Ammann Awards for Lifetime Achievement Post Humus: James Hippen

Black Bridge spanning the Iowa River west of Belle Plaine in Tama County, Iowa. Photo taken by Quinn Phelan

Back in January, the winners of the Ammann Award for Lifetime Achievement and Best Example of a Preserved Historic Bridge were announced in the Chronicles page, with certificates being mailed off via post. Two of them to be exact, which should arrive in their respective mailboxes very soon.

But there is a third certificate that is going neither to Minnesota nor Missouri, but to the heartland of the US, the state of Iowa. Once this recipient receives it and reads the article that goes along with that, then everything will make sense.  The Ammann Awards for Lifetime Achievement also includes one for Post Humus, awarded to a pontist who devoted much of his/her life to preserving historic bridges, but passed on before being honored for his work.

James Hippen may not have been a naturally born Iowan- he originally came from Oklahoma and studied history in Massachusetts (receiving a Masters and PhD at Harvard), but he was an Iowan by heart, moving to the state in the 1970s, taking up a job as professor of history at Luther College in Decorah. From there, he made history, not to mention the fact that the rest was ALL history.

Realizing the historic and aesthetic value of historic bridges in the state- especially in his area of residence, Mr. Hippen, traveled through the state photographing historic bridges and collecting information on their histories and identifying bridge types and bridge builders. Using that information, he wrote several articles and books about them, including a catalog on the historic bridges in Winneshiek County, finding historic bridges in Eastern Iowa, and the history of the Rainbow Arch Bridges that were first conceived by Iowan bridge builder James B. Marsh, just to name a few examples. He also assisted on some other works as well, including the bowstring arch bridges, whose numbers still put Iowa in the top 10 of the highest number in the country. His work was contributed greatly in a comprehensive study of historic bridges in Iowa for the Historic American Engineering Record, which was carried out by Fraser Design during the 1990s, and through this, he identified several historic bridges that were eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, most of which have long since been listed and are still in use today in its present shape and form. This include the bridges in the following counties: Winneshiek, Jones, Linn, Tama, Fayette, Story, Dallas, Crawford, Harrison, Van Buren, Marion, and Boone, just to name a few. Historic bridges included are the Cascade Bridge in Burlington, the Ellsworth Ranch Bridge east of Estherville, the Black Hawk Bridge in Lansing, and the historic bridges in Des Moines.  In addition, a historic bridge park west of Iowa City (FW Kent Park) features nine historic bridges that were researched and documented by Hippen.

Chimney Rock Bridge in Winneshiek County, Iowa. Photo taken in 2009

Mr. Hippen’s enthusiasm of history (and in particular, infrastructural history, if we add the dams, railroads and railroads) led to his involvement on many boards, including that of the State Historic Preservation Office, Iowa DOT, and several counties, and many people becoming more interested in the history of the state, and its contribution to American history during its time of industrial expansion and the development of the country’s infrastructure.  On a personal note, I was in contact with him via e-mail a couple times with regards to information on Winneshiek County’s historic bridges, and he provided me with a lot of his work on this subject, which contributed to my further interest in historic bridges in the state. The unfortunate part was not having a chance to meet him in person and thanking him for what he done for the state and for the people who are interested in historic bridges.

Ely Street Bridge in Bertram in Linn County. Photo taken in August 2013

James Hippen passed away at his home in Decorah on 24 February, 2010, leaving behind his wife and personal assistant in his research on historic bridges, Elaine, and two children, Ben and Susan.  On 9 August, 2013 a dedication dinner and presentation honoring Mr. Hippen took place at the General Store and Restaurant in Stone City, located west of Anamosa. There, Elaine and former county engineer of Fayette County, Bill Moellering spoke about his work and successes in front of many pontists and family members. Some of the best stories that were mentioned include a joint effort to keep many of Fayette County’s historic bridges in place while replacement bridges were built alongside of them, including the West Auburn, Dietzenbach Bottom and Quinn Creek Bridges because of the cost to demolish them were too high, along with the historic value of the structure themselves. These bridges were profiled in a brochure which can be picked up when visiting the county.  But the grandest story came when Jim himself photographed a tractor and plow crossing one of the Marsh arch bridges in western Iowa- and barely making the width clearance! That picture is featured on the back of the book, bearing its name. The photo stressed the importance of compromise between having a functional bridge that fulfills today’s traffic standards, while maintaining the historic integrity of the vintage bridges, even if it means reusing them for recreational use only.

West Auburn Bridge in Fayette County. Photo taken in 2011

Mr. Hippen’s work has served and should be serving as a signal for many states to look at their historic bridges and find many ways to save them, no matter what the costs and efforts are needed for the compromise to work. This has led to Iowa having the fifth largest number of historic bridges built before 1950 in the country, behind Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas. His passion for history has rubbed off on many people, encouraging them to engage in efforts to discover history in their own domain and preserve it for future generations to come. Because of his tireless efforts to the very end, the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles has presented the Lifetime Achievement Post Humus to the history professor at Luther College, who left a legacy for many of us to see for many years to come.

Author’s Note: Some more profiles of the county’s bridges will be presented in the Chronicles in the near future. This includes the disappearing bridges of Winneshiek County, and a tour guide through the bridges of Linn County, just to name a few.


Three Pennsylvania Bridges Coming Down

Venango Veterans Memorial Bridge- now gone

During the Historic Bridge Conference in Pittsburgh last year, I was reminded by a fellow pontist, Nathan Holth who runs the Historic website, of how important it is to photograph and document every bridge that is threatened with demolition to better imform the public of the importance of historic bridges in connection with US history and the history of industrialization, architecture, and other social aspects as a whole, when we discovered that an 1873 bowstring pony arch bridge in Ohio was removed before we could photograph it. Although angry with the fact that the bridge was gone, he and I were lucky to visit and photograph the other bridges in the vicinity, for three of them are coming down and one has been taken out already.  While the Venango Veterans Memorial Bridge in Crawford County was removed in November of last year with no plans of replacing it and its railroad overpass a mile up the road, three other bridges are facing the wrath of the digger and crane sometime this year or latest next, with others set to follow beginning in 2013, unless PennDOT streamlines these projects in order to begin the bridge replacement process earlier (more will come as the construction season starts in a couple months). Here are the bridges one must see before they’re gone forever:

Miller Station Bridge (Crawford County):

UPDATE: Should the bridge still be standing at the time of this article, it will not be for long. The 1887 Wrought Iron Bridge Company structure, consisting of a pin-connected Whipple through truss bridge with Town Lattice portal bracings and ornamental designs on the heel bracing and top chord is about to be replaced with three tunnel-like steel culverts, which will impede the flow of French Creek, a large stream resembling a river. The last update is that work on removing the road took place in the middle of February. If weather delays the demolition process, then it is not too late to get a pic. However, don’t count on it.

Miller Station Bridge- maybe gone already

Charleroi-Monessen Bridge (Washington County)

Spanning the Monongahela River southwest of Pittsburgh, bordering Washington and Westmoreland Counties, this three-span pin-connected Parker and Pennsylvania Petit through truss bridge built in 1905 by the Merchantile Bridge Company was suddenly closed in 2009 due to poor conditions on the bridge deck. Since that time, there was a lot of political wrangling due to the fact that the bridge was (and still is) listed on the National Register of Historic Places and therefore had to go through the mitigation process in order to find alternatives to replacing the bridge outright. This included Pennsylvania Senator’s Barry Stout’s comment of abolishing the National Preservation Act as it is time and cost consuming and impedes the progress of bridge replacement, which resulted in a clash between preservationists and the politicians. Although Stout is now retired, the end result of the Section 106 Mitigation Process was keeping the deck truss approaches, but dropping the three through truss spans into the Monongahela. This is the general plan for the contractor Joseph B. Fay Co. of Tarentum, while replacing them with a new span, which has not been revealed as of present, for a total of $26 million. The process will begin at the end of April of this year, making it a possibility for bridge enthusiasts to see the structure for one last time before it is dropped by implosion and cut up for scrap metal. Once this happens, questions will be raised on whether to keep the bridge listed on the National Register as this technically does not count as bridge rehabilitation as PennDOT sees it, but as an outright bridge replacement project according to preservationists. To the residents and business owners in Charleroi-Monessen areas, it does not matter as they will have their main structure back in service by 2012, eliminating the need to detour to the nearby bridges located over 30 miles (60 km) away in both directions and thus hurting business in the two communities, at the same time.

Charleroi-Monessen Bridge- still around until the end of April

Wightman Road Bridge (Crawford County)

Also known as Stopp Road Bridge, this single span pin-connected Pratt through truss bridge with Town lattice portal bracing and geometric shaped heal bracings represented a classic example of a bridge built by the King Bridge Company, which built the bridge in 1887. Unfortunately, as it can be seen with other structures, like the Mead Avenue Bridge in Meadville, the county commissioners made their point explicitly clear that despite the fact that the bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and therefore has to go through the Section 106 mitigation process prior to replacement, that the bridge will be demolished and replaced no matter what alternatives to bridge replacement may be brought to the table. Should the stance remain, the county may risk losing federal funding for this project and the bridge will be taken off the National Regsiter list.  While the structure is located in some heavily forested areas, one could move the bridge over and convert it into a small park, like it is being done with the Quaker Bridge in neighboring Mercer County. However, the county has not thought that far yet and it is unknown whether they will think that far ahead. Good news is that the bridge is still standing and can be visited, but for how long?

Wightman Road Bridge- to disappear soon unless the county changes its mind

Potential Candidates:

At the present time, there are plenty of candidates out there that may be demolished as soon as possible. However for these bridges, the two variants working in their favor at the moment are: 1. No bridge replacement date has been set yet and 2. No decision on the bridge’s fate has been set yet. Who knows how long that might be the case, but as the lessons have been learned over and over again, one should visit the bridges before they’re gone as one will never have an opportunity to see what they look like. These candidiates include:

MEAD AVENUE BRIDGE IN MEADVILLE (CRAWFORD COUNTY)- While the community wants to see this unusual through truss bridge gone at the earliest possible convenience, there are still discussions as to what to do with the truss structure, let alone when the replacement will actually take place. More will come soon.

DONORA WEBSTER BRIDGE IN DONORA (WASHINGTON AND WESTMORELAND COUNTIES)- Spanning the Monongahela River, this six span through truss (5 Parker and 1 Pennsylvania Petit- center span and the longest in the state) has been closed since July 2009 and there are still discussions about the bridge’s fate still happening, even though most sceptics will claim that this bridge is doomed and it’s just a matter of time before it is removed.

CARLTON BRIDGE (MERCER COUNTY)- The future of this two-span Pratt through truss bridge over French Creek is in question as this Columbia Bridge Company structure is nearing its end of its useful life despite being rehabilitated in 1990. The question is should the truss bridge stay or should it go? Many claim that it should and will stay and some believe the structure can be rehabilitated again but for recreational and non-vehicular use. But the question is will it happen? We will see….

To summarize, that the bridges are disappearing fast does lead to two conclusions: 1. A person wanting to visit a certain historic bridge should do so before it is gone, as the replacement process can occur as quickly as possible and sometimes without notice and 2. If there is even the slightest hint of a historic bridge slated for replacement, one should take action as early as possible to ensure that it is preserved for future use, even if it means informing the media about it before the replacement plans are put on the table at a city council meeting. The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles will continue to present these bridges to the public (in addition to presenting the cities and regions that are rich in bridges and profiling historic bridges) to better inform the public on the importance of these bridges and their connection with history and culture, tourism and commerce, and preservation and reuse for purposes other than vehicular use so that people have a chance to either see them before they are gone, or take action and save them before they are gone.


Second Annual Historic Bridge Conference in Pittsburgh

Steelerbot sculpture near the Sixteenth Avenue Bridge

There is something very special about Pittsburgh that attracts a first-time visitor and keeps him there for a long time. Established in 1758 by William Pitt, the city was home to the steel industry until it collapsed in the 1970s. It is home to the perrenial powerhouse the Pittsburgh Steelers in the American Football league NFL (National Football League). And lastly it is the city where the Carnegie Science Museum is located, the Heinz Ketchup company was founded, and where the Monongahela and the Allegheny Rivers meet to form the Ohio River, which meanders its way towards the Mississippi River for over 900 miles. Furthermore, as one can see with the “Steelerbot”- a sculpture whose body parts consist of the city’s bridges,  Pittsburgh is the city with the second highest number of bridges in the world with 442 structures, young and old spanning the three rivers and other tributaries and valleys. Only Hamburg in Germany has more with as many as 2479 structures reported to exist in the “Hafen City.” Therefore it is a foregone conclusion that the city, which prides itself in being called “Steeler Nation” would host a conference devoted strictly to historic bridges. For the second year in a row, the Historic Bridge Convention took place in and around Pittsburgh, where as many as 40 people participated in the event. This included the five guest speakers for the three day event that took place on 20-22 August, including one from overseas (Germany).

The event started out with a Friday night dinner at the Rock Bottom Restaurant in Homestead, which is a suburb of Pittsburgh. The location was unique because of its location almost directly underneath the Homestead Bridge.  The special guest speaker was John F. Graham, Jr. who is a distinguished member of the American Society of Civil Engineers, Principal, Mid-Atlantic Region, Osmos, USA, former Chief Engineer of Allegheny County Department of Engineering and Construction, and retired Pennsylvania Turnpike Deputy Executive Director and Chief Engineer, who talked about the effectiveness of monitoring bridges through sensors in comparison with the traditional visual checks and documentation, which he claimed was a waste of money and resources. In addition to that, Nathan Holth and Luke Gordon of Historic talked about compromises with historic bridge preservation policies and finding and solving problems with bridge rehabilitation, respectively. The former of which deals with finding the middle ground between preservationists and government officials.

The next day was divided up into a bridgehunting tour and a Saturday night lecture from two guest speakers. The tour, which was divided up into groups, took the guests to the northwestern part of Pennsylvania, Crawford and Mercer Counties where as many as 25 historic bridges were visited by many who have never seen them before and for some bridges, may only see them once in their lifetimes as they are scheduled to be replaced in the coming years. Already it was evident when the first bridge visited on the tour, the Kreiz Road Bridge was taken out when the tourists arrived. However, the other bridges that were visited on the tour are still standing at the time of this writing. This included the bridges along French Creek in Crawford County, like the ones in Cambridge Springs, Saegertown, and Meadville. The Venango Veterans Memorial Bridge and the Meadville Bridge, the two bridges profiled in the Chronicles are among the ones included in the list.

After leaving Crawford County, where these bridges were located, it was onto Mercer County where the Carlton Bridge, a Colombia Bridge and Iron Works piece of art from 1898 was waiting for a pose, together with Clark’s Mill Bridge and three other bridges. It was on the way to the Clark’s Mill Bridge that the tourists had to go through a herd of cattle and one of the pontists pointed out that it would be a perfect defense against the machines of progress, engineered by PennDOT. (For more information please view the bridges in Pennsylvania and their dire state).

Finally the last stop on the tour was also the centerpiece of the 2010 Conference, the Quaker Bridge. The person in charge of the project, Nathan Clark, saved the bridge from its imminent demise in the last second of negotiations before it met the wrecking ball in 2007 and plans to convert the 1898 structure into a park, which would be the first of its kind in Pennsylvania. His lecture on the bridge, its history, and how it went from PennDOTs hands into his started at the bridge and ended at the Hilltop Tavern in Greenville. This lecture was followed by one on the attitudes of people towards historic bridges between Germany and the USA by Jason D. Smith of the University of Applied Sciences in Erfurt, Germany and columnist for the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles. The lecture was based on a questionnaire that was carried out during the spring and summer of this year on both sides of the Atlantic as well as two case studies in Germany that were presented in comparison with the US as a whole.

Quaker Bridge. Nathan Clark (pictured in a white dress shirt) explains to the public about the bridge and how he saved it.

The third and final day of the Conference was devoted to the tour of the bridges in Pittsburgh, or at least part of the city, as many guests had to leave for home that afternoon. For those who did stay, sections of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers were visited, where many pre-1960 bridges were located, including those along the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and bridges like the New Kensington, and Hulton Bridges. It was rounded off with dinner with some fellow pontists at a small restaurant near the campus of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

Overall, the Historic Bridge Conference was a proven success as the themes for the event was more or less diversified, which includes focusing on technical and social aspects of historic bridge preservation. In addition, more participants were involved in the event than the first one, which took place a year ago. This included more people who are not bridge enthusiasts per say but were interested in the topic of historic bridges and preservation. A bigger eye opener was the fact that because one originated from outside the US, the Historic Bridge Conference has the potential to attract more people from overseas in the future. Furthermore the media in the greater Pittsburgh area and the northwestern part of Pennsylvania was curious about the content of the Conference and interviewed many people who were involved in the event. And finally the Conference set off a chain reaction which resulted in the birth of another website, the Bridgehunter Chronicles, a column which devotes its time and energy on providing readers with a tour of bridges worth visiting both in Europe and the US and in particular, the structures that are slated for demolition.  There is hope that this success can be fanned out further in many directions as the next Conference will take place in 2011 in St. Louis and vicinity and in 2012 in Iowa (where exactly will be announced in due time). And with that hopefully more people from abroad and those from other disciplines will come and share their experiences with historic bridge preservation so that in the end, there will be more than enough tools to protect these bridges from the grips of modernization, which includes making some fundamental changes in the policies that exist in the US as of present.

The author of the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles would like to thank Todd Wilson and Lauren Winkler for coordinating the 2010 event in Pittsburgh and for providing the guest with a grand tour of the bridges in and around Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania. It was great to learn more about the city and its bridges and we learned quite a bit from the tour. All photos taken by Jason D. Smith. More bridge photos from the Conference can be found on James Baughn’s website The Historic Bridges of the US, available at