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.

 

Name that bridge type: The answer to question 1

 

 

 

 

 

And now the answer to the question of naming the bridge type. As you will recall, in a posting from last Thursday, there was a post card of a bridge that spanned the Wapsipinicon River near Independence in Buchanan County, located in the northeastern part of Iowa.  While some people may have found the answer through James Baughn’s website, there are some who are not familiar with that, nor the picture, as it was posted most recently and readers have not yet had a look at the picture until now.

I can tell you that I had written about this bridge type a few years ago as part of an essay for a history class at the university here in Germany, and there are some examples of this bridge type that still exist today, even though there are two different types of this truss type that three bridge builders had used during their days.

The answer: The Thacher Truss. In 1881, Edwin Thacher (1840-1920), an engineering graduate of Renesselaer Polytechnic Institute,  invented and patented this unusual truss type. It is a mixture of four truss types: the Warren, Pratt, Whipple and Kellogg. While the Kellogg is a Pratt truss design featuring a subdivided panel supporting the original diagonal beams that connect the vertical beams, the Thacher features two sets of diagonal beams starting at each end of the truss bridge at the upper chord- one creates a panel similar to the Pratt truss, while the other crosses two or three panels before meeting the center panel, which forms an elusive A-frame. The bridge at Independence was the very first bridge that was built using this truss design. It was built in 1881 and was in service for over 40 years. Yet after having the design patented in 1885, Thacher went on to build numerous bridges of this type, most of which were built between 1885 and 1910. He later invented other bridge designs, some of which will be mentioned here later on.

Philips Mill and Crossing in Floyd County. Photo courtesy of the Floyd County Historical Society

While it was unknown how many of these types were actually built between 1881 and 1920, sources have indicated that Iowa may have been the breeding ground for experimenting with this truss type. Apart from the railroad bridge at Independence, the very first structure that was built using the Thacher, as many as four Thacher truss bridges were reported to have been built in the state. Among them include the longest single span truss bridge ever built in the state, the Philips Mill Bridge, spanning the Winnebago River outside Rockford, in Floyd County. Built in 1891, this 250 foot long bridge, dubbed as one of the most unusual truss bridges built in the country, was the successor to a two-span bowstring through arch bridge and served traffic until it was replaced in 1958. Other Thacher truss bridges built included one over the Shell Rock River north of Northwood (in Worth County), the Ellsworth Ranch Bridge over the Des Moines River in Emmet County and the Okoboji Bridge over the Little Sioux River in Dickinson County. Of which only the Ellsworth Ranch and Okoboji Bridges still exist today.

Ellsworth
Ellsworth Ranch Bridge in Emmet County. One of many Thacher trusses built in Iowa. Photo taken in August 2011

On a national scale, if one counts the two remaining Iowa bridges, there are five bridges of this kind left, which include the Costilla Bridge in Colorado, Linville Creek Bridge in Virginia, and the Yellow Bank Creek Bridge in Minnesota. Two additional bridges, the Parshallburg Bridge (2009) and the Big Sioux River bridge in Hamlin County (2009) have long since disappeared due to flooding/ice jams and structural instability, respectively.  While the majority of the bridges mentioned here were constructed by the Wrought Iron Bridge Company in Canton, Ohio, the King Bridge Company in Cleveland constructed the Ellsworth Ranch, Yellow Bank and Hamlin County bridges, using a different hybrid of Thacher truss that was modified during James King’s reign as president of the bridge company (1892-1922).  The Clinton Bridge and Iron Company in Clinton, Iowa built the only Thacher pony truss bridge in the Okoboji Bridge, the bridge that is featured in the next article.  While the Ellsworth Ranch Bridge remains closed to traffic and seems to be abandoned, the Yellow Bank Bridge was relocated to Hastings, Minnesota in 2007 to serve as a replica of the Hastings Spiral Bridge at the Little Log Cabin Historic Village.

Oko3
Okoboji Bridge over the Little Sioux River in Dickinson County- washed out after flooding. Photo taken in August 2011

And that is the answer to the pop quiz, even though for some experts in the field, the answer was obvious. Yet perhaps the next bridge type quiz may be even more challenging than the first one. As for the ones who didn’t know, this one should get you acquainted to the questions that are yet to come that will require some research. So let’s go to the next question, shall we?

Author’s Note: If you know of other Thacher Truss Bridges that existed in Iowa or any part of the US and would like to bring it to his attention (and that of the readers), you know where to reach him: flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com or via facebook under The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles. He’ll be happy to add it in any future columns, and for his project on Iowa’s Truss Bridges, it will make an excellent addition.

BHC logo

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 Winners of the Top Ranked Unique Savable Structures (TRUSS) Award

Meridan Street Bridge in Puyallup, Washington. Photo taken by K.A. Erickson, used with permission.

 

After some delays because of non-bridge related commitments on the part of the author as well as the webmaster of the Historic Bridges of the US website (James Baughn), the winners of the 2012 TRUSS Awards as well as the honorably mentioned have been announced. It is very difficult to pinpoint which bridge is the most targeted for preservation before they become a pile of broken stones and twisted metal as there were many MANY nominations that were submitted and the painstaking task to narrow them down based on appearance and urgency. Many bridges nominated for the 2012 TRUSS Awards were either winners or honorably mentioned last year and were omitted from the list. Yet there is a link to the 2011 Award winners here:

2011 TRUSS Award Winners: http://bridgehunter.com/story/1147/

In either case 15 historic bridges were awarded the prestigious prize, five of which will be mentioned here together with five of the 16 honorably mentioned bridges. In either case, the full list of winners and nominated structured can be found here:

2012 TRUSS Award Winners: http://bridgehunter.com/story/1172/

and the honorably mentioned: http://bridgehunter.com/story/1171/

 

Jason’s Top Five TRUSS Bridge Pics

1. Meadows Road Bridge (Northhampton County, Pennsylvania). This stone arch bridge over Saucon Creek was built in 1858 and is one of the oldest bridges in the state. Yet patchwork and alterations on the bridge make it less appealing to Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, who wants to see this bridge replaced. This bridge is a classic example of a wrong attempt to give the bridge a face lift while keeping its unique appearance intact. Already, historic bridge preservationists including Nathan Holth are leading an attempt to convince PennDOT to change their minds and leave the bridge in its place while allowing a new structure to be built on a new alignment.

Link: http://bridgehunter.com/pa/northampton/meadows-road

2. Cedar Grove Bridge (Franklin County, Indiana). Indiana has had an excellent reputation of preserving, restoring and reusing pre-1930s metal truss bridges for recreational use, for an average of six of these bridges have been spared annually, thanks to efforts on the part of Indiana DOT, the governor Mitch Daniels, and other actors from the private and public sectors. This leads to my question of why INDOT wants to demolish this 1914 Parker through truss bridge that was built by an in-state bridge company. According to Ed Hollowell, they and Franklin County have been at odds over the ownership of the bridge and the former highway it carried across the Whitewater River, Hwy. 1. With INDOT’s request to demolish the bridge submitted to the state historic preservation office, another party is now involved and there is hope that this request will be denied and that the ownership issue be settled; especially as many locals would like to see this bridge reused again, even if it is for recreational purposes.

Link: http://bridgehunter.com/in/franklin/cedar-grove/

3. Meridian Street Bridge (Pierce County, Washington). After the fall of the Liberty Memorial Bridge in 2008, this bridge in Puyallup is perhaps the last of the Turner Truss bridges ever constructed in the United States. Turner trusses have a polygonal upper chord with Warren trusses resembling an A-frame shape, as seen at the beginning of this article. Washington DOT plans to accelerate the construction schedule and remove the bridge before 2013, yet attempts to halt the progress because of its National Register eligibility may delay these plans by a couple years. More on the fate of this bridge will come as the story unfolds……

Link: http://bridgehunter.com/wa/pierce/meridian/

4. Black Bridge (Albany County, New York). This bridge is one of two TRUSS Award winners where the public is taking a prudent stance in their attempts to save the bridge. A railroad bridge in Eau Claire, Wisconsin is the other candidate. Both are abandoned railroad bridges, yet this bridge (located in Cohoes) presents the good, the bad and the ugly with regards to good intentions and tragedy. On New Year’s Eve a man ventured onto the abandoned bridge, only to slip and fall into icy the Mohawk River. His body was found a day later. Despite a petition and demand by many citizens demanding that the bridge be torn down, the mayor took a stance opposing the demolition. This was hailed as a success by many in the pontist community and plans are still in place to repair the bridge and convert it into a pedestrian trail this year. With this staunch support for revitalizing the bridge, there is hope that instead of leaving a huge void in the cityscape (as it would have been the case with the bridge removal), that the bridge will make the city more attractive. As popular as the fallen person was, it would not be surprising if the newly converted pedestrian bridge would be named in his memory.

Link: http://bridgehunter.com/ny/albany/black/

Link to the Eau Claire Railroad Bridge: http://bridgehunter.com/wi/eau-claire/bh36335

Note: Additional links to the Black Bridge can be found under a summary written about the structure when it was announced the winner of the TRUSS Awards.

5. Hulton Bridge near Pittsburgh (Allegheny County, Pennsylvania) I visited this bridge during a tour of the region in 2010 and was awed by its impressive design: five Pennsylvania petit truss spans with the main span being over 500 feet long! This far outspans most of the bridges of this type west of the Mississippi and is second behind its cousin bridge the Donora-Webster Bridge in terms of its length of the main span in the greater Pittsburgh area. Todd Wilson of bridgemapper.com has been working together with students of his alma mater (Carnegie Mellon University and other actors in finding ways to preserve the bridge intact even though some difficulties in terms of its geographical location may make any attempts to stop the replacement process futile; especially if Pennsylvania wants to modernize its landscape and improve its infrastructure at the expense of the numerous historic bridges that exist.

Link with sublinks on the bridge: http://bridgehunter.com/pa/allegheny/hulton

WILD CARD: Murray Bridge (Humboldt County, Iowa): While most of the historic bridges in the upper Midwest have disappeared to progress, one can see a couple pieces of silver lining nearby. The Murray Bridge over the Des Moines River between Bradgate and Humboldt is unique because of its association with a local bridge builder who left its signature in a form of ornate design on its portal bracing. Yet it had been the most neglected bridge as it was not considered historic to state and national standards and is still on the county engineer’s list of bridges in dire need of replacement. After being given the TRUSS Award for 2012 and after providing an article to the local newspaper on the part of yours truly (who has visited the bridge twice already and even nominated the bridge for this year’s prize), maybe some minds will be changed on the part of Humboldt County. We will have to see.

Link: http://bridgehunter.com/ia/humboldt/murray/

Note: More on this bridge will come soon as an article on Humboldt County’s bridges is in the making.

Ellworth Ranch Bridge in Emmet County, Iowa. Photo taken by the author in August 2011

The Honorably Mentioned:

1. Mahned Bridge near Hattiesburg (Perry County, Mississippi): Anandoned for many years, this bridge has a checkered past that is bone-chilling.

Link: http://bridgehunter.com/ms/perry/mahned

2. Arkadelphia Bridge (Clark County, Arkansas): Slated for replacement, this bridge is up for the taking, and would be considered a “nomadic bridge” as it would be relocated for a second time, a feat rarely seen for a historic bridge.

Link: http://bridgehunter.com/ar/clark/arkadelphia

3. Ellsworth Ranch Bridge  (Emmet County, Iowa): One of only two King Bridge Company structures carrying the Thacher truss design left in the country, this bridge has been closed since 2010 and the question of its future is unclear.

Link: http://bridgehunter.com/ia/emmet/ellsworth-ranch/

 

4. Champ Clark Bridge (Pike County, Missouri). Now that the Missouri River has been “cleansed” of all the “hideous, ugly, and scary” truss bridges, the Mississippi River is now the next target of progress. This speaking as a devil’s advocate who frowns in the name of progress that is to be had on this bridge, a five-span Pennsylvania peiti truss bridge.

Link: http://bridgehunter.com/mo/pike/champ-clark/

 

5. Chambers Ford Bridge (Tama County, Iowa). If there is a way to bring down a historic bridge the “civilian” way, try torching this two-span Pratt through truss over the Iowa River, as it happened recently. Fortunately the bridge is still intact but there is hope to beautify and reuse the structure before arsonists strike again.

Link: http://bridgehunter.com/ia/tama/chambers-ford/