Mystery Bridge Nr. 55: An Unusual Covered Bridge in New Hampshire

All photos courtesy of Scott Wagner
All photos courtesy of Scott Wagner

The next Mystery Bridge takes us to New Hampshire. We have read and heard of many stories of the Granite State losing dozens of historic bridges because of their being neglected by the local and state governments, including the Boscawen Bridge and this year the Sewall Falls Crossing. We’ve also read about the state priding themselves of their covered bridges, which are both loved and hated at the same time by many pontists.

Yet this mystery bridge brings metal and wood together, not to mention the covered bridge and metal truss bridge lovers. Located over a railroad bridge along Lakeside Avenue between Tower Street and Foster Avenue in Weirs Beach in Belknap County, this bridge presents an unusual truss design that is almost never seen nowadays. The bridge features a metal deck truss design in a shape of a Kingpost built on an incline. The outer portion has a 40° angle, whereas the inner portion has an obtruse triangular shape that is subdivided. Furthermore, the longest diagonal beam between the center span and the pier has a slight bent where the support beam meets. Looking at the trusses more closely, one can see that the connections are riveted, this putting the construction date up to the time after 1900, the time when riveted truss bridges were being introduced and proliferated with the standardization programs introduced by the states’ highway departments.

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The covered portion of the bridge in the center span features a pavillion with a half cylindrical roof colored in blue. The roof is supported by four iron piers, one in each corner and that are ornamental at the railing and where the columns meet the roof. The steps appear to be made of wood.

The bridge serves as the entrance to the  Winnipesaukee Marketplace, yet it is unknown whether the bridge was built at the same time as the historic building, or if the bridge existed well before that. It is known that this bridge presents some similarities to another bridge in Germany, the Bridge of Friendship at the German-Danish border north of Flensburg, although the trusses for that bridge is not as advanced in appearance as this bridge at Weirs Beach. Plus the roadway of the bridge in Flensburg is straight, unlike the roadway of the New Hampshire bridge and its half-octagonal look. The Bridge of Friendship was built in 1920 and was renovated in 2004.

The Bridge of Friendship at the German-Danish border north of  Flensburg. Photo taken in 2011
The Bridge of Friendship at the German-Danish border north of Flensburg. Photo taken in 2011

This leads to the questions of when the bridge at Weirs Beach was constructed- whether it was at the same time as the market place or earlier- and who was the mastermind behind this unique bridge design. Why build it over the railroad tracks when trains passed through on a regular basis 60 years ago and why not build a tunnel underneath? These questions have yet to be solved. Can you help?

Post your thoughts in the comment section here, as well as those in the Chronicle’s facebook pages and the Bridges page, where you can see more photos of the bridge taken by Scott Wagner (who is to be thanked for allowing use of the pics). Your thoughts and stories/history behind the bridge will be much useful in solving this mystery.

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Loving ode to Bridge Poets: Reflections

Red Bridge spanning the Yellow River in Allamakee County, Iowa. Photo taken in August 2011

After a brief break in light of the recent events occurring in the United States with a pair of bridge collapses, the next poem to be presented is one written by Norman F. Brydon, entitled Reflections.  Little was written about the author except for the fact that he spent most of his 78 years of life before dying in 1982. Brydon was most famous for his book, “The Pasaic River: Past, Present, Future,” which was written in 1974. He wrote about James Caldwell two years later, which you can view the script here. And lastly, he was one of the very first authors who wrote about New Jersey’s covered bridges in 1971, which has long since been out of print, but it deals with how these bridges were popular before the age of Industrialization.

Reflections, written in 1969,  talks about a bridge that has been crossed for many years but still carries a lot of memories of the people that crossed it, including those who were there to reflect on their lives and how they could have done something different, but in all reality, it was too late. The poem brought some memories back to the times I spent reflecting on my life on one of these bridges, like this one in Allamakee County, Iowa, which has been sitting there abandoned for years and is now owned by nature. There were times I would visit one of these bridges and sit there for hours, looking at the things that I did and finding ways to turn all the wrongs committed into right ones. But this was as a teenager growing up, but many of us still have a chance to reflect about themselves as they stare down at the mirror-reflection of the river from the old bridge, wondering, as adults, whether we made the right decisions or whether they can be changed before it’s too late.

Here’s the poem in its entirety:

Abandoned above the coursing stream

Whose currents race so heedless by

Between high banks where granite boulders gleam

Recalling the flowing years that fly

The quickly fading then, the urgent now

A moment briefly noted, long forgot

A corridor of memories that you endow

In muted shapes, where arching timbers rot

Half hidden and with shaded trusses blurred.

Footsteps muffled to my waiting ears

By dust laid deep on oaken planks now stirred

To echo thoughts long buried with the years.

Within your shadows sparked by errant beams

I walk again to find abandoned dreams.

Book of the Month: The Bridges of Madison County

The reading owl suggests…….

Let’s start the very first Book of the Month for 2013 with a question for the forum:

Can you name a book or literary piece that features a bridge (or bridges) serving as a centerpiece to an even bigger story?

Speaking from a literary critic’s point of view, one of the most successful stories that feature bridges as a centerpiece is the book “The Bridges of Madison County,” by Robert James Waller. Published in 1992, the book was turned into a film three years later and became a smash hit. The Chronicles will summarize both works to compare the plot and sturcture for reasons to be mentioned below.

I was first introduced to the book while living in Germany as an exchange student 13 years ago, but in the German version. It was the first book I read in a language other than English and regardless of which language the book has been translated (it was translated into 50 languages), the book serves as a starting block and should be considered for reading material either in the classroom or in one’s leisure time

The setting of the book is in Madison County Iowa, where Robert Kincaid, a photographer for the National Geographic, was looking for covered bridges, when he meets Francesca Johnson, a farmer’s wife whose husband and two children left for four days to exhibit their prized stier at the Illinois State Fair, while inquiring about the Roseman Bridge. She leads him to the bridge but after some photo sessions, she invites him to dinner. Robert returns the favor the next day by inviting her to a photo session of the Holliwell Bridge and they eventually opened the door to three days of romance and rediscovery of onesself, the sides of themselves that revealed their true identities in contrast to the ones they were accustomed to. Yet the last day of solitude brought a decision that would change their lives forever- whether Francesca should leave the farm in favor of Robert or if Robert should leave Francesca because of her devotion and love to her farm and family- the climatic conclusion in the story! While Francesca decided to stay put, despite the warning Robert gives him that “…the decision comes but just once in a lifetime,” as stated by Kincaid in the film (played by Clint Eastwood), the book led to discussions among literary critics, sociologists other people alike with the arguments going along the line I’m about to state: Francesca was in the middle of one of the covered bridges, with one side representing her farm, family and the way of life that she was used to, and the other side representing Robert, individualism and the way of life that she could have been. Either decision made would be hedonistic for one side will be hurt effectively, leaving scars, while the other may benefit but she would still suffer from the decision. The only way she could not do is jump from the bridge, for it would lead to questions that both sides would not be able to answer.

The kids, Michael and Caroline do not know about the affair until they went through the papers and other records after Francesca dies. This is where the story stops in the book, which in literary terms has an open plot until the very end, but is extended in the film, which features a closed plot, looking back into the past.  In the film, the setting begins with Francesca dying and the children meeting at the farmstead. Both characters (Caroline played by Annie Corley and Michael played by Victor Slezak) have problems with their relationships with their spouses- the former is being cheated on; the latter is incompatible with his wife, Betty- which are exposed as they find the journals written by their mother about the relationship with Robert Kincaid. As they read the journals, they were taken to the past where it all happened as Francesca (played by Meryl Streep) unfolds the story in detail, going from a farmer’s hand on a small farm to one on an adventure with Robert.

While the climax between Robert and Frnacesca was kept in the book, the climax of their portion of the story comes at a park in the middle of the night where each one vents their frustration out about their spouses over a bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey, and how the morals taught to them by their parents were put into question by Francesca’s affair with Robert.  In the end, as Francesca made her sacrifice in favor of her husband, both Caroline and Michael made decisions to make themselves and their spouses happy, although it was unclear how their relationships would have ended- either redo the relationship with the same person or redo the whole relationship with someone else. The best quote came from Michael, who told his wife Betty (after worrying about him not contacting her) “Do I make you happy, because I want to, all the better.”

The film serves as a compliment to the book and has extended the discussion about happiness among all people associated with the book. While many films, based on literary pieces, either copied the work exactly as it was written, as seen in the Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald or dilluted it to alter the meaning stated in the book, as happened in the book The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCollough, which was converted into a two-film series to the dismay of the author and the audience, the Bridges of Madison County was carefully crafted so that not only the story was kept the same but was extended in a way that it kept to the plot, even though the book featured an open plot (where many items were open, waiting to be closed) and a closed plot (where everything is closed and finished and it was just a matter of flashing back to the past). The setting was the same and takes a person back to the 1960s, where rural life was peaceful and moral, families were being established after being off to war (and this was mentioned in many scenes in the story), and rock music was in its infancy, taking over jazz music bit by bit. 57 Chevies ruled the Iowa landscape, even though No Passing Zone signs were not on the roadways just yet. And stories of the past were revealed so that all the characters can take them with, think about what they can do better in life, and share them with their children.

From an educator’s point of view, the Bridges of Madison County belongs to a certain canon dealing with post modern fiction in the period of social crossroads in the 1950s through the 1970s, where American culture suffers its own version of the Big Bang Theory, where tradition and modernism meet and coincide, romance and moral values have new meaning, and where new bridges were built between these two. It definitely will lead to discussion that will leave the classroom and out onto the street.  From a historian’s point of view, the Bridges of Madison County has left a mark in the county’s history, which will be seen by many people who visit the region, not just in the forms of the remaining covered bridges that exist, but also the places where the film was shot, and where Waller wrote his piece. The book is a must for those who either has an interest in literature, culture and history or one who has an interest in reading. And if you are learning a foreign language, this book should be one you should read for it is easy to understand and it leads to discussions that can be conducted in a language other than the original English.

Roseman Bridge. This and the following photos were taken by the author and his wife Birgit while touring Madison County in December 2007

 

Author’s note: I would love to hear from you about this book or any literature that deals with bridges and its plot that people should read, based on the question I asked in the article. Please leave your answers and thoughts either here or in the facebook pages The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles.

 

 

Presidential Elections and Historic Bridge Preservation Part II: New Hampshire’s Historic Bridges

Memorial Bridge at Portsmouth. A 1923 vertical lift through truss bridge that was demolished in February 2012. Photo taken by Craig Hanchey

 

This is the first of two parts dealing with the US Presidential Elections, Historic Bridge Preservation and in this case, New Hampshire.

One of the original 13 colonies of the United States, New Hampshire, the fifth smallest state with its mountainous features and historic small towns, is one of many states in the Union that has multiple covered bridges and prides itself with having one of the highest density of these bridge types in the country, with over 45 located in the state. It also has one of the highest density of stone and concrete arch bridges, with over 30 of them located in the state. And lastly up to now, it has a fair number of pre-1950s truss bridges. Sadly though, it appears that the state is following suit of many in the country in trying to eradicate “structurally deficient” bridges, making way for modern structures, whose aesthetic appeal is not to the liking of many residents growing up with the structures. The best example is the Memorial Bridge in Portsmouth, a vertical lift bridge with one of the most ornamental portal bracings a person can see in New England. The lift bridge and all of the Parker through truss spans, built as a memorial for the war veterans, was torn down to make way for another vertical bridge, trying to copy the feature of its predecessor, but to many residents, the design is too modern and too bland. Other bridges have been targeted for either replacement or removal, like the Depot Street Bridge in Boscawen or the Lilac Bridge in Hooksett.  According to James Garvin, a historian who has worked with the subject of historic bridges in the state for over 25 years, two thirds of the historic bridges in the state have been replaced since 1984, half of the metal truss bridges have been lost since 1987 with the trend that the state seems to be more concerned with protecting the covered bridges than other bridge types.  While some of these bridges have been preserved for pedestrian use, more is needed to preserve what is left of the state’s bridges. Yet, according to two people, it seems to be not happening.

Depot Street Bridge in Boscawen. Photo taken by Sheldon Perkins, used with permission

The Chronicles invited two people who are associated with the state’s historic bridges to put their two cents worth into the subject in hopes that the issue of decreasing historic bridges in the state is brought to the attention of the readers: Representative Steve Lindsey and historian James Garvin, the latter will be featured in part II which follows.  Mr. Lindsey has been advocating for the preserving New Hampshire’s remaining historic bridges- the other, more neglected bridge types- for many years and recorded his disdain towards the state’s preservation policies to a point where he even recommended tourists to visit neighboring Vermont if they want to visit historic bridges on one of the bridge websites. Unlike the majority of politicians who either are indifferent towards historic bridge preservation or would rather favor modern but tasteless structures to support an increasing amount of traffic, Mr. Lindsey is one of a few who are bucking the trend and is looking for answers to stop the progress, both on the state level but also to a certain degree, on the national level. Here is the interview with the state representative:

1. How would you rate the infrastructure in your state of New Hampshire in comparison to the rest of the US?  And with regard to bridges in general?

Poor and poor.  Lacking a broad-based tax and a hesitancy to tax overall, New Hampshire has a girdled revenue stream problem.  We have an aging roads system that was always behind the rest of the nation in modernity. The exception being the politically power Merrimack River Valley which receives a disproportionate share of state and federal infrastructure moneys.  The same goes for our bridges  We have a large percentage of Red List bridges.

2. How would you rate the policies regarding historic bridge preservation in your state in general (1-10 scale; 1 being best)? What factors contributed to the way historic bridges are being treated as they are?

I would rate New Hampshire a “8” or “9”.  While we do not seem to overtly target the replacement of historic bridges as appears to me to be the case with PennDot, New Hampshire has no love of historic metal truss or other bridges.  Some appreciation of covered bridges extant is supported weakly by the state government, but even here most of our covered bridges are supported by towns.

This year alone, we’ve lost two historic steel trusses bridges. At this rate, all will be gone in 30 years and the struggle to save them over.  This would almost be a relief.

It is so bad I am considering writing a Swiftian essay “Let’s Get it Over” advocating the state systematically demolish all its historic truss bridges except the Connecticut River spans, and put up road signs pointing tourists in the direction of Vermont should they want to see some of our nation’s civil engineering heritage.

Early in my bridge preservation years (1990s), I went to the NHDOT headquarters in Concord to garner some information.  The commissioner whom I did not know came down to talk to me without identifying himself.  In a sense spying.  Such was the condescending attitude.

I also submitted an essay to the NHDOT newsletter and they wouldn’t run it. I was told later by the PR man, a fine fellow, that he had never seen anything before censored in the newsletter and was himself taken aback and sadden by this.

The public just doesn’t support the preservation of our civil engineering heritage like they do in Indiana and Ohio.  There is nothing to work with.  The state’s newspaper, the Union Leader, did give us some positive coverage, but most New Hampshirites are preoccupied with national and state politics as we have the nation’s first in the nation primary.

Newport, NH even celebrated the razing of a rare iron arch truss in the late 70s by erected a plaque next to the I-beam bridge honoring the selectman for standing up to Concord.

Which leads to to the infamous “Bridge to Nowhere” incident with candidate Romney.  This spring he gave a speech about the waste of federal monies on projects and choose Hillsboro’s Sawyers Crossing bridge which was restored as a pocket park but no longer carries traffic—at its south end a channel was cut for future flood relief and even foot traffic stops at the second arch, making it more like a pier. This image of Romney pointing to the bridge hit the national TV with Romney denouncing such projects.

New Hampshire is largely a libertarian-conservative state and there is a distrust of big government and federal expenditures.  There also is the traditional distrust of cultural educated elites, of which historic preservations are considered part of.

Our preservations groups are weak and separated.  The NH Div of Historic Resources counts itself lucky to even survive, and have survived by being quite and little noticed.  Remember that the New Hampshire legislature is dominated by the ascendent Tea Party which is steeped “in” property rights activists.

The NH Preservation Alliance, an advocacy group is likewise cowed, circulating its newsletter and email missives among a self-selected group of preservationists, rarely taking public stances, instead, relying on its supporters for funding and for back discrete projects.

The Alliance would not even show up for hearings on a bill I sponsored for creating a historic bridge storage depot system based on Vermont’s successful model.  It would not have cost anything, and even the NHDOT, while weary, considered it.  I never forgave the Alliance for its betrayal.

 

3. Can you present a couple examples to support your argument?

Yes.  This year, the state replaced the Memorial Bridge in Portsmouth, the state’s most highly rated historic bridge.  In a nod to our port city and its heritage, a slightly modernized replica is being constructed.  Even this replica was criticized by some for not being modern-looking enough.

While our state does not target historic bridges for removal, it has no preservation ethic either.  The Canterbury-Boscawen bridge was to be removed this summer as an attractive nuisance and liability.  It was abandoned and unused.  But there was no support by either town, and the state of course, while one of the nation’s richest, has no monies either.

Local newspapers have shown no support for saving our dwindling number of historic iron and steel truss bridges.  One, the Concord Monitor, actually editorializes against saving one near its printing plant.  This would be the Sewells Falls bridge.  Some detractors say the paper wants its tractor trailer trucks to have access to that rural/suburban road that are now limited by the bridge, one of the few surviving designed by NH’s engineer John Storrs.

 

4. Why would you recommend people visiting other states to see historic bridges (you mentioned Vermont as the best bet for people to see Hbs)?

No, with the exception of the Connecticut River Valley.  New Hampshire has been loath to spend money on bridges to Vermont, so a number have survived.  Now with a greater appreciation of said structures, they may continue as they make attractive gateways from the Green Mountain State, seducing monied tourists over the river.  We need more than cheap cigarettes and state liquor stores to keep quality visitors around.

 

5. In your opinion, do you think the US government is doing a great job in terms of improving infrastructure in general?

No. We’re doing a terrible job.  We seem preoccupied with our ongoing wars and maintain a non viable tax structure that favors the owning-class

 

6. What about historic bridge preservation in general?

With notable exceptions, we are doing a poor job of saving the best of our civil engineering heritage.  The public hasn’t been educated.  The engineers and architects are mute about the work of their forebears.  There seems to be little understanding of its importance with rare media forays like the documentary on the Roeblings and their bridges.  History and culture just are not embraced by the masses and our ruling classes are not providing good leadership here.

 

7. What would you like to see improved regarding the policies involving infrastructure, bridges and historic bridge preservation?

I would like to see the American nation cherish its heritage as the British and Commonwealth nations seem to do.  Instead we seem distracted by our day-to-day needs and wants.

 

 8. Who do you think will win the Presidential elections in November and why?

I’m not sure.  Neither candidate projects a strong, clear image.  Rather a murky situation arises, encouraged by the media which benefits greatly from the horse race mentality.

 

 

Help needed: Photos, postcards and stories about Iowa’s Bridges

Durrow Road Bridge in Linn County, Iowa Photo taken in August 2011

When looking at the Durrow Road Bridge, located east of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the first thing that comes to mind is that it is a typical through truss bridge built in the 1920s. Judging by its recent paint job, it has been maintained really well and on a regular basis. But while photographing the bridge, a resident on a farm place located just around the corner takes notice and decides to stop at the bridge to find out what I was doing (in reality, I was with another pontist who resides near Marion, located north of Cedar Rapids). It is from that point on, we have a nice long conversation about the history of the bridge and why it was named. The bridge was relocated here in 1949 from Cedar Rapids to replace a wooden trestle bridge and add a piece to the farmstead that is over a century old.

The main idea is the fact that each bridge has its own history and character that makes preserving it for future generations a must. Yet, bridges like this one are being replaced in favor of progress with the records on its history and its association with the local communities lost forever.  There are many books that have been written about these historic bridges. They include Dennis Gardner’s book on Minnesota’s historic bridges in 2008, using the materials of wood, stone, metal and concrete as the main pillars to the story of how the bridges were developed.  Another book on the bridges bridges in New Jersey, written by Steven Richman, portrays the existing bridges in New Jersey. And there are many books written about the covered bridges in the northeastern corner of the USA from Pennsylvania to Maine, many of them have contributed to the states taking pride on their covered bridges more than the other bridge types.

The truss bridges in Iowa, a project that has been launched, will be a book that will differ from all the books that have been written for two reasons: 1. Iowa’s bridges have been documented in books already but in bridge types only. This includes the Marsh Arch bridges, written by the late James E. Hippen in 1997 and the bowstring arch bridges, written by Michael Finn in 2004. Up until now, there are no sources that deal with truss bridges in the state with the exception of reports conducted by agencies, like the Iowa Department of Transportation, and other interested parties but are only limited in availability.  2. The focus of the book will be on the development of the truss bridges in Iowa beginning with the first crossings along the Mississippi River and in big cities, like Dubuque and Ottumwa and continuing on with the dominance of truss bridges over bowstring arch bridges, experiments with new bridge types, like the Thacher truss bridge, the role of the bridge builders, first from out of state and later from local Iowa bridge builders. It is then followed by the introduction of standardized truss bridges and how they waned in popularity in favor of concrete bridges. And finally the book will focus on the successes of identifying these bridges and preserving them for reuse. The book will feature truss bridges both past and present and their history and how they brought the communities together. This includes stories similar to the one of Durrow Road Bridge.

If you have any old photos and postcards of bridges (esp. those that no longer exist in Iowa), as well as any information and stories pertaining to the truss bridges in Iowa, please send them to Jason D. Smith via e-mail at flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com. Mailing address is available upon request.

The book project will take approximately 5-10 years to complete pending on the amount of information that comes in. But quality will outweigh quantity and the goal is to bring the history of truss bridges in Iowa to light (going as deep into the research as possible) so that the readers can understand how they contributed to the development of the state’s infrastructure, let alone to the development of their communities and farmsteads.  So if you have any information that is useful to this book, I would love to hear or see it. Thank you very much for your help.

Ellsworth Ranch Bridge in Emmet County. This 1895 Thacher through truss bridge is NOT the first one that was built. There is one that was constructed earlier and somewhere in Iowa. Do you know when and where the first Thacher bridge was built? Photo taken in August 2011

 

The Demand for Equality in Historic Bridge Preservation: How Metal Truss Bridges should receive just as much recognition as Covered Bridges

Albright Bridge spanning the Boone River south of Webster City. Photo taken in August 2011

Foreword: When we think of historic bridges and US culture and history, two points come to mind, and these are based on a questionnaire conducted last year. The first point is most people will relate the US with the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City. From a German point of view, it is obvious as they were the works of two German-born civil engineers- Joseph Strauss (who was born to German immigrants in Cincinnati) and John (or Germans would call him Johann) Augustus Roebling, who originated from Mühlhausen in western Thuringia. These two bridges are icons as they were built during economic hardships and using the labor of people wanting to work to make a living, let alone make ends meet. One will find both bridges used as one of the symbols of American pride.  The second point is when it comes to bridge types that are popular in the eyes of the Americans (and those visiting the US), the covered bridges- those built of wood- have the podium hands down.  They go as far back as the 1700s, with the majority of those still standing today being built between 1830 and 1880. Regardless of color and size, design and appearance, these covered bridges are a symbol of love- where lovers meet- and shelter from the rain.  This love affair with covered bridges goes further back than the “Bridges of Madison County,” a film produced in 1994 with Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep that takes place in Iowa and has made Madison County a household name and its association with covered bridges. Apart from the ones Madison County and places in southeastern Iowa, one can also find massive amounts of these unique vintage structures in Ohio, Pennsylvania and the New England states. Several articles have been written about these structures, including the latest one on the covered bridges in Pennsylvania and in particular, the Kissing Bridge in Lawrence County. A link found here: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/11286/1181459-55-0.stm.

 

Marysville Covered Bridge near Knoxville in Marion County. Photo taken in August 2011

Yet, despite receiving massive support from state and local governments in renovating and upkeeping the bridges, one has to ask if other bridge types are receiving the same amount of treatment as the ones I mentioned.  In an editorial in response to the Kissing Bridge article written by Nathan Holth, the answer to that question is clearly no, and the reasons are obvious, as it will be interpreted from my point of view. If one would rank the historic bridges needing funding either for maintenance or for conversion into a place of recreation, the bridge types needing the most attention are first and foremost the covered bridges, followed by deck arches made of concrete, stone, or brick, and lastly suspension bridges. Down at the bottom, are the bridges made of metal- in particular, cantilever truss, truss and stringer (beam). While stringer bridges have the least value of the bottom three, the other two have been the most neglected as they have been dubbed as bridges that eventually rust and corrode away, too expensive to maintain (even with a simple paint job and replacing the tiny parts that keep them together), and simply too dangerous. They are also a target for scrap metal as some people have successfully dismantled them illegally just so they can get as much money out of the deal as possible; especially since metal prices have skyrocketed over the years.  Examples of bridges that have fallen victim to missing metal parts have occurred in Pennsylvania and Mississippi, but other states have been hit but not reported, at least not in the newspapers. And lastly, in light of the I-35W Bridge collapse on 2 August, 2007 which killed 13 people and injured as many as 115, especially the cantilever truss types are being targeted for fast-track replacement fearing a weakening of one section could bring the whole bridge down- a myth that has not only yet to come true but one which a little doctoring up of weak sections at a price of $1000 will prolong the bridge’s life by 30-40 more years, a practice that has been done in places outside the US, even Germany.  This is better than having to replace the structure with that whose life is only 50 years and it comes at a cost of millions of dollars; most of which comes out of the taxpayer’s pockets.

Tremaine Bridge spanning the Boone River south of the Albright Bridge in Hamilton County. Photo taken in August 2011

The years of misunderstanding and neglect overshadow the beauty of many of the bridge types that are target of metal. The truss types may be common, like the Pratt, Parker, Warren, etc., but they were products of previous truss types that were rare and unique. One can see a fine Camelback truss bridge like the Tremaine Bridge in Hamilton County Iowa, one of the rarest in the state and even the country, but will see even rarer ones like the bowstring arch bridges, the longest of which can be found near Mankato with the Kern Bridge, at 190 feet -only surpassed by the Blackfriar’s Bridge in Ontario (Canada).  The portal bracing of the overhead truss bridges represent a signature by the bridge builder; a symbol of how truss bridges were developed.  While one will find the common A-frame portal bracing, like the Albright Bridge- located down river from the Tremaine, there are many unique ornamental designs that can be found on some bridges built in the 1880s but highly ignored, like the Hardin City Bridge in neighboring Hardin County. And finally the historic connection of many bridges- regardless of type- are the most ignored for even though they are the product of hard work and innovation- a signature of the great age of Industrialization between 1870 and 1920- let alone the identification of local culture- they are rarely mentioned in the history books and they mostly go unmentioned except in oral history.

Fortunately many agencies and organizations in the private and public sectors have seen the historic value these structures do have and are taking measures to preserve them for the next generation to appreciate. They have involved the government, applied for grants, and done fund-raisers. Yet still, more needs to be done to ensure that these structures receive as much treatment as the covered bridges, let alone the icons that many people associate America with. This includes having more funds available, strengthening the existing preservation laws (and making them transparent) and involving the politicians who are willing to support the initiatives. The question is how to do that?

Therefore I would like to share Mr. Holth’s letter and the one which gave him an incentive to write this and would like to ask you a pair of questions: 1. Do you think that the current grants and other means of support are encouraging or discouraging historic bridge preservation and 2. If there was a way to improve the policies on preserving places of historic interest (and in particular, historic bridges), what would it be?  I’m looking forward to your input on this topic.

 

Author’s Note:

Special thanks to Nathan Holth for allowing me to put this topic and his letter to the attention of the audience. Mr. Holth runs a website called Historic Bridges.org, which looks at the problems and ways bridges can be restored, using many examples of bridges he has visited and documented since it has been in operation in 2003. He resides in Michigan and is a social studies teacher.

Link to the article: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/11286/1181459-55-0.stm

Here is his response below:

________________________________________________

Hello:

I saw your article on Pennsylvania’s historic covered bridges in the Post Gazette and I wanted to suggest that a good followup article might be one that explores the Commonwealth’s historic iron and steel truss bridges.

I have been photo-documenting historic bridges since 2003 and from Day 1 I have been both shocked and frustrated at how the highway agencies, tourism agencies, the media, and even the public at large have this immense interest in covered bridges yet at the same time, metal truss bridges, rich in both beauty and heritage, are ignored and often demolished and replaced with new bridges.

Your article mentioned that Pennsylvania has one of the largest collection of covered bridges in the country. Nearly all of these bridges have been beautifully cared for and preserved. Did you know that Pennsylvania also could claim that same statement for historic metal truss bridges? Further, did you know that despite that fact, Pennsylvania likely has one of the worst track records in the country for actually preserving these metal truss bridges?

It is in my opinion both imbalanced and unfair to spend tax dollars preserving nearly every covered bridge in the Commonwealth, while at the same time hardly spending any money to preserve historic metal truss bridges in Pennsylvania. Moreover, call me crazy, but when I think of what defines Pennsylvania’s heritage and history, I think of the iron and steel industry. What better expression of that heritage than the metal truss bridge? While many of the steel mills that Pennsylvania once have no longer operate and have been demolished, the products of those mills remain in the form of these bridges.

Your article actually touches directly on a very striking example of this imbalance of metal truss bridges versus covered bridges. You mention a map that Somerset County produces that guides tourists to historic covered bridges in the county. Why doesn’t the county include its historic metal truss bridges? Somerset County is home to a very impressive collection of historic metal truss bridges. Somerset County is home to the Bollman Bridge, a truss bridge that is partially made of cast iron and was built in 1871. Unlike many covered bridges which have had their materials replaced and design changed over their lives, the materials seen on this bridge are the same materials that were there in 1871. Cast iron truss bridges are also one of the rarest bridge types in the country, far more rare than covered bridges. And how can they ignore the beautifully lightweight beams and the ornate builder plaque of the Maust Bridge? Metal truss bridges do not look anything like covered bridges, but they are extremely beautiful. Their economical use of materials makes these bridges look so lightweight they almost appear to defy physics as they carry traffic. Many of them have decorative details including builder plaques and ornamental steel bracing. And unlike most covered bridges, visitors can stand on a metal truss bridge and enjoy an open, unrestricted view of the rivers these bridges cross. Below is a partial list showing some of the best metal truss bridges in Somerset County.

http://www.historicbridges.org/pennsylvania/bollman/

http://www.historicbridges.org/pennsylvania/moser/

http://www.historicbridges.org/pennsylvania/lenhart/

http://www.historicbridges.org/pennsylvania/northstreetmeyersdale/

http://www.historicbridges.org/pennsylvania/whisperingpines/

http://www.historicbridges.org/pennsylvania/depotst/

http://www.historicbridges.org/pennsylvania/bender/

Finally, it is worth noting that the exact same thing goes on in Washington and Greene Counties. Both counties heavily promote their covered bridges but little is done with their amazing collections of historic metal truss bridges.

 

 

It breaks my heart to think of all the tourists who use these covered bridge tour guides and probably drive right by these bridges, unaware of their existence and significance.

 

 

It is my opinion that an article or a series of articles exploring historic metal truss bridges in Pennsylvania would be unique content for the newspaper and of interest to readers. It certainly would be some subject matter that would be fresh and new. You can explore all the historic bridges in Pennsylvania that I have visited on my website here: www.historicbridges.org/map_penn.htm. Another excellent resource on historic bridges in Pennsylvania is located at www.bridgemapper.com.

 

 

Thanks,

-Nathan Holth