An Interview With Christopher Marston of HABS-HAER

chris marston1

As the National Register of Historic Places has the responsibility of designating and protecting historic places that have played a significant role in American history, another organizational arm of the National Park Service is just as important but its role is different. Established in 1933 by Charles Peterson, the Historic American Builders Survey (HABS) had the responsibility of documenting and photographing countless historic buildings with the purpose of addressing their significance to the NPS and the state and local governments. Many of these buildings at that time were at risk of demolition in the name of progress. Civil Engineering works (like bridges and tunnels) and other mechanical artefacts were later added under the helm The Historic American Engineering Record (HAER), which was established in 1969. Eric DeLony was the director of that part of the organization from 1971 until 2003. The Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS) was formed in 2000, focusing on landscapes and their historic features.  But how does HABS/HAER/HALS work, especially when we look at historic bridges and ways to preserve them?

I had a chance to interview Christopher Marston (seen in the picture above), who has worked at this organization since 1989 and has focused on the infrastructural aspects of documenting and preserving history, esp. in terms of bridges. He provides us with an overview of the benefits and limitations of historic bridge preservation, including ways of educating the public. Here are his thoughts on the role of his organization and his work on historic bridges (feel free to click on the links to the bridges mentioned below):

 

  1. What is your favorite historic bridge (HB) in the US? The world?  

Here are some of my favorites that I’ve seen in person, by type:

Stone arch: Thomas Viaduct, MD; Cabin John Aqueduct Bridge, MD

Wood Truss: West Union Bridge, IN by J.J. Daniels

Metal Truss: Bollman Truss Bridge, Savage, MD; Smithfield St. Bridge, Pittsburgh; Eads Bridge, St. Louis

Concrete Arch: Westinghouse Bridge, Pittsburgh

Stone-covered Concrete Arch: Boulder Bridge, DC

Suspension: Wheeling Suspension Bridge, WV

 

  1. What makes a bridge historic?

Older technology and craftsmanship.  Continued use of original materials. Setting maintains its integrity.

 

  1. What is your role at HABS and HAER?

I’ve worked here for 27 years and am an architect and project leader. I started in 1989 when we had a field office in Homestead, PA. We started documenting the old Carnegie steel mills at Homestead and Duquesne. I documented my first bridge in 1991: Dunlap’s Creek Bridge, the 1839 cast-iron arch built for the National Road in Brownsville, PA. After moving to the DC office in 1994, I led teams documenting the Roads and Bridges in National Parks and Parkways: Colonial, Blue Ridge parkways, Skyline Drive. We also did several NY parkways: Bronx River, Henry Hudson, and Taconic State parkways. In 2009-2011, we recorded several large viaducts on the Western Maryland Railway, using a Leica laser scanner. In 2002, I was named the project leader for HAER’s involvement in the National Historic Covered Bridge Preservation Program. Since then we have recorded 88 bridges to HAER standards, put on a traveling exhibition with the Smithsonian, run two national conferences, done several in depth engineering studies, designated 5 National Historic Landmarks and nominated 2 others, and published Covered Bridges and the Birth of American Engineering in 2015. We are currently completing a second publication: Guidelines for Rehabilitating Historic Covered Bridges.  See: https://www.nps.gov/hdp/project/coveredbridges/index.htm

 

  1. What is the difference between HABS/HAER and NRHP in terms of documenting and preserving HBs?

HABS/HAER works on in depth documentation of sites. In-house HAER projects are typically done to Level I standards: measured & interpretive drawings, large format photography, and a historical report. Mitigation projects are typically to Level II standards: large format photography, and a historical report only. NR does a contextual history and 35mm or digital photography, so is typically less in depth.

 

  1. What are the requirements for a HB to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP)?  And HABS/HAER?

HAER worked with state departments of transportation to develop and encourage bridge surveys beginning in the 1970s. Some were funded by the DOTs or FHWA or in partnership with universities. The first state bridge survey was in Virginia, beginning with the Humpback Covered Bridge, in 1970.   http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/hh/item/va0239/

Between 1986 and 2000, HAER Chief Eric DeLony developed HAER state bridge surveys in partnership with DOTs, and hired summer teams of engineers, architects and historians to do comprehensive documentation projects. Notable examples include surveys done in Ohio, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Arkansas, Oregon, Washington, Iowa, Texas, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Illinois, and California. Other significant projects that resulted in the documentation of hundreds of bridges include the FHWA-funded National Park Service Roads and Bridges Project, from 1988 to 2002. FHWA’s National Historic Covered Bridge Preservation Program resulted in HAER documentation of 88 bridges from 2002-2016, including several in-depth engineering projects. There are approximately 2,700 bridges listed in the HABS/HAER collection.

 

  1. If a HB is listed under the NRHP, how are they protected? 

NR-eligible bridges trigger Section 106. In some cases, the bridge may be saved or moved. If demolition is necessary, 106 may trigger mitigation, which often leads to HAER Level II documentation. Since 1980, 100s of bridges have been documented through mitigation.

 

  1. How are the following HB types preserved mainly, in your opinion? An example of each is needed, more are welcomed.

Metal Truss: Vern Mesler’s Calhoun Bridge Park, MI ; Piano Bridge by Charles Walker, TX

Wood Truss: Gilpin’s Falls Covered Bridge, MD, by Tim Andrews of Barns and Bridges of New England. See attached case study.

Masonry Arch: Catoctin Aqueduct, C & O Canal NHP, MD, by McMullan & Associates. http://www.apti.org/clientuploads/publications/2015/SampleArticle_46.4_McMullan.pdf

 

  1. What problems have you encountered over the years regarding preservation policies on the federal, state and local levels?

Glulam is favored over solid timber in covered bridge rehab projects

AASHTO Standards often require too heavy a live load requirement unrealistic for historic bridges.

 

  1. What about as far as preserving practices?

Would prefer to see real rivets used over high strength bolts when possible. Vern Mesler’s program at Lansing Community College is teaching this practice through his Iron & Steel Preservation Conferences. The Piano Bridge in Texas was a nice exception in that hot riveting was used in the rehab. Unfortunately, TXDOT stopped requiring riveting after Charles Walker retired.

 

  1. And ownership of a HB?

States such as Vermont, Ohio, Indiana, among others, do an excellent job inventorying, rehabilitating, and maintaining historic bridges. Invest in inventory and management programs, etc.

 

  1. What measures are needed to better protect HBs from being altered or destroyed, in your opinion?

Continue to educate DOTs and especially SHPOs on best practices for rehabilitation.

 

  1. What HBs are being nominated today in comparison to 1970?

We still get a lot of bridges in the collection. HAER has documented several covered wooden bridges;  Mead & Hunt is doing movable bridges in Louisiana, and did a bridge over the US/Mexico border; M&H and Berger teamed together to document 8 examples of common post-1945 bridge types.

I’m glad to see that bridges are getting nominated as National Historic Landmarks. Prior to 2010, there were only 11 bridges listed as NHLs: Eads, Bollman, Brooklyn, Casselman, Carrollton Viaduct, Thomas Viaduct, Old Blenheim (removed 2015), Covington-Cincinnati, S Bridge, Smithfield, Wheeling.

Since 2012, HAER has designated 5 bridges, and nominated 2 more: Powder Works, CA; Knight’s Ferry, CA; Brown Bridge, VT; Humpback, VA; Duck Creek Aqueduct, IN. Pending: Eldean, OH; West Union, IN. IN addition, the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, AL was designated in 2013.

 

  1. What would Eric DeLony, the person who spearheaded the preservation of HBs in the 1970s and 80s say about America’s HBs these days? 

I think Eric would be pleased with many of the successes in bridge preservation and documentation since he retired: The National Historic Covered Bridge Preservation Program, which he helped launch, has preserved over 200 covered bridges on top of the initiatives listed above; groups such as the Historic Bridge Foundation and historic bridge websites have proliferated, Vern Mesler’s Iron and Steel Conferences, and other preservation conferences continue to get the word out, and several important historic bridges have been preserved.

However, he would still troubled by the loss of bridges due to flooding, arson, neglect and detierioration. The lack of federal funding for preservation and documentation programs like those in the 1990s and 2000s is also alarming.

 

What was concluded in the interview? Preservation policies work when there is enough governmental support (including funding) to help document the structures and come up with ways to preserve them, ensuring that if possible, no mitigation is involved. However, private organizations and preservationists have stepped up in the efforts to better inform the public about ways of preserving historic bridges without having the excuse of “bridges meeting the end of their useful life” being used as justification for demolishing them. Many channels have been implemented to make preservation happen and keep history alive, whether it is through media outlets like this one or  Preservation in Pink, advocacy groups, like Nathan Holth’s Historic Bridge.org, foundations like Historic Bridge Foundation, or even mechanics and steel welders who are doing the actual work, like Bach Steel, Workin Bridges, Mead and Hunt or even local bridge builders. We will be looking at these examples later on to show that while there is not much history left to save in the progressing mondernized society, there are plenty of historic works that need our attention, even if we turn to unexpected sources who have the same nostalgia as we do.

chris marston2

Special thanks to Christopher Marston for his help. 

Note: A tribute to Eric will follow when the Ammann Awards are announced in January 2017. The Blenheim Covered Bridge, which was built in 1855, was destroyed by Tropical Storm Irene in 2011

bhc jacob

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An Interview With Paul Loether About the National Register of Historic Places

Melan Bridge at Emma Sater Park in Rock Rapids, Iowa: One of the first bridges listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Photo taken in 2009
Melan Bridge at Emma Sater Park in Rock Rapids, Iowa: One of the first bridges listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Photo taken in 2009

2016 marks two very important landmarks for the preservation of historic places in the United States. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the National Park Service. Founded on 25 August, 1916 by Theordore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Horace Albright and Stephen Mather, the park service features not only the likes of national parks like Yellowstone, Yosemite and even Pipestone, but also historic places and districts, whether they are the historic skyscrapers of Chicago or the steel mills of Pittsburgh. They also are the guardians of history and serve as a testimony to the development of American history, providing viewers with an opportunity to see how history was made by the likes of famous people. To protect these places from progress and modernization, the Historic Preservation Act was passed in 1966, establishing the National Register of Historic Places and the State Historic Preservation Offices. Their mission: to determine which places are historic, list them and find creative ways to protect them from alteration and/or destruction. The first place listed on the NRHP was the Slater Mill in Rhode Island in 1966; the first historic bridge listed was the Bollmann Bridge in Savage, Maryland in 1972. The Melan Arch Bridge in Rock Rapids, Iowa was listed in 1974.

How important of a role the National Register plays with regard to historic bridges we are going to have a look at this month as we interview people associated with historic places and how the government designates and protects them. To look at how the National Register works in determining, designating and defending historic places (even with restrictions by Congress because of funding and laws), we have Paul Loether of the National Register of Historic Places to provide a brief tour of how the system works. Here’s an e-mail interview with him with explanations that are quite simple:

Brooklyn Bridge. Photo taken for the Library of Congress by Jet Lowe

What is your favorite historic bridge in America?  The World?  

The Brooklyn Bridge on both counts

 

If you were approached by a historian from outside the US and he/she was to ask you how a historic place in America can be nominated, how would you describe the process in short and simple terms?

Contact one of the following three statutory nominating authorities (who must process these applications prior to sending them to the NPS Keeper of the National Register for final action):  a) State Historic Preservation Officer for the state in which the property is located; b) if the property is a Federal property, the Federal Preservation Officer for the agency that administers the property; or c) if on tribal land, the Tribal Preservation Officer.

 

How is a historic place listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP)?

The way a property gets listed in the National Register of Historic Places is that the forms and documentation go to the State historic preservation office (SHPO) of the state where the property is located. The SHPO can take one of several options: reject the property, ask for more information, list the property just with the state, or send the forms to us for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. Once we receive the forms, we conduct a similar review process.
You can read our page on Listing a Property at:
http://www.nps.gov/nr/national_register_fundamentals.htm
You can find contact information for the SHPOs at:
http://www.nps.gov/nr/shpolist.htm

 

Based on what criteria can a historic place be listed as a historic structure?

To be listed or even considered eligible for the National Register, one of the four criteria has to be met:

A- Associated with an event or series of events that have made a contribution to American history

B- Associated with the lives of a person (or persons) having played a significant role in American history

C- Associated with distinctive features of a type, method or feature of construction or a master builder or having had artistic features, such as the houses of Frank Lloyd Wright or the bridges built by John Roebling or the Wrought Iron Bridge Company prior to 1981.

D- Has (potential) information that is important to history or pre-history.

Other criteria is included when considering a property part of the National Register. For more, please see: https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CFR-2012-title36-vol1/pdf/CFR-2012-title36-vol1-sec60-4.pdf

 

Many news stories have touted historic structures (many of which are in danger of being demolished) as being “eligible” for listing under the NRHP. What is the difference between a place that is listed and a place that is eligible?  

Being Determined Eligible for listing in the National Register means that Federal agencies who are involved in any undertakings involving the property must take into consideration any potential adverse  effects that nay be caused to the property and make a good faith effort to avoid or mitigate those effects where possible.  Listing does that, but also provides some potential benefits under Federal and many state laws (such as rehabilitation grants, tax credits for rehabilitating income-producing properties

 

Sometimes structures are listed under the NRHP as well as Historic American Engineering Record (HABS/HAER/HALS). What are the differences between the two?  Different types of documentatin programs with different requirements.  NRHP was established by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, as amended.  HABS.HAER is a much older program (HALS is a more recent division).  HABS HAER usually incorporates technically higher-level photography requirements and is much more focused on documenting through measured drawings of historic properties.

 

What changes have taken place in the past 50 years in terms of policies of designating places of historic interests? What factors have influenced these changes?

The National Historic Preservation Act has been amended several times for a variety of reasons. Among the more significant changes have been the establishment of an private property owner right-to-object provision, and the specific recognition of historic Indian and Native Hawai’ian religious and cultural sites as being eligible for listing in the NR.   

 

When the NRHP was launched in 1966, historic places, such as mills, historic bridges, business districts and historic houses were designated as historic. What places are being designated as historic nowadays and what factors have lead to this trend?

Pretty much the same now as then, although in the past decade there’s been a renewed effort to ensure that the NR is appropriately diverse in terms of including  African Aerican, Native American (tribes, Native Hawai’ians and other Pacific Islanders), Women, Latino Americans, Asians Americans, and the LGBTQ community — i.e. ensure that the historic past of all Americans is fully embraced.

 

When a place is listed on the NRHP, who has responsibility for the structure and how is it maintained in order for it to retain its original appearance?

Under Federal law, listing in the NR places no restrictions on what a non-Federal owner can or cannot do with/to their property up to and including demolition.  If a property is federally owned, or an undertaking (i.e., project) involving the property (regardless of who owns it) is receiving Federal assistance (i.e., some form of funding or licensing/permitting), then the Federal agency involved must complete an environmental impact review of the potential adverse effects to the property that might result from the undertaking (see:  http://www.achp.gov/citizensguide.html)

 

What setbacks have you encountered in terms of designating and protecting NRHP properties and what measures have been carried out?  

Chronic (-i.e. for 40 years) lack of anything close to the resources (funding, staffing) necessary to do identify, evaluate and manage impacts on historic resources — national, state, or local levels–comprehensively, systematically  and (thus) and more cost effectively.

 

What more would you like to see done regarding saving historic places?

Full funding by Congress of the Historic Preservation Fund that provides assistance to State and Tribal Historic Preservation and other historic preservation programs across the nation.

 

Name two places that you want to see before you die- one for the US and one for the World.

Ground Zero in New York City.

 

Thank you for your time.

 

Summarizing the interview, one can see that the process of designating a historic place is simple in theory, but in practice, problems of funding and understaffing have made it difficult to keep up with the work, especially as the modernization of cities and roads, combined with urbanization has been increasing exponentially and attempts to preserve what is left of our history have come up too short. Hardest hit have been the historic bridges, for since 1985, the number of pre-1945 bridges have plummeted by up to 70%, with predictions of their extinction are seen in 15 years time, unless they are preserved and reused. Yet the most historic of the bridges have managed to be listed and have remained listed on the National Register. Why is that and how some of the créme de la créme have become part of our American culture and history? Our next interview will answer these questions.

Special thanks to Paul Loether for his help.

bhc jacob

The Wrong Picture

Photo taken by Nathan Holth
Photo taken by Nathan Holth

Over the holiday season, as I was celebrating with family and getting some photo opportunities of some bridges in Iowa and Minnesota, one of my fellow pontists brought this painting up to the attention of the historic bridge community. It was a sketch of low quality showing a tall suspension bridge, trying to go along the lines of the Golden Gate Bridge but it is unknown whether it is the Golden Girl or the Big Mac Bridge (aka Mackinac Bridge) in Michigan because it was too blurry to tell. To an art teacher, the “artist” portraying this bridge would have received a failing grade for its lack of quality. However, both the teacher as well as a historian would have gotten grey hair and wrinkly had they seen that the title of this “pseudo-drawing” been touted as The Brooklyn Bridge!

I think I feel the tremble of the ground as a result of the Roebling family coming out of their graves for that!

While this person had good intentions of making money, and Wal-mart (where the drawing was spotted) was the place to sell the artwork, little did he realize that with the help of the internet and some photos from books and other sources, he would have found out that there is a stark contrast between the Brooklyn, Mackinac and the Golden Gate Bridges. How stark? The photos below speak for themselves…..

Golden Gate Brifdge. Photo taken by Nathan Holth
Golden Gate Brifdge. Photo taken by Nathan Holth
Mackinac Bridge in Michigan. Photo taken by Nathan Holth
Mackinac Bridge in Michigan. Photo taken by Nathan Holth
Transversal view of the Brooklyn Bridge. Photo by Nathan Holth

The problem with this misperception of this drawing is that many people do not know what the bridges look like and will take drawings like this one to mislead them into knowing that it is this bridge, when in all reality the actual appearance is anything but that. Furthermore, both the aforementioned bridges have been seen in books and movies, so the differences between them should be obvious. Yet with our total embrace with electronic games and technology as if we are swimming in a pool of water is causing us to lose sight on our surroundings, let along our basic knowledge of history and other core subjects that they all seem to be placed in the backburner. We become disillusioned to what we see, and the younger the generation, the more likely they will identify with the wrong items and have them stick to a point where it becomes more difficult to unglue.

So in order to avoid this type of misunderstanding and misleading identification, here is a word of advice to give to the next person who attempts to draw or paint a picture of something as iconic as a historic bridge: Get it right the first time!

Look at the photos and films, visualize in your head what it looks like and how it should look on paper, and allow yourself an ample amount of time to do the artwork correctly. And don’t worry about the issues of copyright laws. If you do the artwork differently than the one before that, yours will turn out just as well, if not better.

As Gaudenz Assenza, former professor of political science at the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, Germany and now professor at the Catholic University of Rozemborok in Slovakia once quoted: Quality trumps quantity in all aspects of life.  While this may refer to aspects on the level of academia, it also applies to all aspects in life, especially when it comes to something like artwork. Think about this before putting the lead to the leaf, no matter how you do it.

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The Wrong Picture

Photo taken by Nathan Holth
Photo taken by Nathan Holth

Over the holiday season, as I was celebrating with family and getting some photo opportunities of some bridges in Iowa and Minnesota, one of my fellow pontists brought this painting up to the attention of the historic bridge community. It was a sketch of low quality showing a tall suspension bridge, trying to go along the lines of the Golden Gate Bridge but it is unknown whether it is the Golden Girl or the Big Mac Bridge (aka Mackinac Bridge) in Michigan because it was too blurry to tell. To an art teacher, the “artist” portraying this bridge would have received a failing grade for its lack of quality. However, both the teacher as well as a historian would have gotten grey hair and wrinkly had they seen that the title of this “pseudo-drawing” been touted as The Brooklyn Bridge!

I think I feel the tremble of the ground as a result of the Roebling family coming out of their graves for that!

While this person had good intentions of making money, and Wal-mart (where the drawing was spotted) was the place to sell the artwork, little did he realize that with the help of the internet and some photos from books and other sources, he would have found out that there is a stark contrast between the Brooklyn, Mackinac and the Golden Gate Bridges. How stark? The photos below speak for themselves…..

Golden Gate Brifdge. Photo taken by Nathan Holth
Golden Gate Brifdge. Photo taken by Nathan Holth
Mackinac Bridge in Michigan. Photo taken by Nathan Holth
Mackinac Bridge in Michigan. Photo taken by Nathan Holth

 

Transversal view of the Brooklyn Bridge. Photo by Nathan Holth

The problem with this misperception of this drawing is that many people do not know what the bridges look like and will take drawings like this one to mislead them into knowing that it is this bridge, when in all reality the actual appearance is anything but that. Furthermore, both the aforementioned bridges have been seen in books and movies, so the differences between them should be obvious. Yet with our total embrace with electronic games and technology as if we are swimming in a pool of water is causing us to lose sight on our surroundings, let along our basic knowledge of history and other core subjects that they all seem to be placed in the backburner. We become disillusioned to what we see, and the younger the generation, the more likely they will identify with the wrong items and have them stick to a point where it becomes more difficult to unglue.

So in order to avoid this type of misunderstanding and misleading identification, here is a word of advice to give to the next person who attempts to draw or paint a picture of something as iconic as a historic bridge: Get it right the first time!

Look at the photos and films, visualize in your head what it looks like and how it should look on paper, and allow yourself an ample amount of time to do the artwork correctly. And don’t worry about the issues of copyright laws. If you do the artwork differently than the one before that, yours will turn out just as well, if not better.

As Gaudenz Assenza, former professor of political science at the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, Germany and now professor at the Catholic University of Rozemborok in Slovakia once quoted: Quality trumps quantity in all aspects of life.  While this may refer to aspects on the level of academia, it also applies to all aspects in life, especially when it comes to something like artwork. Think about this before putting the lead to the leaf, no matter how you do it.

bhc new logo jpeg

Interview with Jet Lowe

Photo taken by John O’connell Link: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/24/George_Washington_Bridge_from_New_Jersey-edit.jpg

If there is a word of advice to give to a person wanting to engage in the hobby of photography, it would be this:

1. Look the surroundings. What do you see beyond the naked eye? What is most unique about the surrounding that is worth photographing?

2. Choose an object and/or a person you find attractive. Why choose this subject and how unique is it from the eye of a photographer?

Photography has become a popular hobby for many people, as they find the best spot/subject for a good photo opportunity and after taking dozens of snap shots, find the best photo that they are proud of- that they display for others to see, and benefit from the prize money from the photo contests sometimes. 🙂

For Jet Lowe, photography has been a major part of his life for almost five decades. Ranging from skyscrapers to bridges, Lowe has produced some of the most unique shots of his subjects from angles that even some of the amateur photographers today can even dream of doing.  Lowe was selected as the winner of the 2014 Ammann Awards in the category of Lifetime Achievement for his role in photographing hundreds of bridges in the US, Europe and elsewhere, and the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles had an opportunity to interview him about his experiences and the secret to being a great photographer. Here is what we found out about him:

1.      Tell us about yourself: how did your career start, and how did it lead you to HABS-HAER?

I owe my career to an academic trip to Haiti in 1966.  A faculty member of the school I was attending loaned me his Pentax h3v with which to take pictures.  It was a one month trip, film was expensive so I rolled my own cassettes of 20 or more black and white tri-x, a dozen rolls of kodachrome and basically got hooked.  This was my first year of college, from that point on I knew I wanted to be a photographer, did not know exactly how to go about it so I ended up majoring in Art History which in retrospect was a great choice.  Straight out of college I landed a job as the staff photographer for the Georgia Historical Commission doing museum photography as well as photographing historic districts for the then new federal program of the National Register of Historic Places.  It was working for the Historical Commision that put the bee in my bonnet about how it might be neat to work for HABS some day ( I did not know about HAER at the time which in retrospect was a much better match).

2.      How did you become interested in photography?While traveling in Haiti with my professor’s loaned camera I found myself ending up in places that I might not have been in had I not been in search of images,  and meeting people.  The Haitians although quite poor economically have a strong and magical spirit.

3.      A large portion of your photos posted on HABS-HAER have been historic bridges. Are they your primary targets, or do you also photograph other historic places, such as buildings, stadiums, etc.?As the staff photographer for HAER our mandate was and is to photograph the engineered and built environment of the United States. From windmills to the Space Shuttle,  No small mandate!  I like to think of bridges as a subject matter for HAER(Historic American Engineering Record) like houses have been for the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS).  Bridges tend to encapsulate the structural engineering thought of any given time period.  

4.      Which bridge you photographed was your favorite?The George Washington Bridge over the Hudson always comes first to mind for its complexity, significance, as well as photogeneity.

5.      Which bridge was the most difficult to photograph? How did you overcome this difficulty?  I would have to say the Brooklyn Bridge because it was my first major documentation of a nationally significant bridge.  The documentation was to involve getting to the towers via walking up the cables.  Never having done this caused me a bit of anxiety in the week leading up to the day of working on the bridge.  The maintenance men who were my hosts drily assured me they had not lost any one yet walking up the cables.  The Brooklyn Bridge was also the first one that I photographed from the air using a world war II vintage aerial camera.  One thing that helped in overcoming the more difficult hurdles of the assignment was a week spent in New York getting as many photographs completed on the ground before climbing the towers.  When the big day finally arrived I was at least fairly familiar with the structure.  One of the great privileges of my job at HAER was the opportunity to climb around on numerous other big suspension bridges,including the Takoma Narrows,  Oakland, Golden Gate, and Verrazanno Narrows to name a few that are now housed in the HAER collection.

6.      Which bridge that you had photographed but was later demolished was one that you wished to have preserved and why?The Bellows Falls (Vermont) arch suspension bridge was amongst the most elegant of bridges I have photographed and represented also one of the greatest losses to our patrimony.

The Bellows Falls Bridge: one of many bridges photographed by Jet Lowe. Photo taken before its demise in 1982. Source: HABS-HAER
7.      Many other photographers, including James Baughn (who finished second in the Lifetime Achievement category) and (Nathan Holth, who finished third) have done a great deal of contributions of photos for their historic bridge websites. How important has photography been in addressing the importance of historic bridges and ways to preserve them? Photography is still the most palpable way of showing us the way a bridge structure looked, and occupied its environment.  I think the photographer David Plowden deserves credit for being one of the first photographers to focus attention on the contribution and richness that bridges add to our built environment.

8.      If someone is interested in photography as a profession, what advice would you give him/her and what is the outlook in your opinion?I think there will always be a market out there for photographers that have a special vision and are obsessed with their work. Young photographers should look at the work of others and study the great prints in the museums and also think in terms of converting their favorite images in to a photographic print, not just an electronic entity.   It is probably even more difficult to break into the discipline as a means of making a living now because of the dilution of the medium via iPhones and the internet.  The outlook is difficult, however I can not stress enough the rewards for following one’s muse.

 The last sentence stated by Jet Lowe could not be any clearer than that. With social networks and iPhones dominating our livelihoods, many of us have a canny for selfie shots, shooting events in our lives, or even getting some shots of places of interest while travelling. However, the quality of real photography has declined because of the flooding of pictures that would be considered null and void in the eyes of the professionals. However, it does not mean that professional and amateur photography will die off. Many of us will specialize in areas once considered unknown, such as night photography, landscape photography and forms of architectural photography (and in particular, bridge photography) because they are important for people  interested in not only looking at them on display but also to document the historical importance, using them as a springboard for preservation efforts. Therefore, one should not be afraid of engaging in such a unique hobby. It may not be a full-time profession, but it is one that will satisfy the interest of the photographer and those interested in taking a look at his/her work.  So to close the interview, take the camera, take your girlfriend out with you, take some shots of what you think is beautiful and show her life from your perspective- from your own lens. You may never know what your photos will look like, let alone be worth when selling them on the market or entering them in a contest. Henceforth, click-click!
Photo taken by the author in December, 2014


The Bridges of Erfurt, Germany Part III: The Kraemerbruecke

 

Kraemerbruecke at Christmas Time. Photo taken in December 2010

 There is a misconception about how a person should define a house bridge, for the appearance of such a structure in the eyes of both Americans and Europeans alike are different. In America, we think of a house bridge like a covered bridge- a small house-like structure with a gabled roof and entrances on both ends. These covered bridges are easy to find in America, for they are numerous and popular among tourists, and many state transportation departments take great care of them to ensure that they are attractive to see and safe to cross.

In Europe however, despite the fact that one can find covered bridges everywhere, including the Alps and local places mostly unknown to tourists, our definition of a house bridge is different. Unlike the covered bridges, a house bridge is defined as a bridge which holds buildings but the passage is open-aired, meaning you cannot cross these bridges just by walking through the buildings, but through these passage ways that have no roofs above them.

Many of these house bridges were built during and after the Medieval times, including the Rialto Bridge in Venice or the famous London Bridge before its relocation to Lake Havasu City, Arizona in 1967.  But in Germany, we have the Kraemerbruecke, located in the heart of the country in the city of Erfurt, and the third part of the series on Erfurt’s bridges focuses on this particular structure.

Close-up of one of the arches. Photo taken in June 2012

The Kraemerbruecke was first mentioned in the record books in 1117 as a wooden bridge crossing the Breitstrom section of the Gera River connecting Fischmarkt on the west end and the Wenige Markt market square on the east end. While it was rebuilt at least six times due to fires, the municipality in 1293 acquired all rights from the monasteries that had owned the bridge and built a permanent structure featuring stone arches supporting timber stands and gated church towers on each end- St. Benedict on the west end and St. Aegidian on the east side, the latter of which still stands today.  After a fire in 1472 which destroyed half of the city and severely damaged the bridge, it was then decided to construct timber houses across the bridge, using trusses to support them and whose height rose to three stories. A total of 68 houses were built on each side of the bridge, allowing passage space of up to 5.5 meters for people and goods to cross. A story was once mentioned that there was one way passage across the bridge- going eastward only in the morning and westward in the afternoon, with those wanting to go against the scheduled flow of traffic being left with no choice but to ford the river located next to the bridge. While this rule no longer exists, crossing the bridge today, one can see the narrow passage, together with the huge masses of people going in and out of the shops that exist.

A shop and café at the St. Benedict entrance of the bridge. Photo taken in December 2011

Today’s bridge is no different than the one that existed during the Medieval Ages. There are fewer houses on the bridge, but mainly due to owners consolidating them to provide more space and housing. Work on the bridge was done in three phases: restoring the houses between 1967 and 1973, reconstructing the arches and vaults in 1986, and reinforcing the bridge and the housing in 2002. Despite this, the bridge is one of the darlings of the city of Erfurt. It is the only bridge of its kind north of the Alps on the European Mainland. There are a few house bridges remaining that exist, like the Bridgehouse in Ambleside and the Pulteney Bridge in Bath (both in the UK), and the aforementioned Rialto Bridge in Venice, however the Kraemerbruecke today represents an example of a bridge with multiple-story housing that still has businesses and residences. A festival honoring the structure takes place every year in June, where hundreds of thousands of people visit the bridge. It is an integral part of the city’s annual Christmas market, taking place between the end of November and right before Christmas Eve.

The main passage through the bridge. Photo taken in June 2012

And even on a regular business day, thousands cross this bridge to see the many stores that offer local specialties and unique items worth taking with to show family and friends. This includes the Thuringian shop near the Aegidean Tower, which sells wine, mustard, and other goods. Across the passage is the famous Erfurt Brueckentrueffel shop, which sells thimble-shaped bridge truffles made of dark chocolate and other ingredients that are made by hand and using local products. There is the left-hand-shop located near the middle of the bridge, which sells products made solely for left-handed people. Also on the bridge are a pair of souvenir shops, a café offering local wines, an art gallery and the Kraemerbruecke Stiftung, a foundation devoted strictly to the bridge and its importance to the city of Erfurt. And if one has an appetite, there is the Kraemerbruecke Cafe located on the site of the former St. Benedict tower (the tower was razed in 1810), which offers a wide array of local pastries.

The Kraemerbruecke at night. Photo taken in December 2011

If you happen to visit Thuringia someday, or happen to pass through its capital of Erfurt, and ask someone about the places that should be visited, do not be surprised if nine out of ten residents say that the Kraemerbruecke is a must-see apart from the Cathedral, the market squares and the churches. This Medieval bridge has survived many fires and bombings to become an even more attractive place to see than ever before. It has earned its place as an integral part of the city and its history, and in light of the most recent bridge festival, it stands out as part of Germany’s heritage, which will surely be considered a World Heritage site.  It is a bridge that every pontist and bridge photographer should see once in his/her life, and learn about. While each city has its own bridge representing a part of its history- New York City with the Brooklyn Bridge, San Francisco with the Golden Gate Bridge, London with Tower Bridge and Berlin with both the Oberbaum-Bridge and the Jungfern pedestrian bridge, Erfurt has its Kraemerbruecke, the greatest and most popular of the 258 bridges that serve the city of 400,000 inhabitants.

Interesting Fact:

According to Vockrodt in a publication on Pont Habités, part of the European Bridge Culture (published in 2011), approximately 30 house bridges were built between the 13th and 18th centuries, with the majority of them located in Paris. The Parisians built at least five of these bridges over the Seine, including the Pont Notre Dame, Quai de Gevres, Pont aux Meuniers, Pont au Change and Pont Marchand. All of these bridges were either destroyed by fire or lost their houses to demolition. The largest of the house bridges in Europe was the Pont Notre Dame, which featured two bridges crossing the Seine and the island where the Cathedral of Norte Dame was located, with houses of 3-4 stories high.

Now that the tour of Erfurt’s bridges is complete, the last two segments will feature a book review and the interview with Vockrodt and Baumbach about the bridges in the city.