2020 Author’s Choice Awards- Mr Smith takes his picks

Photo by Aleksey Kuprikov on Pexels.com

And now, before we announce the winners of the 2020 Bridgehunter Awards, I have a few favorites that I hand-picked that deserve international recognition. 2020 was a year like no other. Apart from head-scratcher stories of bridges being torn down, we had an innummeral number of natural disasters that were impossible to follow, especially when it came to bridge casualties. We had some bonehead stories of people downing bridges with their weight that was 10 times as much as what the limit was and therefore they were given the Timmy for that (click on the link that will lead you to the picture and the reason behind it.) But despite this we also had a wide selection of success stories in connection with historic bridge preservation. This include two rare historic bridges that had long since disappeared but have now reappeared with bright futures ahead of them. It also include the in-kind reconstruction of historic bridges, yet most importantly, they also include historic bridges that were discovered and we had never heard of before- until last year.

And so with that in mind, I have some personal favorites that deserve international recognition- both in the US as well as international- awarded in six categories, beginning with the first one:

Best example of reused bridge:

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The Castlewood Thacher Truss Bridge in South Dakota:

One of three hybrid Thacher through truss bridges left in the US, the bridge used to span the Big Sioux River near Castlewood until it disappeared from the radar after 1990. Many pontists, including myself, looked for it for three decades until my cousin, Jennifer Heath, found it at the Threshing Grounds in Twin Brooks. Apparently the product of the King Bridge Company, built in 1894, was relocated to this site in 1998 and restored for car use, in-kind. Still being used but we’re still scratching our heads as to how it managed to disappear from our radar for a very long time…..

Link: https://bridgehunterschronicles.wordpress.com/2020/03/07/castlewood-bridge-in-a-new-home-on-the-threshing-grounds/

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International:

Plaka Bridge in Greece:

Built in 1866, this bridge was unique for its arch design. It was destroyed by floods in 2015 but it took five years of painstaking efforts to put the bridge back together again, finding and matching each stone and reinforcing it with concrete to restore it like it was before the tragedy. Putting it back together again like a puzzle will definitely make for a puzzle game using this unique bridge as an example. Stay tuned.

Link: https://bridgehunterschronicles.wordpress.com/2020/02/19/plaka-bridge-in-greece-restored/

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Hirschgrundbrücke in Glauchau:

While it has not been opened yet for the construction of the South Park Gardens is progressing, this four-span arch bridge connecting the Park with the Castle Complex was completely restored after 2.5 years of rebuilding the 17th Century structure which had been abandoned for four decades. Keeping the outer arches, the bridge was rebuilt using a skeletal structure that was later covered with concrete. The stones from the original bridge was used as a façade. When open to the public in the spring, one will see the bridge that looks like the original but has a function where people can cross it. And with the skeleton, it will be around for a very long time.

Link: https://bridgehunterschronicles.wordpress.com/2020/11/06/update-on-the-hirschgrundbrucke-in-glauchau-saxony/

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Worst example of reused bridge:

Northern Avenue Bridge in Boston

This one definitely deserves a whole box of tomatoes. Instead of rehabilitating the truss bridge and repurposing it for bike and public transportation use, designers unveiled a new bridge that tries to mimic the old span but is too futuristic. Watch the video and see for yourself. My take: Better to build a futuristic span, scrap the historic icon and get it over with.

Link: https://www.northernavebridgebos.com/about & https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pcWEvjdsAUQ

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International:

Demolishing the Pilchowicki Bridge in Poland for a Motion Picture Film-

Paramount Pictures and Tom Cruz should both be ashamed of themselves. As part of a scene in the film, Mission Impossible, this historic bridge, spanning a lake, was supposed to be blown up, then rebuilt mimicking the original structure. The bridge had served a railroad and spans a lake. The plan was tabled after a huge international cry to save the structure. Nevertheless, the thwarted plan shows that America has long been famous for: Using historic places for their purpose then redo it without thinking about the historic value that was lost in the process.

Links: https://notesfrompoland.com/2020/07/24/concern-over-reports-that-historic-bridge-in-poland-will-be-blown-up-for-tom-cruise-film/ & https://www.thefirstnews.com/article/so-long-tom-historic-bridge-saved-from-tom-cruise-bomb-14980

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Salvageable Mentioned:

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Okoboji Truss Bridge at Parks Marina in Iowa-

A one of a kind Thacher pony truss, this bridge went from being a swing bridge crossing connecting East and West Lake Okoboji, to a Little Sioux River crossing that was eventually washed out by flooding in 2011, to the storage bin, and now, to its new home- Parks Marina on East Lake Okoboji. The owner had one big heart to salvage it. Plus it was in pristine condition when it was relocated to its now fourth home. A real winner.

Link: https://bridgehunterschronicles.wordpress.com/2020/03/11/the-okoboji-bridge-at-parks-marina/

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International:

Dömitz Railroad Bridge between Lower Saxony and Mecklenburg-Pommerania in Germany-

World War II had a lasting after-effect on Germany’s infrastructure as hundreds of thousands of historic bridges were destroyed, either through bombs or through Hitler’s policies of destroying every single crossing to slow the advancement of the Allied Troops. Yet the Dömitz Railroad Bridge, spanning the River Elbe, represents a rare example of a bridge that survived not only the effects of WWII, but also the East-West division that followed, as the Mecklenburg side was completely removed to keep people from fleeing to Lower Saxony. All that remains are the structures on the Lower Saxony side- preserved as a monument symbolizing the two wars and the division that was lasting for almost a half century before 1990.

Link: https://bridgehunterschronicles.wordpress.com/2020/09/05/domitz-railroad-bridge/

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Spectacular Bridge Disaster

Forest Fires along the West Coast- 2020 was the year of disasters in a literal sense of the word. Apart from the Covid-19 pandemic, which brought the world to a near standstill, 2020 was the year where records were smashed for natural disasters, including hurricanes and in particular- forest fires. While 20% of the US battled one hurricane after another, 70% of the western half of the country, ranging from the West Coast all the way to Montana, Colorado, Wyoming and the Dakotas dealt with record-setting forest fires, caused by drought, record-setting heatwaves and high winds. Hardest hit area was in California, Washington and even Oregon. Covered bridges and other historic structures took a massive hit, though some survived the blazes miraculously. And even some that did survive, presented some frightening photo scenes that symbolizes the dire need to act on climate change and global warming before our Earth becomes the next Genesis in Star Trek.

Link: https://bridgehunterschronicles.wordpress.com/2020/09/12/great-western-fires-destroy-iconic-historic-bridges/  &  https://bridgehunterschronicles.wordpress.com/2020/09/12/catastrophic-inferno-hits-western-united-states-photos-noble-reporters-worlds-iconic-news-media-site/  & https://bridgehunterschronicles.wordpress.com/2020/09/11/no-comment-nr-2-the-great-california-fire/

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Bonehead Story:

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Demolition of the Historic Millbrook Bridge in Illinois-

Inaction has consequences. Indifference has even more painful consequences. Instead of fixing a crumbling pier that could have left the 123-year old, three-span through truss bridge in tact, Kendall County and the Village of Millbrook saw dollar signs in their eyes and went ahead with demolishing the entire structure for $476,000, coming out of- you guessed it- our taxpayer money. Cheapest way but at our expense anyway- duh!

Link: https://bridgehunterschronicles.wordpress.com/2020/08/26/historic-millbrook-bridge-demolished/

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Planned Demolition of the Bridges of Westchester County, New York-

While Kendall County succeeded in senselessly tearing down the last truss bridge in the county, Westchester County is planning on tearing down its remaining through truss bridges, even though the contract has not been let out just yet. The bridges have been abandoned for quite some time but they are all in great shape and would make for pedestrian and bike crossings if money was spent to rehabilitate and repurpose them. Refer to the examples of the Calhoun and Saginaw County historic bridges in Michigan, as well as those restored in Winneshiek, Fayette, Madison, Johnson, Jones and Linn Counties in Iowa.  Calling Julie Bowers and Nels Raynor!

Link: https://bridgehunterschronicles.wordpress.com/2020/06/10/the-bridges-of-westchester-county-new-york/

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Collapse of Westphalia Bridge due to overweight truck-

To the truck driver who drove a load over the bridge whose weight was four times the weight limit, let alone bring down the 128-year old product of the Kansas City Bridge Company: It’s Timmy time! “One, …. two,….. three! DUH!!!!”  The incident happened on August 17th 2020 and the beauty of this is, upon suggesting headache bars for protecting the bridge, county engineers claimed they were a liability. LAME excuse!

Link: https://bridgehunterschronicles.wordpress.com/2020/08/18/truck-driver-narrowly-escapes-when-missouri-bridge-collapses-truckers-4-truckers/

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International:

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Waldcafé Bridge in Lunzenau, Saxony-

Located near the Göhren Viaduct in the vicinity of Burgstädt and Mittweida, this open-spandrel stone arch bridge used to span the Zwickau Mulde and was a key accessory to the fourth tallest viaduct in Saxony. Yet it was not valuable enough to be demolished and replaced during the year. The 124-year old bridge was in good shape and had another 30 years of use left. This one has gotten heads scratching.

Link: https://bridgehunterschronicles.wordpress.com/2020/06/05/waldcafe-bridge-in-gohren-to-be-replaced/

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Collapse of Bridge in Nova Scotia due to overweight truck-

It is unknown which is more embarrassing: Driving a truck across a 60+ year old truss bridge that is scheduled to be torn down or doing the same and being filmed at the same time. In any case, the driver got the biggest embarrassment in addition to getting the Timmy in French: “Un,…. deux,…… toi! DUH!!!” The incident happened on July 8th.

Link: https://bridgehunterschronicles.wordpress.com/2020/07/09/historic-bridge-in-nova-scotia-collapses-because-of-truck-reminder-to-obey-weight-and-height-limits/

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Spectacular Bridge Find:

Root Bridges in Meghalaya State in India-

Consisting of vine bridges dating back hundreds of years, this area has become a celebrity since its discovery early last year. People in different fields of work from engineers to natural scientists are working to figure out how these vined bridges were created and how they have maintained themselves without having been altered by mankind. This region is one of the World’s Top Wonders that should be visited, regardless whether you are a pontist or a natural scientist.

Link:  https://bridgehunterschronicles.wordpress.com/2020/04/18/living-root-bridges-in-the-tropical-forests-of-meghalaya-state-india/

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Puente de Occidente in Colombia-

This structure deserves special recognition not only because it turned 125 years old in 2020. The bridge is the longest of its kind on the South American continent and it took eight years to build. There’s an interesting story behind this bridge that is worth the read…..

Link: https://bridgehunterschronicles.wordpress.com/2020/04/15/1895-this-suspension-bridge-in-colombia-is-still-the-second-longest-span-of-its-kind-on-the-continent/

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The Bridges of Schwerin, Germany-

For bridge tours on the international front, I would recommend the bridges of Schwerin. It features seven iron bridges, three unique modern bridges, a wooden truss span, a former swing span and  a multiple span arch bridge that is as old as the castle itself, Schwerin’s centerpiece and also home of the state parliament. This was a big steal for the author as the day trip was worth it.

Link: https://bridgehunterschronicles.wordpress.com/2020/11/03/the-bridges-of-schwerin/

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USA:

Thomas Viaduct in Maryland-

Little is written about the multiple-span stone built in 1835, except that it’s still the oldest functioning viaduct of its kind in the US and one stemming from the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad era.

Link: https://bridgehunterschronicles.wordpress.com/2020/06/25/thomas-viaduct-in-maryland/

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The Bridge Daheim in New York-

Geoff Hobbs brought the bridge to the attention of the pontist community in July 2020, only to find that the bridge belonged to a mansion that has a unique history. As a bonus, the structure is still standing as with the now derelict mansion.

Link: https://bridgehunterschronicles.wordpress.com/2020/07/02/mystery-bridge-nr-132-the-bridge-daheim/

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The Bridges of Jefferson Proving Grounds in Indiana-

The Proving Grounds used to be a military base that covered sections of four counties in Indiana. The place is loaded with history, as not only many buildings have remained largely in tact but also the Grounds’ dozen bridges or so. Satolli Glassmeyer provided us with a tour of the area and you can find it in this film.

Link: https://bridgehunterschronicles.wordpress.com/2020/07/23/the-bridges-of-jefferson-proving-grounds-in-indiana-hyb/

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Now that the favorites have been announced and awarded, it is now the voter’s turn to select their winners, featured in nine categories of the 2020 Bridgehunter Awards. And for that, we will go right, this way…… =>

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Wartime Bridge: The Legacy of the Bailey Truss

Photo taken by Kevin Skow.

One will find this one anywhere. Even on the backroads like this one: a single span truss span spanning Soldier River just south of Iowa Hwy. 141 in Crawford County. The bridge was erected here in 1957 to replace a span destroyed during the great flood of 1945. At 90 feet, one would think a through truss span could have fit here. Yet the span is a pony truss and it was put together in layers and put together with bolts. A set of Tinker Toys that was put together easily with the purpose of ensuring even the heaviest vehicles- in this case, farm equipment like tractors- would be allowed to cross it. One has to assume that it was imported somewhere where it had a purpose.

And it was. This span is an example of a Bailey Truss bridge. And even though one can find them here and there, in the farmlands of Iowa to the steep hills of central Saxony, even to the far east, such as India, Australia and New Zealand.  Bailey Trusses were unique because all they require is a few metal beams and bolts, combined with manpower, and the bridge is put together in an instant.  Bailey Trusses were the works of a brillant engineer and and without his expertise, it would not have won World War II. As Field Marshal Bernard L. Montgomery, the British commander, once said. ”It was the best thing in that line we ever had; without the Bailey Bridge we should not have won the war.”

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Who was that brillant engineer?  Sir Donald Coleman Bailey.

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Source: Ministry of Information Photo Division Photographer / Public domain

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Bailey was born on 15 September, 1901 in Rotherham in Yorkshire. He obtained a degree in Civil Engineering at the University of Sheffield in 1923 and was a civil servant in the War Department when the war broke out in 1939.  The concept of the Bailey Truss was developed in 1936, when Bailey scribbled the design on the back of an envelope. His idea was that prefabricated sections that were interchangable could be deployed to the war front and, with steel pins, soldiers could construct the span, which would be anchored on one side and connected on the other side by the use of force. No heavy equipment would be needed to construct a temporary span, and the parts could be transported with the basic equipment or with man power from one place to another because of their lightweight. Constructing them would be easy for it could be achieved within hours, instead of months. For the war effort, the concept of makeshift bridge construction in the shortest time span possible was of utmost importance in order to win the war.

Firstly ignored, Bailey’s truss design was accepted in 1941 when the Ministry of Supply requested that Bailey construct a full scale span completed by May 1st.  The design was successfully tested at the Experimental Bridging Establishment (EBE), in Christchurch, Hampshire, with several parts being provided by Braithwaite & Co. The first prototype was tested in 1941. For early tests, the bridge was laid across a field, about 2 feet (0.61 m) above the ground, and several Mark V tanks were filled with pig iron and stacked upon each other. Another prototype was constructed in 1943 at Stanpit Marsh also in Dorset and was proven successful. That span still exists to this day. After a series of successful trials, the Corps of Royal Engineers introduced the Bailey Truss as a means of construction in 1942 and companies began constructing parts for the Bailey Truss to be transported to the war front.

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Use in World War II:

The first Bailey Truss was constructed over Medjerda River near Medjez el Bab in Tunisia on the night of 26 November 1942 by the by 237 Field Company R.E. After learning about the bridge‘s success, both the Canadians and Americans embraced the truss and started their own production to complement that of  Britain. Detroit Steel Products Company, the American Elevator Company and the Commercial Shearing and Stamping Company were three of dozens of companies that constructed the Bailey Trusses in the US, which was known as the Portable Panel Bridge. In total, over 600 firms were involved in the making of over 200 miles of bridges using the Bailey design,  composing of 500,000 tons, or 700,000 panels of bridging during the war- at the height of the war, the number was at 20,000 panels that were produced and transported. Bailey Trusses were used successfully for transporting military equipment and supplies during the war, including the Normandy and Italy. American troops built over 3200 Bailey Trusses in Italy as they advanced through the Alps into Germany from the south.  The longest bridge there was located over the Sangro and had a span of 1200 feet.

Bailey Trusses were also implemented in Germany, when hundreds of key structures were imploded by the Nazis as a way to slowing or stopping the advancement of Allied Troops. This included the bridges along the Rivers Rhine and Main. Canadians were credited for building the longest Bailey Bridge during the war. The Blackfriars Bridge, a 1814 foot long (558 meters) over the River Rhine at Rees, in North Rhine-Westphalia, was the longest span in the world when it opened to traffic on 28 March, 1945.

US Army soldiers working together to put a Bailey Truss span in place at the site of the crossing at Wesel (NRW). Source: Beck, Alfred M., et al, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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Even when the war ended on May 7th, 1945, Bailey trusses were in use as temporary crossings while the bridges were either repaired or rebuilt throughout Germany. It had a dual purpose: To help displaced residence get around and to allow for the transportation of necessary goods needed while the country was being rebuilt. Some of them were made permanent, while others, including the major crossings along the Rhine, Main and Elbe were temporary, allowing time for the original structures to be either repaired or rebuilt fully.

Bailey Truss span erected over damaged arch bridge in Italy in 1944. Source: War Office official photographer / Public domain

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After World War II:

When the war was over, there was a surplus of Bailey spans that were available for reuse. This allowed for Americans, British and Canadians alike to reuse them for various projects. Many of them made their way to Iowa, Missouri and Kansas, where counties in the western half of the state needed at least temporary crossings to replace the spans that were destroyed during the floods of 1945 and again in 1952. Some examples still remain in use today. Bailey trusses were used as temporary crossings as bridges were being replaced. In the case of a viaduct in Maryland, the Bailey spans were built prior to the original trestle being replaced with steel trestles.

Large numbers of Bailey truss spans were built in mountainous areas in California where constructing bridges to accomodate travelers was difficult because of the steep, rocky terrain. Some of the spans were part of the ACROW bridge- temporarily built as moveable bridges. The Fore River Bridge and the Lynn Baschule Bridge both in Massachusetts are classic examples of such Bailey Trusses used. Bailey trusses were also used as extra support for the truss bridge, as is the case with the Haiti Island Bridge in New York, which happened in 2007. The span and the truss bridge itself were replaced three years later.

Ontario had the largest number of Bailey truss spans for the years after the war, with the spans being built in and around Toronto in response to damages caused by Hurricane Hazel. The Finch Avenue Bridge is the last of its kind and is now a historic landmark. The Ontario Hydro-Electric Power Commission used some for their office and as walkways. And lastly, Australia built several Bailey bridges, including the world record holder, a 2585-foot (788 meter), two-lane structure over the Derwent River at Hobart, which was constructed in 1975. It served as a temporary structure before the Tasman Bridge was opened to traffic on October 8, 1977. Later, Bailey Truss Bridges were constructed in the far east, including northern Africa, Suriname, and India. Many of them, like the trestle at Wadi el Kuf in Lybia were built by the British during the time of its Empire.

Bailey bridge, Wadi el Kuf, Libya. Constructed by the British Army, shortly after World War II. Source: Jollyswagman on Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/, via Wikimedia Commons

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The Legacy of Bailey:

Many scholars and even those who served in the military during WWII believed that the Bailey Truss was the key to mobilizing Allied Troops and securing a victory over Germany and Italy in World War II. As a result, Mr. Bailey received several international accolades for his work. In Britain alone, he was given the Knighthood on 1 January, 1946 and the Commander of the Order of Orange-Nassau exactly two years later. By that time, Bailey was living in Southbourne in Bournemouth and was unaware that he had been knighted until one of the girls at the bank had informed him about it. Bailey would live out his days in Bournemouth, where he died in 1985.

He was considered a quiet man but one where he left a footprint with his truss bridge design, which is still widely used in bridge construction, big and small. And while the successes of World War II fell to the common person who fought for freedom and democracy, Bailey was considered one that played a key role, not only in helping bring an end to the war, but to help rebuild the areas ravaged by war with the Bailey Truss. And when you see a bridge like this one below, one will see how the use of simple parts and tools, combined with the use of manpower could make a work of simple art, something we still see today on our roads.

The Prototype Bailey Bridge at Stanpit Marsh. Photo by Eugene Birchall for wiki

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Memorials:

There are not many memorials dedicated to Bailey, even in Britain, for most of the places where he lived have been razed and replaced with newer housing. Yet the prototype Bailey span at Stanpit Marsh still exists today and his birthplace at 24 Albany Street in Rotherham still stands albeit privately owned. Yet there are some companies that specialize in Bailey trusses, including one in Alabama that bears its name. Bailey trusses were rarely used in films, except one based on the battle of Arnhem, A Bridge Too Far, released in 1977. There, the Bailey Truss Bridge was used in the film.

It is really hoped that a statue and/or additional honors, even a museum would be created honoring Bailey for his life and works. 75 years after the end of the great war, nothing of that sort has been considered. This should be considered, especially as talk of the significance of World War II is disappearing together with the War Generation and the children of the Baby Boom that followed. For historians, bridge enthusiasts, teachers and the public in general, it would produce some great talks about the common man who did great things and became Sir Donald Bailey in the end.

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The Bridges of Jefferson Proving Grounds in Indiana- HYB

Big Creek- D Road Bridge. Photo courtesy of SHAARD Database

bhc tour guide  Film clip

Army bases, or at least the remains of army bases, have become a ground for research for historic artefacts and to determine its history- both during ist time of operation as well as the time prior to their establishments. Both in Europe as well as in the United States, military bases were built at the expense of places of residence and/or natural or historic interest because they served as key logistical points  for either testing new weapons or transporting military equipment to defend the territories. This was especially the case during the Cold War, as the US established dozens of military bases in the western half of Germany, including the existing bases at Rammstein, Grafenwöhr and near Kaiserslautern. In addition, military bases existed in the US, where they were used for experimenting with new weapons and producing new defense mechanisms to fend off the enemy. In this case, it was the Communist Bloc with the Soviet Union leading the way.

The Jefferson Proving Ground was one of the military bases that played a key role in US history. In 1940, 56,000 acres of land was purchased by the army to establish a military base. Work began to establish the base but at the cost of residential housing and historic places that had existed. Opened in 1941, the Jefferson Proving Grounds covered much of southern Indiana in parts of Jefferson, Jennings and Ripley Counties. It was on the list of closures in 1989 as part of the plan to realign the military but was actually closed down in 1995. Since then, the place has been considered vacant except in some areas that are still run by the military. Some of the places on the former base have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Jefferson Proving Ground provides some interesting facts and some discoveries that make researching the former military base and its history attractive. In a documentary by Satolli Glassmeyer of History in Your Own Backyard, you will have an opportunity to see the historic places that have a key role in the history oft he military base. Some of the relicts and historic buildings survived the transformation of going from a small residential area, to a military base to now a „ghost town“.

Surprising about the Jefferson Proving Grounds are the numerous historic bridges that still exist on the former military base, as he will show you in this documentary below. Most of the structures are arch bridges made of stone, but there are quite of few truss bridges, including two overhead truss spans. To learn more about them, check on the links at the end of the article.  For now, enjoy the film.

 

Bridge Directory:

Jefferson Proving Ground: http://bridgehunter.com/scripts/search.cgi?query=jefferson+proving+grounds

Jefferson County: http://bridgehunter.com/in/jefferson/

Ripley County: http://bridgehunter.com/in/ripley/

Jennings County: http://bridgehunter.com/in/jennings/

 

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Wartime Bridge: Loschwitz Bridge (Blue Miracle/ Blaue Wunder) in Dresden

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Wartime Bridge Series

Many cities have places where miracles happen and people remember them. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the Minneapolis Miracle of 2018 in professional football, visiting the Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico, or even the parting of the Red Sea- the last two points dealing with Christianity. Then there’s the liberation of Europe in 1945 and the Fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent German Reunification of 1989-90 from the historical standpoint.

In the sense of infrastructure- in particular, bridges, if there’s a place where miracles did happen, one needs to travel to Dresden and to this bridge. There are several nicknames to describe the Loschwitz Cantilever Truss Bridge, which spans the River Elbe and connects the two suburbs of Blasewitz and Loschwitz. The most common is the Blue Miracle (Blaue Wunder in German). It has nothing to do with the bridge’s color nor does it have to do with its perfect photo with a blue backdrop. It has to do with the fact that the bridge, built by Claus Köpcke in 1893 has survived death three times- two of which came towards the end of World War II.

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Bridge of Blue Miracle (Dt. Blaue Wunder Brücke) in Dresden, Germany. Photo taken in December 2011

While Dresden was bombed a total of six times from 1944 to 1945, the city was hit the hardest during the infamous raid on February 13-16, 1945. British and American air troopers dropped thousands of tons of bombs onto the city, effectively destroying the entire city center and its prized architectural jewels, such as the Semper Opera House, the Castle of Dresden, and the Church of Our Lady (Frauenkirche), all of them dated back to the Baroque Period of the 17th Century. 80% of the entire city was in flames with as many as 30-40,000 people perishing. Temperatures from flames rose to 10,000° Celsius- hot enough to melt metal and vaporize people nearby. The Dresden Bombings are comparable with the atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki because of the intensity and the impact on the structural landscape of the city.

The bridge itself sustained damage to the trusses and decking during the air raids but they were minor enough that repairs were made to the structure and the crossing was back in service again. While the other crossings were damaged to a point where they were impassable, the Loschwitz Bridge survived its first miracle.

Shortly before the end of the War, the bridge had its second miracle. And there were five people to thank for this- two of whom were honored for their work. Before Hitler committed suicide in Berlin on May 1, he had ordered every bridge to be imploded to impede the march of Allied Troops that were encroaching Berlin on all sides. Already destroyed were all the crossings along the Rivers Oder and Neisse in present-day Brandenburg, Saxony and Mecklenburg-Pommerania, it was hoped that the crossings along the Elbe would follow suit and be met with dynamite. And this despite thousands of refugees evacuating areas already bombed out because of the raids.

Places like Dresden, where tens of thousands were homeless and looking for ways to escape the war, even if it meant surrendering to the approaching enemy unconditionally.  With crossings, like the Carola and Augustus Bridges severely damaged or destroyed, it was hoped that the Blue Miracle would go down with them. However, on 7 May, two men- Paul Zickler and Erich Stöckel- made sure it didn’t happen. The two men defused the bombs by splicing the cables disabling the bombs and later removing the dynamite that would have brought the bridge down. However, three other men- Max Mühle, Carl Bouché and bridge commander Wirth also contributed to the cause. The bridge was saved and had its second miracle. Ironically, Germany capitulated to the Allies in Berlin that same day, thus bringing the European theater to a close.  A monument commemorating this courageous event and honoring the two men can be found at the bridge along the pedestrian path on the Blasewitz side of the structure. Why the plan to blow up the bridge was foiled remains unknown to this day. However variables such as protests by the locals as well as the acceptance that the war was no longer winnable must not be left out.

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The third close call was the plan to tear down the bridge and replace it on a new alignment, presented by the Socialist Party (SED) in 1967, but it was met with opposition and after almost two decades, the project was scrapped by 1985.

Fast forwarding to the present, the Blue Miracle is still standing, tall and strong. It has earned its nickname after 125 years of literal wear and tear. It has survived all the extremities that most historic bridges built of steel would have succumbed to. It survived a blazing inferno through war, while the rest of Dresden burned to the ground. It survived the worst of winters, such as that of 1978/79 that crippled both East and West Germany. It survived several windstorms, including Kyrill in 2007, which leveled forests and buildings and caused widespread power outages. It survived severe flooding- most notably those in 2002 and 2013 which put much of Dresden under water. And lastly, it survived the gravitational pull caused by the weight of vehicles and street cars traveling across it.  All of this has not affected the bridge’s beauty as it is one of the most beloved and photographed not only in Dresden but also along the River Elbe. While some pushed for its demise, others made sure their plans never bore fruit, hence allowing for the bridge to stand for generations to come.

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The Blue Miracle at present. The bridge has become an attraction both during the daytime, but also at night, thanks to the addition of LED lighting in 2011. The bridge is still used by commuters entering Dresden from the south, even though another bridge- the Waldschlösschenbrücke, built down stream- has taken the stress off the bridge since its opening in 2013. The bridge will be getting a much-needed facelift beginning in 2025 but when it is done, the crossing will continue to carry traffic and its historic flare as one of Dresden’s greatest places of interest will remain for locals and tourists to see. Already a book has been written about the bridge but from a photographer’s perspective. There will be more written and talked about with this bridge- the Blue Miracle: the structure that not only connects the south of Dresden, but one that has been in use through the best and worst of times. And that is thanks to five people who made it happen before the end of a war that was long lost and that people yearned for a new start.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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The German term “Blaue Wunder erleben” originated from the name of the bridge in Dresden and implies that the person got an unexpected and sometimes unwanted surprise because of something done that was considered illegal.

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Mystery Bridge Nr. 135: The Bridge at Zentendorf

Photo taken by Frank Vincentz (wikiCommons)

Our next mystery bridge takes us to the Lausitz (Lusatia) region of eastern Saxony and the remains of this bridge.  The bridge is located in the village of Zentendorf, located along the River Neisse at the German-Polish border. It approximately a kilometer north of the easternmost point in Germany and another kilometer south of the railroad bridge that connects Niesky and Weglieniec. It’s 20 kilometers south of the nearest city of Rothenburg (Lausitz/Lusatia), which is home of the Saxony Police University.

The bridge remains is on the Saxony side of the River Neisse, yet its mystery remains completely open for research and interpretation. It features a single span closed spandrel concrete arch span, yet the rest of the bridge has long since disappeared. Furthermore, there’s absolutely no information on the bridge’s history anywhere to be found- not even on a bridge website, like brueckenweb.de or structurae.net.  Therefore we have no idea what the bridge looked like, let alone when it was built and who was responsible for it.

We do have speculation that this bridge was one of many along the Neisse to have been imploded towards the end of World War II, as Nazi troops were ordered to detonate every bridge to slow the advances of Soviet troops, an act that was considered futile as Allied troops were already inside Germany in March, liberating every village and region in its path enroute to Berlin, where Hitler was holed up and eventually committed suicide on May 1st. Germany surrendered six days later.  Ironically, the railroad bridge, a Warren deck truss span, survived the war and remained in service until 2015, when it was replaced. Like the bridge in Fürstenberg (near Eisenhüttenstadt), the structure was never replaced but that was mainly due to another crossing at Deschka, only a few kilometers to the south, that is still open. Because of its dwindling population of close to 300 people plus financial constraints, the villagers of Zentendorf find it unnnecessary to replace the structure in their village.

Still, to close the book on the bridge’s history, we should solve it first. Therefore, any information on the bridge’s history is more than welcomed. You can find more pics of the bridge in another website; the link is found at the end of this article.

Good luck in the research and happy bridgehunting until we meet again. 🙂

 

Portal View on the German Side. The German border marker is in front of the bridge ruins

A link where you can see more bridge photos can be found here: http://b.mtbb.de/2012/08/23/strasenbrucke-in-zentendorf/

 

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Abandoned Bridge in an Abandoned Village in Sudetenland

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Photo by Lara Lary

Wartime Bridge Series

Our next wartime bridge story takes us across the border into the Czechia- specifically, between the Bavarian town of Rehau (south of Hof) and the Czech town of Asch, near Eger (CZ: Cheb). At the westernmost point in Czechia was the village of Újezd (Krásná).  It was first mentioned in the 12th Century and is in the area oft he Rehau Forest in the valley of Mähringsbach Creek near the border with Bavaria. In fact, it was located six kilometers east of Rehau. It belonged to what was once called the Sudetenlands. At the time of the Munich Accords of 1938, the Sudetenlands were handed over to Germany and with that, the village itself. At the time of the annexation, the village had 43 houses and just under 300 inhabitants. For 300 years up until that time, an average of 300+ people had lived there and it had mostly houses, but also a church and a stockyards.  After World War II ended in 1945, Újezd (Krásná), as well as the rest of the Sudetenlands were handed back to what was then Czechoslovakia. Germans who had lived there were forced from their homes and expelled back into Germany. As for Újezd (Krásná), it was emptied by 1950, and by 1953, all the villages along the Czech- German border were razed. This was one of them.

Only bits and pieces of Újezd (Krásná) exist to this day, including a memorial for the fallen soldiers, a cemetary and this bridge, a box culvert carrying a roadway that once went through Újezd (Krásná).  It appears to have been dated back to the 18th or 19th Century. Fellow bridgehunter and photographer Lara Lary found this on one of the tours and included some history behind this structure, which is being added to this Wartime series. Like the rest of Újezd (Krásná), it looks quiet and abandoned, but one can hike through the remains just after crossing the bridge at the Bavarian-Czech border.

More on Újezd (Krásná) can be found here: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%9Ajezd_(Kr%C3%A1sn%C3%A1)

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Wartime Bridge Story: Prinz Heinrich Brücke in Kiel

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Wartime Bridge Series

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These are the first bridges you will see while biking along the Baltic- North Sea Canal: the twin spans featuring the Olympia Bridge on the left and the Prince Heinrich Bridge on the right. The bridges are located at Highway B-503 at the entrance of the locks at the Baltic Sea side and appear to be totally identical.  Yet the Olympia Bridge was built in 1972 and the Prince Heinrich was built in 1996. It is the one on the right that was a successor to the original Prince Heinrich Bridge. The bridge was built by Friedrich Voss in 1912 and featured a single span continuous truss bridge with trestle approaches on each side. The bridge lasted for 80 years until it was torn down in 1992.

According to a new documentary by German public TV station NDR however, had it not been for the courage of two people, Heinrich Magnus Ivens and Hermann Storm, the bridge would have succumbed much earlier and there would have been a new structure built much earlier than the Olympia Bridge in 1972.  On May 5, 1945, with the war long since a lost cause, seven Nazi soldiers were carrying explosives to the bridge in an attempt to bring down the structure into the canal. At the same time, British troops were marching into Kiel, where residents and soldiers, tired of all the fighting, surrendered unconditionally.  Desparate to avoid the inevitable, the soldiers at the foot of the bridge tried to set up the bombs. On the bridge itself, however, the British troops were negotiating with the locals to end the war.  One of the two negotiated with the troops, the other stopped the troops from performing the act and thus saved the bridge from its doom.

The rest was history. Even though the war was lost and the troops that were stopped cried at the end, Germany capitulated to the allied troops two days later on May 7th, 1945. With that, a piece of history that would have succumbed with the rest of Kiel was saved and would later become a major crossing over the canal going north towards Flensburg, Denmark and all of Scandanavia, even when a twin crossing was added and the bridge itself, a victim of severe corrosion plus wear and tear would be replaced.

A documentary, which features a summary of the event plus a film provides you with the details of the event. Even though it is in German, the pictures and interview presented in the film will tell a story.  Click onto the link below:

https://www.ndr.de/fernsehen/sendungen/schleswig-holstein_magazin/zeitreise/Zeitreise-Erinnerungen-an-Prinz-Heinrich-Bruecke-in-Kiel,zeitreise2668.html

Furthermore, you can read up on the history of that plus the bridges in a link on the Bridges of Kiel-Holtenau, where this bridge is located. There you will find all the infomration on the crossings, both past and present, including the neighboring Levansau Bridge and some of the crossings along the Alt Eider Canal. The information has been integrated into the bridge tours written in English.

Link:http://www.apt-holtenau.de/holtenau-info/history/bruecken.htm

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Wartime Bridge Story: Lange Brücke in Forst (Lausitz)

Source: A. Savin vis wikiCommons. Photo taken in 2016

Wartime Bridge Series

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Our next Wartime Bridge takes us a bit further south in the German state of Brandenburg but this time, we continue along the Neisse River until we reach the city of Forst. With a population of 18,000 inhabitants, the city is located east of Cottbus. Prior to the Fall of the Wall, Forst was well known for its textile industry, for a large factory was located there. Yet since its closure, the city has been on the decline, falling from 31,000 inhabitants in 1945 to under 20,000 by 2011. Despite its steady decline, the city is dependent on tourism as there are several historic artefacts one can see either by bike or by car, including the historic water tower, the factory, the church and historic city center…..

…..and its bridges that span the River Neisse.

There are four bridges that connect Forst with its neighbor to the east, Zaseki on the Polish side. The village of 250 inhabitants used to be a suburb of Forst when Germany had its state of Schlesia. In fact the town was modernized beginning in 1897 to accommodate more people as many of them found jobs in the textile factory and other industrial sites nearby. Three bridges connected Forst with its former neighbor prior to 1945. Today only one of them, a six-span truss span is still in use, providing rail service to Lodz from Cottbus.

And this is where we look at the other two bridge ruins- one that used to serve vehicular traffic and one that used to serve pedestrian traffic. The pedestrian crossing had been in use from the 1920s until the end of World War II and  featured multiple spans of concrete, using Luten arches.  The other one is known as the Lange Brücke.

The Lange Brücke was a six-span concrete arch bridge with closed spandrels. The structure was built in 1921 and had a total length of 170 meters. The width was about 14 meters. It was an ornamental structure where it was decorated with fancy light posts and rail posts at the entrance to as well as on the bridge. The bridge was a predecessor to a wooden crossing, which featured multiple spans of kingpost pony trusses. It had been built in 1863, had a total length of 101 meters and was only 5.75 meters wide. In 1889, it was widened by another 3 meters. Still, because of the increase in traffic due to the expansion of Forst, the city council agreed to build a new span, which took two years to complete.

Neither of the bridges survived as well as much of the city of Forst in 1945. In the middle of February of that year, the Soviet troops had lined up on the Polish side of the River Neisse at the entry to the Lange Brücke. While it is unknown whether the Nazis had blown the structure up prior to that, it was known that Forst became under seige with bombs and bullets devastating much of the city. Half the population had perished by the time the town surrendered on 18 April, 1945; 85% of the city was in ruins.

A video showing the ruins of the Lange Brücke can be seen here. The river span was the only one imploded, while the outer spans have remained in tact. Interestingly enough, many of the ornamental relicts belonging to the bridge are still standing today.

 

 

At the present time, talks are underway to rebuild the Lange Brücke and its pedestrian counterpart in an attempt to reconnect Forst with Zasieki. The city council had originally planned to add at least two bridges to the Neisse before 2020. At present the Northern Bypass Bridge, which carries Highway 157 is the only vehicular crossing that connects Forst with Poland. The concrete structure was built only a few years ago. The railroad bridge to the south of Forst is the other crossing. It’s a contrast to the situation in Eisenhüttenstadt (see article), but there’s a ways to go. Because of the interest in a central connection via Lange Brücke, it is very likely that a new span will be built sometime in the near future, whether it is reconstructing the Lange Brücke to its original glory or building on on a new alignment and leaving the old one as a monument. The question is with not only the planning but also the finances, especially during these difficult times with the Corona Virus. But nevertheless, a new bridge will happen because of the will of the people to make it happen.

 

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As a treat, I have this video showing the ariel view of three of the four crossings connecting Forst and Zasieki. Check out the gorgeous views of the bridges from up above and up close.

 

Sources:

History of Forst: https://edoc.hu-berlin.de/bitstream/handle/18452/7622/knpv.PDF

History of the Bridge: https://www.lr-online.de/lausitz/forst/die-alte-_lange-bruecke_-36431060.html

 

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Oderbrücke at Fürstenberg at the German-Polish Border

Remains of the Bridge. Source: Lechita / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

Wartime Bridge Series

Our next bridge in the series keeps us in Poland but we go towards the Oder-Neisse border to Germany. Specifically, to this bridge at Fürstenberg- or what’s left of it.  This bridge spannned the River Oder at the Polish-German border near the village of Fürstenberg in the German state of Brandenburg.  The River Oder is one of the widest and most navigatable rivers in Poland for 80% of its 742 kilometers can be travelled by boat as it flows through the western part of the country. Its width of over 300 meters in areas is largely due to it confluencing with rivers, mostly from the German side as well as it flowing through a large lagoon in the northwestern part of the country before it empties into the Bay of Pommerania at Swinemünde.  Its width made it difficult to build many bridges along the river.  And this leads us to the bridge remains.

The bridge was built by August Klönne in 1914 and was the only crossing over the River Oder in Fürstenberg prior to 1945. The 600 meter bridge featured four concrete closed spandrel arch approach spans on the Polish side and a steel through arch span with Pratt truss upper chords as its main span over the river- half the length of the entire structure. The through arch span is signature of the bridges that were built by Klönne and many of these spans still exist today in Germany, including the famous Hollernzollern Bridge in Cologne.  A diagram depicting the bridge at Fürstenberg can be seen below:

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Source: structurae.net

This takes us to the event where the crossing was brought down.  After a failed attempt to bring down the Jastrowie Bridge (see the article here), German soldiers fled towards the river and used it as its stopping point for advancing Soviet armies that were closing in on Berlin at an alarming rate. To buy them some time and regroup for their possibly last stand against the Soviets, Hitler ordered all the bridges along the Oder and Neisse Rivers to be blown up. One day after the Jastrowie Bridge partially collapsed, the Fürstenberg Bridge was detonated. While the steel arch span was brought down, the arch spans remained in place. Unfortunately, one person was killed in the explosion, a Justus Jürgensen, who was later given the Ritterkreuz post humously on 5 March. Still the honor would not stop the Soviets and Polish troops from occupying the town.  The bridge remains on the Polish side can be seen through a video below:

What became of Fürstenberg at the end of World War II was a totally different story.  The bridge was never rebuilt and all that remains are the arch spans on the Polish side.  Poland was freed and the border along the Oder and Neisse was reestablished. As many as 8 million Germans living east of the border were subsequentially expelled to the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), which was under Soviet control until a government was established in East Berlin in 1949. The community of Fürstenberg that had existed since the 13th century folded into a newly created Communist city that became known as Stalinstadt, named after the Soviet dictator and one of the victors of the war, Josef Stalin.  The city had 15,000 inhabitants when it was established in 1951 but thanks to the industries and Communist-style apartments that were built there, the population had reached an all-time high of 53,500 people by 1988, including many displaced Germans from the Polish side.  It was renamed Eisenhüttenstadt in 1990 and at present, only 23,000 people live there. It remains the only city in Germany that has no bridge along a major river. Those wishing to cross into Poland have to through Frankfurt (Oder) or Guben; in each direction at least 30 kilometers.

While Fürstenberg became Eisenhüttenstadt and still has a predominantly Communist cityscape but without a bridge over the River Oder, much of the historic old town still remains in tact, including a large church and a former city hall. It is still considered by many to be a border town because of the Oder-Neisse boundary and its location on the river. Still there is hope that after 75 years, planners will come through with a crossing over the Oder that will eventually bring the two countries together and with that, the villages on the Poland side and Fürstenberg on the western side. Whether this will happen depends not just on the finances but also the will of the people to make it happen.

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This 8 April 2018 video says about itself: Arnhem: A Bridge Too Far (WWII Documentary) In December, 1944, 400 men of the 1rst British Airborne Division paraded at Buckingham Palace to receive their grateful thanks from their king and countrymen. Although they paraded as heroes, victors they were not. They were some of the survivors […]

via Battle of Arnhem veterans stopped from commemorating — Dear Kitty. Some blog

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The Battle of Arnhem includes a film documentary which is part II, plus a detailed story behind it, which you can click on the text to read. Enjoy!

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