An Interview with John Marvig

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Photo of John Marvig in front of the (now extant) Wagon Wheel Bridge in Boone County, Iowa

When we think of historic bridges, we think of roadway bridges built of metal or stone, having truss, arch, suspension or beam designs, each of which has a well-documented history pertaining to the date of construction and the builders, as well as its significance to the community and infrastructure. It is rare to find history of railroad bridges that had made a different in a community…..

….that is unless you are John Marvig.

Since his 6th grade year, Marvig has been travelling the Midwestern US, photographing and documenting historic and modern railroad bridges for his website. Since its inauguration in 2011, the website has over 1200 bridges, big and small, covering eleven states and counting. The secret to the Chaska (Minnesota) native’s success as a railroad bridge photographer and writer I wanted to find out through this interview, as Marvig won the 2016 Ammann Awards for Lifetime Achievement, the youngest person to ever have received this distinction. Here are some Q&As conducted with this now sophomore at Iowa State University, majoring in Civil Engineering:

BHC: What got you interested in historic bridges; in particular, railroad bridges?

Marvig: When I was a kid, there was a bridge on I-494 in South Saint Paul known as the Wakota Bridge. That old tied arch structure always interested me, and I always took note when we drove to my grandparents farm in Wisconsin. Along the way, there were a number of other bridges I would take notice of from a young age. When I was younger, I had also wanted a model railroad. One thing led to another, and I would be taking pictures of a local railroad bridge by the fall of my 6th grade year. It grew from there, and became a full blown passion (or obsession, depending on how you look at it). Another bridge, an old railroad swing bridge located in my hometown of Chaska was always fascinating to me, since it only continued to exist in memory. Seeing the history that was lost really encouraged me to peruse my passion.

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North Redwood Railroad Bridge. Photos taken by John Marvig and avbailable via website.

BHC: What got you interested in historic bridges; in particular, railroad bridges?

Marvig: Creating my website was an idea that was formulated in a 7th grade technology class where we learned basic coding. John Weeks runs a website with numerous bridge photos on it, which also captivated my interest. From an early and very basic website to the full blown site it is now, it has steadily grown. I have well over 1000 bridges documented, I am just waiting to get the pages created! The hardest part is coding the pages. I manually code them, instead of using a form which automatically creates the pages (similar to Bridgehunter). This allows me the flexibility to change pages to meet the needs of the specific structure or the intended audience. However, this can be very time consuming. A page I have been working on for the Eads Bridge in Saint Louis took nearly 4 hours from start to finish to create. I continue to anticipate the site growing steadily. I have a waiting list of pages to add of over 350, and that list grows often.

 

BHC: Your focus on your website is railroad bridges. What makes them special in comparison to highway bridges?

Marvig: Railroad bridges, in my opinion, are the pinnacle of American engineering. While highway bridges were not built to carry a heavy load, railroad bridges were constructed to carry a load of many times a typical highway bridge. This results in some bridges that are engineered to perfection. In addition, railroad companies rarely reported construction of bridges and oftentimes did weird things such as relocation of spans. This makes it a unique challenge to document and research these structures.

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Crookston Railroad Bridge.

BHC:  Many railroad companies try to repel photographers and bridgehunters from photographing RR bridges. Why is that and how did you successfully managed to do that?

Marvig: Railroad companies are afraid of the liabilities of people being on their property. I have gotten around this by using public access, asking other landowners or walking along the riverbanks to the structure. My most important goal is to stay safe and set a positive example for others.

 

BHC:  Set a positive example- what examples?

Marvig: Two ways to look at this. The first is safety and to obey the rules. Walking on railroad property or bridges is very dangerous, and I try to use it as a last resort to get to bridges. On my site, I generally make notes of how I got to the bridge so others will hopefully follow that route. The other positive example I like to set is the strive for preservation and passion I demonstrate. I hope this spreads to others and we can see a positive turnaround in bridge preservation.

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Bergfeld Pond Bridge in Dubuque. This span was one of several from the 1868 span over the Mississippi River

BHC:  Did you have any confrontations with landowners accusing you of trespassing or other items? Many bridgehunters have dealt with this problem over the years- yours truly included on many occasions.

Marvig: I have. While I generally find that landowners are more than happy to talk to myself and my father, who often accompanies me on these trips, I have seen some people I hope not to deal with again. I would say 90% of people are nice and usually interested, and oftentimes tell their life story. I have however had instances of some real cranks. I’ve had hunters “accidentally” shoot my direction, I’ve had ladies in trailers yell at me because I’m parked on a public gravel road and I’ve had others claim a public road is theirs. However, a vast majority are some of the nicest people I’ve met; and in a few cases people I’ve kept in contact with.

 

BHC:  Bridge historians, like Eric Delony have often mentioned of railroad companies being very hesitant re. nominating railroad bridges deemed historic on the National Register because of their historic significance. From your experience, is this the case and if so, why is that?

Marvig: This is true. One example is the Redstone Bridge in New Ulm, Minnesota. The railroad has refused to nominate the structure repeatedly, even though the state attempted to get them to. This structure is an 1880 swing span, and one of the oldest known in America. Despite this, if the railroad chooses to demolish it, nobody can do anything about it. Fortunately, the State of Minnesota has said they will not let Canadian pacific demolish the structure, and when it is abandoned it should be preserved.

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Redstone Bridge spanning the Minnesota River in New Ulm.

BHC: Is the Redstone Bridge still in service?

Marvig: Yeah, its part of a spur to a quarry. I’m really hoping it is abandoned soon. With CP not doing well financially, I really hope that we can see a step in preservation made within the next decade

For more on the bridge, please check out the Tour Guide on the Bridges of New Ulm by clicking here. People in New Ulm as well as officials at the State Historic Preservation Office in St. Paul are interested in saving this bridge and nominate it on the National Register of Historic Places.

 

BHC:  What can be done to convince railroad companies to nominate their bridges to the Nat. Reg. as well as restore the bridge for future use? What examples have been mentioned?

Marvig: In my opinion, the only real thing that can be done is to make it worth it for them financially.  If an incentive was offered to a railroad to bypass historic bridges and preserve them, I’m quite sure they would be willing.

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Colfax Railroad Bridge in Wisconsin

BHC: Which RR bridges have you been involved in which has been successfully inducted into the National Register?

Marvig: While I do not believe any of the bridges I’ve helped preserve are listed as a separate listing on the NR, the railroad bridge across Main Street in Carver, MN (about 10 minutes from home) was to be demolished in 2011, but I worked with the city to preserve it. I believe it might be listed as a contributing resource currently.

 

 BHC:  Which RR Bridges you were involved in was converted into a Rails for Trails Crossing?

Marvig: Currently, I have not had any converted to trails. However, the bridge in Carver is eventually scheduled to become a trail. In addition, I’ve been working with the Midtown Greenway in Minneapolis to preserve and convert the Short Line Bridge. The Missouri River Bridge in Bismarck is another example of a structure I am working to get preserved for this use.

 

 BHC: Which Railroad Bridge is your all time favorite?

Marvig: It’s hard to determine what my favorite bridge is, as there are a large number of structures I love. The Redstone Bridge in New Ulm, as well as the northwestern bridge in Eau Claire are two of my favorite bridges. These were both built in 1880 and are extremely old examples of rare truss types.

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Chicago and Northwestern Viaduct in Eau Claire, Wisonsin. This quintuple Warren deck truss bridge is now a bike trail crossing.

 

 BHC: If there is a person who is interested in bridge photography, what tips would you give him/her?

Marvig: As for tips for others, I would suggest starting with places you have passion for. If there is a bridge in town that you want to know more about, go take some pictures. Unique and historic bridges are going the way of the dodo bird in the United States, and photography is a form of preservation.

 

 BHC: And what about establishing a website like you have? The last question includes the use of social media, wordpress and the question of making a magazine out of it.

Marvig: To create a website, be prepared to have a large chunk of time taken up. The initial coding is tough, and manually adding pages is a long process. Research is also essential. I think I’ve spent several hundred dollars on research since 2010, as google doesn’t provide all answers. My biggest advice though is to create your website to be expandable. Make sure it has as many features as you want. I have 1200 pages on my site currently, and I’m working on reviewing and adding new features to these pages. It’s a lot easier to correct 12 pages than 1200.

Regarding social media, that isn’t my strong point. However it is essential to be able to reach out to a new audience to educate and inform about historic bridges. When I first started doing bridges in 2009, social media was a rather new invention, and I did not invest time heavily in it. Currently, I spread my message of bridges through both Facebook, and Instagram.

BHC: Thank you for your time for this interview.

Marvig: No problem.

To learn more about his work, click onto his website here. There you can find details of every bridge he’s visited, which includes its history and dimensions, as well as the number of trains crossing it daily (for most crossings). He has updated his website regularly and therefore, it is necessary to visit the site often. Enjoy some railroad facts and figures. 🙂

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Kassberg Bridge to be Rehabilitated

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150-year old historic bridge to be closed until Fall 2019 for renovations.

CHEMNITZ, GERMANY-  When travelling through Chemnitz in central Saxony, one will be amazed by the architecture the city has to offer. Be it from the age of industrialization, the Communist era or even the present, the city has a wide-array to choose from, which will please the eyes of the tourists, making them want to spend time there in the third largest city in the state.  Chemnitz has over 100 historic bridges that are a century old or more, most of them are arch structures made of stone, concrete or a combination of the two. But each one tells a story of how it was built and how it has served the city.

Take for instance, the Karl-Schmidt-Rottluft Bridge, on the west side of the city center. Spanning the Chemnitz River and Fabrikstrasse carrying the Ramp leading to the suburb of Kassberg, this bridge has a character in itself. The dark brown-colored stone arch bridge has been serving traffic for over 150 years, running parallel to the Bierbrücke located just to the north by about 80 meters. The five-span arch bridge features variable sizes of the arches to accomodate the ravine: two of the largest for the river, one of the widest for Fabrikstrasse and the narrowest for pedestrians, all totalling approximately 120 meters- three times as long as the Bierbrücke. The bridge was named after Karl-Schmidt-Rottluft, an expressionist painter during the (inter) war period.

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Despite its services over the year, the City of Chemnitz plans to shut down the bridge beginning in the Spring 2018 allow for extensive rennovations. The 2.8 million Euro project ($4.3 million) will include extensive work on the retaining walls and stairway connecting crossing and Fabrikstrasse below. Furthermore, repairs to the arches and renewing the decking and railings will be in the plans. The State of Saxony provided two million ($3.2 million) for the project as part of the initiative “Bridges in the Future”, which was started in 2015 and is designed to restore many of the state’s historic bridges while replacing many in dire need and beyond repair. The City of Chemnitz needed to cover the rest of the cost. The project is scheduled to be completed by October 2019.

Despite the inconvenience people will have to deal with during the 1.5 year closure, the renovation is a must, based on my many visits since the beginning of this year. Many cracks were showing in the arches and attempts to shore up the spans using concrete made the under half of the arch appear derelict. Furthermore, debris on the stone materials made the bridge in general appear dirty. Then there is the multiple spider webs hanging from the bridge, making the structure really spooky, as seen in the picture below.

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Yet on hindsight, the bridge and the nearby pub, bearing Kassberg’s name, have a unique setting which warrants such a project. While many engineers and planners have evicted owners from their businesses because of new bridges to be built, the planners for this project ensured that this will never happen, especially as the pub crafts its own microbrew, hosts many cultural events and even has a museum focusing on the district. For this bridge, it is a blessing that it will be restored to its natural beauty, while ensuring that it will continue to safely provide services to drivers and pedestrians alike.

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From a historian’s point of view, this bridge warrants more information on its history. If you have some to share, please use the contact details here and write to the author. A tour guide in English will be made available in the next year, in connection with the city’s 875th anniversary celebrations.

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Source: Chemnitz Free Press

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The Historic Bridges of Duluth, Minnesota

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Ariel Lift Bridge taken at sundown. Photo shot in 2009.

When I mention to my students of English that I originate from the State of Minnesota, the first question that mainly comes to mind is: Where is it? The second: What does it have to offer, apart from professional sports teams, like the Vikings (NFL), Timberwolves (NBA), Wild (NHL), Lynx (WNBA), Loons (MLS), Gophers (NCAA) and Twins (MLB)?

Well, the second question is easy to answer: Minnesota has a lot to offer year round- from fishing to ice carneavals, farming to multi-cultural activities in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis-St. Paul), snowmobiling to chit-chatting with a genuine Minnesotan dialect:

For the first, one has to include a little geography, using Niagra Falls as our starting point, between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. Ah yes, Niagra Falls is one of the seven wonders that German tourists most often visit while in the US. As the northern half of the US consists of the Great Lakes Region, most of which straddles the border between the States and Canada, the city on the westernmost end of the region is almost opposite of Niagra Falls by over 2,000 miles. That port, located at the tip of Lake Superior, is Duluth. With over 86,200 inhabitants, Duluth is the third largest city in Minnesota, and combining it with Superior and other cities within a radius of 30 miles, the metropolitan area has 280,000 inhabitants, making it the second largest metropolitan area in the state. Founded in 1857, the city prides itself in its shipping and has several places of interest, whether it is a city zoo, a state park, historic city center, ….

…or even its bridges. 🙂

Since the 1870s, Duluth has been bridged with crossings made of wood and later iron and steel, connecting the city with neighboring Superior and providing access between the mountainous areas on the Minnesota side and the farmlands of Wisconsin, enroute to major cities to the east, such as Chicago, Cleveland and even New York. As the city was bustling with traffic on land and water, the first crossings were movable bridges, featuring bascule and swing bridges, but also a transporter bridge which later became a vertical lift bridge. That bridge, the Aerial Lift Bridge, has become the symbol of Duluth, making it the gateway between land and the deep blue sea. Together with the Slip Drawbridge and the Grassy Point Bridge, the Aerial Lift Bridge is the only movable bridge still functioning today, as it lifts its center span for boats to pass. The Slip Bridge is 26 years old and is sparsely used for smaller boats along the canal, which connects the port area with its business district. The Bong and Blatnik Bridges are two of the longest bridges in Duluth and in both Minnesota and Wisconsin, replacing their predecessors in the movable bridges that had served rail and vehicular traffic. The Grassy Point bridge is the only swing bridge still in use and one of two key railroad crossings that cross the border. A pair of arch bridges dated back to the 1930s used to serve rail traffic going westward, yet they are now part of a rail-to-trail consortium that provides recreation to the parks located to the west.

I first came across the bridges in Duluth during a visit with a few friends in 2009, having spent a vast amount of time at the Aerial Lift Bridge, watching the span raise for boats lining up to pass. With its beautiful amber color at night, one cannot miss this icon when visiting Duluth. Further research was conducted by two key sources: John Weeks III and the newspaper people at the Duluth Tribune, the latter of which had dug up substantial research and photos of some of the most important movable bridges that had served both Duluth and Superior before being replaced by the fixed spans. Combining that with additional research done by another pontist, John Marvig, it was the best decision to put together a tour guide on Duluth’s (historic) bridges, both past and present. Unlike the previous tour guides, this one features a bridge with links that will take you to the pieces written by the Tribune and Weeks, while some bridges feature photos and facts provided by Marvig and Weeks. A map with the location of the bridges is provided in the guide to give you an idea where these bridges are located.

Use this guide and you will have a chance to visit and photograph the bridges that still makes Duluth a key port for transportation, looking at their history and their role in shaping the city’s infrastructure- and that of the US and beyond.

Links to the Bridges:

Aerial Lift Bridge: History as a Vertical Lift Bridge and as a Transporter Bridge

Interstate Bridge:   History and Ghost Stories

St. Louis Bay Bridge (extant): History  and its predecessor

Arrowhead Bridge (extant): History and Photos

Grassy Point Railroad Bridge: History and Facts

Minnesota Slip Drawbridge: History

Oliver Double-Decker Bridge: History and Facts

Richard Bong Memorial Bridge: History and Facts

John Blatnik Memorial Bridge: History and Facts

Superior Hiking Trail Bridge: Facts

Lester River Bridge: Facts

Zoo Arch Bridge: Facts

Stewart Creek Viaduct: Facts

Kingsbury Creek Bridge: Facts

Mystery Bridge Nr. 88: The Stone Arch Bridges of Zschorlau near Schneeberg

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Stone Arch Bridge at Nuschke Pond spanning Zschorlau Creek. The oldest bridge built in 1811. Photos taken in October 2017

Our next mystery bridge article features not just one, two or even five bridges. But 23 to be exact!

And the irony behind this is that they are all located in the small town of Zschorlau- a town of only 5,600 inhabitants!

Located three kilometers southwest of Schneeberg and six kilometers west of Aue, Zschorlau is a very quiet town, nestled away in the valley of the Zschorlaubach Creek, which starts in the mountains in the southwest of town and after feeding off from Filzteich Pond, located west of the Saxony Police Academy- Schneeberg Campus, curves around to the southeast, forming a glen and slicing the town in half. The Valley Road, connecting the community with Aue, was built in 1907 and along that highway, one will be greeted by Fachwerk houses in the town center, the Evangelical Church, and the St. Anna am Freundenstein visitor mine, where the annual matin shift, with music and food, takes place at Christmas time.

Along the Zschorlaubach, one will find 23 bridges connecting the north and south sides of the community. Most of them are publicly used to this day, providing access to areas to the south, such as the Eibenstock Reservoir, as well as to the north, which features Schneeberg and its suburbs. All but five of the bridges are at the most 15 years old. The remaining five that exist are all stone arch bridges that are at least 80 years old. The oldest bridge is 206 years old, is located at the site of the city pond, town hall and library and is still used as a crossing today albeit as a pedestrian and bike crossing.  Other bridges appear to have been built using the same material- tungsten ore with granite and wolframite features. Yet we don’t know when they were built despite having the assumption that they were homemade thanks to the nearby mine at St. Anna. Nor do we know how many more bridges built of stone arch design and using this material had been built before they were replaced with their current structure, all beam spans and made of concrete. One can assume that between 1800 and 1940 the stone arch bridges were built only to have been replaced because of neglect thanks to World War II and the subsequent Communist rule that followed until the Berlin Wall fell and Germany was reunited.

As with the tour guide on the bridges in neighboring Aue, this tour guide features the remaining stone arch bridges in Zschorlau. Some information added to the photos are based on the inscriptions into the bridge itself. But the information is far from complete. What else do we know about the bridges that exist today still? What about the modern ones that exist- what were their predecessors like in terms of design and appearance and when were they built? One hint I will provide regarding the length and dimensions: the length of the remaining stone arch bridges are between 10 and 15 meters and the width between 8 and 10 meters, while two of the bridges were widened by 4 meters each- the last bridge to have been rehabilitated was in 2004.

But what else do we know about the bridges in Zschorlau? This is for you to stand up and shine with some information about them! Look at the map, click on the bridges and look at the crossings not marked (that are replaced). What can you tell us about them?  Information and pics are welcome! 🙂

 

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Route 66 Gasconade River Bridge Rehabilitation Project Being Launched

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Photo taken by James Baughn

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HAZELGREEN, MO-  The North Skunk River Greenbelt Association (NSRGA)/ Workin’ Bridges has been given the green light by the Missouri Department of Transportation(MoDOT) for a conceptual agreement to begin the fundraising efforts to actually restore the Gasconade River Bridge at Hazelgreen, Missouri. A new by-pass bridge has been designed and will be constructed in 2018 which left the historic bridge at risk for demolition. The Rte 66 Gasconade River Bridge Guardians have lead the effort for preservation and MoDOT agreed to let the efforts begin to find the funding required. Let me be clear, the historic bridge is still at risk for demolition unless sufficient funding for restoration can be acquired in the next fourteen months.

The four spans of the Gasconade River Bridge include two Parker Trusses, one Pratt truss and a Warren Pony Truss, built in 1923 and designed by MoDOT engineers. A current engineering estimate by MoDOT estimated repair work at over $3 million dollars. The Workin’ Bridges qualified engineers and craftsmen will assess the bridge for possible phased options and costs that may differ from MoDOTs assessment. These real numbers, captured as Scope of Work and Estimates are required so that informed decisions can be made, for potential grants. Work with MoDOT on a risk management plan for their new bridge and the Interstate 44 bridge is being negotiated. We have proposed a Trust Account that would be in place for a catastrophic event, as well as utilizing the interest for future biannual inspections and site and security.

Developers are also being sought for this property and any design ideas are welcome. Route 66 has always been a mecca for travelers worldwide and with this bridge repaired the potential for crossing on special event days may still be an option as engineering will return the bridge to its former function. For more information on how the bridge was saved and how we are moving forward together check out Workin’ Bridges: Route 66 Bridge Rehab on Facebook

Our goal is to raise $10,000 in funds. Those funds are for engineering and planning. Jacqueline (Jax) Welborn has been designated the Project Manager. She will undertake the outreach for donors to help with the immediate engineering and planning needs for the bridge. Contact Jax at rte66bridgerehab@gmail.com or call her at 573-528-1292.

Then our efforts will turn to finding the pledges, grants and in-kind donations necessary to reach our $3.5 million dollar goal by December 31, 2018. That money will go to repairing the piers and abutments that hold the spans up, the stringer and roadway replacement, floor beam repair. The deck, or at least a portion of the deck will be removed by MoDOT using their demolition funds for that purpose. The lead paint abatement solution is still to be determined.

Those efforts are currently underway. NSRGA has begun the process to become a legitimate nonprofit corporation in Missouri, then the bank accounts will be procured. In the meantime you can still donate at Workin’ Bridges: Route 66 Bridge Rehab on Facebook. Your donations are tax deductible to the fullest extent allowed by law.

Other questions, please contact Julie Bowers at jbowerz1@gmail.com or 641-260-1262. Check out this project and others on Facebook at Workin’ Bridges, www.workinbridges.org and become a Save Our Bridge (SOB) action figure today.

This is a press released by Workin Bridges, who granted permission for reposting. A detailed interview about the Gasconade Bridge was done with the Chronicles and can be found here.

 

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Cobban Bridge to Be Replaced: Truss Bridge’s Future Unknown

CHIPPEWA FALLS, WISCONSIN-  Imagine this situation for a second: You have an old but very unique historic bridge with a history that binds two communities together. After being built 120 years ago, it was relocated to its present site during its 20th year and remains in use until structural problems force the county to close the bridge and plan its replacement. The bridge is located near a bike trail that used to be a railroad line connecting the two communities. While the public is really attached to the bridge, the county insists on building a new bridge at its current site because the cost for even restoring the bridge is far more than just tearing it down and replacing it. Because of its history and unique design, the bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which makes funding for restoring the structure easier to achieve than it is when removing it using federal funds. Yet funding for restoring the bridge is hard to find. What do you do?

Do you:

  1. Proceed to tear the bridge down and replace it?
  2. Get a second opinion about the cost of evaluating the bridge and find ways to fix the bridge for continued use?
  3. Build a bridge alongside the sturcture and convert the old bridge into a pedestrian crossing?
  4. Build a new bridge at its original site but find constructive ways to relocate the bridge or use part of the structure- especially along the bike trail?

In the case of the Cobban Bridge, a two-span Pennsylvania through truss bridge spanning the Chippewa River southwest of Cornell in western Wisconsin, the situation is very precarious, for the historic bridge, considered eligible for the National Register of Historic Places because of its history and unique design, has met the end of its useful life as a vehicular crossing. Yet costs for restoring vs. replacing the bridge have forced county officials to look at other options apart from rehabilitating the bridge in place or building a new structure alongside the old one. In other words, the bridge cannot remain in its current place and must go.

Since August 2, the bridge has been shut down to all traffic including pedestrians, and talks are underway for securing funding for the bridge’s removal in place of a new strucure. This also includes looking at options for reusing the bridge, which when looking at the drone video, it’s a real beauty:

Yet inspite of its beauty, the Cobban Bridge will most likely have to make its third move in its lifetime, unless financial support for reconstructing the bridge at its current location combined with constructing a new bridge alongside the structure is realized, not just on the government level but also from the private sector.

When the bridge was first built in 1908 by the Modern Steel Structures Company, based Waukesha, the two-span Pennsylvania through truss bridge was over the Chippewa River between the townships of Anson and Eagle Point. The bridge was christened the Yellow River Bridge even though it was located one mile north of the Yellow River itself. Replacing the iron bridge built years before, the structure had the same features as the one at its present location: it was made of steel, had pinned connections, overhead V-laced strut bracings and a three-rhombus Howe lattice portal bracings with 45° heel bracings. Ten years later, as part of the plan to construct a dam along the river near Chippewa Falls (and subsequentially inundate the crossing upstream), the bridge was relocated 15 miles downstream to cross the same river between Cornell and Jim Falls near the village of Cobban. The bridge has been in service since then- all 486.5 feet in length; each span, being identical and having a length of 241 feet.

Despite this, planning has been in the works to replace the Cobban Bridge, even though the two-span Pennsylvania through truss bridge is not only the last one of its truss type left in the state, but it is the only multiple-span bridge of its kind in the country! Inspections and estimates have revealed that restoring the bridge to be reused even for pedestrian purposes would be $13-14 million. A report presented by a well-known bridge builder, AECOM (whose regional office is based in Stevens Point in northern Wisconsin) revealed that replacing the bridge on a new alignment would cost $11 million, up from an estimated $7.2 million that was figured in March 2016. If delayed until 2025, the price would be lowered from $12.9 million to $8.6 million at the site where the bridge is located. Tearing the bridge down would cost $1.6 million. Established as a conglomerate in 1990, AECOM has its headquarters in New York but dozens of offices throughout the country as well as Europe. While its specialty is designing and building state-of-the-art buildings and modern bridges, for restoring historic bridges, its only focus has been on stone arch bridges, which included Grobler’s Bridges in South Africa and the Railroad Viaduct over the Neisse in Görlitz, at the German-Polish border. County officials and supporters of the Cobban Bridge are dissatisfied with the results provided by AECOM. Yet all parties have agreed to one thing, if the bridge is unsafe, then something has to be done about it.

Because of its design and historical integrity, the bridge is elgible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, which means environmental and cultural impact surveys (especially those in connection with Section 106 of the Preservation Laws) are to be undertaken before any work on replacing the bridge was to commence. According to Marilyn Murphy, who has started a facebook page on Saving the Cobban Bridge and has over 2000 followers, the surveys are already underway. As the project will require federal money, state and local authorities are mandated to allow the surveys be undertaken to determine the impact of replacing the Cobban Bridge, while looking at alternatives for reusing the bridge. Several other agencies have been involved in looking for options for the bridge, including the Texas-based Historic Bridge Foundation, as well as the Chippewa County Historical Society. The key variable that is known, according to Murphy, is that the county would like to relieve themselves of legal responsibilities for the bridge and would gladly like to give the bridge to any third party member wishing to take responsibility for maintaining the structure, including its relocation.

So with the bridge available for the taking, what options are available for the Cobban Bridge?

In the interview with the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles, Murphy presented a long list of possibilities for reuse. This includes using portions of the bridge along the Old Abe Bike Trail, which runs along the Chippewa between Lake Wissota and Brunet Island State Parks, relocating one or both spans back to the original Yellow River site, using one span for a state park, or even purchasing parts of the dismantled span (boards or beams) as remembrances. However, as mentioned earlier, there is interest in keeping the two spans in its original spot- a practical and most logical choice, yet two variables are lacking: funding and expertise. Funding because it is likely that regardless of ownership- be it through the state with the Department of Natural Resources (which owns the Old Abe Bike Trail), private-public partnership or simply pure ownership- funding will need to be found mostly through private sources, including donations from companies and citizens. This would be needed to renovate the bridge to make it a viable crossing for pedestrians and cyclists and incorporate it into the bike trail. Expertise would mean looking at companies that have restored bridges like this for recreational use, and there are enough both in-state as well as out-of-state to go around. Even if the bridge is to be relocated again, these two variables are going to be key in order for the bridge to live on.

What needs to be done in order to prevent the demise of the Cobban Bridge?

We know that the bridge has been declared off limits for all traffic, including pedestrians and cyclists- at least until the environmental impact and cultural surveys are completed, which can take 6-12 months or more to complete (including alternatives for reusing the bridge both in place and elsewhere).  Without that there is no federal funding that can cover 80% of the costs for the bridge. There has been a lot of public support and sentiment towards the Cobban Bridge and ways to save and reuse the structure, yet the approach of doing-nothing is not an option. This was already seen with the Wagon Wheel Bridge in Iowa, and its neglect, combined with vandalism and the lack of maintenance resulted in the “Triple GAU” consisting of arson, collapse and in the end, the removal of the remaining structure in 2016. There are a lot of ideas for reusing the bridge- be it in place or at a different location (even in segments), and the county is ready to hand over the keys that will unlock the gates that have closed off the structure since August, forcing travelers to detour to crossings at Jim Falls and Cornell. Yet, like with the Green Bridge in Des Moines, Iowa, which has been reopened since the end of last year, a group or alliance will be needed that will take over ownership and assume full responsibilities of the bridge and assure that it is safe for use. And speaking from experiences of others, the going may be tough at the beginning, but after a series of fundraisers and other events to help restore and reuse the bridge, the Cobban Bridge may have another life beyond that of horse and buggy, the Model T and lastly, the Audi.

If you would like to help restore and/or reuse the Cobban Bridge, you can visit its facebook page (here) and contact Marilyn Murphy at this address: mjmurphy1970@gmail.com. She’s the main contact for the bridge and can also provide you with some other contact information of others involved with the project. She and her husband Jim were nice enough to provide some pics of the bridge for this article.  The Chronicles will keep you posted on the latest on the Cobban Bridge and the steps that will be needed on the structure’s future, regardless of which direction it is taken.

   

2017 Othmar H. Ammann Awards: Nomination for Awards Now Being Taken

Zellstoff Bridge north of Zwickau (Saxony), Germany. Photo taken in September 2017
With construction season winding down and a lot of success stories involving restoring historic bridges, now is the time to nominate our favorite historic bridge(s) and preservationists both here and abroad. Between now and the 3rd of December, entries are being taken for the 2017 Othmar H. Ammann Awards. For those wishing to know about the awards, there are six categories for both American as well as international bridges where you can nominate your bridge, person or even best bridge photo.  Information on the categories and how you can enter are in the link below.
On this page, you can find the previous winners of the Ammann Awards which you can read about.   Voting will take place during the holiday season from December 4th until 6th January, 2018 with the winners to be announced on the 12th of January. The ballot will be available through The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles. If you have bridges that deserve to be nominated and deserve an Award, or if you have any questions, please contact Jason Smith at the Chronicles at:
flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com.
Happy Bridgehunting and may the nomination for the Ammann Awards begin! 🙂