Obituary: Eric Delony (1944-2018)

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Eric Delony (right) with fellow historian and preservationist Mary-Ann Savage at the Bollmann Truss Bridge in Savage, Maryland. Photo taken in 2014

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Author’s update: Funeral Arrangements are being planned for historic bridge preservationist Eric Delony, who died on October 23rd. According to Information from Christopher Marston, it is being scheduled for January 2019. When and where has yet to be determined, but the Chronicles will inform you in due time as soon as everything is finalized.

Mr. Marston, who worked with Eric for many years, write a much-detailed version of the obituary, honoring him for his three decades-plus work in documenting and saving historic bridges, much more than what the Chronicles covered when having honored him with the Ammann Awards for Lifetime Achievement. This was done in 2016. With his permission, the detail of his life and work are written below. More Information on him and the stories behind his historic bridge preservation will follow. For now, enjoy reading about Mr. Delony from Christopher’s point of view:

Eric N. DeLony, who served as Chief of the National Park Service’s Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) from 1987 to 2003, died on October 23, 2018, after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. Over his career, Eric became known as a pioneer in historic bridge documentation and preservation and one of the nation’s leading experts in historic bridges. In recognition of his achievements, Eric was the recipient of the 2000 General Tools Award, the highest honor bestowed by the Society for Industrial Archeology.

 

Early Years at HAER

After graduating from the Ohio State University in 1968, Eric was first hired as a summer architect on the New England Textile Mills Survey, a joint project of the Smithsonian (under the leadership of Robert Vogel) and the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS). The following year he became a member of the Mohawk-Hudson Area Survey, HAER’s very first field team. This ambitious project documented several industrial sites and bridges in the Albany area, and team members were challenged to devise new recording techniques for manufacturing and engineering structures. His detailed drawing of the Troy Gasholder remains the logo of the Society for Industrial Archeology to this day. Once he completed his Master’s in Historic Preservation at Columbia University under James Marston Fitch (where he first met his lifelong friend and colleague, preservation educator Chester Liebs), Eric was hired as HAER’s first full-time employee in 1971. HAER began recording a variety of bridges and other industrial structure types as part of state inventories and themed surveys. These included surveys of the Baltimore & Ohio and Erie railroads, Paterson and Lowell mill towns, and later mining, steel, power, and maritime-related sites, among others. Eric also helped initiate “SWAT teams” to record endangered structures prior to demolition. By 1987, Eric DeLony had been promoted to Chief of HAER.

 

HAER Historic Bridge Program

In collaboration with Emory Kemp of West Virginia University, Eric began developing the HAER Historic Bridge Program in 1973, which would become the first comprehensive national program to identify and protect historic bridges. Through Eric’s efforts, HAER developed partnerships with the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP), the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP), and state historic preservation offices (SHPOs). The first goal of the program was to promote comprehensive historic bridge inventories in each state. When inventories were required by law in 1987, Eric’s initiative became a catalyst in making highway bridges the first class of historic structures to be nationally evaluated.

After the preliminary state bridge inventories were completed, HAER partnered with state departments of transportation (DOTs) to undertake HAER summer documentation projects that would more intensively document representative bridges, with the first taking place in Ohio in 1986. Using funding from a variety of partners like the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), DOTs, and historic groups, HAER recording teams collaborated with national and local experts to produce large-format photographs, histories, and drawings of hundreds of historic bridges in Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Washington, from 1987-2001. Eric also worked with engineering professors such as Dario Gasparini at Case Western, Stephen Buonopane at Bucknell, and Ben Schafer at Johns Hopkins to hire students to compile detailed engineering analyses of a variety of historic bridge types, going beyond traditional architectural history reports. In appreciation of Eric’s initiatives, the White House and ACHP presented HAER’s Historic Bridge Program with a National Historic Preservation Award in 1992.

In addition to the nation’s highway bridges, the historic roads and bridges in the National Park system were also deteriorating from neglect and overuse. HAER developed a pilot project in the National Capital Region of the National Park Service (NPS) in 1988 to survey the historic and significant transportation-related structures and designed landscapes at various NPS units. With support from FHWA and NPS, this program expanded in 1989 and continued until 2002 to document the roads and bridges of large western national parks, national battlefields, and eastern parkways. HAER also partnered with New York and Connecticut to record several historic local parkways. The drawings of these projects are compiled in America’s National Park Roads and Parkways: Drawings from the Historic American Engineering Record (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 2004).

Eric DeLony was also influential in HAER’s involvement with a third major initiative involving FHWA and historic bridges. Realizing that covered bridges were a beloved but endangered resource, Vermont Senator James Jeffords proposed legislation to save them. The resulting National Historic Covered Bridge Preservation (NHCBP) Program was established by FHWA in 1998 as part of the TEA-21 transportation bill. HAER received research funding beginning in 2002 to document the nation’s most significant covered bridges, as well as developing other educational initiatives including engineering studies, a traveling exhibition, national conferences, and National Historic Landmark nominations. With the benefit of continued FHWA support, HAER Project Leader Christopher Marston has continued Eric’s vision and is in the process of finalizing several research projects. These include the 2015 publication Covered Bridges and the Birth of American Engineering, co-edited with Justine Christianson, and dedicated to Eric DeLony. Rehabilitation Guidelines for Historic Covered Bridges will be published later in 2018.

 

Nationwide Advocacy

Eric was a longtime member of the Society for Industrial Archeology (SIA) and developed the SIA Historic Bridge Symposium beginning in the early 1980s to allow experts to share research and preservation experiences. Eric attended his last one in 2011; the 25th was held in 2016 in cooperation with the Historic Bridge Foundation in Kansas City, Missouri. He was also an active participant with the Transportation Research Board (TRB)’s Committee on Historic Preservation and Archaeology in Transportation (ADC50) beginning in the 1990s, which was comprised of professionals from state DOTs, SHPOs, and consultants involved in preservation issues on federally funded transportation projects. Research and best practices on preserving and maintaining historic bridges was always a major focus of the committee. As a subcontractor to Parsons Brinckerhoff, Eric DeLony co-authored A Context for Common Historic Bridge Types with Robert Jackson, for the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCPRP Project 25-25, Task 15) in 2005.

Not satisfied to just record historic bridges, Eric was also determined to see as many bridges as possible saved and preserved. Some of the projects that Eric championed included: the 1828 Blaine S-Bridge and the 1868 Zoarville Station Bridge in Ohio; the 1869 Henszey’s Bridge in Pennsylvania; and the 1858 Aldrich Change Bridge in New York. As Ohio DOT’s Tom Barrett reflected, “Through Eric’s encouragement, I feel that the historic bridge inventory in Ohio has stabilized and improved in many ways. We strive to explore all plausible alternatives to demolition and find ways to educate everyone on proper rehabilitation and design solutions. Hard-fought successes here and nationwide in bridge preservation will always be a part of Eric’s legacy.”

Eric’s advocacy extended beyond bridges to roads as well. As Preserving the Historic Road conference founder Paul Daniel Marriott stated, “Eric appreciated that roads and bridges were intertwined. He was one of the first people to acknowledge that historic research and advocacy [were needed] for historic roads. Eric DeLony was instrumental in establishing the historic roads movement.”

 

International Influence

Eric studied at Ironbridge with Sir Neil Cossons in 1971-72 as a Fulbright Scholar, and this experience led him to encourage collaboration between HAER and industrial archeologists and preservationists in Europe and other countries. Eric consistently hired International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) foreign exchange students for his summer field teams beginning in 1984.

He represented the United States at several meetings of the International Committee for the Conservation of the Industrial Heritage (TICCIH). He also worked with several prominent European scholars, such as Barrie Trinder at Ironbridge and Louis Bergeron at Le Creusot, on various publications, exhibitions, and conferences. Another issue that Eric championed has finally shown dividends; after several decades, the U.S. delegation finally nominated the Brooklyn Bridge as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2017.

 

Post-career Legacy

After retiring to Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 2003, Eric became a bridge preservation consultant. Maintaining “The Pontists” email list, he advocated for various bridge preservation causes and initiatives, and continued to write and teach.

An avid collector of rare books, technical reports, and images of historic bridges, Eric donated his collection to two prestigious archives. The “Eric DeLony Collection of the History of Bridges and Bridge Construction” was established in 2010 at The Huntington Library in San Marino, Calif. In 2013, the Linda Hall Library in Kansas City, Missouri received the “Eric N. DeLony Engineering & Bridge Collection.”

After health issues removed him from public life, Eric continued to receive various honors acknowledging his legacy. Beginning in 2014, David Wright of the National Society for the Preservation of Covered Bridges established the Eric DeLony Scholarship, an annual prize awarded to a college student interested in historic preservation. Eric was also a recipient of the 2016 Othmar H. Amman Award for Lifetime Achievement from The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles.

Eric DeLony was truly a pioneer in the world of historic bridge documentation, preservation, and advocacy. The 3,000+ bridges in the HAER Collection at the Library of Congress, and hundreds of examples of preserved historic bridges across the country are all a testament to his lifelong determination and passion for saving historic bridges.

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A Tribute to Eric DeLony

Shaw Bridge at Claverack, New York. Photo courtesy of Jet Lowe of HABS/HAER

A gifted person provides society with a gift to make it better. A person with unusual talents shapes society to benefit all.

 

For Eric DeLony, a person with a passion for historic bridges not only leads efforts to save them but teaches and encourages bridge lovers and historians to love them and follow his lead. My first contact with him came in 2005 when I wrote my first documents for a Master’s class on American History at the University of Jena in Germany. For the next eight years, despite not being able to meet him in person due to time and travel expenses, I kept in contact with him and he provided some great insights to any topic pertaining to historic bridges, preservation and careers available. Eric was a walking encyclopedia and forefather of historic preservation. Graduating from Ohio State University in 1969, he had previously started working with industrial archaeology during his studies before landing his job as Director of the Historic American Builders Society/ Historic American Engineering Record, a job he held for over three decades while having collected vast arrays of experiences that led to the start in the program to document and preserve historic bridges in 1973, known as the Historic Bridge Program. He launched the Historic Bridge Symposium in 1983 as part of the annual Society of Industrial Archaeology Conference, which has been running successfully ever since. And lastly, he taught seminars on historic bridges and preservation. Thanks to his tireless efforts, many states have implemented their historic bridge preservation programs, which includes providing funding and incentive to local groups wanting to preserve historic bridges, marketing historic bridges and looking at techniques towards prolonging the life of historic bridges for traffic use. Indiana, Texas, Ohio, Iowa, New York and Vermont have been the leading examples in such policies which have saved at least half of the pre-1940 bridges that had existed prior to 1970. Cities, like Pittsburgh, Portland, Minneapolis and Chicago have a large swath of historic bridges preserved for use. In the face of progress, that effort is astounding if compared to the preservation policies of other countries, including some in Europe.

As we wind down our 2016 Ammann Awards and with that, the topic on 100 years of the National Park Service and 50 years of the National Register of Historic Places, we feel that Eric DeLony deserves to be honored for over 40 years of work in preserving historic bridges and guiding others like yours truly, Nathan Holth, Todd Wilson, Kitty Henderson, Kaitlin O’shea, Anne Miller, Jet Lowe and Christopher Marston to becoming successful preservationists, historians, teachers and bridgelovers. There is a reason for honoring him for Lifetime Achievement for his work.

But there is more to him than that. What got him interested in historic bridges and how did that play a key role in preservation policies in the US, which served as an example for other countries to follow?  Christopher Marston, who has worked for HABS-HAER since 1989, has known Eric for many years, both on the job as well as privately. He agreed to do a tribute to Eric as a guest writer for the Chronicles in response to a request for people to step forward in contributing to Eric’s legacy. His work includes a few important sections talking about Eric’s  career as a presevrationist and what he left behind for others to follow. Here is the guest column on Eric DeLony, which also includes a source section for you to find and read when you have some free time and are interested in knowing about this topic. Enjoy! 🙂

 

Eric DeLony doing preliminary field measurements on the 1870 pony truss Old Mill Road Bridge, Northampton County, PA, in 1985. The bridge was documented as part of the Pennsylvania Cast- and Wrought-Iron Bridges Recording Project in 1991. Photo courtesy of HABS HAER Collection

 

How you guys met
I started working for the National Park Service’s Historic American Engineering Record in 1989, as an architect on a summer recording team in Homestead, PA, near Pittsburgh. My first project was to document and draw the 12,000 ton press (1893) at the U.S. Steel Homestead Works. I met Chief of HAER Eric DeLony in person the following summer, when I was working on the Duquesne Blast Furnace. The first bridge I documented for HAER was the 1839 Dunlap’s Creek Bridge in Brownsville, PA, the first cast-iron arch in the country, in 1992. After I joined the HAER office in Washington, DC, in October 1994, I worked directly under Eric as a project leader until he retired in 2003. Over my career, I’ve led HAER documentation projects of over one hundred individual historic bridges; parkway and railroad HAER projects included another hundred bridges.

Eric DeLony’s first HAER drawing of a bridge, as part of the Mohawk-Hudson Survey in 1969. This exploded isometric technique was used on several HAER projects to show how structures go together, especially cast- and wrought-iron bridges, Eric’s favorite. Whipple Cast & Wrought-Iron Bowstring Truss Bridge, HAER NY-4, Sheet 4, 1969.

What Eric did at HAER and elsewhere
Eric DeLony was a summer-hire architect on the very first field team of the Historic American Engineering Record, the Mohawk-Hudson Area Survey, in 1969. This ambitious project documented several sites in the Albany-Troy area, and Eric measured and created HAER drawings of the Troy Gasholder, the Whipple Bowstring Truss, and the Delaware & Hudson Canal, Delaware Aqueduct. After hiring Eric as its first full-time employee in 1971, HAER began recording a variety of other bridges as part of state surveys in Virginia, Utah, Pennsylvania, Indiana, West Virginia, and Florida. HAER also photographed several large railroad bridges and viaducts as part of aerial surveys of the Baltimore and Ohio and Erie railroads from 1970-72. Several of these early surveys were done with teams of students working in schools of architecture, and cosponsored by the Smithsonian Institution through the leadership of Robert Vogel.
Working with longtime colleague Prof. Emory Kemp of West Virginia University, Eric started planning the HAER Historic Bridge Program in 1973, which would become the first comprehensive national program to protect historic bridges. Through Eric’s determination, HAER developed partnerships with the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP), the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, and state historic preservation offices. The first goal of the program was to promote comprehensive historic bridge inventories in each state. When inventories were required by law in 1987, Eric’s initiative became a catalyst in making highway bridges the first class of historic structures to be nationally evaluated.

Freeport Bridge, one of several Wrought Iron Bridge Company structures that was preserved thanks to Eric’s efforts. Spanning the Upper Iowa River, this bowstring arch bridge, the second longest in the US, was relocated to Gunderson Park in Decorah, Iowa, where it now serves as a picnic area. Photo taken by the author in 2007

Eric recalled that when he first proposed the HAER historic bridges program, he initially received an adversarial reaction from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and state departments of transportation (DOTs). However, once DOTs realized that rehabilitation was an economical solution to maintaining bridges over replacement, and inventories revealed state’s wealth of historic bridges, some engineers were persuaded to appreciate their value. Inventories also helped states prioritize which bridges should be saved, and which older bridges could be replaced after documentation. The stipulation in the ISTEA legislation that 3% of funds go to preservation and amenities greatly helped fund the saving and rehabilitation of hundreds of historic bridges in the 1990s and 2000s.

Broadway Avenue Bridge in St. Peter, Minnesota. One of many bridges that has been rehabilitated for further traffic use. It was one of 29 historic bridges that are of interest of MnDOT and MinnHisSoc. Photo taken in 2013

After the preliminary state bridge inventories were completed, HAER partnered with state DOTs to undertake HAER summer documentation projects, collaborating with a combination of national and local experts and student engineers, architects and historians. Negotiating with a variety of partners from FHWA, DOTs, and other historic groups to secure funding, these HAER state bridge recording projects started with Ohio in 1986. David Simmons of the Ohio Historical Society served as a member of the team that completed the Ohio historic bridge inventory, and as an advisor to the 1986 and 1992 HAER Ohio Historic Bridge Recording Projects. He recalled that the HAER team set up offices at the architecture studios at The Ohio State University, and assisted Eric in training the students in how to read a bridge. The team documented over a dozen bridges (both on system and off) with large format photographs and histories, and completed measured drawings on roughly half of the bridges. HAER’s interest in many of these bridges helped save them from being replaced. An example was the Zoarville Station Bridge, which was preserved with support from local private citizens’ groups. From 1987 to 2001, Eric worked with several other states to document their historic bridges and add to the HAER Collection including: New York, Wisconsin, Arkansas, Massachusetts, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington, Iowa, Texas, and Illinois.

Zoarville Station Bridge in Ohio, the only Fink through truss bridge of its kind left in the US. This bridge was photographed by Nathan Holth in 2007 as it was undergoing extensive rehabilitation for reuse as a predestrian crossing

In addition to the nation’s highway bridges, the historic roads and bridges in the National Park system were also deteriorating from neglect and overuse. HAER developed a pilot project in the National Capital Region in 1988 to survey the historic and significant transportation-related structures and designed landscapes in various units of the National Park Service. With support from FHWA and NPS, this program expanded in 1989 and continued until 2002 to document national parks across the country. A sample of some of the parks where HAER employed large summer recording teams includes: Yellowstone, Glacier, Yosemite, Mount Rainier, Sequoia, Zion, Grand Canyon, Mesa Verde, Acadia, Great Smoky, Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller national parks; Skyline Drive, George Washington Memorial, Colonial, Rock Creek, Blue Ridge, Baltimore-Washington parkways; Vicksburg, Chickamauga, Gettysburg and Shiloh National Military Parks. HAER also partnered with Connecticut and New York State to record several historic parkways including: Merritt State Parkway, Taconic State Parkway, Bronx River Parkway, and the Henry Hudson Parkway.

Hogback Covered Bridge, one of thousands of covered bridges that have been preserved for use as a pedestrian crossing after a bridge was constructed alongside it. It is one of six bridges that are part of the Bridges of Madison County tour, soon to be expanded to include a couple additional metal truss bridges relocated recently. Photo taken in 2007

Eric DeLony was also vital in getting HAER involved with a third major initiative involving historic bridges and FHWA. Realizing that covered bridges were a beloved but endangered resource, Vermont Senator James Jeffords proposed legislation to identify and rehabilitate them. The National Historic Covered Bridge Preservation (NHCBP) Program was established by FHWA in 1998 through the TEA-21 transportation bill. Through Eric’s determination and foresight, HAER received research and education funding beginning in 2002 to survey and document the nation’s most significant covered bridges, as well as other educational initiatives including engineering reports, a traveling exhibition, national conferences, a national database, and nominating national historic landmarks. With the benefit of continued FHWA support, HAER National Covered Bridges Recording Project Leader Christopher Marston has continued Eric DeLony’s vision and is in the process of finalizing several research projects. This includes the publication, Covered Bridges and the Birth of American Engineering, co-edited with Justine Christianson, and dedicated to Eric DeLony. Rehabilitation Guidelines for Historic Covered Bridges will be published later in 2017.
How he brought the historic bridges to the attention of the public esp. in terms of preservation and designating them on the National Register
Eric DeLony was involved in several organizations related to bridge preservation. Eric was an active member of the Society for Industrial Archeology (SIA) from its early years, and developed the SIA Historic Bridge Symposium beginning in the early 1980s. For these events, Eric would encourage his network of experts to share their research and experience with bridge preservation initiatives. He would typically introduce the symposium with his annual “State of the Bridge” address. These were more or less annual events from 1988 in Wheeling to 2003 in Montreal, the last year Eric attended as Chief of HAER. Eric returned in 2010-11 in Colorado Springs and Seattle with the co-sponsorship of Kitty Henderson and the Historic Bridge Foundation. HBF has continued the tradition biannually, and the 25th SIA Historic Bridge Symposium was held last year in Kansas City, MO.
He was also a committee member and friend of the Transportation Research Board’s Committee on Historic Preservation and Archaeology in Transportation (ADC50) which included several professionals from state departments of transportation, SHPOs, and consultants involved in preservation issues on federally funded transportation projects. Research and best practices on preserving and maintaining historic bridges was always a major focus of the committee. As a subcontractor to Parsons Brinckerhoff, Eric co-authored with Robert Jackson, “A Context for Common Historic Bridge Types” for National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCPRP Project 25-25, Task 15) in 2005.
Not only was Eric interested in documenting historic bridges. He was also determined to see that as many structures as possible were saved and preserved. He followed through with DOTs and colleges to see that creative means could assure a bridge’s continued use. Some of these projects that Eric championed and encouraged included: the 1869 wrought-iron Henszey’s Bridge in Summerdale, PA; 1828 Blaine S-Bridge in Blaine, Ohio; the Aldrich Change Bridge in Macedon, NY, an 1858 Whipple Truss over the Erie Canal, among others.
Concurrent with the NPS Roads and Bridges projects, there was also a groundswell of interest in preserving historic roads, and related landscapes and structures. This initiative was championed by Paul Daniel Marriott, then at NTHP, and grew into the Preserving the Historic Road conferences, a biennial event that officially started in Los Angeles in 1998, with HAER as an original cosponsor. According to Marriott, “Eric appreciated that roads and bridges were intertwined. He was one of the first people to acknowledge that historic research and advocacy for historic roads. Eric DeLony was instrumental in establishing the historic roads movement.”
His involvement with HBs outside the US
As a Fulbright Scholar, Eric studied at Ironbridge with Neil Cossons in 1971-72. Eric always hired International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) foreign exchange scholars for his summer field teams beginning in 1984, which continued for approx. 25 years.
Eric was instrumental in getting HAER to collaborate with industrial archeologists and preservationists in Europe and other countries. He represented the United States at several meetings of the International Committee for the Conservation of the Industrial Heritage (TICCIH). Another issue that Eric was involved with has finally shown dividends: after several decades, the U.S. delegation has finally agreed to nominate the Brooklyn Bridge as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Eric DeLony (left) and Dario Gasparini at the Guilford Pratt truss in Howard County, Maryland by Christopher Marston in 2013

What legacy he left behind
After Eric retired and moved to Santa Fe, NM in 2003, he continued to stay involved in historic bridge preservation. He ran a private consulting business for several years, and kept up an email list of his bridge contacts, which he called “the Pontists”. That list has evolved into the Pontists LinkedIn discussion group. He also published several articles on several historic bridge topics between 2000-2008.
In 2013, Eric bequeathed several of his rare books and technical reports to establish the “Eric N. DeLony Engineering and Bridge Collection” at the Linda Hall Library in Kansas City, MO.
Eric DeLony was truly a pioneer in the world of historic bridge documentation, preservation, and advocacy. The 2,000+ bridges in the HAER Collection, and hundreds of examples of preserved historic bridges across the country are all a testimony to Eric’s determination and enthusiasm for saving historic bridges.

 

Sources:
“Biographies of the Experts: Eric DeLony.” Center for Environmental Excellence by AASHTO website, 2008. https://web.archive.org/web/20080905093246/http://environment.transportation.org/center/tech_experts/bios/26677.aspx
Eric DeLony, Landmark American Bridges. New York: American Society of Civil Engineers, 1993.
Eric DeLony, “HAER and the Recording of Technological Heritage: Reflections on 30 Years’ Work,” IA: The Journal of the Society for Industrial Archeology Volume 25, Number 1 (1999): 5-28.
“Eric N. DeLony Engineering and Bridge Collection.” Linda Hall Library website. http://libguides.lindahall.org/c.php?g=218603&p=1444349
Duncan Hay, “Eric DeLony: 2000 General Tools Award Recipient.” Society for Industrial Archeology Newsletter Volume 29, No. 2 (Summer 2000): 5-7. http://www.siahq.org/awards/generaltools/general%20tools%20award%20citations/2000_General_Tools_Award_-_Eric_Delony.pdf

 

 

Christopher Marston’s career at HABS-HAER and the benefits and setbacks towards preserving historic bridges can be seen through an interview with the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles. Click here for details. To him we have our thanks for his help. 🙂

 

An Interview With Christopher Marston of HABS-HAER

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As the National Register of Historic Places has the responsibility of designating and protecting historic places that have played a significant role in American history, another organizational arm of the National Park Service is just as important but its role is different. Established in 1933 by Charles Peterson, the Historic American Builders Survey (HABS) had the responsibility of documenting and photographing countless historic buildings with the purpose of addressing their significance to the NPS and the state and local governments. Many of these buildings at that time were at risk of demolition in the name of progress. Civil Engineering works (like bridges and tunnels) and other mechanical artefacts were later added under the helm The Historic American Engineering Record (HAER), which was established in 1969. Eric DeLony was the director of that part of the organization from 1971 until 2003. The Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS) was formed in 2000, focusing on landscapes and their historic features.  But how does HABS/HAER/HALS work, especially when we look at historic bridges and ways to preserve them?

I had a chance to interview Christopher Marston (seen in the picture above), who has worked at this organization since 1989 and has focused on the infrastructural aspects of documenting and preserving history, esp. in terms of bridges. He provides us with an overview of the benefits and limitations of historic bridge preservation, including ways of educating the public. Here are his thoughts on the role of his organization and his work on historic bridges (feel free to click on the links to the bridges mentioned below):

 

  1. What is your favorite historic bridge (HB) in the US? The world?  

Here are some of my favorites that I’ve seen in person, by type:

Stone arch: Thomas Viaduct, MD; Cabin John Aqueduct Bridge, MD

Wood Truss: West Union Bridge, IN by J.J. Daniels

Metal Truss: Bollman Truss Bridge, Savage, MD; Smithfield St. Bridge, Pittsburgh; Eads Bridge, St. Louis

Concrete Arch: Westinghouse Bridge, Pittsburgh

Stone-covered Concrete Arch: Boulder Bridge, DC

Suspension: Wheeling Suspension Bridge, WV

 

  1. What makes a bridge historic?

Older technology and craftsmanship.  Continued use of original materials. Setting maintains its integrity.

 

  1. What is your role at HABS and HAER?

I’ve worked here for 27 years and am an architect and project leader. I started in 1989 when we had a field office in Homestead, PA. We started documenting the old Carnegie steel mills at Homestead and Duquesne. I documented my first bridge in 1991: Dunlap’s Creek Bridge, the 1839 cast-iron arch built for the National Road in Brownsville, PA. After moving to the DC office in 1994, I led teams documenting the Roads and Bridges in National Parks and Parkways: Colonial, Blue Ridge parkways, Skyline Drive. We also did several NY parkways: Bronx River, Henry Hudson, and Taconic State parkways. In 2009-2011, we recorded several large viaducts on the Western Maryland Railway, using a Leica laser scanner. In 2002, I was named the project leader for HAER’s involvement in the National Historic Covered Bridge Preservation Program. Since then we have recorded 88 bridges to HAER standards, put on a traveling exhibition with the Smithsonian, run two national conferences, done several in depth engineering studies, designated 5 National Historic Landmarks and nominated 2 others, and published Covered Bridges and the Birth of American Engineering in 2015. We are currently completing a second publication: Guidelines for Rehabilitating Historic Covered Bridges.  See: https://www.nps.gov/hdp/project/coveredbridges/index.htm

 

  1. What is the difference between HABS/HAER and NRHP in terms of documenting and preserving HBs?

HABS/HAER works on in depth documentation of sites. In-house HAER projects are typically done to Level I standards: measured & interpretive drawings, large format photography, and a historical report. Mitigation projects are typically to Level II standards: large format photography, and a historical report only. NR does a contextual history and 35mm or digital photography, so is typically less in depth.

 

  1. What are the requirements for a HB to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP)?  And HABS/HAER?

HAER worked with state departments of transportation to develop and encourage bridge surveys beginning in the 1970s. Some were funded by the DOTs or FHWA or in partnership with universities. The first state bridge survey was in Virginia, beginning with the Humpback Covered Bridge, in 1970.   http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/hh/item/va0239/

Between 1986 and 2000, HAER Chief Eric DeLony developed HAER state bridge surveys in partnership with DOTs, and hired summer teams of engineers, architects and historians to do comprehensive documentation projects. Notable examples include surveys done in Ohio, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Arkansas, Oregon, Washington, Iowa, Texas, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Illinois, and California. Other significant projects that resulted in the documentation of hundreds of bridges include the FHWA-funded National Park Service Roads and Bridges Project, from 1988 to 2002. FHWA’s National Historic Covered Bridge Preservation Program resulted in HAER documentation of 88 bridges from 2002-2016, including several in-depth engineering projects. There are approximately 2,700 bridges listed in the HABS/HAER collection.

 

  1. If a HB is listed under the NRHP, how are they protected? 

NR-eligible bridges trigger Section 106. In some cases, the bridge may be saved or moved. If demolition is necessary, 106 may trigger mitigation, which often leads to HAER Level II documentation. Since 1980, 100s of bridges have been documented through mitigation.

 

  1. How are the following HB types preserved mainly, in your opinion? An example of each is needed, more are welcomed.

Metal Truss: Vern Mesler’s Calhoun Bridge Park, MI ; Piano Bridge by Charles Walker, TX

Wood Truss: Gilpin’s Falls Covered Bridge, MD, by Tim Andrews of Barns and Bridges of New England. See attached case study.

Masonry Arch: Catoctin Aqueduct, C & O Canal NHP, MD, by McMullan & Associates. http://www.apti.org/clientuploads/publications/2015/SampleArticle_46.4_McMullan.pdf

 

  1. What problems have you encountered over the years regarding preservation policies on the federal, state and local levels?

Glulam is favored over solid timber in covered bridge rehab projects

AASHTO Standards often require too heavy a live load requirement unrealistic for historic bridges.

 

  1. What about as far as preserving practices?

Would prefer to see real rivets used over high strength bolts when possible. Vern Mesler’s program at Lansing Community College is teaching this practice through his Iron & Steel Preservation Conferences. The Piano Bridge in Texas was a nice exception in that hot riveting was used in the rehab. Unfortunately, TXDOT stopped requiring riveting after Charles Walker retired.

 

  1. And ownership of a HB?

States such as Vermont, Ohio, Indiana, among others, do an excellent job inventorying, rehabilitating, and maintaining historic bridges. Invest in inventory and management programs, etc.

 

  1. What measures are needed to better protect HBs from being altered or destroyed, in your opinion?

Continue to educate DOTs and especially SHPOs on best practices for rehabilitation.

 

  1. What HBs are being nominated today in comparison to 1970?

We still get a lot of bridges in the collection. HAER has documented several covered wooden bridges;  Mead & Hunt is doing movable bridges in Louisiana, and did a bridge over the US/Mexico border; M&H and Berger teamed together to document 8 examples of common post-1945 bridge types.

I’m glad to see that bridges are getting nominated as National Historic Landmarks. Prior to 2010, there were only 11 bridges listed as NHLs: Eads, Bollman, Brooklyn, Casselman, Carrollton Viaduct, Thomas Viaduct, Old Blenheim (removed 2015), Covington-Cincinnati, S Bridge, Smithfield, Wheeling.

Since 2012, HAER has designated 5 bridges, and nominated 2 more: Powder Works, CA; Knight’s Ferry, CA; Brown Bridge, VT; Humpback, VA; Duck Creek Aqueduct, IN. Pending: Eldean, OH; West Union, IN. IN addition, the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, AL was designated in 2013.

 

  1. What would Eric DeLony, the person who spearheaded the preservation of HBs in the 1970s and 80s say about America’s HBs these days? 

I think Eric would be pleased with many of the successes in bridge preservation and documentation since he retired: The National Historic Covered Bridge Preservation Program, which he helped launch, has preserved over 200 covered bridges on top of the initiatives listed above; groups such as the Historic Bridge Foundation and historic bridge websites have proliferated, Vern Mesler’s Iron and Steel Conferences, and other preservation conferences continue to get the word out, and several important historic bridges have been preserved.

However, he would still troubled by the loss of bridges due to flooding, arson, neglect and detierioration. The lack of federal funding for preservation and documentation programs like those in the 1990s and 2000s is also alarming.

 

What was concluded in the interview? Preservation policies work when there is enough governmental support (including funding) to help document the structures and come up with ways to preserve them, ensuring that if possible, no mitigation is involved. However, private organizations and preservationists have stepped up in the efforts to better inform the public about ways of preserving historic bridges without having the excuse of “bridges meeting the end of their useful life” being used as justification for demolishing them. Many channels have been implemented to make preservation happen and keep history alive, whether it is through media outlets like this one or  Preservation in Pink, advocacy groups, like Nathan Holth’s Historic Bridge.org, foundations like Historic Bridge Foundation, or even mechanics and steel welders who are doing the actual work, like Bach Steel, Workin Bridges, Mead and Hunt or even local bridge builders. We will be looking at these examples later on to show that while there is not much history left to save in the progressing mondernized society, there are plenty of historic works that need our attention, even if we turn to unexpected sources who have the same nostalgia as we do.

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Special thanks to Christopher Marston for his help. 

Note: A tribute to Eric will follow when the Ammann Awards are announced in January 2017. The Blenheim Covered Bridge, which was built in 1855, was destroyed by Tropical Storm Irene in 2011

bhc jacob

Interview with Jet Lowe

Photo taken by John O’connell Link: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/24/George_Washington_Bridge_from_New_Jersey-edit.jpg

If there is a word of advice to give to a person wanting to engage in the hobby of photography, it would be this:

1. Look the surroundings. What do you see beyond the naked eye? What is most unique about the surrounding that is worth photographing?

2. Choose an object and/or a person you find attractive. Why choose this subject and how unique is it from the eye of a photographer?

Photography has become a popular hobby for many people, as they find the best spot/subject for a good photo opportunity and after taking dozens of snap shots, find the best photo that they are proud of- that they display for others to see, and benefit from the prize money from the photo contests sometimes. 🙂

For Jet Lowe, photography has been a major part of his life for almost five decades. Ranging from skyscrapers to bridges, Lowe has produced some of the most unique shots of his subjects from angles that even some of the amateur photographers today can even dream of doing.  Lowe was selected as the winner of the 2014 Ammann Awards in the category of Lifetime Achievement for his role in photographing hundreds of bridges in the US, Europe and elsewhere, and the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles had an opportunity to interview him about his experiences and the secret to being a great photographer. Here is what we found out about him:

1.      Tell us about yourself: how did your career start, and how did it lead you to HABS-HAER?

I owe my career to an academic trip to Haiti in 1966.  A faculty member of the school I was attending loaned me his Pentax h3v with which to take pictures.  It was a one month trip, film was expensive so I rolled my own cassettes of 20 or more black and white tri-x, a dozen rolls of kodachrome and basically got hooked.  This was my first year of college, from that point on I knew I wanted to be a photographer, did not know exactly how to go about it so I ended up majoring in Art History which in retrospect was a great choice.  Straight out of college I landed a job as the staff photographer for the Georgia Historical Commission doing museum photography as well as photographing historic districts for the then new federal program of the National Register of Historic Places.  It was working for the Historical Commision that put the bee in my bonnet about how it might be neat to work for HABS some day ( I did not know about HAER at the time which in retrospect was a much better match).

2.      How did you become interested in photography?While traveling in Haiti with my professor’s loaned camera I found myself ending up in places that I might not have been in had I not been in search of images,  and meeting people.  The Haitians although quite poor economically have a strong and magical spirit.

3.      A large portion of your photos posted on HABS-HAER have been historic bridges. Are they your primary targets, or do you also photograph other historic places, such as buildings, stadiums, etc.?As the staff photographer for HAER our mandate was and is to photograph the engineered and built environment of the United States. From windmills to the Space Shuttle,  No small mandate!  I like to think of bridges as a subject matter for HAER(Historic American Engineering Record) like houses have been for the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS).  Bridges tend to encapsulate the structural engineering thought of any given time period.  

4.      Which bridge you photographed was your favorite?The George Washington Bridge over the Hudson always comes first to mind for its complexity, significance, as well as photogeneity.

5.      Which bridge was the most difficult to photograph? How did you overcome this difficulty?  I would have to say the Brooklyn Bridge because it was my first major documentation of a nationally significant bridge.  The documentation was to involve getting to the towers via walking up the cables.  Never having done this caused me a bit of anxiety in the week leading up to the day of working on the bridge.  The maintenance men who were my hosts drily assured me they had not lost any one yet walking up the cables.  The Brooklyn Bridge was also the first one that I photographed from the air using a world war II vintage aerial camera.  One thing that helped in overcoming the more difficult hurdles of the assignment was a week spent in New York getting as many photographs completed on the ground before climbing the towers.  When the big day finally arrived I was at least fairly familiar with the structure.  One of the great privileges of my job at HAER was the opportunity to climb around on numerous other big suspension bridges,including the Takoma Narrows,  Oakland, Golden Gate, and Verrazanno Narrows to name a few that are now housed in the HAER collection.

6.      Which bridge that you had photographed but was later demolished was one that you wished to have preserved and why?The Bellows Falls (Vermont) arch suspension bridge was amongst the most elegant of bridges I have photographed and represented also one of the greatest losses to our patrimony.

The Bellows Falls Bridge: one of many bridges photographed by Jet Lowe. Photo taken before its demise in 1982. Source: HABS-HAER
7.      Many other photographers, including James Baughn (who finished second in the Lifetime Achievement category) and (Nathan Holth, who finished third) have done a great deal of contributions of photos for their historic bridge websites. How important has photography been in addressing the importance of historic bridges and ways to preserve them? Photography is still the most palpable way of showing us the way a bridge structure looked, and occupied its environment.  I think the photographer David Plowden deserves credit for being one of the first photographers to focus attention on the contribution and richness that bridges add to our built environment.

8.      If someone is interested in photography as a profession, what advice would you give him/her and what is the outlook in your opinion?I think there will always be a market out there for photographers that have a special vision and are obsessed with their work. Young photographers should look at the work of others and study the great prints in the museums and also think in terms of converting their favorite images in to a photographic print, not just an electronic entity.   It is probably even more difficult to break into the discipline as a means of making a living now because of the dilution of the medium via iPhones and the internet.  The outlook is difficult, however I can not stress enough the rewards for following one’s muse.

 The last sentence stated by Jet Lowe could not be any clearer than that. With social networks and iPhones dominating our livelihoods, many of us have a canny for selfie shots, shooting events in our lives, or even getting some shots of places of interest while travelling. However, the quality of real photography has declined because of the flooding of pictures that would be considered null and void in the eyes of the professionals. However, it does not mean that professional and amateur photography will die off. Many of us will specialize in areas once considered unknown, such as night photography, landscape photography and forms of architectural photography (and in particular, bridge photography) because they are important for people  interested in not only looking at them on display but also to document the historical importance, using them as a springboard for preservation efforts. Therefore, one should not be afraid of engaging in such a unique hobby. It may not be a full-time profession, but it is one that will satisfy the interest of the photographer and those interested in taking a look at his/her work.  So to close the interview, take the camera, take your girlfriend out with you, take some shots of what you think is beautiful and show her life from your perspective- from your own lens. You may never know what your photos will look like, let alone be worth when selling them on the market or entering them in a contest. Henceforth, click-click!
Photo taken by the author in December, 2014