The Rhine Bridges of Wesel (NRW)

The ruins of the approach spans of the Railroad Bridge in Wesel. Photo taken by Daniel Ullrich Threedots, CC BY-SA 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/, via Wikimedia Commons

Located along the River Rhine northwest of Duisburg in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), the town of Wesel, with a population of 60,200 inhabitants, is one of the towns in Germany that had been scarred by the history of conquest. It had been captured by the Spanish in 1590, then was the focal point of a tug-a-war between the Spaniards and the Dutch until the French captured it in 1672. The Prussians entered the picture in the 17th Century only to fight with the French over the city for the next century. After the Battle of Waterloo and the subsequent fall of Napoleon in 1813, Wesel became part of Prussia, which later became Germany with the unification of several small states and kingdoms and the ratification of the treaty in 1871. The town was a strategic point for weaponry during World War II, which made it an easy target for attack by the Allied Troops. After three different bombing attacks on February and March of 1945, the city was reduced to rubble; the population was reduced from 25,000 inhabitants in 1939 to only 1,900 by the end of World War II in May 1945.

Despite some of the architecture that withstood the test of time, much of Wesel has been reconstructed to its former glory since the end of World War II, with a newly rebuilt market square and cathedral, as well as Berlin Gate. Yet one can find some ruins of the city that had once been fortified but was one of the key industrial ports along the lower portion of the Rhine River.

This includes a pair of bridges that spanned the river. Both spans had been built before 1900, yet their fate landed in the hands of German dictator Adolf Hitler, who ordered every single bridge along the Rhine and its tributaries to be blown up after Wesel was sacked by bombs on February 19th. The railroad bridge that had existed north of Wesel was the last crossing over the Rhine before it was detonated. The bridge remains are still visible to see. The roadway bridge was rebuilt using a prefabricated truss design, and it lasted for over 60 years until it was replaced in 2009. The history of the two bridges and their fates will be summarized here. It includes video of the two bridges to give you an insight on what they had looked like prior to and after1945.

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Wesel Railroad Bridge:

On 1 MArch, 1874, the Wesel Railroad Bridge was opened to traffic. It was built by the Cologne Railroad Company and was part of the railroad line that had connected Paris with Hamburg, via Münster and Bremen. It is unknown who designed the bridge, but it was one of a few bridges that were put on display at the World Exhibition in Vienna in 1873 and received accolades for their architectural work. It is known that the railroad bridge was the longest Rhine crossing in Germany and was last crossing standing when it was destroyed in March 1945. The bridge had a total length of almost 2km (1,950 meters) and featured four main spans, each of a curved Whipple through truss, six additional truss spans, plus 97 stone arch approach spans- 65 on the west side of the Rhine and 32 on the east side where Wesel is located. The truss beams had welded connections, which were typical for European truss bridges built during the last three decades of the 19th Century.

Source: N.N. / Johann Heinrich Schönscheidt, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Source: N.N. / Johann Heinrich Schönscheidt, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The fate of the railroad bridge coincited with the fate of the rail line that passed through Wesel. Despite its length, the bridge was imploded on March 10th, 1945 under the direction of General Alfred Schlemm. The troops and much of Wesel were under attack during the last month, including the bombings that started February 12th and ended on the 19th, destroying much of the city. As American, Canadian and British troops advanced towards the town under the operation “Varsity”, Schlemm and his troops set the bombs on the main spans and during the morning hours of the 10th, the bridge was detonated. Hours later, the Allied Troops took the town without much resistance with only 80+ casualties. The Wesel Railroad Bridge outlived the Ludendorff in Remagen (southeast of Bonn) by three days.

Plans to rebuild the railroad was abandoned and the Hamburg-Paris rail line was later rerouted through Duisburg and later Düsseldorf. The truss bridge piers were later removed in 1968 to allow for ships along the Rhine to pass. What is left of the old railroad bridge are the approach spans, which you can see in the videos and picture below. The railroad bridge has since been considered a historic landmark because of its design and association with German industrial history.

Source: ᛗᚨᚱᚲᚢᛊ ᚨᛒᚱᚨᛗ, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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Wesel Highway Bridge:

Unlike the railroad bridge spanning the Rhine, the highway bridge was rebuilt towards the end of World War II. Since 1945, the bridge has been rebuilt twice. The Wesel Highway Bridge was first built in 1917 and featured a continuous cantilever through truss bridge with Warren truss design. Like the railroad bridge, the highway bridge was detonated by the fleeing Nazi soldiers in an attempt to slow the advencement of Allied troops. Little did they realize, they found a creative way to re-erect a crossing, using the technology that was based on an invention in Great Britain: The Bailey Truss.

As soon as the troops captured Wesel, they constructed a temporary bridge, made of pontoons, to enable the passage of troops and equipment and to speed up the process of ending the war, which was successful with the capitulation of Germany on May 7, 1945. With the war over, came the reconstruction of Germany and that included important crossings like this one. In October 1945, English troops constructed a multiple-span Bailey Truss bridge over the Rhine, featuring two bridges, each carrying one lane of traffic and with a speed limit of 25 km/h (15 mph). The Montgomery Bridge, named after Bernard Law Montgomery, who led troops through North Africa, Italy and the Normandy, was the second longest Bailey crossing behind a crossing at Rees. Nicknamed the Gummibrücke, this bridge was in service until a newer, more stable crossing could be put into place.

As you can see in the video here, the bridge in the foreground was the successor to the Bailey Truss . It was a continuous through truss span using the simple Warren design with riveted connections. It was built in 1953 by a consortium of three companies and served traffic until 2009. Because of its narrowness, it was considered structurally obsolete, resulting in the construction of the new, but present structure, as you can see in the background.

The present structure took four years to build but in the end, the bridge was opened to traffic on 30 November, 2009 and right after that, the truss bridge was dismantled. Some parts can still be seen near the present day structure. The bridge features a bottle-shaped A-frame tower with stayed cables. At 772 meters in length, it’s 200 meters longer than the truss bridge. Thanks to a width of 27.5 meters, the bridge can carry four lanes of traffic along the Highway 58.

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Fazit:

The bridges of Wesel once provided a main artery over the Rhine and services for the residents. Because of the war, much of the city was destroyed and relicts from the war can be seen today, especially with the railroad bridge that once was part of Wesel. Yet the destruction of both bridges showed that through the use of technology, combined with the resiliency of locals to have a crossing open, that newer bridges can be built that are sturdier and can carry more than their predecessors. They helped with the rebuilding efforts of Wesel and to this day, made the town a stronger and more intact community than during the war. Still the scars will forever remain on the landscape and they must not be forgotten when talking about war in the classroom and its impact on society. World War II presents an example of a war that must never happen again, and that speaking from experience of those who witnessed it first hand and afterwards…..

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10th Anniversary Bridgehunter Awards: Now Accepting Entries for the 2021 Awards

Singing Bridge in Frankfort, Kentucky.

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2021 Bridgehunter Awards

Ten years ago, in November 2011, the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles started the Othmar H. Ammann Awards, featuring bridges in the original categories of Best Example of a Restored Historic Bridge, Lifetime Achievement, Best Bridge Photo, and Best Kept Secret- Best places to find a historic bridge. The voting was done by selected people and the awards were given out at the beginning of 2012.

Fast forward ten years later, we have a different name (awards name changed in 2019), same categories but also newer ones and we have many more people in public voting than the select few. And this year will be more exciting than ever before. 🙂

Between now and December 1st, entries are being gathered for the 10th Annual Bridgehunter Awards. This year’s awards are special as we are paying tribute to four pontists who passed away within the last year: James Baughn, who died on December 6, 2020, Toshirou Okomato who passed unexpectedly in May of this year, and lastly, JR Manning and Dr. James L. Cooper, who both died on August 19th.  The new categories and bridge entries presented in this year’s awards reflect on the achievement of each person. One of the categories is a reincarnation of the one that was hosted by Mr. Baughn who had created bridgehunter.com, which is now owned by Historic Bridge Foundation.

Photo by Miquel Rossellu00f3 Calafell on Pexels.com

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If you are interested in submitting your favorite bridges, photos and persons, who left a mark in historic bridge preservation and tourism, please use this link, which will take you to the page about the Bridgehunter Awards. There, an online form is available and you can submit your bridge entries there. For bridge photos, please ensure that there is no more than 1MB per photo and are sent in jpg. The online form can also be used if you have any questions, need the author’s e-mail address, etc.

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The categories for this year’s Bridgehunter Awards include:

Jet Lowe’s Best Bridge Photo

Othmar H. Ammann’s Bridge Tour Guide

Mystery Bridge

Ralph Modjeski’s Lifetime Achievement

Eric DeLony’s Best Example of a Restored Historic Bridge

And lastly, Bridge of the Year.

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With the exception of Best Bridge Photo, Bridge of the Year and Lifetime Achievement, there will be separate categories: Bridges in the USA and Bridges on the International Scale. Entries are welcomed from all over the world in all of the categories.

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For Best Bridge Photo:  The top five winners will have their bridge photo posted on the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles website (for 1st Place), BHC’s facebook open page (for 2nd place), BHC facebook group page (3rd place), BHC twitter page (4th place) and BHC LinkedIn (5th place) for the first half of 2022.

Photo by Aleksandar Pasaric on Pexels.com

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New to the list of category include:

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Endangered TRUSS: Reincarnated from James Baughn’s TRUSS Awards, the award is given out to a historic bridge whose historic value is being threatened with demolition or alteration due to progress.

James Baughn’s Individual Bridge: Awarded to a bridge, whose unique design and history deserves recognition.  This category replaces the old one, Best Kept Secret Individual Bridge.

Lost Bridge Tour Guide: Awarded to a region that used to have an abundance of historic bridges but have long since been wiped out or reduced to only one or two.

Best Bridge Book/ Bridge Literature: Awarded to a literary piece that is devoted to bridges. This can be homemade by the submitter or a book written by somebody else but deserves an award.

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While some entries have already been added in some of the categories, you have time to submit your entries between now and December 1st. Afterwards, voting will commence throughout all of December and the first half of January. How the voting will be done will be announced once the ballots are ready for you to use for voting. Voting will end on January 21st, 2022 with the winners to be announced a day later on the 22nd.

This year’s awards will be special for many reasons, all of which will be focused on one thing: Giving thanks to many who have devoted their time, money and efforts to documenting, photographing and spearheading efforts to restoring historic bridges, not only in the United States and Canada as well as in Europe, Asia and elsewhere. There are many people who deserve a large amount of thanks for their work. The Bridgehunter’s Awards, in its tenth year, is going to put these people and the bridges in the spotlight, no matter where we travel to, to visit the bridges.

Looking forward to your entries between now and December 1st and as always, happy bridgehunting and happy trails, folks. ❤ 🙂

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Mystery Bridge Nr. 157: The Oldest (and Unusual) Bridge in Husum, Germany

In Schleswig-Holstein, the oldest known bridge in the state can be found in the town of Schmalfeld in the district of Segeberg, located in the eastern part of the state. It was built in 1785 and was in service for 198 years before it was bypassed and converted into a bike trail crossing. It is one of only a handful of arch bridges that are known to exist in the northernmost state in Germany.

Source: Holger.Ellgaard, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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Many arch bridges have gone unnoticed during the surveys of historic bridges in the last half decade, some of which deserve some sort of recognition.

The Schiffsbrücke in Husum is one of them. The bridge spans the Mühlenau at Zingeldamm near the Schiffsfahrtsmuseum (Museum of Shipping) and is the last crossing before the river empties into the harbor- right after the crossing. There’s next to no information on the bridge except for a couple dates to pass along to it. The first is in the picture above, which has a date of 1858 with the letter F on it.

Husum was part of the kingdom of Frisia, a region which stretched from southern Denmark, all the way to northeastern Netherlands, all along the North Sea coast and includes the islands in the Halligen region. The first known existence came in during the Roman Empire and it was once a regional powerhouse until the 16th Century, when it was split up. The German portion of Frisia, including Husum, became Uthlande, which later became part of Denmark until after the War of 1864, which resulted in German annexation. It is possible that given the Danish crown on the insignia, that Denmark had recognized Husum as Frisian, thus allowing for the language and culture to continue thriving. Yet we need more information to confirm these facts and to answer the question of why we have this insignia.

While the insignia states it was built in 1858, the informational board located on Zingeldamm stated otherwise, as it claimed that the bridge was built in 1871. Where the information came from is unknown but as original insignias on bridges are known to be the most reliable source of information to determine its construction date, there are two possibilities behind these two conflicting dates:

  1. The information is proven false because of a lack of records and thus historians may have assumed the date without taking a closer look at the bridge.
  2. The bridge may have been rebuilt after it was destroyed but the original brick railings, arch and insignia were retained and restored to provide a historic taste and conformity to Husum’s thriving city center and adjacent harbor.

Much of Husum survived unscathed during World War II as it used to serve as a naval port for the Nazis until its relocation to Flensburg in the district of Mürwik in 1943. Its only scar was a concentration camp near the town of Schwesing, where prisoners were used to build a wall to keep the waters of the North Sea out. The camp only existed for a few months in 1944, yet atrocities committed there could not be ignored and even an investigation into the camp took place in the 1960s. The city center, with its historic brick buildings dating back to the 17th century, has mainly remained in tact with only a couple minor alterations over the past 75 years, which means Husum has retained its historic architecture making it an attractive place to visit. The Schiffsbrücke represents that historic character that belongs to Husum’s past.

Unique feature of Schiffsbrücke is its wall. Husum lies on the North Sea coast and has its Flut and Ebbe (high and low tide). To keep the waters of the North Sea out of the Mühlenau, the wall is hoisted up to the keystone of the arch span. Because the Mühlenau is a “sweet water” river, this is done to protect the flora and fauna that exists in the river and are reliant on fresh water. Other than that feature, the bridge and its unique brick railings and insignia is one of the most unique and ornamental arch bridges in the state. Yet its mystery behind the construction date and the engineer behind the bridge and wall system makes it a bridge that one should research more on to find out its history.

And with that, it is your turn. What do you known about the Schiffsbrücke regarding its history, and which date would you lean towards- 1858 or 1871?

Feel free to place your comments on the Chronicles, either directly or via social media.

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Author’s Note:

This bridge article is in connection with a book project on the Bridges of Schleswig-Holstein that has restarted since the author’s return. Click here to look at the details and feel free to contribute some information on the project. Happy bridgehunting, folks. 🙂 ❤

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Best Kept Secret: Landfalloybrua in Drammen, Norway

When we think of Norway, we think of large fjordes flanked by mountains, surrounded by wooden houses overlooking the seas. We think of long crossings that connect communities and attract tourists. We don’t think much about the country’s historic bridges as we are used to fancy but unique modern ones that cover the landscape.

That is unless you are Monika Pettersen, a photographer who finds some of the most unique and historic bridges in corners that are unknown to all but the locals. 🙂

This bridge caught the eyes of hundreds who have seen it on her Instagram page and is a best kept secret. The structure is a double-leaf bascule bridge spanning the river that also carries the name where the structure is located- Drammen. According to information I collected- it was built in 1867 based on the designs of Halvor Heyerdahl. It was 158 meters long and 2.9 meters wide. The spans were hoisted to allow for ships to pass. After World War II, local officials addressed the need for a taller structure to ship goods into and out of Drammen. Therefore a new bridge was built on alignment next to the drawbridge span and opened to traffic in 1967. Afterwards, this span was left in place and today, it serves as a pier and a monument, dedicated to its history and its association with the city.

This photo was taken at sundown and shows the reflections of the bridge, covered by collection of clouds. Its tranquil setting makes it a place where one could go for serenity. Normally, old bridges and natural settings make it a perfect place to listen to nothing but the nature. This one goes well beyond it as one can enjoy a little bit of history and awe at its structural appearance along the way. A perfect shot for a perfect bridge. ❤

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Many thanks to Monika Pettersen for allowing me to use her picture. You can see more of her stunning photos by visiting her Instagram page (click here).

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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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The Collapse of the Point Ellice Bridge in Victoria, Canada

Photo by Sami Anas on Pexels.com

VICTORIA, BC (CANADA)-

Yesterday marked an anniversary of a tragedy in the history of bridge building and maintenance. 125 years ago on May 26, 1896, a street car tried to cross the Point Ellice Bridge, which spans the Upper Harbor on present-day Bay Street, connecting Victoria and Victoria West, let alone the island with the mainland. Thousands gathered to celebrate the 76th birthday of Queen Victoria and watch the reenactment of a naval battle at Esquimalt. Unfortunately on this tragic day, one of two spans of the pin-connected Whipple through truss  bridge collapsed under the weight of the street car and the people who were traveling on it.  An analysis of the disaster and reactions to the tragedy can be found in the video below:

The disaster was considered the worst in Canadian history at that time, still it is being talked about in class today, but on a regonal level. The bridge collapse signaled the beginning of the movement for truss bridges that were to be built to withstand increasing loads of traffic. This included the introduction of standardization of truss designs to be used for bridge construction. This was introduced beginning in 1910 in the United States. Steel was already replacing wood and iron because of their lack of quality- iron was too inflexible and brittle, while wood had a potential to rot due to weather and worms eating away at the material. The latter can be found in the example of the first crossing in Bisbrane, in Australia.  And bit by bit, the introduction of a Good Roads Movement was presented, where roads and bridges were to be built using higher quality materials, yet at the same time, they were to be maintained. Even a simple paint job on a truss bridge span could prolong the span’s functional life.

Each bridge disaster presented challenges and ushered in changes to bridge building and maintenance. The Point Ellice Bridge collapse of 1896 is still being talked about to this day because it ushered in the necessary changes needed to improve the infrastructure not only in Canada, but in neighboring USA and even beyond…..

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The Point Ellice House and Bridge were built at the same time, honoring Edward Ellice, who left a mark in Canadian history and later in Great Britain. The House has been preserved and designated a historic site. It still hosts events that talk about this tragic event. At the same time, the bridge was rebuilt after the disaster, yet the present-day structure, a concrete cantilever span, was built in 1958 and still serves traffic today. It was renovated last time in 2019.

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Mystery Bridge Nr. 150: The Raritan River Bridge at Bound Brook, New Jersey

Source: https://bridgehunterschronicles.files.wordpress.com/2021/05/a2916-1875raritanriverbridge.jpg

Our 150th Mystery Bridge takes us to Mannville, in Somerset County, New Jersey, located west of Edison and even New York City. This bridge came to our attention on bridgehunter.com because of its fancy portal bracings as well as the vertical end posts. Judging by the plaque on the portal bracing, the bridge was built in 1875. Judging by its features and the fact that steel was not as comonly used as it was 15 years later, this bridge was definitely built of either cast or wrought iron. The number of spans, judging by the tunnel view, is between four and six, thus making the length of the entire bridge between 200 and 400 feet long. The structure used to serve a railline connecting the area with Philadelphia and Reading in Pennsylvania. In fact, the bridge was part of the Philadelphia-Reading Railroad consortium, which was established in 1833 and had been in service until 1976. It was one of the oldest railroads in the country.

The bridge was replaced with a two-span Parker through truss though the date is not given, nor is there information in bridgehunter.com. Hence the first question that comes about is when the present-day span was built and this span removed.

It is unknown what type of truss was used for this railroad bridge, though at first hand, it appears to have been a Howe through truss design. Yet at the time of its construction, other truss designs were also used that have Lattice features, such as the Post, Whipple and even Pratt. So looks can be deceiving. So the next question is what type of truss bridge was this crossing.

And lastly, the third question behind this bridge is who built this to begin with and what was the motive behind the portals and end posts, which are not only typical for iron truss bridges during that time, but also one of the most ornamental of the bridges in the area? Although these trusses are rare to find these days, decorative truss bridges show not only the engineer’s signature but also the artwork that was put into the structure, especially when it comes to cast or wrought iron. These were dominant between 1870 and 1895 when steel became the norm for truss bridge construction and with it, sleeker truss designs with letter-shaped portals, such as the common A-frame, as well as W, M, WV, and MA, as well as Howe Lattice.

To to review the questions we need to solve for this research:

  1. When was the truss bridge replaced by the current structure?
  2. What type of truss bridge was this crossing?
  3. Who was behind the design for this railroad crossing?

And with that, best of luck with the research. Feel free to submit your comments here if you find some information on the bridge. Happy Bridgehunting and happy trails! 🙂

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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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Mystery Bridge Nr. 146: An Abandoned Railroad Bridge at a Once Important Airbase in Czechia

Our next mystery bridge takes us into the mountains, but this time to the area between Ustí nad Labem (Aussig) and Liberec in northern Czechia in the region of Bohemia. The Hradčany Airport is a former military airbase located near the town of Ralsko. It’s situated in the area of confluence between the Ralsko and Ploučnice Rivers.  Originally, the area was used for military combat training during the times of the Austro-Hungarian Empire as well as after the establishment of Czechoslovakia. When Nazi Germany occupied the country in 1938, the area was converted to a military airbase by the Wehrmacht, which included new runways and hangers for their fighter jets. It was one of the most important bases fort he eastern front during World War II. 

As part of the measure to expel German residents out of their country, Czechoslovakia reclaimed the airbase but only for a short time, as it later became part of Soviet Army when it became a socialist republic. Again, the airbase became an important point of axis for the Soviet Union, especially during the Prague Spring of 1968, when troops entered the city and ended the revolution with military force. For 30 years, the  Hradčany Airbase was an important military base for the Soviets to ensure that none of the communist states were influenced by the capitalist West.

After the fall of the communist party from power in 1989, withdrawal of Soviet troops was negotiated in February 1990. The last soldier left the district in May 1991. The district lost its military status in the same year. On January 1, 1992 the village of Ralsko was established by joining of nine villages together. Between 1993 and 2004 the area was extensively cleaned up from chemical contamination and searched for unexploded ammunition. To this day, all that remains are ruins of the airport that are beset by vandals. The area has been also used for drag racing and dance parties, yet there have been plans to convert the former base into a recreational area.

And this takes us to this bridge, the Stary zeleznicni most, a former railroad bridge located north of the former airbase. This was discovered by Czech bridgehunter Lara Vajrychová during a recent trip to the area. The structure is approximately 200 meters long and features a combination Lattice and Bailey truss design. The portal bracings are I-beam with bedstead endposts. The connections are for the most part pinned, based on Bailey truss building techniques, yet the top and bottom chords have riveted connections.

It is unknown when the structure was built but we do know that the railroad line served as an important link to the airbase from the north. It could be that the Germans had built this prior to the start of World War II as soon as Czechoslovakia was taken over in 1938. Should this argument be true, then the bridge survived the bombings unscathed, which enabled Soviet and American troops to use the bridge and the rail line to march into Germany in 1945.  By the same token, if the crossing was damaged, it was likely that the Soviets rebuilt the bridge and used it to provide materials and artillery to quash any uprisings, yet that would have happened between the time the country became a communist state in 1948 and the time before the Prague Spring, 20 years later.

And this is where your help is needed here: In your opinion, were the Germans or the Russians responsible for this important crossing that made the now former airbase a key axis point (Stützpunkt) until 1990.  What kind of truss design is this and who was behind ist construction? 

And for that, the forum is open.

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Photos:

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Czechoslovakia was split into Czech Republic and Slovakia through a Velvet Divorce, which happened on January 1, 1993. On January 1, 2021, the Czech Republic was renamed Czechia.

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