Mead Avenue Bridge in Pennsylvania Saved- On its Way to New Home

Photos taken in August 2010
Photos taken in August 2010

Mead Avenue Bridge in Meadville, Pennsylvania. One of the most unique bridges in the US and perhaps even beyond. Spanning French Creek, the two-span through truss bridge featured an 1871 worught iron Whipple span encased with a 1912 Baltimore span.  When I visited the bridge during the 2010 Historic Bridge Weekend, the blue-colored span was closed to traffic with a bleak future in its midst. The majority of the city’s population wanted the bridge gone. But efforts were being undertaken to try and preserve at least half the span. This bridge was the first one profiled in the very first aricle I wrote for the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles blog, when it was launched in October of that same year. Click here for the article.

Fast forward to the present and the situation has changed completely. The bridge is being profiled again as the first article produced by the Chronicles as a website, yet the bridge is no more.

DSCF9393 Meadville Bridge PA11 Meadville Bridge PA4 Meadville Bridge PA3

Well, not quite. 🙂

Most of the historic bridges like this one would be cut up into pieces and hauled away to be recycled. In Pennsylvania it is no exception for many of them are being replaced through the rapid replacement program initiated by PennDOT and many bridge builders in the private sector last year. Yet a last-minute attempt by one pontist has paid off. The bridge is being distmantled, the parts will be hauled, BUT it will be relocated. The question is how?

The Chronicles had a chance to talk about the plan to restore the bridge with Art Suckewer, the pontist who is spearheading the efforts and pulled off the last minute trick to saving the artefact from becoming a thing of the past. What he is going to do with the bridge and the challenges that he and his crew are facing at the moment you can find in the interview by clicking here, which will direct you to the Chronicles’ website.

bhc new logo newsflyer

Mead Avenue Bridge in Pennsylvania Saved- On its Way to New Home

Photos taken in August 2010
Photos taken in August 2010

Mead Avenue Bridge in Meadville, Pennsylvania. One of the most unique bridges in the US and perhaps even beyond. Spanning French Creek, the two-span through truss bridge featured an 1871 worught iron Whipple span encased with a 1912 Baltimore span.  When I visited the bridge during the 2010 Historic Bridge Weekend, the blue-colored span was closed to traffic with a bleak future in its midst. The majority of the city’s population wanted the bridge gone. But efforts were being undertaken to try and preserve at least half the span. This bridge was the first one profiled in the very first aricle I wrote for the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles blog, when it was launched in October of that same year. Click here for the article.

Fast forward to the present and the situation has changed completely. The bridge is being profiled again as the first article produced by the Chronicles as a website, yet the bridge is no more.

DSCF9393 Meadville Bridge PA11 Meadville Bridge PA4 Meadville Bridge PA3

Well, not quite. 🙂

Most of the historic bridges like this one would be cut up into pieces and hauled away to be recycled. In Pennsylvania it is no exception for many of them are being replaced through the rapid replacement program initiated by PennDOT and many bridge builders in the private sector last year. Yet a last-minute attempt by one pontist has paid off. The bridge is being distmantled, the parts will be hauled, BUT it will be relocated. The question is how?

The Chronicles had a chance to talk about the plan to restore the bridge with Art Suckewer, the pontist who is spearheading the efforts and pulled off the last minute trick to saving the artefact from becoming a thing of the past. What he is going to do with the bridge and the challenges that he and his crew are facing at the moment are discussed below:

  1. How did you become interested in historic bridges in general? I always liked them since I was a kid but never thought of them as more than a neat part of the scenery until recently.  After purchasing a farm property in a historic district with several stream crossings, I researched my options and discovered that acquiring an old truss bridge was a viable solution.  I learned a lot through your website, bridgehunter and historic bridges.  Through speaking with Julie Bowers, Nathan Holth and Jim Cooper, I learned what was involved and received enough guidance to try to acquire one.  While Mead Ave. was on my list, I thought it was too big of a project, and Vern Mesler was going for it so it seemed like it would be preserved.  Instead I went for the Beatty Mills Bridge and the Carlton Bridge as my primary and back-up selections.  Little did I know I’d get them both!
  2. What got you interested in the Mead Avenue Bridge in Meadville? What is so special about it in your opinion? Your website, bridgehunter.com and historic bridges.org brought it to my attention.  What is so special is that it still exists, that it was very decorative (none of the websites show the bridge with its original spires – look at pictures/ woodcut prints of the Azuma Bashi Bridge in Japan if you want to get a sense of what this bridge once was) and that even though it is a Penn Bridge Co. bridge it represents the last example of an early, long span Keystone Bridge Co. design.  I am now 95% certain that it was built by Keystone Bridge Co. to Jacob Linville’s 1865 patent as a kit to be erected by Penn Bridge Co.
  3. How did you purchase the bridge? Vern Mesler was going to take it but he had difficulty getting his plan approved due to very sensitive environmental issues (I still think his approach was the best way to go).  Once Vern gave up, I stepped in because I feel strongly that the bridge should be saved.  I think because I established credibility with PENNDOT in recovering two other bridges successfully (thanks to Nels Raynor, Nathan Holth, Jim Cooper and Ross Brown), my engineering background and experience in writing proposals and working with government agencies gained from my day job, they gave me a shot.  I had pursued the recovery for nine months with serious efforts beginning in August.  That said, it didn’t come together until after it was already too late and ownership had been transferred to Mekis (the prime contractor for the replacement) but with Mekis’ support/flexibility and strong support from PENNDOT, especially Kara Russell and Brian Yedinak, and Ross Brown’s inspection of the bridge and willingness to attempt my plan to reinforce the 1912 Baltimore truss as a falsework and disassemble the 1871 Whipple in place did we get the go ahead.  We had less than two months and Ross worked 10 – 12 hour days 7 days a week to pull it off but the 1871 structure has now been successfully removed.  The remaining structure will be lifted by crane by Mekis then disassembled by Ross and removed by May.
  4. What difficulties did you encounter?  The plan we were allowed to pursue was the most difficult and risky approach.  Finding the funds was tough.  Due to the lateness, Ross had a very narrow window to pull off the job and it ended up being one of the worst/coldest winters in memory.  Also, the bridge had lots of previous improper repairs that made Ross’ job much more difficult.
  5. What are your plans for the bridge? What are the places you want to relocate the structure?  While I have committed to putting the bridge on my property and I do have a place for it, I consider that to be a placeholder.  Ideally I’d like to find a home in a northwestern Pennsylvania town as a pedestrian walkway within a town as part of that towns revitalization.  Alternately, a public use elsewhere.  We have some leads.
  6. How much rehabilitation will be needed before the bridge is reconstructed? A lot.  The bridge is suffering from a thousand improper repairs as well as differed maintenance.  However, the project is doable because the quality of the castings, both in tolerance and material is extraordinary – definitely benefitting from the demands of James Eads on Andrew Carnegie to meet his exceedingly high quality standards for the Eads Bridge as both bridges construction periods overlapped.
  7. When will we see the reconstructed bridge next time? Within ten years (if it is reused for a public purpose then it may be soon; if no one else wants it, I’ve got two other bridges to fix first so it will be a while).
  8. Any advice you would give to any party interested in preserving a bridge, regardless of whether it is in place or if it needs to be relocated?  Look at all options; be flexible; listen to the experts (especially the craftspeople); be patient yet persistent; leverage your resources; be prepared to walk away – you can’t win them all; If you think ‘someone should…’  ask yourself if that someone is you.

Good luck to Art and his crew as they continue with the project. The removal and disassembly part is just the first of many phases that will be done during the 10-year frame he’s mentioned. There are many more to come, and if there is a proverb to end this article, it is the song produced by the East German music group Karat entitled  “Über sieben Brücken muss du gehen.” (You must cross seven bridges) There, the person had to cross seven bridges spanning the worst of ravines in order to reach his destination. This is what Suckewer and crew are facing with the Mead Avenue Bridge. But after the seventh bridge is crossed and the newly restored Mead Avenue Bridge is in place, the efforts will pay off in the end. Even if the seventh bridge is out and there is no place to relocate the bridge, there will be many attempts to make sure that the restored bridge finds a new home and someone who will take care of it and use it for his purpose.

But before we speculate, let’s watch, wait and see how this next chapter, the one after a rather happy ending in the current one we’re reading, unfolds. The Chronicles will keep you posted on the latest.

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Note: More photos of the Meadville Bridge are available via flickr.  

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 Bridges.org 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.

Links:

http://www.observer-reporter.com/or/localnews/03-09-2011-Charleroi-Monessen-Bridge

http://www.historicbridges.org/bridges/browser/?bridgebrowser=pennsylvania/charleroi/

http://www.bridgehunter.com/pa/crawford/miller-station/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/69048450@N00/sets/72157625965379129/

http://www.bridgehunter.com/pa/crawford/wightman-road/

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 Bridges.org 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 http://www.bridgehunter.com.