The Kern Bowstring Arch Bridge to be dismantled and stored awaiting relocation to a new home.
MANKATO, MINNESOTA- It finally happened. After 147 years spanning the LeSueur River south of Mankato as the longest bowstring arch bridge in the US (and second longest in the world behind the Blackfriars Road Bridge in Canada), the Kern Bowstring Arch Bridge is off the river and awaiting for a new home. Construction crews on Thursday lifted the 189-foot long bowstring arch bridge, in one piece, off its stone foundations and placed it in the field to the east of where it once stood.
One of the main obstacles that workers faced was the issues with the crumbling eastern abutment. “We were all kind of holding our breath,” said Lisa Bigham, state aid engineer for the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s District 7 in an interview with Minnesota Public Radio News. “It took a while to get everything kind of in place, the cranes to be positioned where they needed to be. Then, we were just kind of watching. And then, all of a sudden you could see air in between the bridge and the abutment. And it actually went very smoothly.” The eastern abutment had been coming apart, piece by piece in the past 5-10 years thanks to years of erosion and neglect, raising concerns across the board, from engineers and preservationists to even locals that the historic structure could potentially collapse. The structure had been closed to all traffic since 1989, with the township road having been abandoned. But nonetheless, the workers were satisfied with the lifting as it went smoothly as it could.
With the bridge standing in the nearby field, the wrought iron structure will be disassembled and stored in containers awaiting relocation for reuse as a bike and pedestrian crossing. Currently, MnDOT is soliciting proposals for reusing the bridge at a different location on a statewide level. “The pieces will be kept safe and dry,” Bigham said. “And so then whoever gets to take this bridge in the future, will be able to put the pieces back together and they’ll have a really cool bridge.” Federal and state funding has been placed aside for the project, with some funding having already been collected prior to the move. Carlton Companies of Mankato bidded $595,660 for the move itself. Because many bridge parts may need to be sandblasted and/or repaired before being reassembled, the cost for completing the whole project, including rehabilitation and reassembly is still unknown. The bottom line is the bridge is out of the water and is safe on land. The question will be what the future will hold for the bridge. That will be answered in the coming months.
The Kern Bowstring Arch Bridge was built by the Wrought Iron Bridge Company in 1873, 15 years after the creation of the State of Minnesota. It was also known as the Yaeger Bridge, named after the nearby farm owned by George Yaeger. The structure is all wrought iron with pinned connections. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980, and the relocation project will not affect its status. The bridge is the last of its kind in Minnesota, even though dozens of them had existed mainly in the southern half of the state up until the 1970s. The bridge was closed to traffic in 1989 and was taken off the highway and bridge data bank in 2003. The structure has been the focus of literary works and also attempts to refurbish it for future use, all of whom had failed to date. This attempt came because of its historic significance and popularity among pontists and (bridge) photographers and locals familiar with the bridge and its enriched history. Since 2019, a facebook page on Relocating the Kern Bridge has been in use, where people can share ideas on how to reuse the bowstring arch structure, as well as photos, stories and the like. A link to the page is at the end of the article.
The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles will keep you posted on the latest with the Kern Bridge and its future.
This week’s best pic takes us a long ways back. How far back? To 2006 and my days in Geneva in Switzerland. For three months I did an internship in the field of Health and Nutrition at the World Health Organization. It was an internship that carried with it, lots of memories both at work as well as outside work, visiting the region of Geneva with my wife and friends that I made there- many of them I’m still in contact with to this day. It was also during this time, I embarked on a wide bridgehunting tour which included all of the greater Geneva area, as well as Lucerne and Berne- be it by bike (most of the time), by foot or sometimes by train.
This pic was taken on the banks of the River Rhone in the town of Chancy. Chancy is located at the very tip of Switzerland with much of the mountainous surroundings occupied by neighboring France. This bridge, a three-span bowstring arch through truss bridge with curved Parker truss features, carries the very last road that leaves Geneva (and Switzerland) and enters France. The truss bridge was built in 1907 replacing a wooden crossing. A border control booth was located on the Swiss side, together with the bus stop that ends at the bridge. Since there are no longer border controls at the bridge, a connecting regional bus to Bellegarde in France picks up the passengers before crossing the structure. The photo was taken on the French banks of the Rhone, where water levels were quite low during that summer. The bridge was found behind the trees with the mountains in the background. A picturesque shot which capped my day of biking along the Rhone.
This bridge was featured in a book written in 2005 on Geneva’s bridges, albeit written in French. But sometime down the road there will be one written in German, Italian and English, to better understand how these structures, spanning the Rhone plus three other smaller tributaries, played a key role in the development of one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world, the place where the international organizations got its start but are now scattered all over the place. The United Nations, which the WHO belongs to, had its headquarters in Geneva before moving to its current location in New York, yet other UN organizations still reside here.
The 40th Pic of the Week by the Chronicles takes us back 11 years and to this bridge. The Little Church Road Bridge spanned the Turkey River near the village of Festina in Winneshiek County, Iowa. Built in 1876 by the Wrought Iron Bridge Company of Canton, Ohio, this bridge was once the third longest bowstring arch bridge in the US, behind the Freeport in Decorah and the Kern Bridge in Mankato, with a total length of 178 feet.
When this photo was taken, it was at sundown, where the sun had disappeared into the clouds, but the skies got bluer, as well as darker. This pic was taken with frost-covered weeds obscuring the entire structure in view. With those two in mind, it made the bridge look creepy. With cars and trucks crossing it, creating a series of screeching noises caused by friction among the iron parts, it made the bridge look haunted. Even when my wife and I were in our rental car heading to the hotel in Decorah, that sound could be heard hundreds of feet away.
Since 2010, the bridge is no more. It was scrapped at the last minute due to failure to secure funding to relocate it to Decorah for use as a bike trail crossing. That decision sparked an outcry by many in the historic bridge community, especially because of its rarity in design and dimensions. In spite of this, the county still has two historic bowstring arch bridges in use, both of which are in parks in Decorah (with the Freeport) and Castalia (with the Moneek), plus a modern one located next to the Freeport in Decorah. It is unknown whether another one, the Gilliecie Bridge, which collapsed under the weight of a truck in 2017, will ever be rebuilt. But in either case, the rare number of these bowstring arch bridges in the county shows how much we should care for our historic structures. If there are chances to save them, we go all the way knowing the consequences in either direction. Anything less than that is the same as taking away the chance of others to visit and photograph the historic bridge, to walk back into history, even for a few minutes.
And for that, no book or internet site can replace it, even if one tries to persuade the writer.
LONDON, ONTARIO (CANADA)- Almost four months after the reopening of the longest bowstring arch bridge in the world, located in Canada, the Blackfriars Bowstring Arch Bridge is starting to receive some well-deserved accolades for the work that was done for the bridge. As mentioned earlier, the 1875 product of the Wrought Iron Bridge Company finished second in the Ammann Awards in the categories of Best Example of a Restored Historic Bridge and Bridge of the Year, good enough for silver medals. It won the Author’s Choice Award for the former mentioned category. And just recently, on 21st February, the bridge won the ACO London Conservation and Reuse Award, presented by the City of London. Here’s a photo of the presentation of the bridge upon receiving the award:
The photos were taken by one of the people who contributed to saving the bridge, Lincoln McCardle. Like many residents in London, Lincoln has close ties and memories of the bridge, as he hung out with friends and the like at the bridge while growing up. His mother, Judi, has even more of an attachment to the bridge to a point where she has had a house located in the “visual vicinity” of the bridge (and judging by the article, her house does have a great view with the bridge.) She has even painted pictures of the bridge and has collected some works on it!!!
It’s pretty difficult to say who were spearheading the efforts to saving the bridge, even though the two are two of the bridge’s biggest fans. However, there was a time when the decision between rehabilitating and replacing the bridge was that difficult to make. But when the decision was made to do the rehab, it was well worth the work. I had a chance to interview Lincoln via e-mail about the Blackfriars Bridge. Like the author of the Chronicles, he was in charge of the social network scene, devoting his time to bringing the Blackfriars Bridge to the attention of the people in London and beyond. Thanks to that alone, it garnered a lot of attention and support, which made the decision to rehabilitate the bowstring arch bridge much easier than without. To give you an idea, here is a youtube clip of him as an overture to the interview conducted with the Chronicles. Check out the finished product at the end of the interview and feel free to comment. Have fun watching the film and reading the interview. 🙂
1. The bowstring arch bridge had been closed to all traffic from 2013 until the project. What factors led to the decision to restore the bridge?
The decision to restore was actually very much in doubt for some time. While deemed the more expensive in the Environmental Study Report, it was decided that rehabilitation was the preferred option. I believe that key factors that went into this decision were: importance as a significant heritage structure, role within the parks and pathway system as well as transportation network and perhaps most importantly it’s value to the community. In short, people love it!
2. Who were the key players in the project to restore the bridge?
Most notably the city of London itself. As well as provincial and federal government funding. Much of the prlimanry work was done by Dillon Consulting and the actual construction and rehabilitation work was done by McLean Taylor Construction Limited. Of course, there were many community and heritage activists whom without this project may never have taken place.
3. Describe in phases how the bridge was restored, beginning with the dissembly and ending with the reopening?
The procedure to carefully lift the bridge was been developed with safety as a priority. The steps were as follows:
Remove non-structural items to reduce weight lifted.
Prepared temporary steel framing and cables to provide an apparatus for
Set up two cranes for the lift, one on each side of the river. Two additional
cranes set up for worker access.
Lift bridge off the abutments and lower it down to an area above the river for improved worker access, while continuing to support it from the cranes at all times.
Cut bridge at the mid-span with torches while supported by the cranes.
Lift each half of the bridge to the nearest side of the river.
Dismantle and inventory the bridge for delivery off site for rehabilitation.
After nine months of the off-site repair and rehabilitation, the bridge was returned back in place across the Thames River on August 15, 2018.
4. Where was all the work done?
The bridge was actually transported to St. Mary’s, Ontario where the work was done. (About a 45 minute drive away from the site.) it was decided that bridge removal and off-site rehabilitation provides benefits including a longer life expectancy and improved worker and public safety. Off-site rehabilitation within a large indoor space created a safer worksite, ensure better quality control, reduce the need for environmental protection measures and take advantage of the winter months to complete much of the work. It also allowed for hot riveting to mimic the workmanship of 1875.
5. Why was the bowstring cut into half before being flown? Why not use the truck or two helicopters at the same time for carrying the bridge?
Two large cranes were required simply to lift the bridge – including one that is amongst the largest in North America. The bridge itself is 216 feet (65.8 meters) and is the longest working span of that kind in North America – it was determined that cutting it in half was the only possible way to transport it.
6. What difficulties did you have in restoring the bridge?
While I wasn’t involved myself, it’s pretty common knowledge that the major obstacle was the condition of the bridge. The project team had to constantly measure their desire to keep as much of the original bridge as possible while satisfying safety codes. This piece of the original structure that was gifted to me will give you an idea of what they were up against:
The rehabilitation process involved an ongoing assessment of the condition of the individual bridge parts with a combination of reuse, upgrades and the fabrication of replicas. Much of the wrought-iron members were in good enough condition to reuse. For example, the pedestrian railing and lattice that exists in several locations on the bridge were reused with local upgrades where corrosion is severe and bridge design requirements dictate. The bowstring arch was also reused and upgraded where its condition required.
7. Some historians and bridge preservation claimed that restoring the bridge is not considered restoration but more like a replacement because of new materials that were used to replace the old plus some of the extra components added to the bridge which compromises the historical value of the bridge. What is your opinion on that?
I reluctantly see their point. While I’m confident that every effort was made to restore as much of the original structure as possible there were clearly beyond repair and severely corroded. These needed to be replaced with new similar looking parts to increase the longevity of the bridge. While all original parts would have been ideal and had simply been neglected to long and at this point I’m happy to have the original bridge back – or at least a as much as possible the 1875 design of it.
8. Was the bridge listed on any Canadian national registry prior to restoration? Did it maintain its status when it was reopened in November?
Yes and yes. Blackfriars Bridge is a heritage-designated property under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act on April 21, 1992 and is included on the Ontario Heritage Bridge List, a list of provincially significant bridge structures. In 2016, Blackfriars Bridge was recognized as a National Historic Civil Engineering Site by the Canadian Society for Civil Engineering. In addition, it is included on the Canadian Register of Historic Places.
9. Up until this interview, has this bridge received any accolades or at least a nomination for its restoration?
10. The Paper Mill Bridge in Delaware has won the Ammann Awards in two categories: Bridge of the Year and Best Example of a Restored Historic Bridge, narrowing beating you in a voting marathon. In both categories you got second place, meaning a silver medal. In addition, you guys won the Author’s Choice Awards for Best Example of a Restored Historic Bridge. Congratulations on both! What is the reaction have you guys been receiving?
It’s been really special to have a bridge that means so much to me appreciated by others. The truth is my personal goal was simply to raise awareness of the bridge – so to have it even nominated was far beyond my initial expectations. And to then win the Author’s Choice Awards for Best Example of a Restored Historic Bridge is a dream come true. It really is a local heritage gem and to have it recognized outside of our corner of the world really validates what I’ve felt all along – we are blessed to have such a historic span. The bridge has supported Londoners for 145 years and its well-deserved that it gets some support in return!
11. We have some examples of bowstring arch bridges that have been sitting abandoned and waiting for restoration and repurposing. Among them include a bowstring arch bridge in Flensburg, Indiana, Livermore Falls Bridge in New Hampshire and the Kern Bowstring Arch Bridge in Mankato, Minnesota, the latter still holds the title of being the longest historic bridge in the US and second longest in the world behind you. What advice would you give to the groups interested in restoring the structure and bring it back to life for recreational purposes?
It sounds cliché but team work makes the dream work. I honestly believe that this restoration would have taken place without a lot of people reminding their friends and neighbours that not only did this bridge exist but that it was special and deserved to be saved. The lower cost of simply replacing it with a new structure was tempting to local government but heritage is a non-renewable resource. Given the obstacles faced by this project, I would suggest that the best time to start such a campaign is 25-years ago, with today being the next best option.
“Blackfriars Bridge is one of the oldest and rarest bridges in Canada and an irreplaceable landmark in the Blackfriars/Petersville neighbourhood,” says Mayor Matt Brown. “This structure contributes to the character of our community. Preserving London’s built heritage matters and seeing the structure returned, looking just like it did in 1875, really brings our City’s history to life.”
And the finished product! 🙂
Many thanks to Lincoln for the interview and the photos.
Blackfriars Street in London, Ontario reopened to traffic after five-year closure and one year extensive restoration work.
LONDON, ONTARIO (CANADA)- At 225 feet (68.6 meters), it is the longest bowstring arch bridge in the world. It was one of the longest ever built by the Wrought Iron Bridge Company in Canton, Ohio At 143 years of age, it is one of the oldest historic bridges of its kind left in Canada and North America. It is one of the rarest bridges to find in the country because of its dwindling numbers. And now, after five years including one year of a complete restoration, the Blackfriars Street Bridge in London, Ontario is back in business.
Thousands convened to the bridge on December 1st to commemorate the reopening of this unique bowstring arch bridge, located at Blackfriars Street, spanning the North Branch of the Thames River connecting Blackfriars Park on the west bank and Harris Park on the east bank. This included a ribbon-cutting ceremony followed by a parade of cars that crossed the newly restored structure. The cost for the complete restoration was $8.6 million, which was split between local and federal funding. For many residents and bridge enthusiasts, it is a relief to have the structure back in service while at the same time, retain its historic and cultural integrity. Many have had great childhood memories of the bridge and were happy to see the bridge open to traffic. From its build date of 1875 until its closure in 2013, the bridge served vehicular traffic before structural deterioration forced its restriction of the bridge to solely pedestrian cyclists in 2013. In November 2017, the bridge was lifted off its place, cut in half, then dismantled to be transported to an offsite complex where it was sandblasted and welded, with several parts being replaced.
This bridge restoration was met with hefty criticism, especially from bridge preservationists who dubbed the Blackfriars Street Bridge Restoration as a complete replacement. In a statement posted by Nathan Holth in the historicbridges.org homepage, “A 2018 rehabilitation project essentially replaced nearly every surviving piece of original material on this bridge with new material that looks completely different than the original design.” Holth added that “this may be due to a lack of sufficient consultation with experts in bridge restoration, or a lack of open minds on the part of engineers who may have consulted with experts in bridge restoration.” And while the website acknowledged that rehabilitation was needed, this type of work was more of a modernization of the bridge than in-kind restoration, stating “with an in-kind restoration, many parts of the bridge would still have been replaced, but they would have been replaced with replicas of the original design. The bridge’s bowstring trusses today are almost unrecognizable.”
While his claim is that with the complete replacement of bridge parts with new materials is as bad a bridge replacement, one needs to look at the difference between the Blackfriar’s Street Bridge before and the structure after the replacement to see the difference. It is clear that the portal bracings and the upper chord are different; the portals veered away from its three-tiered Lattice and X-frame portal bracings with heel bracings and was replaced with simply the X-frame with heels, whereas the original beams with Phoenix columns have been replaced with rectangular beams, much of the vertical and diagonal beams appear to be the same. One needs to have a look at the bridge for himself to see the difference.
Nevertheless, inspite of the criticism, the restoration of the bridge and its reopening of the crossing will provide drivers, cyclists and pedestrians alike with an opportunity to gain access to the university complex on the western bank of the Thames from the greenery area on the east side, where the two branches form the Thames. But most importantly, the City of London got back their beloved historic bridge, one of only a handful of historic landmarks left for the city, but one of the most important that a person should see when passing through. This is one that is not only in the running for this year’s Ammann Award in the category of Best Example of a Restored Historic Bridge, but one on the places to visit list for many, like myself, who have yet to see the structure and judge for himself how much alteration was actually done.
The Blackfriars Street Bridge has its own Twitter website, where you can follow up on the bridge and read the stories behind the structure and the love affair the people have with the longest bowstring arch bridge in the world. Click here and follow for details.
Our 28th Pic of the Week takes us back to 2007 and this bridge in Minnesota- the Kern Bridge. Located south of Mankato, this 1873 product of Wrought Iron Bridge Company is the longest bowstring arch bridge in the US, with a span of 190 feet. It is the second longest in the world behind the Blackfriar’s Bridge in London, Ontario (Canada). The bridge has been closed since 1990 and has been sitting abandoned ever since. Unless something can be done to rehabilitate the bridge, the structure is on the verge of collapse with a cracked abutment and missing planks according to the latest visit by James Baughn. Currently, there is some collaboration behind the bridge’s future in terms of restoring it for reuse. Yet lack of funding and the will to restore it is still imminent We’re looking for some ideas as to what to do with this structure. Does anybody have any ideas?
Between Schneeberg and Zwickau in western Saxony is a small town of Kirchberg. With a population of 8,700 inhabitants, Kirchberg straddles the Rödelbach River, which empties into the Zwickau Mulde River in Wilkau-Hasslau, approximately five kilometers north of the town. In addition to that, Kirchberg is known as the City with Seven Hills, as all seven hills surround the small community, protecting it from the weather extremities, especially in the winter time. Yet it is most difficult to get to the next available towns because of the winding roads one needs to go through. And Kirchberg is one of the most expanded communities with the least population density in Saxony, for 12 Kilometers of area in all directions belong to the community, including all of the small suburbs.
While Kirchberg has a rather historic but sleepy town center (because buisness usually closes at 3:00pm on weekdays, non on Saturdays), a church on the hill and a couple notable historic bridges along the Rödelbach, one bridge in particular is the focus of this article because of ist unusual design and a classic example of a restored truss bridge. The Sonnebrücke Truss Bridge spans the Rödelbach on the east end of Kirchberg (see map below). The bridge, built in 1882, is unique because of its unusual design.
For instance, the bridge is a pony truss built on a 45° skew. The skewed formation is easy to detect because one can see it from the main highway on ground level and from the hillside on the north bank of the river, it resembles a shoe. The harder part is identifying the truss type for from a distance, it appears to be a bowstring arch span. Yet when taking a closer look, the bridge is actually a Parker pony truss, mainly because of the slight bends of the upper chord per panel. The 24.5 meter truss bridge has nine panels with the highest panel being 1.7 meters tall. How the bridge was built is the most difficult of all because you can only see the details up close while on the bridge. For instance, the bridge has welded connections, meaning that the beams are attached with gusset plates and welded nails. Given its age, this type of practice was first introduced in the 1880s and the Sonnebrücke is one of the first bridges built using this type of practice. It is one of the rarest bridges whose upper chord consists of a rare type that is seldomly found in truss bridges. While most truss bridges used H, I and T beams for their upper chords and end posts, this one has upper chords whose parts consists of L-shaped beams welded together making it appear like a cross-shaped beam. No truss bridge in the eastern half of Germany has such an unusual chord like that. It is even rarer when compared to the American Phoenix column, which was used on many iron truss bridges in the 1870s and 80s and has round-shaped columns with 4-8 points in the corners.
The Kingdom of Saxony authorized the construction of the Sonnenbrücke in 1882 as part of the railroad project connecting Wilkau-Haslau with Carlsfeld via Kirchberg and Schönheide near the present-day Eibenstock Reservoir. From 1882 until its discontinuation in 1967, passenger and freight trains crossed this bridge daily. It was one of 54 bridges that the line went over, which included six viaducts in and near the Mulde River. Even though the line was discontinued in its entirety by 1980, the Sonnebrücke is one of only a handful of crossings remaining on the line, which has been dismantled in large sections but abandoned on other stretches of track, including the line between Schönheide and Carlsfeld. When the line was discontinued in sections and tracks were taken out, all the bridges and viaducts were removed with steel parts recycled for other uses. Attempts to save some of the viaducts were put down due to lack of financial resources and pressure by the East German government to support the communist system by making use of every resource possible. The Sonnebrücke remained hidden from view for another 40+ years until city officials collaborated with locals and a pair of restoration companies in Saxony to restore and repurpose the structure for recreational use. This happened in 2014 at a cost of 90,000 Euros. There, the bridge was sandblasted and repainted black, some parts were replaced because of the rust and corrosion, and a new flooring made of wood replaced the rail decking which no longer served its function.
Today, the Sonnebrücke continues to cross the Rödelbach River but has a new function, which is to provide cyclists and pedestrians with an opportunity to explore the town along the river. This bridge and another crossing at the Hauptstrassebrücke are both part of the former rail line that had once had trains going through Kirchberg, stopping at two stations in town. Today, it carries as a bike trail and even though only a section of the former rail line is used as a rails to trails, the Sonnebrücke and the line that crossed over serves not only as a reminder of a railroad that had once been part of Kirchberg’s history and heritage but also as an example of an unusual truss bridge which had long since been forgotten but the city took care that it received a new purpose in life. It definitely shows that even with a small portion of money, one can make use of it and make it like it was brand new.
And with few historic artefacts left in our world, we need more examples of history being restored for generations to learn about. 🙂
Australian Traveller that loves to "Roam" our globe, creator of ENDLESSROAMING.COM sharing the experience through word and photography. Currently residing in my home of Newtown Sydney but hope to be back on the road late 2020. Feedback / questions are more than welcome, happy travels