Padlocked Bridges: The Incident at Pont des Arts in Paris and the issue of padlocks on bridges

Pont des Arts Bridge in Paris. Photos taken in 1999

Lovelocks. Love locks the two together for eternity to come. And how to provide that but to attach a lock on a historic bridge and throw the key away into the river. The origin of lovelocks was from Serbia, where a school misstress fell in love with a World War I soldier and met often at the Most Liubavi in the Serbian town of Vrnjacka Banja. However, the couple broke up after he went off to war and the woman died a broken heart. In response, locals showed their solidifying love by putting their padlocks on the Most Liubavi and it became part of a work by Serbian poet and writer,  Desanka Maksimovi?. The bridge of love, where lovelocks are attached to bridge railings and other parts, later spread to other bridges in Europe, and today, lovelocks can be found in the hundreds of thousands on popular bridges, such as the  Ha’penny Bridge in Dublin, the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, and even the Hohenzollern Bridge in Cologne.

Love locks on the Hollernzollern Bridge in Cologne, Germany

Yet these lovelocks are starting to pose a major problem, as can be seen with the latest incident with the Pont des Arts Bridge, spanning the Sienne River in Paris. According to reports by the BBC, parts of the parapet of the 1804 iron deck arch bridge collapsed on Sunday because of the weight of these love padlocks. This has raised a debate on whether the padlocks should be removed in its entirety due to concerns of the historic integrity and aesthetics of the bridge being compromised, as well as the hazard that is being imposed on boat traffic passing underneath the bridge. The Pont des Arts is one of three of the dozens of Parisian bridges that are laden with padlocks. The other two are the Passerelle Léopold-Sédar-Senghor and the Pont de l’Archevêché. Consideration is being taken to remove the padlocks in its entirety, as it has been done to several bridges in Europe and North America that have been the magnet for these lovelocks, such as the Humber Bridge in Toronto, as well as the aforementioned bridges in Dublin and Florence. Yet if any action is taken, it will run into stiff opposition by those wishing to keep the tradition alive, as this was seen by action taken with the Kettenbrücke in Bamberg and the Hollernzollern Bridge in Cologne last year. At both places, protests forced the proprietors of the two bridges (the City of Bamberg and the German Railways (Deutsche Bahn)) to retract their decision to remove the locks.

Close-up of the arches, the parapet and the lamppost.

While lovelocks are a symbol of eternal love and the tradition should be alive. The question is why choose certain bridges, such as the Ponts des Arts in Paris. Upon my visit in 1999, before the bridge became a magnet for this sensational ritual, the bridge was clean of all its padlocks, including the parapets and the lampposts dating back to the 1800s, when the bridge was not affected by the years of conflict it would sustain through the French wars with Germany lasting up until the end of World War II. It was restored in 1984 after parts of the span collapsed in the 1970s and was the hub for artwork, mainly from the students of the school of art École des Beaux-Arts. This included a series on cowboys and indians from the American wild west, which was on display during my visit:

 

 

And while art exhibits have changed from time to time on the bridge, nobody has expected the lovelocks to decorate the bridge, making it look colorful and more beautiful on the one hand, but ugly and one that can ruin the structural beauty of the bridge. But then again, love does have its good and bad sides as well, and conflicts can be solved through compromise, which will need to be made before too many lovelocks do indeed cause damage to historic bridges, causing damage and costing more money to repair and restore them than necessary.

It does not mean that lovelocks should not be allowed on the bridges and other places of interest. It should be encouraged, however in moderation. This means that only a limited amount of lovelocks should be allowed on a bridge or at or near a place of interest to ensure that the aesthetic and structural integrity are not harmed in anyway. This means that there are more places to show your love with lovelocks than just this one particular place, as long as it is allowed.

After this incident at the Pont des Arts, questions will arise as to what will become of the lovelocks on that bridge as well as the other two in question. Yet as lovers have done when being in love, when there is a will, there is a way to show the love and keep the tradition alive; if not at this bridge, then another one.

Question:

Apart from the aforementioned bridges in this article, which other bridges in the US, Europe and other places have this lovelock tradition? And if there is a bridge where you would love to see lovelocks on there, apart from the Lover’s Leap Bridge in Columbus Junction, Iowa and New Milford, Connecticut, which ones would you place your lovelock on and why?  Put your comments here as well as in the Chronicles’ facebook pages.

 

Ghost Bridge to come down but not without a fight.

Ghost Bridge in Lauderdale County, Alabama. Photo taken by Ben Tate

The news of the massive demolition of the historic bridges has raised several eyebrows and are leading to questions as to how to better protect historic bridges from neglect and pointless demolition; especially as there is considerable interest in saving these structures.

The Ghost Bridge, located over Cypress Creek on an abandoned road in Florence in Lauderdale County, Alabama, is one of those bridges that are on the chopping block. Built in 1912 by the Virginia Bridge and Iron Works Company on the eve of the Good Roads Movement, this 140 foot long pin-connected Pratt through truss bridge with Howe Lattice Portal Bracing (with 45° subdivided heel bracing) has a history that dates back to the Civil War period, as this bridge was the second structure at this spot, replacing a covered bridge built  after the war. The covered bridge was built to replace the ford which carried a road connecting Florence and Savannah, Tennessee.  It was the site of conflict near the bridge, as well as several lynchings during the 1920s, resulting in ghosts of Civil War soldiers and people murdered at the bridge site being reported by passers-by. But while the name Ghost Bridge originated from the haunted stories told about the site (which competes with another bridge in Missouri, the Enochs Knob Bridge, now extant), the real name of the bridge was the Jackson Ford Bridge, named after James Jackson, who owned a plantation near the crossing prior to the Civil War.

The bridge has been abandoned since 1996 when the eastern approach was closed to traffic and the western approach was vacated in favor of private property. Now Lauderdale County officials are pursuing the removal of the truss structure due to damage caused by vandalism and liability issues. This has sent alarm bells off among local residents and preservationists who are now fighting to stop the demolition process from commencing. The bridge is the last of its kind in the state that has not been rehabilitated and has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. And while the county commissioners have signed off on the bridge to a contractor, who has been mandated to remove the sturcture within 30 days, there are a lot of legal issues that were not taken into account, including Section 106 of the Historic Preservation Laws, plus other environmental mitigation laws. Furthermore, those opposing the demolition have claimed that they were not properly informed of the situation with the bridge, let alone were allowed to present their proposal to save the bridge. While the guard railings and decking are being removed at the time of this report, the protesters are planning to stop the process both at the site as well as through the legal system in hopes that there is hope to save the bridge, or if removal is a necessity, relocate the bridge to a site where it can serve as a park.

Oblique view. Photo taken by Ben Tate

I took the opportunity to ask members of the Save the Ghost Bridge Committee if they were interested in answering some of my questions I had about the bridge and the situation involved. Evan Tidwell, who is head of the organization to save the bridge, stepped forward and provided some useful information, which is presented as an interview below. Please note that the content was edited for length.

Why save the Ghost Bridge?

Why do we love it, you mean?  Well, I lived just up the road from it when I was a teenager; it’s actually the first place I drove to when I got my driver’s license.  It has always attracted people; history buffs, ghost hunters, or people who just wanted a cool place to hang out.  It was one of the local “parking” spots as well, so that gives people a very personal attachment to it.  But most of all it’s the ghost stories that people told their kids to scare them as they drove across it.  Those times are good memories for a lot of people.  The bridge and the stories that go along with it is a part of our local folklore, part of the fabric that makes us who we are.
Why was the bridge abandoned for such a long time?

The eastern approach road was closed in 1996, and the roadway deeded to the adjacent landowners who no longer wanted a county road through their property.  This according to the local paper “effectively closed the bridge”.  One of the residents on the west side, however, was against the closing and fought to keep the road open.  Some say it sat there for years because the county just didn’t want to spend the money to tear it down.  However, the gentleman who fought to keep the bridge open passed away in August.  Two commissioners and the Chairman were re-elected in November.  And the announcement that they planned to tear the bridge down came at the end of November.  Purely speculation on my part, but I think that gentleman promised a good fight if the commission had moved to demolish the bridge while he was alive.
When was the issue brought to the county’s attention? To your attention?

I have no idea when it was brought to the county’s attention.  I guess it’s been in the back of their minds since they closed it in 1996.  The Chairman of the County Commission and the County Engineer were involved in the closing, and they are still serving.  Our local newspaper published an article about the bridge at the end of November and that’s how I heard about it.

The newspaper article about the bridge can be found here.

 

Tunnel view of the bridge. Photo taken by Ben Tate

How are you bringing the bridge to the attention of the residents?

Oh, it’s already receiving their full attention.  They have refused to attend our meetings or even discuss the matter.  One or two have stated their opinions in a newspaper interview, but they have not even attended any of the commission meetings to say why they want it gone.

Author’s note: four residents are located at the bridge with one of them favoring repairing the bridge. More information can be found here.
Why are the neighbors (and other people) dead set on seeing the bridge removed? What would it take for them to change their mind?

According to what the commission says they have been told, and according to the residents quoted by the paper, they say it’s because of crime at the bridge.  But according to law enforcement officials, the crime is actually taking place on private property adjacent to the bridge.  (The western approach to the bridge is an isolated dead-end road)   I don’t know what it would take to satisfy the residents, because they have refused to talk with any of us.

There has also been a big deal made about the holes in the wood deck.  But the deck was replaced in 1992, only four years before the bridge was closed.  So the wood is nowhere near as old as some people say.  (The holes were burned or knocked out by vandals, it’s not rotten)  The deck would be the least problematic in a full restoration.  In fact, a wood & steel bridge in neighboring Colbert County is actually being re-decked with fresh timber this month, and that bridge is still open to vehicle traffic!
When will the bridge be removed? What’s being done to stop the process? 

I’m assuming sometime in January, because the original proposal said it would be demolished within 30 days.  There seems to be nothing else to do besides file an injunction to stop the demolition, which is something my group did not want to do starting out.  But we have exhausted all our other options.

According to the latest article by the local newspaper, the contract was signed to demolish the bridge on 14 January.
What would you like to see done with the bridge? 

I’d love to see it renovated and turned into a foot bridge/overlook with a small park and canoe launch at the approach to the bridge.  Getting some lights up out there and clearing out the brush would make it less attractive to the people who want to go out there and do illegal things, namely cooking meth.

 
Have you heard of Section 106 of the Historic Preservation Law and is this being carried out on the bridge?

I think Section 106 only applies to Federal Agencies, but I may be incorrect.  I have repeatedly queried the Tennessee Valley Authority and Army Corps of Engineers, but they maintain they have no restrictions placed on the section of Cypress Creek where the Ghost Bridge is located.  The Alabama Department of Environmental Management has also told the county that they need no environmental studies performed prior to demolition, even though Cypress Creek is home to endangered species of fish, and is the source of the City of Florence’s municipal water supply.  (The intake for the treatment plant is downstream of the bridge)  I’m really concerned about the lead paint on the bridge as well as the creosote used to treat the wood.  If I lived in Florence, I don’t think I would want that in my drinking water!

Author’s Tip on Section 106 can be found here, although a simpler and more elaborate version will be produced and posted here in the future.
If there are people interested in helping you save the bridge, how should they help?

If we are able to delay demolition and get ownership of the bridge, we’re going to need a good grant writer for one thing.  But other than that, every dollar donated and every minute of volunteer time would be valuable to the preservation of this bridge.  It’s going to be a long, expensive, difficult task.  But it would be well worth the outcome.  Another group successfully saved the nearby Tennessee River Railroad Bridge, so we hope we can pull off a repeat.

Author’s note: The Save the Ghost Bridge Organization can be found on facebook with contact information as to how to get involved.

Silohuette view of the bridge’s portal entry. Photo taken by Ben Tate

To summarize, the situation with the Ghost Bridge is dire and the county and some residents are deadset about demolishing the bridge at any cost. Yet if the process is completed, there is a potential that other demolition projects involving historic bridges will proceed without consultation from the public and awareness of the laws that exists that protect historic bridges from being demolished without first conducting surveys that could provide alternatives. Yet the abandonment of the Ghost Bridge to allow it to deteriorate to a point of its removal has led to questions involving abandoned bridges and common sense. While abandoned bridges and leaving them to nature and private owners is one way to leave them in tact for years to come, the issue of liability comes when one uses the bridge (most of the time by trespassing) and vandalize it, making it prone to collapse. An article on abandoned bridges will come in the near future, but we need to take care that if a bridge is vacated, it should be in the hands of an owner who is willing to maintain it without having to deal with such misfortunes as was the case with the Ghost Bridge. And while liability is important for historic bridges, common sense, by not trespassing onto a privately owned bridge without asking, causing damage to a point of no repair, and obeying certain regulations and having a sense of self responsibility is just as important, if not even more important. With the Ghost Bridge, such common sense was missing and that may end up in a piece of history to become a pile of scrap metal.

 

The author would like to thank Ben Tate for allowing for his photos to be used for this article.

 

 

Take Pride in America’s Bridges

The Golden Gate Bridge with the USS Iowa crossing underneath it. Two historic events on that day: The bridge turned 75 and the battleship bowed out with a final voyage to San Pedro to be decommissioned. Photo Copyright Craig Philpott used with permission for educational and non profit use only 2012

Each country has a bridge or a set of bridges which one can associate with on an international scale. France is famous for its bridges along the Rhone and Seine as well as the Millau Viaduct. Italy has the Rialto and the bridges of Florence and Venice. Canada has the Quebec Bridge and the Lions Gate. While we have two bridges in the US we can take pride in- the Brooklyn Bridge and the Golden Gate, the one that has received more recognition than the other from a foreigner’s point of view is the Golden Gate Bridge

At 75 years of age, the golden girl was the work of engineering genius Joesph Strauss and the hundreds of workers who spent eight years creating a tall orange monster that rose from the water, spanned the Golden Gate connecting San Francisco and the rest of the northern half of the Pacific Coast and created an image that is breath-taking and typical of San Francisco. It is one of the most internationally recognized structures that one can associate with, especially when it comes to the question of being typically American.

Beneath this image lies a dark side to America’s infrastructure and in particular its bridges. While most Americans take pride in the golden girl and maintain its upkeep, the majority of the bridges in America have become a victim of modernization, where old highly prized works of architecture constructed between 1860 and 1930 are becoming prey to bland architectural works that engineers and highway agencies tout as a step moving forward but in all reality are real eyesores, high maintenance, and in the end, last a fraction as long as their predecessors.  Too many examples of bridges lost can be found, whether it was the Manchester and Point Bridges of Pittsburgh, The Grace and Pearlman Bridges in Charleston, South Carolina, the Fort Steuben Bridge near Wheeling, West Virginia, Eagle Point Bridge in Dubuque, Iowa, The New Franklin Viaduct in Missouri, just to name a few.  These were works of  art that started in the steel mills as bridge parts or quarries as stone pieces that were transported hundreds or even thousands of miles to their final destination where they were erected on site. It is unknown how many workers on average were responsible for putting these structures together and integrating them into the fabric of America’s transportation system, but the number is huge.

It is unknown why these bridges had to be replaced except to say that there are too many factors, whether it is due to a lack of maintenance of the structures or a lack of interest in preserving these structures or even a lack of funding needed to preserve them. In either case, what we are seeing are more dollars and sense and less of the history and culture that these bridges stand for. It is like there is a lack of appreciation towards these historic structures and all of the toil and energy that it took to build them. It makes a person wonder if the wrecking ball will come for the more recognized structures, like the Golden Gate Bridge in favor of a cable-stayed bridge that has a lack of taste toward the city of San Francisco and America….

Fortunately though, it is not the case. The Golden Gate Bridge is alive and well, thanks to all the money and effort needed in maintaining the structure. As for the other historic bridges that are still standing, there are a growing number of Americans that still appreciate them and are taking the efforts to save them for others to see, whether it is incorporating them into a bike trail network, as we’re seeing more and more of that, or creating a park for these bridges, like the one near Battle Creek, Michigan and Iowa City. In places like Indiana and Texas, bridges are being refurbished, piece by piece, to serve traffic for many years to come. And those that are still in use but are approaching the end of their service life, there are more considerations to saving them for reuse instead of demolishing them. The mentality of the Americans has changed over the past 20 years, going from a throw-away society to that of reusing things. Part of that is for environmental reasons but the other part is for the purpose of preserving what is left of our culture and integrating them into our lives.

As David Plowden once mentioned in a book on bridges of North America: People tend to build bridges for the purpose of achieving something and not for achievement itself.  This expression was based on earlier history where architecture in America was based on building things quickly and efficiently. This may be true to an extent, yet the bridges of the past are much nicer than those of today. It has something to do with its appearance, but even more, it has something to do with its association with the people who live near them, the community it is integrated in, and the American History that should not be forgotten. While we will see more newer and fancier structures on America’s road in the future, there will be more historic bridges preserved for future generations as many Americans do care a great deal about their prized work of art and the ancestors that put it together for people to use.

The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles would like wish everyone a Happy 4th of July. Take some time to go to a nearest historic bridge near your home and think about the structure and how it was built, how it is associated with your lives and your community, how it became part of local and regional history and more importantly, how it can be preserve, should the time come for it to be retired from service. Chances are that 99 times out of 100, your bridge will be as valuable as the Golden Gate Bridge and there will be many reasons to save the structure for future use.