the episode, I also read Roebling biographies, histories of Gilded Age New York, Boss Tweed, looks at maps, plans, etc. Every episode is rigorously researched. It isn’t uncommon for me to have dozens of primary and secondary sources. If you visit my website you can see the sources I used in that episode (HTDSpodcast.com).
4. You mentioned a lot about the engineer John Roebling and his character in your podcast. What are two things that you know about him that many of us don’t know about him?
Two things most people probably don’t know about John Roebling: 1) he loved his family. He worked so hard and was such a serious person, I think this is lost sometimes. But under that tough skin was a loving heart, even if he failed to show it as often as he should’ve. 2) John wasn’t just an engineer, he was an inventor. Though I might say a successful engineer is and must be an inventor. I’m slow to speak to what engineers should do when I’m not one, but as a historian who’s studied a lot of engineers and their incredible works, I’ve noted that the greats don’t just build; they build things others said couldn’t be done: like the Brooklyn Bridge. Generations of Americans said it couldn’t be done. John never asked “if” a thing could be done. He just started figuring out the “how” on his own.
5. When John died from tetanus as a result of his foot injury, his son Washington took over. If you were to compare him with his father, what are some differences you can find between them in terms of their character, how they handled building the bridge, etc. ?
Both were brilliant men and excellent engineers. John was more stern in his demeanor. Washington displayed more emotional intelligence than his father.
Yet, John was the genius than Washington wasn’t. And I don’t mean that as an insult, I think “Washy” would agree with me. He was an excellent engineer, but if we reserve “genius” for the top 1%, the out-of-the-box thinkers, John is the one of the two who hits that mark.
6. Then there’s Washington’s wife, Emily. She basically took over when he fell ill and became bed-ridden. What role did she play in helping finish the bridge project?
Oh, Emily is a hero! She taught herself engineering so she could be the relay between her bed-ridden husband and the ground. She was the co-Chief Engineer in my book.
7. There are some in the history community that say that Emily should have been credited for building the bridge, but in the end, Washington’s name was mentioned. Why was she fully left out and should there be something to honor her for she was Washington’s eyes and guidance?
Frankly, I think it’s a damn shame that the plaques on the Brooklyn Bridge listing the big shots who built it and made it happen do not list her. I think it should be updated.
The reason why she got left off … I have no sources that I’ve seen in which the decision makers explain their rationale. As a historian, I want those documents first and foremost. In their absence, however, I would say it is fair to speculate the reason comes down to US attitudes on gender roles in the 19th century. And I am all for her receiving the proper recognition she deserves in our present.
8. Since the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, there have been improvements in safety standards regarding bridge building. Can you elaborate further on this?
Thankfully, John Roebling over-engineered it. The bridge was designed to hold far more weight than it was expected to. That’s why it didn’t need much change for the first few decades. But as the population increased and cars became a thing, concrete and steel-reinforced roadway had to be added in the 20th century. The bridge has been renovated (painted, cleaned, etc.) a number of times. Like anything you want to last, it needs care and attention.
Though perhaps one of the most important things New York has done was simply building other bridges, which cut down on traffic and weight on the bridge each day!
9. Last year, you did a two-hour podcast on the Brooklyn Bridge and the Roebling family through Infrastructure Junkies. Your original podcast was about an hour. What are some differences between the two podcasts?
The key difference is that HTDS’s episode was the story of the Brooklyn Bridge told as a single-narrator. I got int the drama of the Roebling family a bit more and the intrigue of New York politics. With Infrastructure Junkies, not only was the story’s telling through a conversation, it was focused very much on the nuts and bolts (literally). Still a good time, just a different flavor.
10. What was your reaction to winning the 2021 Bridgehunter Awards in the category Best Bridge Media and Genre?
Honored, of course! Thank you again for the acknowledgement. It’s always good to know one’s work is appreciated, and I’ll add that I was particularly proud of that episode. I really enjoyed it. I obsessed over getting the engineering details right. So getting a nod for my telling of the Brooklyn Bridge was great.
11. Are you planning on doing some further podcasts on American bridges and if so, which ones?
Likely going to do Golden Gate and Bay Bridges at least. Others … we’ll see!
12. If you have some advice for people doing podcasts on bridges, what would you give them?
I would say know your audience. Are you telling the history of bridges or the infrastructure? Not that they are mutually exclusive but figure out what your primary goal is and make sure your product matches your intentions.
And now the two-part interview about the Brooklyn Bridge done by the crew at Infrastructure Junkies. Each part is approximately 40 minutes.
And before we close it on the series on the Brooklyn Bridge, we have one person to interview because of the book review on David McCullough’s work on the bridge. That will come in the next article. Stay tuned! 🙂
$1.4 million awarded to the bridge by PennDOT to restore and repurpose the bridge for pedestrians.
HARRISBURG, PENNSYLVANIA (USA)- An early example of an iron through truss bridge built by a local bridge company in Pennsylvania is going to be restored after receiving a sizable amount of money from the state government. State Senator Mike Regan (Republican- Cumberland) announced on April 21st that the Friends of the Sheepford Road Bridge will receive $1.4 million from the Transportation Alternatives Set-Aside (TASA) Funds from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT). The TASA Funds is money set aside for projects and activities considered transportation alternatives, including on- and off-road pedestrian and bicycle facilities, infrastructure projects for improving non-driver access to public transportation and enhanced mobility, community improvement activities, and environmental mitigation, trails that serve a transportation purpose, and safe routes to school projects. It also includes restoration of historic bridges considered vital for areas where recreation is popular.
The Sheepford Road Bridge was one of two bridges that received TASA Funding in the announcement. The bridge was built by Dean and Westbrook of New York City as well as the Phoenix Bridge Company of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania in 1887. It’s one of a handful of bridges remaining in the eastern US that was built using cast and wrought iron and has two unique features: Phoenix columns on its end posts and ornamental portal bracings with builder’s plaque on each end. The Pratt through truss bridge is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Rehabilitated in 1975, the 133-foot long bridge was closed to all traffic in 2000 and since then, efforts had been undertaken to secure funding to repurpose the bridge as a pedestrian crossing, especially as it’s located near a park spanning Yellow Breeches Creek at the Cumberland-York County border. With the awarding of the funding, the Friends of the Sheepford Road Bridge, who have their own website (here), the funding has been secured and construction will begin shortly on restoring the historic bridge and making it a pedestrian crossing. Apart from repainting the bridge, there will be other work on repairing truss parts and renewing the decking, all of which will be done with a firm specializing in restoring historic bridges.
“Two and a half years ago we started this incredible journey to Save Our Bridge, a story with many twists and turns,” stated Janice Lynx, director of the Friends of the Sheepford Bridge, in an interview with the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles. “We stumbled many times and on occasion thought all was lost. But in the end we brought our community, local representatives, and historical organizations together to save a piece of our history.” The Sheepford Road Bridge has already received grants and recognition on the international scale. This included winning the 2021 William Foshag Awards by the Cumberland County Historical Society. The bridge received a silver and bronze medal in the 2021 Bridgehunter Awards in the categories Endangered TRUSS and Bridge of the Year, respectively. The winner in both went to the Historic Bridges in Keeseville, New York. “Grassroots activism works and you can make a different,” stated Lynx. And indeed the Sheepford Road Bridge represents an example of how one local group can make a difference and keep a piece of history that others will enjoy, especially once the restoration is completed.
Your bridge matters, and therefore, congratulatons and best of luck with your next steps in restoring it. ❤ 🙂
The other historic bridge that is receiving funding through PennDOT’s TASA Program is the Bogert’s Covered Bridge in Allentown in Lehigh County. The Burr truss bridge was built in 1841 and spans Little Lehigh River. It can be seen north of I-78. The bridge has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1980. PennDOT awarded $1.3 million to the City of Allentown, which will be used for a complete restoration of the covered bridge, which includes diassembly, restoration of parts and reassembly. When this will take place remains open. But it will continue to serve pedestrians once the restoration project in completed.
TAMA, IOWA- Created in 1913, the Lincoln Highway is the first trans-continental highway that went from coast to coast. Starting in San Francisco at Lincoln Park, the highway runs for 3,389 miles (5,454 km) through 14 US states before terminating at Times Square in New York City. Much of the route has been marked as US Highway 30 and there are many stops along the way where people can enjoy local dining, do a lot of fun activites and lodge in some of the hotels, all of which have been a fixture along the highway, some for as long as the highway has existed. There are many major crossing and historic bridges one can see along the Lincoln Highway.
Among them is this one, located in Tama in central Iowa. The Lincoln Highway Bridge is located at Roadside Park, spanning Mud Creek. Until it was bypassed by the expressway version of US Hwy. 30 in 2012, this bridge was one of the first sites to see when entering the community of 2800 inhabitants. And its one that is worth a stop. The bridge is a concrete stringer bridge but decorated with ornamental globe lighting and a railing bearing the name Lincoln Highway. The bridge was built in 1915 by local bridge builder, Paul Kingsley of Strawberry Point, Iowa. According to HAER records, the idea of the highway bridge with ornamental railings had a special meaning to it:
“In September 1912, the Midwestern visionary Carl Fisher proposed to group of automotive businessmen a plan to build a road spanning from coast to coast. The route, later named the Lincoln Highway, would start in New York City, finish in San Francisco, an cross 358 miles through the state of Iowa on the way. This monumental undertaking was to be privately funded with the towns and counties profiting from its passage sharing a large part of the construction costs. Thus, a widespread advertisement campaign for the transcontinental highway was launched with each community along its path trying to outdo the next in making itself the most desirable rest stop. The town of Tama distinguished itself from the rest by constructing a special bridge for the route with the words “Lincoln Highway” spelled out in the concrete railing. This bridge remains a most unusual maker for this historic highway.”
-Juliet Landler, HAER, 1995
Despite this, this unique historic bridge is in danger of becoming history, or at least being altered to a point of no recognition. Cracks have been revealed in the bridge span and parts of the railing, much of it has to do with wear and tear over the year. Even as the bridge has become part of the city and local traffic has been using it since the highway was bypassed in 2012, the bridge is still a big tourist attraction. But the future of the bridge is in the hands of the city council, which according to many news stories, is more or less divided.
One party would like to rehabilitate the bridge and make the necessary repairs to the structure to ensure that it continues to function for the next half century. While the city council had put aside funding for bridge repairs of up to $150,000 and the rest of the funding would be covered through a series of donations and support from the Iowa DOT, when presenting the bids for rehabbing the bridge by the engineering firm of Schuck-Britson from Des Moines in October 2021, the lowest bids was double the amount. Still, an in-kind restoration of the bridge would allow the bridge to continue to function as a crossing and as a tourist attraction.
By the same token, there have been growing calls from members from another party, which favors moving the historic bridge, or at least the lettered railings and lamp posts to the adjacent park and install a 15-foot culvert over the river. Their argument was that it was less expensive, easy to maintain and easy to replace even if it had a 15-year lifespan. The downside to this plan is that it would alter the bridge to the point of no recognition and it would lose the tourist appeal, let alone its status on the National Register. This was the case with the Marble Rock Arch Bridge in Floyd County. The three-span concrete arch bridge, built in 1914, was replaced in 1995, but its railings were relocated to a nearby park- out of site and out of mind. 😦
The Tama City Council was supposed to make a decision on the bridge’s future, based on the information they collected, on March 21, 2022. At the present time, no decision has been made. There is a consensus that the bridge should be restored to its original form, but the paperwork and instructions needed for the project is lacking (see article here for details). That plus the increase in costs for restoring the bridge might doom the project altogether. This bridge is the last of the structures along Lincoln Highway in Tama County, after losing a similar icon over Otter Creek at Chelsea in 2006.
Still, to this day, despite the highway being bypassed, the Lincoln Highway Bridge remains a popular tourist attraction and one where its original purpose was to serve as a rest stop for travelers going along this important highway. There is hope that this purpose stays that way- not as a piece of relict being put on display but one that still has this function as a crossing over Mud Creek. If this stays, Tama will continue to have a tourist attraction many people- bridge-lovers, tourists and all people alike- will stop by to see, and enjoy the scenery. ❤ 🙂
Century-old through truss bridge gives way after center pier crumbles. Future of last standing truss bridge remains open.
OKAY, OK- At this time last year, the Jefferson Highway Bridge, spanning the Verdigris River at Okay, in Oklahoma, was being written up as the first Endangered TRUSS Bridge article in the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles, reincarnating the original TRUSS Awards that was created by the late James Baughn for bridgehunter.com. It finished tied for fifth with two other bridges in the 2021 Bridgehunter Awards in the category of Endangered Truss. The bridge appeared to have some hope although one of the two standing Parker through trusses is hanging by a thread due to a crumbling center pier.
That crumbling center pier may have put the last nails in the coffin for the bridge, as we fast forward to the present.
During the early morning hours of February 22-23rd, it took only a half minute for the through truss span to finally give out, taking with it the outer pony truss approach span. The bridge collapse is symbolic for it happened one day before its 100th anniversary of the infamous bridge collapse- ironically involving the same span- during the time of its construction. Winds from a storm blew down the span into the Old Channel of the Verdigris River, killing three people that were on the bridge. That bridge span was later rebuilt and opened to traffic later that year, incorporating it into the second oldest highway in the US, the Jefferson Highway, which opened seven years earlier and connected Winnepeg, Canada to New Orleans and Dallas.
With the latest collapse involving the bridge span, which was built by a Tulsa-based bridge building company, chances of rebuilding the bridge, which had been abandoned for over two decades, is close to zero. The only chance to save the last standing through truss span, would have to be done by lifting the span off the crumbling pier and relocating it to a different location on land. But with the finances and questions involving the stability of the standing truss span, chances of salvaging it are slim. According to information by Tim Alexander, who together with Payden Metzger have provided photos of the collapsed bridge, there is no word from the mayor of Okay regarding the future of the remaining standing truss span.
The collapse of the Okay Bridge should serve as a reminder that historic bridges require maintenance just as much as a original bridge. If a bridge has as much value as the bridge in Okay, or any other historic bridge, then it should be repurposed with the goal of maintaining it for future use. In the case of the Okay Bridge, years of abandonment may have doomed it to removal. While there may be a chance to salvage the last standing span, the question at this point is: Is it worth it?
A gallery of photos can be found here. As mentioned before, Tim Alexander took the on ground shots shortly after the collapse. Payden Metzger did the drone shots. Many thanks for the use of photos. An article by Rhys Martin looks at not only the collapse of this bridge but also the state of the town of Okay as it slowly becomes a ghost town. You can click here to see it, but it will also appear in the Chronicles as well.
OZARK, MISSOURI- When I first became involved with Christian County’s historic bridges back in late 2010, we were at the beginning of a renaissance- a renaissance where our country was becoming more aware of the importance of historic bridges, and there were numerous exchanges of ideas and success stories on historic bridge preservation. The public was beginning to wake up and whenever they heard about a historic bridge that was targeted for demolition and replacement, they stepped forward to halt the plans and worked together to save these precious structures, those that played key roles in the development of America’s infrastructure and with it, bridge engineering. Myself, together with fellow pontists Todd Wilson, Nathan Holth, Bill Hart and the late James Baughn worked together with Kris Dyer and the organization to save the Riverside Bridge in Ozark, first restoring it onsite in 2012 and then after flooding caused damage two years later, relocating the bridge and restoring it at its new home at Finley Farms in 2020. The preservation movement gained a lot of support among the community and the county that they never forgot how important the Riverside Bridge really was to them- and still is today.
After a double-success story which garnered a two gold medals in the 2012 Ammann Awards and three silver medals in last year’s Bridgehunter Awards, plus several other awards, there is hope that the Riverside Bridge story could be spread to three other bridges in Christian County. As mentioned in last week’s BHC Newsflyer podcast, three historic bridges are slated for replacement, though it is unknown how the county will fund these projects, let alone when they will be replaced remains open.
Which of these bridges are targeted for replacement? Three remaining “wild” truss bridges- bridges that are either open to traffic still or have been abandoned for only a few years, waiting for repairs or replacement so that the crossing is used again. The only common variable: Like the Riverside Bridge, these three were built by the Canton Bridge Company in Ohio. Specifically they are as follows:
Location: Finley Creek on Smyrna Rd. NE of Ozark
Bridge Type: Pin-connected Pratt through truss with A-frame portal bracings
Dimensions: 281 feet long (main span: 119 feet), 11.8 feet wide, vertical clearance: 14.8 feet high
Date of construction: 1912; rehabilitated in 2004 & 2017
The Green Bridge is one of only three through truss bridges left in the county and also the last of the single span truss bridge. Like the Riverside Bridge, its portals feature the typical markings and the bridge builder plates with the name Canton on there. It’s one of the tallest in the county and one where even a train could cross it. It’s narrow enough that only one truck and one person could be on the bridge at the same time. This was my personal experience visiting the bridge with Ms. Dyer and a friend (and former high school classmate) of mine and his family. The bridge is situated in a natural habitat surrounded by forests on both sides of Finley Creek. A beautiful place for a picnic or a photo opportunity.
The Hawkins Ford Bridge is one of those mystery bridges, whose case needs to be solved before its ending as a vehicular crossing. It was relocated here in 1966 but no record mentions where its origin was. We just know that Canton built the structure in 1915 and that’s it. The bridge has been closed to traffic since 2017 and even though there are claims that justify its end of life, the bridge still has a chance at a new life for because of its bridge type, there are many ways to save it. The bridge is quite popular among locals, as you can see in the photos in bridgehunter.com.
Location: Bull Creek on Red Bridge Road south of Ozark
Bridge Type: Three-span Pratt pony truss with pinned connections
Dimensions: 255 feet long in total (longest span 85.8 feet), 11.5 feet wide
Date of Construction: 1915; Repaired in 2005
The Red Bridge was built at the same time as Hawkins Mill but like the Green Bridge, it is located in a heavily forested setting and is a very narrow crossing- narrow enough that only one car and one person could fit, side by side. If there is one bridge that would need to be completely rebuilt, it is this one because of the piers that have been crumbling since my visit in 2011.
All three bridges are considered elgible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, but given Canton Bridge Company’s good track record with the county, let alone the company’s agent, these three structures should be on the National Register. In fact, given the fact that also the Riverside Bridge and Ozark Mill Bridge, now standing side by side at Finley Farms, have not been listed yet, there should be a historic bridge designation with the purpose of not only protecting them but also making them a tourist attraction, as it is being done with the covered bridges in Lyndon, Vermont (as mentioned in the most recent podcast).
The bridges at hand here are no longer suitable for modern-day traffic and according to Christian County Highway Commissioner Miranda Beadles, the new structures would be two-lane to allow for all traffic to use them, especially emergency crews, school buses and utilities. But the county has expressed interest in saving the structures and is open to all options, including giving them to a third party. The question is what options are available? Here are a few worth considering:
Leaving them in place
This option has been practiced where historic bridges could be in place alongside the old one. For the three bridges, there is the option of making a park/rest area on the bridge, integrating them into a bike trail crossing, converting them into a fishing pier or leaving it as is. Advantage is that the relocation costs would be subtracted and the cost would only be allocated for repurposing them onsite, including the cost for the parking area and possible lighting. Plus it would allow for easier and quicker listing on the National Register. The drawback is the costs for ensuring that the bridge is not a liable risk. That means repairs to the structure, esp. with the Red Bridge, plus security and flood protection would be needed. But for this option, it is the most popular avenue for historic bridge preservation.
This was done with the Riverside Bridge already as Finley Farms purchased the structure and financed the restoration project. Normally relocating a bridge takes a lot of money, not only for the cost of disassembly and reassembly, but also the transport and the construction of the abutment and decking. In the case of the three bridges, there is the question of where to place them, though Ozark would be the best spot for these structures, be it as a city-wide bike trail network where these bridges would be showcased, or a bridge museum and/or park near the Finley Farm complex, or an open space where the bridges could be displayed and a new park would be created. That option would depend on the availability of space in town but most importantly, the interest in the community in this endeavor.
Integrating the historic bridges into the new structure
This practice is being done with several historic bridges, including the Route 66 Bridge at Bridgeport, Oklahoma, which will be considered the largest ever. And even though all three bridges would benefit from this “reconstruction,” including the National Register listing, the county has made it clear that the new structures would be two lanes, thus making Hawkins Ford and Red Bridges eligible, and the Green Bridge would be left out, its future unknown.
The current status is as follows: the three bridges are scheduled for replacement but the county has not given up on them just yet. They are looking for ideas on how to reuse them. The interest is still there to save them. The question is how. The Riverside Bridge has shown us that when there is the interest and the way to preserve a historic bridge, nothing will stop it from making it happen. While the Missouri Department of Transportation has been literally busy working on replacing every single historic bridge on the map, competing with Maine, Minnesota and Wisconsin for the title of the first truss-bridge-less state in the country, there are some counties in the state and those along the Route 66 Corridor that do not subscribe to MoDOT’s point of view. The end of a bridge’s structural life does not mean the bridge must be torn down and replaced. And newer structures designed to last 100 years have turned out to have lasted a quarter of that time. With global warming and its disastrous implications on our environment, we have to rethink the way we preserve and replace bridges. We have to appreciate how bridges are built and make use of what history offers us by preserving what is left and using the playbook to build those that are adaptable to change and conform to the environment surrounding it. Truss bridges have played a pivotal role in doing both- as a bridge type that fits with nature and a bridge type that withstands floods and other natural disasters.
And this is where we return to the three bridges of Christian County and their futures. How should they be preserved? If you have any ideas, here are the contact details of people with whom you can share your ideas and ask more about them.
Then you have the following contact details of the Christian County officials:
Highway Administrator – Miranda Beadles email@example.com
Christian County Commission
100 West Church St., Room 100
Ozark, MO 65721
The Chronicles will keep you posted on the latest involving the three bridges and their futures, which are currently up in the air. Will they be saved and if so, how and which ones will benefit? All options are open at this point.
How many of you have visited a winter carnival? What were some of your impressions? At this time of year, we have winter carnevals, featuring ice sculptures, sculpting competitions, lots of entertainment, but most importantly, lots of ice architecture, including the ice palace. In the Twin Cities in Minnesota, we have winter carnevals every two years, pending on the weather. The biggest event is on the Minneapolis side at Lake Harriet, yet there are smaller winter events throughout the metropolitan area.
This includes Stillwater, where this photo was taken. The Stillwater Lift Bridge was built in 1931 by J.A.L. Waddell and John Lyle Harrington and features a ten-span through truss bridge, one of the spans is a vertical life, allowing ships along the St. Croix River to pass through. It had served traffic, highway 36 until 2017 when the highway was rerouted to the cable-stayed bridge to the south. Afterwards, the bridge underwent an extensive, three-year project to restore the bridge to its original glory and repurpose it as an interstate bike trail between Minnesota and Wisconsin. It reopened last year and is now a loop trail that connects this historic bridge with its successor.
A lot has changed with the lift bridge, as there are no more cars waiting at the bridge and much of the traffic is now to the south. At the same time, Stillwater has become a bigger tourist attraction with more pedestrians and cyclists who would like to store-shop along the historic river front, containing many buildings that are at least 150 years old. And for pontists and bridge-lovers, as well as photographers, like Josh Driver, it provides some extended time to photograph the bridge from whatever angle best suits the person. This was taken at the time of the Stillwater winter festival shortly after the snow storm, showing the newly restored historic bridge with its glamorous lighting and beautiful coat of forest green paint. A perfect example of why a person should visit Stillwater- shop for the day, but stay for the bridge. 🙂
DRESDEN, OHIO- There are several towns in the United States that are named after the German city on the Elbe in Saxony. Dresden in Germany, with a population of 550,000 inhabitants, prides itself in the Baroque architecture, much of which was rebuilt after World War II. It has several historic bridges spanning the river which has provided commerce for as long as the city has existed, many of them are over 130 years old and survived the bombings in World War II. Four of them have been restored to their former glory and they are considered one of the places a person should visit, for there will be many stories about them.
And with that, we will look at another Dresden which has a unique suspension bridge. This village has a population of just under 1700 inhabitants and is located in Muskingum County, Ohio. It was founded in 1799 by Jonathan Cass when his family created a farmstead. By 1835, it became a small town. It profited from the Ohio and Erie Canal, which connected Lake Erie near Cleveland and the Ohio River at Portsmouth and was in use during much of the 1800s. The triple lock has been preserved as a historic monument. The Episcopal Church and the Union School, both dating back to the 19th Century have become part of Dresden’s historic town. And lastly, we have the town’s suspension bridge, which the town has taken pride in.
This suspension bridge was built in 1914 by the Bellefontaine Bridge & Steel Company based in Ohio, with Clyde T. Morris overseeing the project. It had replaced a wire suspension bridge that may have been built by Roebling because of the design. But it is unknown if he had constructed such a span, let alone when it was built. We do know that either a bridge collapse due to overweight or flooding may have warranted the replacement of the original bridge with the current span, built higher and using all steel.
The suspension bridge spans the Muskingum River at the junction of state highways 666 and 208. The bridge is built all of steel, including the towers, the eyebar suspension cables, and the steel turnbuckle beams that serve as suspenders. The decking features a continuous Warren pony truss with lattice railings. At present, the decking is all steel and pavement. The bridge is one of a handful of eyebar suspension bridges in the USA and has been on the National Register of Historic Places since its listing in 1978. The bridge has a total length of 705 feet, its main span is 443 feet.
Despite its national significance, the bridge is owned by the Ohio Department of Transportation and it is planning to tear down this historic structure. The transportation agency is working to shed off some of its historic assets because of the lack of interest in keeping the structure in tact. At a virtual meeting that took place on January 24th, 2022, officials addressed the issue with the bridge and presented the following arguments justifying the bridge’s removal:
Costs for Renovation:
According to Ohio DOT, the cost for restoring the bridge is estimated to be at around $6 million, whereas removing the bridge would cost only $1 million. Should the bridge be demolished, ODOT would salvage some of the bridge parts to erect a memorial. To add salt to the open wound, the restoration would not guarantee that the bridge would last into the later part of the century, an argument that can be countered, if we look at the success stories involving the restoration of other bridges of its kind, including and especially the Sister Bridges (Rachel Carson, Roberto Clemente and Andy Warhol) in Pittsburgh, built in the same time period as this bridge and still maintaining its original form since having been rehabilitated.
No Interest in Owning the Bridge:
Neither Muskingum nor the village of Dresden have the finances to own the bridge outright and given ODOT’s current situation with regards to historic bridges falling apart, the agency, which owns the bridge, would like to relieve itsself of the obligations of owning the bridge. That argument was countered with the county being at a disadvantage regarding receiving funding for restoring, replacing and even fixing its bridges, a problem that has been recurrent and at the online meeting, was brought up to the table. Auctioning the bridge like it was the case with the Roche de Beouf Bridge in Waterville would be possible but only through parties willing to restore it and cover the costs including liability. The Roche de Beouf Bridge is scheduled for removal as early as 2023 because the interested parties could not come up with a concept to restore and reuse the partially collapsed arch bridge.
The future of the bridge is in limbo because of its location out of the way of much of the major highways and bike routes. Still the bridge is not out yet, as there are several creative options available to save the bridge. Many of the options are being used for other historic bridges. The Roche de Beouf Bridge was an epic fail with the auction because of a pair of collapsed arch spans- one wonders what the interested parties they saw in the bridge that was doomed to failure even with the money invested in securing it as a historic monument. The Dresden Suspension Bridge is in pristine condition with the only problem being that of the roadway that is drawing weight on the lower chords causing rust and corrosion. In a conversation with fellow pontist Nathan Holth, he mentioned the removal of the decking and converting it into a monument being an option, and perhaps the only option if county and local officials want to keep people off the suspension bridge.
Auctioning the bridge to a party that is willing to invest in restoring the bridge as a monument may be the best option to relieve ODOT of its duties in keeping the bridge. It would stay in Dresden and people can still enjoy the structure. If the option is chosen, it would have to include not only the local parties but also those from outside who have an interest in restoring the bridge to its original glory. As a park is next to the bridge, the bridge could be integrated into the area with information on its history.
Despite the aforementioned proposals, there are many other options available but with little time to spare. ODOT would like to demolish the bridge at the earliest in 2025/26 and has already stated that it would use its own funding and not contact federal authorities for permission. Already there is a growing opposition to the plan and given its National Register status, there may be some unknown bureaucratic red tape and other mines and traps that ODOT will have to go through in order to make its plan a reality. It will be interesting to see what proposals will be open to save the bridge- whether it can be auctioned off, converted into a park using state funds or even the craziest idea yet- relocate the bridge to Dresden, Saxony, Germany- where it would make the best company with the city’s finiest bridges spanning the Elbe and other rivers. All roads are open and ODOT will have to acknowledge that the story of the suspension bridge is not over with- not without a fight.