Mary Ruffner Covered Bridge Is Coming Home

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Mary Ruffner Covered Bridge at its current location in Perry County.   Photo courtesy of Fairfield County Historical Parks

1875 covered bridge returning home to Fairfield County after residing in Perry County for over three decades.

 

LANCASTER/ THORNVILLE (OHIO)-  When driving along Ohio Highway 13 in the direction of Thornville, one will not miss a unique covered bridge located off to the side of the highway, spanning a small lake. The bridge partially covered, revealing the skeletal truss design along the top half. With the exception of a metal roof and concrete abutments, the entire structure is made of wood. The bridge has been serving a narrow path to a farmstead for 30 years, crossing a small lake. The bridge is no longer in use today and the only way to access the structure is by foot through the weed-covered pathway, which used to be a driveway.

The farmstead used to be owned by Carroll Moore, who bought the bridge in 1986 and relocated it to its current location for private use. Now owned by George Censky, he offered Fairfield County the covered bridge for its journal home to its new site.

After two years of planning, the wish to return home will be realized come this fall. But why Fairfield County instead of Perry County, where the bridge is located?  Easy question to answer: because the covered bridge originated from there.

 

Built in 1875, the covered bridge was originally constructed over Little Rush Creek on Gun Barrell Road, three miles north-northeast of Rushville. The covered bridge is 83 feet long, has a width of 13.5 feet and a height of 11.5 feet. The covered bridge is a Smith truss, a design that features interwoven diagonal beams but a cross between a Town Lattice and a Howe Lattice (whose X or Rhombus feature is found in per one panel).

The bridge was named after Mary Ann Ruffner, who emigrated with her family to Fairfield County, but whose life was very short and tragic. She was born on 26 May 1802 to Emanuel and Magdalene Ruffner but emigrated to the area at the age of three, carried by her mother on horseback. She married William Hill, son of George and Elizabeth Hill on 30 November, 1823, and later bore their only son, John, on 24 March, 1828. Unfortunately, under unusual circumstances, Mary Ann died six months later on 26 September, 1828. Her faith was Methodist and was therefore buried in a Protestant cemetary.

 

The bridge was deemed functionally obsolete because of the size of traffic crossing the bridge and was therefore put up for sale in 1986. Caroll Moore bought the structure with the intent to relocate it to Perry County, to be erected over a small lake on his farmstead near Thornville, which was completed later that year. Like in the upcoming project, the bridge was disassembled, hauled by trucks to its new home and then reassembled on new abutments. Although a necessity for reasons of cost, that option presents some concern for both Censky and Lancaster Parks Director Dave Fey because of the age of the structure and possible need to refurbish some of the parts already considered too worn for another move. Relocating the covered bridge in tact was ruled out because of prohibitive costs, plus the need to take down utility lines enroute.

Nevertheless, the Mary Ruffner Bridge is coming home but not to its original location. According to Fey, the plan is to erect the covered bridge at its new site in Landcaster: along the Sensory Trail, which is part of the Greater Landcaster Heritage Trail Network, which contains a series of bike and pedestrian trails that go through and around the city and surrounding areas (a link to the site where you can find the trails can be found here). Specifically, the bridge will be built near the Forest Rose School, a special school for students with developmental disabilities, even though the crossing will be open to everyone to enjoy.

 

Fairfield County was once home to over 200 covered bridges. After relocating the Mary Ruffner back home again, there will be 20 covered bridges still in service. For locals with a fond memory of the bridge on Gun Barrel Road, it will be a reunion with an old friend with a long history. For the new generation, it is a chance to learn about historic covered bridges and how they played a role in the development of roads in Fairfield County. For the families of Mary Ann Ruffner, a piece of their family heritage is coming home to stay.

And for Mary Ann Ruffner herself, knowing that her bridge will be moved home this fall, she’s already informed her Mama that she is coming home, and is working to have Ozzy Osbourne play for her bridge at its newly dedicated site, once open next year.  😉

 

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Mystery Bridge 41: The Queenpost Truss Bridge over Okabena Creek

Photo taken by Sam and Anna Smith in 2012

Our next Mystery Bridge article takes us back to Jackson County, Minnesota, specifically along Okabena Creek. Flowing west from Heron Lake to Brewster and beyond in Nobles County, the creek was once laden with pony truss bridges, built between 1900 and 1910, some of which were relocated here in the 1930s. The Okabena Creek Bridge near Brewster (known by MnDOT as Bridge L5245) is one of those structures that was built in the early 1900s but relocated here during the Depression era. According to records, the bridge was built in 1905 at an unknown location. It was one of seven Queenpost pony truss bridges built in the county during that time. Characteristics of a Queenpost pony truss bridge are a bridge built with three panels, with the center panel featuring a pair of diagonal beams crossing together, making the letter X. Most of the Queenpost spans are pin-connected, making it easier to disassemble and reassemble wherever needed.  This bridge is unique because it is the oldest remaining bridge of its kind left in the state, according to state historical records. Relocated to its present spot in 1938, this bridge once served a minimum maintenance road known as Township Rd. 187 but now known as 330th Avenue, and despite being closed to traffic since 1990, it can be seen from County Road 18 to the north.

This bridge is mysterious in the way for there are no known facts as to where the bridge was originally built at the time. Even the builder’s date of 1909 is vague, for it was based on the testing of the metal parts of the structure. Yet some of the features of the bridge (in particular, the V-laced endposts) match those of a couple bridges built by the bridge contractors, Raymond and Campbell in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Established in 1874, the bridge building firm was Jackson County’s prime contractor, having George C. Wise as their agent. Over two dozen bridges were built between 1880 and 1915, first by the bridge company, and later through Mr. Wise himself, who had left the bridge company in 1881 to start off his own business.  At least seven of them were located over the West Branch Des Moines River, including the one at Kilen Woods State Park, whose very first structure featured a through truss bridge with similar endposts like this one. More evidence is needed to determine whether this hypothesis is true or not.

According to local newspaper articles, the bridge was relocated here in 1938, most likely as part of the Works Progress Administration project that was undertaken during that time to get as many of the unemployed back into the workplace as possible. Many of these structures were relocated during that time to replace wooden structures that either had worn out or had been washed away by floods. It is possible that a previous structure had taken its place before 5245 came in to replace it. It was one of at least two bridges along Okabena Creek that was relocated to their current spots.  The other was the County Road 9 Bridge north of Okabena, relocated to its current place from Owatonna in 1936 to serve traffic until its replacement in 1998.

At the present time, the bridge near Brewster is still idle, waiting to either be reused as a pedestrian bridge or be part of the nature that is currently taking its course. Talks are still being carried out as to how the bike trail network should be extended from Jackson onwards, including adding one along the Des Moines River. Yet with scarce funding and opposition from county residence, it will take a few years until the project is realized. Yet this bridge would be a key asset, together with Bridge 2628, located three miles east of this one and is scheduled to be replaced in two years’ time. Like Bridge 2628, Bridge 5245 is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places because of its unique bridge design and age. Yet more information is needed to fill in the missing gaps left in the bridge’s history. This includes:

1. Where and exactly when was the bridge originally built?

2. Who was the bridge contractor?

3. Was there a bridge at this location prior to 1938?

4. Who led the efforts to relocate the bridge here?

Any leads and other information should be sent to Jason Smith at the Chronicles, using the e-mail address in the informational page About the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles.  While the bridge was mentioned in the County’s Bridge book, there is still a possibility that more information is out there, which warrants some searching and inquiries, especially if the bridge was to be reused as a bike trail bridge in the near future. The more information for this unique bridge, clearer the information will be regarding its history and significance in the county and the state of Minnesota.

 

Mystery Bridge Nr. 40: A Whipple Truss Bridge in Japan

Photo taken by John Paul Catton, author of the ‘Sword, Mirror, Jewel’ fantasy trilogy’ Used with permission

 

The next mystery bridge takes us over 20,000 kilometers away from home, to the country of Japan.  With over 127 million inhabitants and despite the tragedies that have affected them for years- namely the atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki which effectively ended World War II,  and the triple disaster at Fukushima three years ago (earthquake, followed by a tsunami that wiped many cities off the map and the worst nuclear disaster since 1986)- Japan maintains an unusually fast-paced but honor-obsessed culture, which makes the country stand out among other industrialized countries in the world. The country is famous for its sushi and rice, and thanks to its decades of developing modern technology, Japan is the third most powerful country in the world with regards to the world economy.

Many people do not really think much about Japanese heritage as the population is always on the move. And it is no wonder why  historic bridges are almost next to never mentioned. Yet John Paul Catton, who is the author of the Sword, Mirror, Jewel Fantasy series and webmaster of Planet 303 (Adventures in a Post-Fictional World), happened to find this jewel, while providing readers with a tour of the Japanese city of Asakusa.  The city is part of the perfecture of neighboring Taito, which is part of the Japanese capital of Tokyo.  As for the bridge itself, it has a history of its own. The truss design is clearly marked: A Whipple pony truss with pinned connections. This design was patented by Squire Whipple in 1841, and set the precedent for the development of the bowstring arch bridge in general, which started populating the American landscape in the late 1860s. The Norman’s Kill Bridge near Albany, New York, built in 1869, is one of the earliest examples of this truss type.

The Whipple truss bridge at Asakusa, according to Catton, used to be located in Fukugawa, which is southeast of Yamaguchi on the extreme southwest end of Japan. It was relocated to this place in Asakusa in recent times, perhaps 10-20 years ago,  given the newness of the abutments, and the roadway that runs underneath the span. While no exact dimensions have been found on this bridge, one can assume that the span is between 20 and 30 meters long. Because welded and riveted connections were introduced in 1910 to replace the pinned connections, one can assume that the bridge was originally constructed in the time period between 1865 and 1880, and whoever designed the span was either a disciple of Squire Whipple himself, or he borrowed the design from him (or his colleagues) to use when building it at Fukugawa. Because Fukugawa is 918 kilometers (570 miles) southwest of Asakusa (in Tokyo), the feat of relocating the span to its current place must have been a Herculean one, because of the exorbitant costs combined with obstacles in transporting it (Think of the mountainous landscape, combined with potential earthquakes, which overshadow the well-knitted infrastructure).  Such a feat is rare to find in the United States, yet attempts are underway to relocate a truss bridge from Pennsylvania to Alabama as part of a major project, supported by Alabama DOT and a private group wanting to save the BB Comer Bridge. If approve, this record distance of transporting a historic bridge from A to B, will surely be broken.

This bridge was first mentioned through bridgehunter.com, though a thorough article about the bridge and the request for information about the bridge’s history has not been written until now. Therefore, the Chronicles needs your help regarding finding the following information:

1. When was this bridge built?

2. Who was the bridge builder? Was he a disciple of Whipple or did he work for a firm in Japan (or elsewhere)?

3. Where exactly was this bridge located in Fukugawa?

4. Because of the fact that the bridge is one of the oldest left in Japan, what was the motive behind relocating the span to Asakusa?

5. When did the relocation take place and how?

Send your information to Jason Smith at the Chronicles at: flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com. As soon as all the questions have been answered, there will be a follow-up to this article in the Chronicles.

Japan does take pride in its culture, and how (and why) this bridge was relocated remains a mystery, except for the fact that they really care about it, considering it one of the important landmarks of Japanese history. The Chronicles is working together to make sure the bridge’s history and its association with the development of the Japanese infrastructure comes to light. More on this Mystery Bridge will follow.

Fast Fact: Fukugawa is located between Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the two cities that were destroyed by two atomic bombs in 1945. President Truman ordered the bombs to be dropped after Germany surrendered to the Allies in May. Hiroshima was destroyed on 6 August, 1945, Nagasaki followed three days later. Japan surrendered on 2 September, 1945, when Emperor Hirohito signed the surrender papers on the USS Missouri, with General Douglas MacArthur overseeing the process. How nuclear radiation affected Fukugawa as a result of the two bombs, remains an unknown factor.

The author of the Chronciles would like to thank John Paul Catton for the use of the photo.

 

 

Sabula-Savanna Bridge to be given away- any takers?

Side view of the Sabula-Savanna Bridge crossing the Mississippi River. Photo taken by Quinn Phelan in 2010.

Here is a question for many who are involved in marketing historic bridges: 1. What types of bridges have you marketed and sold, 2. How big were they, 3. Were they sold in chunks or in its entirety, 4. did you have to finance the relocation or did the parties do it themselves and 5. (most importantly), were there any takers?

From the point of view of the pontist and historian, the realistic answers for these questions are mainly truss bridges (mostly single span pony trusses) whose length did not exceed an average of 150 feet, although most multiple spans were sold in chunks, parties had to pay for the relocation and rehabilitation costs unless state and federal grants were available and finally, only 10% of the people were interested and actually took the bridge, even though another 40% were interested but did not have the financial resources to cover them. While some states, like Indiana, Texas, Iowa and Vermont have had more success than others, these statistics are alarming and also sobering, as mentioned by Eric Delony in a publication on the disappearance of historic bridges, published in 2003.

Which brings us to this case study involving the Sabula-Savanna Bridge. Spanning the Mississippi River and connecting the former in Jackson County, Iowa with the latter in Caroll County on the Illinois side, this half a mile long bridge was built in 1932 by the Minneapolis Bridge Company and features a Pratt through truss approach span and a cantilever through truss main span, all blue in color. The SaSa Bridge is unique because it represents one of the rarest examples of historic bridges built by the Minneapolis Bridge Company, one of a half dozen bridge building companies located in the largest city in Minnesota. While the Minneapolis bridge building empire dominated much of Minnesota and all areas to the west during the time span of 1880 and 1940, its influence was not as big in Iowa and Illinois thanks to their own set of bridge builders that existed during that time, like the Federal Bridge, Iowa Bridge, and Wickes Construction (all of Des Moines), the Clinton Bridge and Iron Company, the largest of the bridge builders in Iowa, and Illinois Steel, which built numerous bridges in Illinois and parts of Iowa.  Even more unique is the cantilever truss span, which features a K-truss design. K-trusses are different from other trusses, where two diagonal beams, which start at the same vertical beam on one side of the panel meet in the midle of the next vertical beam, creating a K-shaped truss. These trusses were developed in the late 1920s and became popular around the world, as K-truss bridges were built for railroad crossings in Europe. Here in the US, one can find a large quantity of K-trusses in Oklahoma and Pennsylvania but here in Iowa, only one bridge of this kind exists, which is this bridge.

The situation with the bridge is as follows: The Illinois Department of Transportation wants to replace this bridge with a modern one to accomodate more traffic passing through the region. Construction on the new bridge is set to begin in 2015 and upon completion in 2-3 years’ time, the old structure will be removed. However, the IDOT has decided to give the bridge away- for free! All 2,500 feet of the structure is yours if interested, except for one catch: you need to relocate the bridge and maintain its historic integrity in the process, while the DOT will pay for the costs to equal that of the demolition costs. Plus you are responsible for maintaining the bridge and the liability that goes along with that. Plus the bridge would have to be gone within 30 days of the opening of the bridge.  Still interested?

The offer has created an outcry among historians and pontists alike, which ranges from being “unrealistic” to “laughable.” One even mentioned that the costs of maintaining the bridge “forever” is ironic for IDOT has had a bad record of maintaining and preserving historic bridges in their state not counting the greater Chicago area. As mentioned in an earlier posting, the same agency is pursuing the demolition of relict bridges along US Hwy. 50 in order to expand the highway to four lanes. The opinion on the IDOT side has been indifferent as well as one person mentioned that no takers would be expected.

No takers means preparing the bridge’s obituary early then, is it not?

There are some questions though that will result in having the offer being revised at the convenience of other agencies working either at the same level or above the IDOT. Firstly, the SaSa Bridge is also owned by the State of Iowa, which has had an excellent record of preserving the remaining existing historic bridges in the state- mostly in an area east of the Des Moines River, with reports of many truss and arch bridges being relocated to parks and picnic areas for reuse and some being reused as part of the bike trail. Yet according to their website, there seems to be little or no cooperation with its next door neighbor, opening the door to ownership disputes.

Secondly, while environmental impact surveys are being carried out, there is no mentioning of Section 106 of the Historic Preservation Law, which focuses on alternatives to demolition and the documentation of the bridge prior to the project beginning. As the SaSa Bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the states are required to conduct the survey before construction starts.

And finally, as it is impractical to relocate a bridge of that size and mass, records have indicated that bridges like this were given to county authorities for use in their system as soon as the new highway bridge is in use. Many examples of such arrangements exist, among them, the St. Francisville Bridge over the Des Moines River at the Iowa-Misouri border. The cantilever Warren through truss bridge, built in 1927, was made obsolete by a freeway bridge, made to carry the Avenue of the Saints linking Mason City and St. Louis, and was subsequentially taken over by the counties of Lee (Iowa) and Clark (Missouri), which has maintained it as a street bridge ever since.

Keeping these arguments in mind, one has to ask himself whether this arrangement of giving the bridge away like IDOT is doing is both legal and practical or if there will be legal action to force the agency to revise its proposal to allow other parties to take over the bridge in its place, to use either for local traffic or part of the bike trail. Given the landscape of the Mississippi River valley and the counties affected by the bridge project, leaving the bridge in place and maintaining it “forever,” as IDOT stated in its offer just makes sense for everyone involved. The fortunate part is construction will not start for another two years, which means more meetings and other proposals will be brought forward before the project is finalized and the excavators can start digging for a new abutment for SaSa’s replacement. Story to be continued…..

More information and photos of the bridge can be found here, as well as in the words marked and underlined in the text.

 

Mystery Bridges 9 and 10: The bridges of Oregon

The state of Oregon has a lot to offer: Lots of hills and mountains covered with luscious green pine trees and other forms of flora, all lined up along the Snake, Wilamette and Columbia Rivers and its numerous tributaries. And of course, with as many historic bridges as the states of Indiana, Ohio and Iowa. The state has a wide variety of historic bridges to choose from, regardless of bridge type, builder, age and especially, history. This includes the likes of the St. John’s Bridge in Portland, built in 1931 and spans the Wilamette River. Portland, the state’s largest city, has as many historic bridges as the number of bridges total in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis-St. Paul).   There are the bridges that carry the famous coastal highway US 101, such as the Astoria-Megler Bridge over the Columbia River in Astoria and the Yaquina Bay Bridge in Newport.
It is also not a surprise that with as many bridges (both built prior to and after 1945) as the state has, that one needs to document them to find out more about their historic backgrounds and determine their significance to the state’s history. The Oregon Department of Transportation (DOT) conducted their bridge inventory and research in the 1980s and has started renewing its bridge inventory  recently, finding some historic bridges that have some holes to fill in their historic background. This is where Rebecca Burrows of Oregon DOT needs your help. There are two bridges that she brought up to my attention while I was away on vacation. Both of them have records claiming that they were built in the 1950s, yet judging by their aesthetic appearance, they were most likely relocated to their present spots. A summary of both are presented below, each accompanied with photos taken by Michael Goff, also from Oregon DOT.
Bridge 9:
Name: Deer Creek Bridge
Location: Deer Creek carrying Oregon Hwy. 82 in Wallowa County
Bridge type: Polygonal Warren pony truss with riveted connections but alternating vertical beams resembling a panel with an A-frame
Built (or relocated): 1964
Length: 112 feet
Info:

One can discuss about this bridge as if determining whether the glass is half full or half empty. On the one hand, it is possible that truss bridges like this one were built during this time as steel was still plentiful and counties found ways to construct bridges that were affordable and appealing to the scenery surrounding it. Some examples of such bridges include:  a pair of bridges over the Arkansas River in Chaffee County, Colorado, built in the early 1990s. However it is possible that the bridge was relocated to this site from another part of the state because such truss designs were becoming rare, and most standardized bridge designs built after 1930 required vertical beams. Recent findings (including a plaque of the people involved in the construction of the bridge appear that the bridge was built between 1905 and 1925.  In either case, the bridge is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places because of its design. However, more information on the bridge’s history- in particular determining whether the bridge was relocated here or not- is needed in ensure that the truss bridge is not converted into a pile of scrap metal, as the bridge is up for replacement at the time of this posting.

Photos:

Photo taken by Michael Goff, used with permission
Photo taken by Michael Goff, used with permission

Bridge 10:
Name: Cobleigh Road Bridge
Location: Big Butte Creek carrying Cobleigh Road near Eagle Point in Jackson County
Bridge type: Parker through truss bridge with riveted connections and  3-rhombus Howe lattice portal bracing with sub-divided heel bracing
Built (or relocated): 1954
Length: 200 feet (main span); 300 feet (total length)
Info:
Unlike the previous bridge, it is very obvious that this through truss bridge was relocated here for two reasons: 1. With a width of 16 feet, it would fall short of the requirements of having a bridge with a width of at least 28 feet, as the states introduced these requirements in the 1950s. And 2. The portal bracing would fail to meet the minimum vertical clearance requirements that were being enforced at that time, which was at least 15 feet high. In fact, beginning in the 1950s, highway through truss bridges with low vertical clearance and whose portal bracing had knee bracing were retrofitted to ensure that the vertical clearance requirements were met. This included replacing the portal bracing with those that are a third as deep as the original and cutting off the heel bracing. None of this was done on this bridge. Judging by the portal bracing and the riveted connections, it appears that the bridge was built between 1915 and 1925,  at the time when standardized truss bridges with riveted connections were introduced, making pinned connected truss bridges obsolete. What makes the bridge look younger is the recent paint job that was done on the bridge, making it look like it was built in the late 1930s.  This leads to the question of where this bridge originated from. While newspaper articles may help solve the mystery, people closest to the bridge are perhaps the most important source, for many of them may still be alive to explain the story of the bridge.

Photos:

Photo taken by Michael Goff, used with permission
Detail view of the riveted connections. Photo taken by Michael Goff, used with permission
Close-up of the portal bracing. Photo taken by Michael Goff, used with permission
Photo taken by Michael Goff, used with permission

Those with information on the two bridges should contact Rebecca Burrow and/or Michael Goff, who will be all ears with regards to any stories and articles that you have. You can also contact Jason Smith at the Chronicles, who will update you on the status of the bridges once the mystery of these bridges is solved. The contact details are below:

Rebecca Burrow: rebecca.burrow@odot.state.or.us

Michael Goff: michael.goff@hotmail.com

The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles: flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com

The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles brings people and history together, bridging the past and the future by providing people in the present with information on historic bridges in the US, Europe and elsewhere. It is available through areavoices.com, and now through facebook, twitter, LinkedIn and flickr.