After taking a much needed holiday break to spend time with family and friends, the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles is back, ringing in a year that should hopefully be more prosperous than the previous one for many people. To start off the year, a website of a fellow pontist and colleague, James Baughn of the Historic and Notable Bridges of the US is hosting its annual TRUSS Award (Top Ranked Unique Savable Structure), giving it to a historic bridge that has high value in terms of its features and history and has potential to be preserved if measures are carried out to save it from demolition or being left abandoned.
If you know of a historic bridge that deserves this award, please follow this link and nominate the bridge (and its location) before 18 January. An announcement of the winners will be made sometime in February. The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles will include its top five TRUSS Award candidates, as usual. To give you an idea who won the award last year at about this time, here is an article with the links for you to look at and help inspire you to choose your favorite bridge:
2013 will be an interesting year for historic bridge preservation versus progress, although many claim that the latter will not be as many as last year. But as we saw this past year, anything is possible; it depends on how people treat their historic bridges. The Chronicles will be keeping you inform of the stories of historic bridges from the US, Europe and beyond, while continuing to provide people with interesting stories and interview involving historic bridge preservation and tourism. So sit back, relax and enjoy the articles, interviews and other items to come for 2013.
It was a day like no other in the summer time: thousands of people leaving their workplaces to get home with others taking their children to a baseball game in the middle of the city. It was a hot summer afternoon and traffic was dense, with tempers flaring from people who are late for a meeting or other commitment. As they head into the city, they cross a gigantic bridge over a mighty river, only to find that the second they got on, they ended up in the water, swimming for their lives and helping others in need. Eyewitnesses videotaping the bridge saw each span falling into the water, one after the other.
The St. Anthony’s Bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota (USA), a steel deck cantilever truss bridge over the Mississippi River carrying the freeway I-35W was one of the most travelled bridges in the Twin Cities. Built in 1967, it served one of the main arteries and was undergoing some maintenance work, when it collapsed. 13 people died in the tragedy, more than 150 people were injured and that particular artery going through Minneapolis was cut off for over a year and a half while a new bridge was being built.
Five years later, a lot has changed. The disaster served as a wake-up call for the US, with hundreds of billions of dollars being spent on improving the infrastructure, replacing bridges deemed structurally deficient and making the highway system “safe and sound,” the term coined by the Missouri Department of Transportation and the title of its program. Yet we still have a lot of deficiencies that we need to work on in order to ensure that we have a sound infrastructure but not at the expense of historic bridges and the bank.
For instance, the Minneapolis bridge disaster sparked a crusade to eliminate truss and cantilever truss bridges- or at least those with ineffective gusset plates. It started in Minnesota and worked its way to other parts of the country, like Pennsylvania, which has one of the highest numbers of truss and cantilever bridges in the country. Instead of replacing the ones that desperately needed it, many them were wrongfully replaced when they were in pristine condition, and even if there were some defective gusset plates, these could easily be replaced without having to bring the entire structure down using falsework for support. This includes the two cantilever bridges over the Mississippi River in St. Cloud: the Granite City Bridge (replaced in 2008) and the Sauk Rapids Bridge (replaced that same year as well). This crusade has accelerated the decrease in the number of historic bridges built prior to 1950 nationwide, despite attempts on the part of the state and local agencies and private sectors to save the ones that have the greatest historical significance in terms of design, history and other factors.
The collapse also created an enormous backlash on the preservation community and the Preservation Policies, such as Section 106 of the Historic Preservation Laws of 1966, where bridges slated for demolition are to undergo environmental and mitigation surveys to determine the alternatives to demolition and document the structures’ historic significance. Many politicians have touted this policy as a waste of time and money and would like to see it scrapped, while many preservationists and pontists have taken substantial amounts of heat for interfering with progress and being “trouble-makers.” The fortunate part is with the economic crisis in the USA, there has been a change in heart among many who would like to see historic bridges preserved and have embraced some of the preservation practices as a way of saving money and prolonging their lifespan.
Then we have the financial aspect, where many bridges that were structurally deficient but not in danger of collapse are being replaced outright, without consideration of the costs. As a general rule, replacement is more expensive than restoration and rehabilitation, pending on the type of work needed to be done on the bridge let alone the type of bridge. When the I-35W Bridge collapsed, there was a consensus that every bridge that is structurally deficient needs to be replaced. The problem with that draconian approach is that it has been draining the financial resources on both the state and federal levels to a point where many of the bridges that have been deteriorating to a point where repairs are necessary had to be closed off to all traffic and the owners having to wait until funding is available to either fix or replace them. Some that can still carry traffic have weight and height restrictions on them, with some going to extremes by threatening motorists that the bridge would be closed to traffic if the restrictions are ignored.
But the collapse of the I-35W started a renaissance where the public has become more aware of not just the bridges that are structurally deficient and need repairs, but also those that are historically significant and should be restored for reuse. The media has taken a Steven Jobs approach and presented facts and figures that are either sobering to the public, who takes these figures seriously when presenting their opinions about historic bridge preservation vs. replacement or biased to one group or another in order for them to have things their way. What is meant by this is as these facts and figures are presented and there is a bridge in their vicinity that has weight and/or height restrictions on them, the public usually divides themselves up between those who want the bridge saved and those who want it replaced, thus becoming more involved in the decision-making process. The media has for the most part taken a neutral stance and has indirectly encouraged the public to engage more in these debates.
This public involvement has also spread into the social networks and produced online columns and blogs, where support for historic bridges is being garnered by people from faraway places. While bridge websites, such as James Baughn’s Bridgehunter, Nathan Holth’s HistoricBridges.org or Nic Janberg’s Structurae.net were established prior to the disaster, other online columns, like this one, Tony Dillon’s Indiana Bridges and Kaitlin O’shea-Healy’s Preservation in Pink have taken the stage to address the importance of historic bridges and ways to preserve them, research them to determine their historic significance and bring them and topics involving them to the attention of the public. Even organizations preserving historic bridges, like the Riverside Bridge (in Missouri) and the Waterford Bridge (south of Minneapolis) can be found on social networks, like facebook, and support for these bridges have come not only from within their vicinity, but also from outside as well. This has created an interdependence between the public, the media, and agencies and other organizations where action to preserve or replace a historic bridge has an impact on those who have a connection with them in one way or another. In the case of the Waterford and Riverside Bridges, support for preserving them have skyrocket by up to 200% in the past year, while the media and other historic bridge organizations have reinforced that support through their expertise and knowledge of the subject.
The disaster also fostered the need to exchange information and knowledge on historic bridge preservation. This includes the introduction of welding and other techniques to restoring a historic bridge presented by people, like Vern Mesler, who has held seminars like these in Michigan since 2009. Other steel companies, like BACH Steel, an ally of Julie Bowers and her organization, Workin Bridges in Iowa have engaged in disassembling and restoring metal bridges, while other companies dealing with bridge construction have taken a keen interest in this preservation practice. Many of the bridge companies mandated to replace historic bridges do not fancy destroying them in favor of progress and have become more open to other suggestions, such as relocation or storing them for reuse elsewhere. This was seen with the Upper Bluffton Bridge, where the contractors allowed for some time to see if the owners are willing to take at least part of the two-span truss bridge. The Queenpost truss span was taken in the end, while the Pratt through truss span had to be scrapped, despite the support to save the entire structure.
What has become the most useful of all is having historic bridge seminars and conferences, designed to present these themes- preservation, tourism and the bridges themselves and the stories about the successes- to the attention of the audience. This includes the Historic Bridge weekend, which was started in 2009 by Todd Wilson of Bridgemapper.com and features presentations by bridge experts and tours of bridges in the area of venue. The first two took place in the greater Pittsburgh area, last year’s conference took place in Missouri, while this year’s conference will take place in Indiana, one of the states with the most populous historic bridges in the country. Plans are in the making to host one in Iowa in August 2013. The number of people attending such events have increased since 2009, which is a sign that the interest in historic bridges and preservation is there, and as the news goes around, more people will attend these events to gather information and support for preserving their historic bridges in their communities or their backyard.
There is a reason for the need of such seminars and conferences: tourism. One may never think that historic bridges can be such a tourist attraction, but it is. With rails-to trails programs, many of the historic bridges that used to serve rail traffic are getting a new lease on life as a pedestrian bridge, many historic bridges are being relocated to trails and parks to serve both as an exhibit as well as crossing for cyclists and pedestrians. This includes the Historic Bridge Park in Michigan, the F.W. Kent Park in Iowa, and the Delphi Trail in Indiana, just to name a few. There are even parks where a historic bridge is their centerpiece, and the numbers are increasing. This goes beyond the ones that are in my neck of the woods, like the Freeport Bridge Park outside Decorah and the Moneek Bridge Park in Castalia, both in Winneshiek County, Iowa and the Covered Bridge Park in Zumbrota, Minnesota. These parks have provided tourists with an opportunity to get to know the structure and its role in the development of America’s infrastructure, while at the same time, many communities have cashed in from having these grandiose pieces of artwork, in one way or another.
Still despite all this, we are still lacking the educational aspect of preservation versus replacement, let alone learning to design a structure that is appealing to the public. That means that on the one hand, there is a lack of sufficient knowledge on how to preserve and maintain bridges with historic value because of the lack people with experience, combined with the lack of will to engage in preservation practices and the dollars and sense to preserve these structures. The mentality has been to fast-track as many bridge projects as possible so that they have the new structure in place as soon as possible, regardless of its appearance. Most of the bridges built today are bland and tasteless, and have a lifespan that is much shorter than the structures of yesterday (at least 70 years ago). Even the cable-stayed bridges, the norm for bridge construction, is not the permanent solution, as like beam, girder and slab bridges, their wear and tear can be seen more quickly because of weather extremities combined with traffic loads that are 10 times more than what we were used to 20 years ago. We need to veer away from the mentality that we need a bridge that lasts for 100 years and does not require maintenance and embrace in education on how to preserve historic bridges, how to maintain bridges, and how to design bridges that are appealing to the drivers but have no design flaws and are meant to last for more than 20 years. We also need to encourage more rail and public transport services to wean motorists away from the car and alleviate the load on our aging structures. We also need to enforce sanctions on people who violate the weight restrictions and destroy a bridge as a result. And most of all, politicians should take a backseat with regards to bridge preservation vs. replacement. We have capable bridge engineers, preservationists and bridge technicians who have the capabilities to determine which bridge needs repair work or replacement and which ones deserve to be restored for reuse. It is the job of the politicians not to interfere with these issues but foster them. We live in an interdependent society where the action of one affects all, and this holds true for historic bridges in the United States, which are decreasing by the dozens as each year passes.
To finish up on this piece, we have to say that we have learned a great deal from the disaster of five years ago. We know what the main causes of the disaster were. We know that we can never afford to repeat this again. Yet we know that there is a right and a wrong way of treating this issue- bridge design, bridge construction, bridge maintenance, and bridge preservation. We know that the public has a very keen interest in this subject. And as we cross the new I-35W Bridge in Minneapolis, looking at the neighboring 10th Avenue Bridge, a concrete arch bridge built in the 1920s, we know how to get it done. It is just a matter of listening and learning from others and taking the right course of action to ensure the all will be happy with the results.
There are a lot of reactions to the five-year anniversary of the I-35W Bridge Disaster, but some examples are posted in the next article.
There are many ways to look at a bridge and determine its value, both aesthetically as well as historically. From an engineer’s point of view, the bridge is built to function as a vehicular crossing until it is rendered obsolete and considered for replacement. From a historian’s point of view, each bridge has its own history and identity to the community, going beyond the bridge builder, the dimensions and unique value that make it eligible to be protected by preservation laws. From a photographer’s point of view, each bridge has a beauty that makes it fit into the landscape, whether it is a truss, arch, cable-stayed or suspension bridge.
In the case of David Plowden, each bridge not only presents a beauty that warrants a black and white photo worth remembering, but it contributes to the history of the American architecture, infrastructure and transportation. Born in 1932, Plowden started his photography career at the age of 25, providing the readers with a look at the development of American society, from the steel mills to the farming community, from the slums of the big cities, to Main Street USA, where small talk and hard work are the norms. He has published over 20 books including his latest one on the state of Iowa (which was released earlier this year), where a traveling photography exhibition of the state and its hilly landscape is currently taking place until 2014.
In the book Bridges: The Spans of North America, published in 2002, Plowden combined his photographic genius with some history to provide readers with an insight into the development of bridges in North America, beginning with those made of wood in a form of covered bridges, followed by brick and stone bridges, the metal bridges (both in terms of short- and long river crossings) and finishing with the bridges made of concrete. The over 400-page work provides the reader with an in depth look at the types of bridges that were developed, the bridge builders who used them for their crossings and where the bridges were located. While some of the bridge types mentioned in the book are well-known to the bridge community and historians, such as the Bollmann Truss Bridge at Savage, Maryland the concrete arch bridges of Pennsylvania and Oregon, and the common suspension bridges, like John Roebling’s suspension bridges, there are some others that had been mentioned briefly in other documents but were brought to life in this book, like the Whipple-Murphy truss bridges, many of which were constructed along the Missouri River between Sioux City and Kansas City under George S. Morrison in the 1880s, the Poughkeepsie Suspension and Railroad Bridges in upstate New York or even local bridges like the Bellefountain Bridge in Mahaska County, Iowa. Plowden provides a tour into the life of each bridge engineer and his contribution to the American landscape with examples of bridges that bear his name and were meant to serve traffic for many years.
As for the bridges themselves, the photos taken by Plowden were genuine and provide the reader with an inside look at the structure’s appearance from a photographer’s point of view. Some bridges were photographed in areas that were run down and were not part of the urbanization movement in the 1960s, such as the outer suburbs of Pittsburgh, for example. Some bridges in his book were taken in heavily industrialized areas, like New Jersey. And then there are others in the book that had a unique natural background, like the bridges of Oregon and western Canada. In terms of how they were photographed, there were many bridges that were photographed at a portal view- meaning the entrance of the bridge, presenting the reader the bridge’s facial feature before entering the structure. This includes the past bridges, like the Point Bridge in Pittsburgh as well as those in the present, like the railroad bridge at Beaver, Pennsylvania. While some of the bridges are known to the bridge community today, there are many that were rarely recognized but brought to the light by pushing the snapshot button and presenting a black and white picturesque view that definitely belongs to an art gallery somewhere. While many of these bridges, such as the Central Bridge over the Ohio River in Cincinnati and the St. Mary’s Bridge in West Virginia, a sister of the Silver Bridge, which collapsed in 1967 killing 46 people, have long since been demolished, Plowden photographed most of them in the 1960s and 70s, giving the reader an idea what they looked like before they were replaced. Each bridge photographed in the book has some information on its history and the status at the time of its publication.
It is very difficult to write a book on the history of bridges and how they were developed without having to narrow the focus down to the key aspects. In the case of the books on the bridges of Erfurt, Germany, one was focused on the technical aspects; the other on the historical aspects. One cannot have insight into the bridges without having to read both pieces of literature, even though they are both in German. In the case of Plowden’s book, he divided the subject up into the materials used for bridge construction, followed by the bridge types that were used and the engineers who built the bridges. To a certain degree, when focusing on bridges on a scale as large as North America’s it is a good idea, for it provides an overview into the development of the bridges from the beginning to the present time. This has been used in a couple other literary pieces, the latest of which will be the book of the month for August on Minnesota’s bridges by Denis Gardner (which falls nicely into the five-year anniversary of the I-35W bridge disaster in Minneapolis).
Yet when looking at the content of the book, most of its focus was on the development of bridges in the United States, together with the photos he took, with a small fraction being focused on Canada’s bridges (like the Lethbridge Viaduct in the province of Alberta and the Quebec Bridge). Most of the information and photos of the bridges came from those in the northern half of the US along the major rivers and in the northeastern part of the US, such as the Ohio River Valley, the Hudson River, and the Mississippi. These areas were the breeding ground for bridge development that spanned over 150 years and expanded into the Plains Region and beyond. If a person was to be picky about the content of the book, and focus on the history and development of bridges per se, then perhaps Plowden could have had two different books on the subject- one for the US and one for Canada. After all, despite the fact that this history run parallel in both countries, each one had its own set of bridge builders and bridge types with much of Canada’s bridge designs being imported from Europe as it had close ties with Great Britain and France.
But there are two main reasons why Plowden chose to incorporate the two countries into one for the book. First of all, the history and development of the bridges were interchangeable. Canadian bridge builders immigrated to America to start their business and prosper. Bridge companies in the US had exceptional influence in Canada. The designs used for bridge construction were mostly similar in both countries, with a few minor exceptions. That means we have cantilever truss bridges in both countries, and we competed with each other to construct the longest and tallest bridges. And through their exchanges in information and designers, both prospered during the Industrial Age of the late 1800s.
The other reason is the fact that Plowden is a photographer by heart. He not only provides people with a look into the lives of others in black and white, but he also provides them with unique scenery through the photos of antique works of art that still rules the streets (even though the numbers have dwindled rapidly over the years). He does not just showcase the photos for people to see. That would be too easy to do, especially in today’s technological age where anyone can post their pics on facebook, flickr and other websites. But each bridge that is photographed is accompanied by a story of its existence and the bridge builder responsible for erecting the structure and sharing his success to others so that they can either follow the lead or challenge it. The book provides the reader with general knowledge of the development of the bridges and the role of the engineers that contributed their history. And even if the majority of the readers are not engineers, bridge fanatics or historians, and even if one is unable to read the entire book from cover to cover, looking at the bridge photos themselves is enough to tell the story of how it was built and how it became part of North American history.
So to end this review process, get your cameras ready and set out to go bridgehunting. Find a bridge that means a great deal to you, regardless of its appearance and surroundings, its history and identity to the region and regardless of its age and whether you can cross it or spend time walking to it. As soon as you find it, start shooting. Show the bridge to others and make it known to the public of its value through your camera lens and point of view. After all, there are more people interested in historic bridges than you know. Plowden knew about it and therefore, the book is sitting in my bridge library, waiting for me to open the page and have a look at the work that he did. Pride can help you prosper and people will take note of that. Author’s note: I just sent a batch of interview questions to Mr. Plowden for him to answer and send back. As soon as I have them, they will be posted in a separate article.
When it comes to mystery bridges, there are two types of mysteries that exist with regards to historic bridges: 1. A historic bridge that existed in the past but there is no information on its location, let alone when it was built (or rewording it, information from oral sources probably existed, but they have long since moved on), and 2. The bridge existed but in pieces that are visible today but with little or no information as to why it was reduced to a fragment of what it once looked like when in service. The Horn’s Ferry Bridge in Marion County belongs to both categories as this article will explain further.
According to information found on the bridge via information plaque, the Horn’s Ferry Bridge was the first bridge to cross the Des Moines River in Marion County when it opened to traffic in 1881, replacing a ferry which had previously crossed the river since 1865. The structure featured the following bridge types going from west to east: six-Pratt pony truss spans (each being 100 feet), a 200-foot Camelback through truss span, a 140-foot riveted Pratt through truss span and lastly before reaching shore, a 90-foot Warren pony truss span. The bridge was closed to traffic in 1982 when a new crossing at the Red Rock Dam (located 700 feet upstream) was built, but remained open to pedestrians until the night of 31 August 1992, when one of the stone piers collapsed, sending 300 feet of the bridge into the river in a slow, agonizing motion. For safety reasons, that section, plus three additional Pratt pony truss spans were removed, while at the same time, to assure there is a connection for cyclists and pedestrians, a mail-order Pratt pony truss bridge was constructed by the Continental Bridge Company of Alexandria, Minnesota, approximately 300 feet north of the original crossing. Today, the remaining four spans of the Horn’s Ferry Bridge- two 100-foot Pratt pony truss spans on the west side at Ivan’s Campground and the Pratt through truss and Warren pony truss spans on the east end at Howell Station Campground remain in tact and function as observation decks overlook the opposite banks.
The bridge was first spotted via Google Map as I was planning my US trip in the spring of last year, but from the Red Rock Dam, where county highway T-17 crosses the Des Moines River, it is easy to see the crossing, let alone access it from the two campgrounds. Yet taking a closer look at the bridge, one can see there are some questions that are left open to be answered. Some of which can be seen in the photos below. First and foremost, the bridge was one of the longest wagon bridges to cross the Des Moines River in Iowa at 1000 feet. (some other bridges, like the Wagon Wheel Bridge near Boone and the crossings in Van Buren County are either close to the bridge’s length or even longer). A wagon bridge means that the bridge was originally built for horse and buggy and later modified to accommodate cars and trucks. Yet the information is lacking with regards to the bridge builder, let alone what the bridge originally looked like before the structure collapsed in 1992. Therefore the bridge was not listed on the National Register of Historic Places, nor did it appear on the Iowa Department of Transportation’s Historic Bridges website, which has been unavailable for some time. In the minds of many, the bridge was put to the backburner until my visit in August last year, when I photographed and posted photos of the bridge on James Baughn’s Bridgehunter website. Since then, calls have gotten louder from those interested to pursue the inquiry. But…
Perhaps one can also help solve the clue to another mystery located next to the bridge. At the two ends of the now converted observation deck are wood pilings sticking up vertically from the river to make it look like piers used for another bridge crossing. Both of them appeared to have aged greatly as wood splits have appeared in the piers and are spalling. Could it be that a temporary bridge was built to assist construction crews in removing the wreckage from the 1992 disaster, or are these remnants of an even older span? It is possible that the pilings were also used to guide ferries across the river prior to the bridge being built. In either case, the quest to solve these two burning questions remains open and will be the case until someone steps up to assist in the information.
Questions about the Mystery Bridge:
1. Who was the builder of the Horn’s Ferry Bridge and what did the bridge look like before 1992
2. What do the pilings next to the bridge tell us in regards to its history: Was there a bridge built beforehand and if so, what did it look like? Was it part of the ferry service that had existed before the bridge was built in 1881?
3. What was the cause of the bridge collapse on 31 August 1992?
Please send the answers directly via e-mail or to the The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles page on facebook and as soon as the respondents provide the clues, the answer will be posted. Photos (esp. of the bridge prior to 1992) are strongly encouraged as long as you provide the source so that I can note this when posting them. Thanks!
Photos of the bridge can be seen via Bridgehunter.com, which you can click onhere.
Some changes in the online column to make it appear more attractive to the readers.
In the past couple weeks, some of you have been seeing some road work done to the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles and its sister column the Flensburg Files. This includes making some changes to the template as well as the categories featured. I’m now pleased to inform you that the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles has been completely renovated and now more accessible to the reader. Apart from the new images placed on the template (the template was kept because of its simplicity), here are some other changes to make you aware of: New Categories: Apart from keeping the bridge profiles, tour guides of areas with large population of bridges, and articles pertaining bridges, preservation, etc. as the main core, the Chronicles will dig deeper into topics on bridge preservation- laws and practice, while at the same time, bring more preservation efforts to the attention of the reader. Furthermore, beginning in June, the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles will have book of the month, featuring a book on (historic) bridges which will be reviewed by the author. In some cases, there will be an interview with the author(s). And there will be a forum open to answer any questions or forward requests for information on bridges for any purpose (project).
Historic Bridge News Expanded: Apart from carrying the news from Historic Bridges.org, one can also view the news articles from James Baughn’s Historic Bridges of the US and Kaitlin O’shea-Healy’s Preservation In Pink, all available on the Pages bar (located at the top of the template. A news room on an international scale is available via Bridgehunter’s Chronicles (under Jason D. Smith) page on Twitter, which will feature news stories of historic bridges mostly outside North America .
Links to other websites: Apart from Preservation in Pink, Historic Bridges.org and the Historic Bridges of the US, at least 10 other websites from various countries are available via link in the bottom window to the left below the main window. This includes Bridgemapper.com (out of Pittsburgh), The International Structure Database (out of Berlin, Germany) which is presented in three languages (EN, German, and French), and Highway.dk, a Danish website focusing on highways and bridges serving Denmark, just to name a few. Furthermore, the education page will be expanded to provide readers with more insight into historic bridges and ways to preserve them. The feature is in the same window but to the right of the recent column and most commented bridge columns.
New e-mail address in case of inquiries, suggestions, guest columns to be submitted, etc. While it is available under About the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles in the upper bar, you can also click onto the e-mail address here should you need to contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org. This is the e-mail address of the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles and the Flensburg Files, both part of areavoices.
The Chronicles Live: The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles is now live via Facebook, where you can like it to follow all the postings, additional links provided by the author and other members who are following, while at the same time, you can post your inquiries, etc. Before it was a private group under my Facebook profile Jason D. Smith, but after gaining an audience base and some success with regards to informing people on bridges that have been preserved or are targets of preservation efforts, it was time to move a step forward. The private group will remain for awhile but eventually, more articles will enter the new Facebook site. In addition, you can also follow the Chronicles via Twitter, where postings and other articles will be featured there. To subscribe, please go to subscriptions on the right hand column. It is also accessible via German social network XING, with possibly more to come.
The main goal of the upgrade is to make the Chronicles more accessible to the public, as it has been making strides since its inception in September 2010. Given the increasing interest in the topic of (historic) bridges, especially from those living in regions where the is a high density in the number of bridges, combined with the interest in knowing more about bridge preservation, the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles’ main tasks are to better inform the public of the historic bridges that exist and should be visited, while at the same time bring the focus of historic bridge preservation their attention and involve the public more on bridge preservation projects that exist. With this upgrade, there will be more people informed about historic bridges in the US, Europe and elsewhere, the places with a high concentration of historic bridges they should visit while touring the area, and efforts they can do to save historic bridges in danger of modernization.
When visiting the US from an outsider’s point of view, if there are two types of bridges tourists would like to see, they would be cable-stayed suspension bridges and these bridges, as shown in the picture above: the covered bridge. Even though American covered bridges go as far back as 300 years ago, we are seeing a trend of covered bridges being repopulated in places, like North Carolina, as they serve as an excellent source of revenue for the tourism industry. And one county in particular, Chatham County is going an extra step further, by bringing the importance of covered bridges to the attention of one of the five websites that is devoted to historic bridges, Historic Bridges.org. Why this website and not the other four, like the Historic Bridges of the US, Bridgemapper, Structurae.net, or even this website, the Chronicles?
This article came to my attention and therefore, I am providing you readers with an explanation of Chatham County’s quest for more tourism in the form of covered bridges….
Chatham County, North Carolina, is not know for its historic bridges, laments Sarah Burnnet, the Director of the Parks and Recreation Department for the county. “New covered bridges are popping up all over the state, drawing throngs of tourists to visit them. In Chatham County over the Rocky River, we have one of the oldest covered bridges in the state, built in 1983.” Based on a list compiled by Dale Travis, at least 35 newer covered bridges have since been built in the state.
Members of the Parks and Recreation Department feel that the reason more tourists are not drawn to their covered bridge over the Rocky River is because it is not listed on most major historic bridge publications, since those only list bridges built before 1950. Chatham County is in the tech savvy Research Triangle area of North Carolina, just south of the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. Burnnet laments, “If you do a Google search for historic bridges, the number one website is www.historicbridges.org. This site does not have a single bridge in North Carolina! We want to change that. We want the site to just have one bridge. Our bridge!”
As a result, Earl Betts, a maintenance manager for the county, created special signs on the bridge. These signs simply read, “www.historicbridges.org.” They are mounted above the historic signs reading “Five dollars fine for driving more than twelve horses mules or cattle at any one time or for leading any beast faster than a walk on across this bridge.” The county believes that when people see the new signs on the bridge, they will be inspired to submit photos to historicbridges.org, encouraging the organization to place the bridge on the site.
Once the beautiful photos start popping up throughout the internet, people will realize how important the bridge is. Then tourists will flock to the area. The county’s hope is to eventually have enough tourists to open up a gift shop and cafe at the end of the bridge. “Maybe we can have tours someday to show the public how covered bridges were built 30 years ago.”
Chatham County also hopes to generate support for replacing the existing Chatham Church Road Bridge with a new covered bridge. The Chatham Church Road Bridge is an old one-lane metal truss bridge from 1921. “A bridge as old of that is clearly not safe to carry traffic. It is our hope that once tourists start flooding to the area to see one covered bridge, we can build a second covered bridge on Chatham Church Road,” reports county engineer Phillip Earlray. With two covered bridges close to each other and photos on the internet, Chatham County is confident that they can become the historic bridge center of North Carolina.
The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles would like to wish the county officials the best of luck in their quest to make covered bridges popular again and may other counties and states consider covered bridges as an alternative form of bridge construction and a source of revenue for tourism in the future…..
After some delays because of non-bridge related commitments on the part of the author as well as the webmaster of the Historic Bridges of the US website (James Baughn), the winners of the 2012 TRUSS Awards as well as the honorably mentioned have been announced. It is very difficult to pinpoint which bridge is the most targeted for preservation before they become a pile of broken stones and twisted metal as there were many MANY nominations that were submitted and the painstaking task to narrow them down based on appearance and urgency. Many bridges nominated for the 2012 TRUSS Awards were either winners or honorably mentioned last year and were omitted from the list. Yet there is a link to the 2011 Award winners here:
In either case 15 historic bridges were awarded the prestigious prize, five of which will be mentioned here together with five of the 16 honorably mentioned bridges. In either case, the full list of winners and nominated structured can be found here:
1. Meadows Road Bridge (Northhampton County, Pennsylvania). This stone arch bridge over Saucon Creek was built in 1858 and is one of the oldest bridges in the state. Yet patchwork and alterations on the bridge make it less appealing to Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, who wants to see this bridge replaced. This bridge is a classic example of a wrong attempt to give the bridge a face lift while keeping its unique appearance intact. Already, historic bridge preservationists including Nathan Holth are leading an attempt to convince PennDOT to change their minds and leave the bridge in its place while allowing a new structure to be built on a new alignment.
2. Cedar Grove Bridge (Franklin County, Indiana). Indiana has had an excellent reputation of preserving, restoring and reusing pre-1930s metal truss bridges for recreational use, for an average of six of these bridges have been spared annually, thanks to efforts on the part of Indiana DOT, the governor Mitch Daniels, and other actors from the private and public sectors. This leads to my question of why INDOT wants to demolish this 1914 Parker through truss bridge that was built by an in-state bridge company. According to Ed Hollowell, they and Franklin County have been at odds over the ownership of the bridge and the former highway it carried across the Whitewater River, Hwy. 1. With INDOT’s request to demolish the bridge submitted to the state historic preservation office, another party is now involved and there is hope that this request will be denied and that the ownership issue be settled; especially as many locals would like to see this bridge reused again, even if it is for recreational purposes.
3. Meridian Street Bridge (Pierce County, Washington). After the fall of the Liberty Memorial Bridge in 2008, this bridge in Puyallup is perhaps the last of the Turner Truss bridges ever constructed in the United States. Turner trusses have a polygonal upper chord with Warren trusses resembling an A-frame shape, as seen at the beginning of this article. Washington DOT plans to accelerate the construction schedule and remove the bridge before 2013, yet attempts to halt the progress because of its National Register eligibility may delay these plans by a couple years. More on the fate of this bridge will come as the story unfolds……
4. Black Bridge (Albany County, New York). This bridge is one of two TRUSS Award winners where the public is taking a prudent stance in their attempts to save the bridge. A railroad bridge in Eau Claire, Wisconsin is the other candidate. Both are abandoned railroad bridges, yet this bridge (located in Cohoes) presents the good, the bad and the ugly with regards to good intentions and tragedy. On New Year’s Eve a man ventured onto the abandoned bridge, only to slip and fall into icy the Mohawk River. His body was found a day later. Despite a petition and demand by many citizens demanding that the bridge be torn down, the mayor took a stance opposing the demolition. This was hailed as a success by many in the pontist community and plans are still in place to repair the bridge and convert it into a pedestrian trail this year. With this staunch support for revitalizing the bridge, there is hope that instead of leaving a huge void in the cityscape (as it would have been the case with the bridge removal), that the bridge will make the city more attractive. As popular as the fallen person was, it would not be surprising if the newly converted pedestrian bridge would be named in his memory.
Note: Additional links to the Black Bridge can be found under a summary written about the structure when it was announced the winner of the TRUSS Awards.
5. Hulton Bridge near Pittsburgh (Allegheny County, Pennsylvania) I visited this bridge during a tour of the region in 2010 and was awed by its impressive design: five Pennsylvania petit truss spans with the main span being over 500 feet long! This far outspans most of the bridges of this type west of the Mississippi and is second behind its cousin bridge the Donora-Webster Bridge in terms of its length of the main span in the greater Pittsburgh area. Todd Wilson of bridgemapper.com has been working together with students of his alma mater (Carnegie Mellon University and other actors in finding ways to preserve the bridge intact even though some difficulties in terms of its geographical location may make any attempts to stop the replacement process futile; especially if Pennsylvania wants to modernize its landscape and improve its infrastructure at the expense of the numerous historic bridges that exist.
WILD CARD: Murray Bridge (Humboldt County, Iowa): While most of the historic bridges in the upper Midwest have disappeared to progress, one can see a couple pieces of silver lining nearby. The Murray Bridge over the Des Moines River between Bradgate and Humboldt is unique because of its association with a local bridge builder who left its signature in a form of ornate design on its portal bracing. Yet it had been the most neglected bridge as it was not considered historic to state and national standards and is still on the county engineer’s list of bridges in dire need of replacement. After being given the TRUSS Award for 2012 and after providing an article to the local newspaper on the part of yours truly (who has visited the bridge twice already and even nominated the bridge for this year’s prize), maybe some minds will be changed on the part of Humboldt County. We will have to see.
2. Arkadelphia Bridge (Clark County, Arkansas): Slated for replacement, this bridge is up for the taking, and would be considered a “nomadic bridge” as it would be relocated for a second time, a feat rarely seen for a historic bridge.
3. Ellsworth Ranch Bridge (Emmet County, Iowa): One of only two King Bridge Company structures carrying the Thacher truss design left in the country, this bridge has been closed since 2010 and the question of its future is unclear.
4. Champ Clark Bridge (Pike County, Missouri). Now that the Missouri River has been “cleansed” of all the “hideous, ugly, and scary” truss bridges, the Mississippi River is now the next target of progress. This speaking as a devil’s advocate who frowns in the name of progress that is to be had on this bridge, a five-span Pennsylvania peiti truss bridge.
5. Chambers Ford Bridge (Tama County, Iowa). If there is a way to bring down a historic bridge the “civilian” way, try torching this two-span Pratt through truss over the Iowa River, as it happened recently. Fortunately the bridge is still intact but there is hope to beautify and reuse the structure before arsonists strike again.
In the past six months in the Historic Bridges of the US website (based out of Cape Girardeau, Missouri) one has seen an increase in the number of bridges posted on the website, some of which present details of the bridges’ appearance from up above. While some bridges are easy to find as they are on well-traveled gravel roads, others are found in hard-to-reach areas, encouraging bridge photographers to walk through waist high weeds and marsh areas to find them. In either case, the map programs, offered by Microsoft’s Bing, Google Earth, and Yahoo Maps are providing bridgehunters and photographers with an opportunity to find and track down the bridges that they want to visit and photograph them without having to travel around to find them at random, which could be time-consuming and take up a lot of money for gas.
The map programs can work in two ways. If a bridge posted on the website has a GPS coordinate on it, you can easily zoom in just by clicking on the satellite feature on each of the program. In some cases, one will have to use a bird’s eye view to get a closer look at the bridge and its surroundings. For bridges that you are looking for but do not have GPS coordinates, you can simply use the street markings to help find the right bridge and then mark the coordinates, should the bridge be the right location. There are several advantages to using this program.
It helps a person pinpoint the bridge that he/she wants to go to just by going by the GPS coordinates and the directions that go along with that. This was a very useful tool during my bridgehunting tour through Copenhagen and parts of the USA last summer as I found as many bridges through this mechanism than by using the traditional maps, which unless you mark the bridge type or know a shortcut by driving through someone else’s property with permission, that it is rendered useless. Some of the bridges that I found through this mechanism included those that were out of the way and required some walking time, as it was the case with the Swensrud Bridge, located at the Minnesota/Iowa border north of Northwood, an 1880 iron truss bridge that spans the Shell Rock River and is part of the state natural habitat site.
In some cases, you can also identify the bridge type and the features of a structure that was found through the maps but is out of reach in terms of driving time. This is a difficult task when looking overhead through satellite view but it is more effective with bird’s eye view, which provides an angular view from above. Many through truss bridges have been classified just by zooming in as much as possible and using the expert knowledge of bridge type. The Coal Bank Hill Bridge, located north of Eldora (in Hardin County, Iowa) spanning the Iowa River is one of those examples. Built in 1910 by the Iowa Bridge Company replacing an 1881 through truss bridge, the bridge is inaccessible from both ends because it is on private property. Yet according to the map programs, you can identify the bridge type and the portal bracing from above: a Parker through truss bridge with an A-frame portal bracing.
It also helps you update the information on the current status of the bridges and therefore informing other interested parties on the areas that they can go to for photo opportunities while at the same time, avoid some areas that were once populated with historic bridges but are now reduced to only one or none at all. This can be a blessing or a curse, pending on how passionate a bridge lover someone is. I found that for a person who is a novice in historic bridges, an area that is clumped with at least 8 historic bridges within a radius of up to 100km, like the ones in Fayette and Winneshiek Counties in northeastern Iowa or in areas to the east, like Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania, are the most likely places to visit and photograph than in areas where only a few historic bridges exist, if any at all.
And for some areas whose numerous historic bridges had once existed on the landscape but have long since disappeared, like the ones in Clay County, Minnesota (one of the majority of counties in the state with no historic bridges remaining), one can simply drive through the region enroute to the areas where historic bridges are populous. It depends on the bridge types one is looking for and what the cutoff date is for the construction of these precious works of art.
There are some drawbacks to bridge binging, a couple of which have been experimented already and are highly discouraged. First and foremost, one cannot cut and post onto anyone’s website without explicit approval by the providers, namely Microsoft for Bing, Google for Google Map and Yahoo for Yahoo Maps. Even if approval is granted, one has to pay thousands of dollars in user’s fees to access the programs.
Secondly it can be difficult to identify bridge types without having a contradiction from other contributors. A factor contributing to this argument is the inability of some of the programs to zoom in as close as possible to identify the location and aesthetics. I’ve found that truss bridges (in particular, through truss bridges), suspension, cantilever and other high bridges are easier to identify than bridges with low railings and whose span is short in height, like trestle, slab, beam, girder and certain deck arch bridges. In other cases, there are some bridges one wants to find that may still exist but the views are so blurry that it is difficult to determine whether the historic bridge one is looking for is there or not. Sometimes it is worth asking the local or state engineer just to make sure as it will save the person all the problems attributed to travelling to the historic bridge site to see that it was removed before the opportunity was there to see and photograph it. This actually happened during one of the tours through western Pennsylvania in 2010, where the Kreitz Road Bridge in Crawford County was supposed to be in place at the time of the visit, but wasn’t because it was being replaced. Fortunately, I found a souvenir from that bridge in a form of a gusset plate that is now sitting on display in my office at the university in Germany.
And lastly, it does encourage some photographers to encroach onto one’s property to photograph the bridge illegally. This has caused numerous problems among property owners, including those wanting a bridge removed but have not gotten their wish yet. This was the case with the West Avenue Bridge in Youngstown, Ohio and the Riverton Railroad and Highway Bridges in Pennsylvania during my bridgehunting tour in 2010, and a small bridge in Fayette County, Iowa a year later (the latter of which is in a later column on Fayette County’s historic bridges). This argument can be corrected just by asking for permission to use their property for photographing purpose. While there is a chance that it could be denied, four times out of five, the request could be granted and the photographer could be getting more then his/her bargain’s worth regarding bridge facts, additional contacts, and additional bridges worth looking for. This was my case with a couple bridges in Warren County, Iowa during my tour last summer but learning a valuable lesson from my experience with the people I was confronted with previously.
To sum up on this topic, there are many benefits to using the satellite maps to locate and identify historic bridges if they know what they are looking for. You can use it to locate the bridges you want to visit on your itinerary. You can also identify which ones are still in service and which ones have been replaced to inform others who may be visiting the area. And the views themselves can be something to look forward to when finding historic bridges, whether they are located off a well-traveled road going past farm places or if they are abandoned waiting for someone to photograph it and appreciate it and the builders for contributing to the history of the Industrialization movement in the US and elsewhere. In either case, it helps you to get to the sites more quickly without wasting time and gas, plus you can visit and photograph as many of the sites as possible. This is a blessing for many states and regions whose population of historic bridges are dwindling fast despite very tight budgets for even the tiniest repairs on them. But it is unknown how long that grace period is going to last….
FAST FACT: During my binging adventures I’ve done myself, I’ve found some very shocking results of the historic bridges that had once existed 15 years ago but have long since disappeared. Minnesota (my place of birth) seems to be on the path of Pennsylvania’s in terms of wiping out its number of bridges. While the state has tried to save at least three dozen structures, many of them are facing extinction that is faster than a blink of an eye. Over half of the counties have one or no historic bridges left, including Rock, Swift, Clay, McLeod, Cottonwood, Nobles, Jackson, Martin, Freeborn, Waseca, and Watonwan Counties, just to name a few. 20 years earlier, at least four pre-1940 historic bridges were in service.
There are several states, like South Dakota, whose counties have numerous historic bridges that are closed to traffic because of structural deficiencies. One can tell from the less use of the approaches and the barriers seen through the satellite images. Hardest hit areas are in the southeast in Yankton, Bon Homme, and Lincoln Counties (just to name a few), where the population is the most dense.
Apart from the states east of the Mississippi River, Iowa may be leading the country with its high number of historic bridges that are still in use- if not at least in the top 5. Most of the bridges found through binging are in the eastern half of the state especially those near the Mississippi River, where the tributaries empty into.
NEWS FLYER: As we are on the same page, a latest survey reveals that South Dakota is ranked fifth in the country with regards to bridges that are in dire need of repairs. The top honors go to Pennsylvania, followed by Oklahoma, Iowa and Rhode Island. Some of the areas hardest hit are the east central and southeast corners of the state, where many bridges were closed to all traffic because of structural concerns.
Imagine you have a vintage 1890s historic truss bridge that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places but is in danger of being demolished in favor of a new bridge. The local government knows that the functional life of the structure for automobiles has reached its end and a new bridge is needed to accomodate the increasing need of traffic on the road. Yet the bridge’s aesthetic value makes it worth being saved. The government does not have the funding resources available to renovate it, let alone relocate it to a park. Who do you turn to for help?
This is a one of those text book examples where unless the municipality has a group of people with enough resources, the historic bridge becomes a pile of scrap metal. While two thirds of the historic bridges in the United States have been wiped out over the past three decades, three out of four have been because of a lack of support and resources needed. This includes not only lacking financial resources but also the expertise needed to restore them to their pristine condition. Yet in the past decade we are starting to see a trend toward preserving as many of the remaining third of the historic bridges as possible. This includes the increase in welding and sandblasting the bridge parts and other techniques needed to restore the bridges. It also includes something that Julie Bowers of Workin’ Bridges is doing- marketing and selling historic bridges.
While many state departments of transportation have different policies towards marketing historic bridges that are on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) but are scheduled for replacement- and the success rate among them vary from state to state from above average to poor- Ms. Bowers has been spearheading the efforts to involve parties in the private and public sector and have the historic bridges relocated to other places where they are needed, not only through marketing and selling them, but also having them restored to their usual form before today’s automobiles started wearing them down again.
I had a chance to meet Ms. Bowers while at the Historic Bridge Conference in St. Louis in August and found that she was an optimistic person and a great supporter of historic bridge preservation. But there was an underlying reason of why she is into the business she is right now (and will be in the future)- and this falls on one of the bridges in Poweshiek County, Iowa- her place of origin- which was wiped out during the Floods of March 2010 and is one of the primary targets to have it restored to its usual form. I had a chance to conduct an online interview with the 2011 Ammann Legacy Award runner-up and after some editing work for content, I decided to post the dialogue here, so that the reader can learn more about her work and get involved in the effort to save a historic bridge in his/her own area, let alone assist in the work of Ms. Bowers and her organization, Workin’ Bridges. Here is what she has to say:
How did you become interested in historic bridges (and preservation)?
Sunday afternoons in the fall would often find my family and friends at an old iron bridge. I remember being three and falling in the river from the deadfall – trees that would fall across the river to form a bridge were the most fun. In the background and always crossed – was the old arch bridge. I didn’t know it was historic, it was old, certainly. I was never afraid to drive over it. In 1989 they closed the road, but I was able to ask the Conservation Board for a key, because I felt our family should be grandfathered in to access to that area. Today Millgrove Access Wildlife Area is nearly 1200 acres of prairie, oak-hickory savannah, river birch and boggy area.
Then I moved to California and fell in love with the Golden Gate, Richmond-San Rafael, Bay Bridge. When I moved back to Iowa with Laran (my daughter) in 2001, shortly after 9/11, we started the Sunday ritual at the river again, and introduced a lot more people to that bridge. It has served as a place for weddings and senior pictures, anniversaries and many parties. Magical place.
How are you connected with the McIntyre Bridge? Was it the source of inspiration for you to preserve and market historic bridges?
The McIntyre Bridge is how my career in historic bridges evolved. I was the one that got the call on October 4, 2009 from Larry Bryan who had just been at morning coffee. Now, morning coffee, exists everywhere, that is where you find out the news. Larry asked when I called him back, “They are going to tear down your bridge, what are you going to do about it? “ I cried for three days, then decided that the bridge needed me. There was no other family member to step up and take charge. I was the one who put on the annual party. It was up to me. I was the only one that cared and it was just because my family spent Sundays there when I was a kid.
I started researching bridges and discovered restoration and preservation then, and I haven’t stopped yet. The Supervisors of Poweshiek County allowed us time to see what we could do about saving the bridge and we formed a friends group and then we formed a non profit. And then we lost our bridge, I think without that I wouldn’t be so stubborn about helping others. Knowing that I was one step behind has made all the difference in the world, but it is not easy, and if funds don’t come int, like with the Pepsi Challenge (a long shot for sure) or private donations. We just try to work for our money for restoration in these economic times. We adhere to the standards for restoration and that is how we market our bridges. Historic Antiques – Formerly on the List of recognized historical objects.
Funny story, my daughter and I shared a phone plan, and I got a call one day in early December, “MOM, what have you done to the phone, we are 700 dollars over our limit?” We fixed that by unlimited minutes but I had called nearly every construction and engineering firm in Iowa and no one could help me. Peterson Construction, Inc was the only construction company with cranes who said they would help. Research nationally brought Vern Mesler, Nathan Holth, Kitty Henderson, Eric Delony, Alan King Sloan. Vern and Nathan came to Iowa and told us that we could save the bridge, even if it fell in the river. It was leaning a lot and we didn’t know what to do. It took us a couple of months to become a non-profit – The N. Skunk River Greenbelt Association (NSRGA). Unfortunately, we lacked one signature for lifting the bridge at the end of February and by the 1stweek of March we had lost our window of opportunity to spring flooding for lifting the bridge off it’s piers..
We struggled with legal issues for 5 more months and finally found that two agreements needed to be made, a lease on the land, and the purchase of the bridge for $1. The agreement gives the bridge back when it is fixed. The County did not sign the agreements until after the bridge had been swept off it’s piers in early August 2010. Our organization insisted that we would take care of the bridge and see what we could do about salvaging and seeing if it could be fixed, the piers were still standing in the same place.
That was the day I called Vern to tell him that the bridge was gone. A couple days later he called back with a phone number that I wrote down on the back of an envelope, with a name Nels Raynor. It took a couple of weeks for me to call him, we didn’t know what to do. Nels came to Iowa and told us he was the one that could salvage and fix the bridge. He quoted us a very low price for the removal of the spans all all iron from the river that was way low, saying he knew we didn’t have money for this and he wanted to help us.” We were able to also help whim with a tax write-off for the rest of his time and energy, as the job took a little longer than he thought it might. That bridge went down fighting, about 150 feet downstream.
Workin’ Bridges started from that meeting. I had done a lot of research and grant writing on the bowstring and found www.bridgehunter.com and historicbridges.org. Started doing some research, found a little King bridge in Texas that needed some help, and Nels and I made the trip to do the Scope of Work and Estimate for the restoration of the bridge. TxDOT won that project, but today I sit in Texas, waiting to start documenting the restoration of the Piano Bridge, with the team from Michigan, Nels and BACH Steel, and Scott Miller of Davis Construction Inc, of Lansing (DCI of Decatur, TX), who won the bid at my urging in early August. This little Piano Bridge has a lot of story for everyone to learn something, that old iron can be welded, that it is not intrinsically tired, and that pin connections can be trusted. I’ve learned a lot.
What types of bridges do you market and preserve?
I take a lot of guidance from the bridgehunter nation as to which bridges should be saved and why. The Upper Bluffton Bridge in Winneshiek County, Iowa is one example of bridges that we got the contractor to save rather than scrap. Long Shoals Bridge in (Bourbon County) Kansas is an early 1900’s modified Parker that showed up on the TRUSS award from last year, I called the county commissioners and they listened and are now working on the permission to move that bridge to the city of Fort Scott.
My original research was on King Bowstrings, which branched out to King Bridges, which came back to other bowstrings. My work centers on the bridges built from the late 1860s to 1900. 1916 is the cutoff for most of my interest, that is when American Steel, JP Morgan, the auto industry changed the bridge industry. Now I like all the bridges and determine their historic and local uses. As as artist I like how they frame a view, you don’t get that with the concrete or train-car style of bridge. We look for different qualities for preservation, mostly if there is a use for the bridge.
Our non-profit was fortunate to have some major donor’s working to help us with the bowstring but funding is tight. That is another reason we started Workin’ Bridges, so that I could take the research, grant writing and bridge information I had learned over the last year and share it with others that needed help. The consulting fees help support our administrative budget, which isn’t covered by most grants. Our hope is to get in on some big projects that will ultimately fund our own bridge restoration, which is always a primary goal in my world. To that end we try to educate engineers and construction companies, county and city officials, DNR and County Conservation Boards, and regular folks like me, who just happen to own a bridge.
What is the role of BACH Steel?
If only I had heard about Nels Raynor and BACH Steel when I first heard of Vern Mesler. In July of 2010, after Vern had come to Iowa to put on a metals workshop, I read the book that the core group of bridge lovers had written which had a section on Nels. “A Community Guide to Historic Bridge Preservation” by Mike Mort from MSU. Anyway, coming from a construction background, Nels had the answers and the estimates that I needed. I didn’t need some historic preservationist, I needed a contractor that worked with historic structures. We started collaborating together when I was in Michigan, getting an inventory and photographic details of bridge parts together for the bowstring’s Technical Advisor to the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) in Iowa .
BACH has, to date, only worked as a consultant to Workin’ Bridges on the site visits in Texas, Kansas, Arkansas but we hope to visit more bridges next year. The business model provides a way for the non-profit to work with the locals or purchase a bridge and work with it to find funding and a local group to support it. If the job goes to bid, BACH has the rights to bid it and hopefully the non-profit makes a finder’s fee. If Workin’ Bridges acts as the contractor , as in the bridges we own, then BACH works as the sub. It gets confusing but we have just started working with Davis Construction Inc. from Lansing, MI that Nels had worked with previously. Hopefully, we can continue to work collaboratively to find more bridges to restore, and get them into a pipeline for scheduling so that we consistently have work.
The Long Shoals Bridge – awareness, grant writing, permission requested from NPS keeper of the National Register of Historic Places to move the bridge to Fort Scott. If the permission is granted, a grant has been written for $90,000 to help with the move and disassemble. Further grants and fundraising will have to take place for the restoration and reset.
Springfield Bridge – Faulkner County is pursuing funding for the restoration of the bridge in its original setting as a park. The bridge planking is in bad shape, and some irregular fixes happeed. Another King this is from 1873 and the differences in engineering will require some creativity on the part of the engineer. For the McIntyre Bowstring – Spicer Engineering of Saginaw, Michigan engineered the decking to become part of the lateral strength of the bridge. The Springfield does not have riveted lattice bracing on the verticals, that strengthening showed up in the late 1870s. The eyebars and floor beams are also different in the early bridge so it will be interesting to see how the engineers come up with loading.
McIntyre Bridge – Spicer Engineering has signed and sealed the plans for the restoration of the bowstring. BACH Steel has come up with a way to make the vertical posts and will fix the bridge once funding has been secured. That is the hardest part, we are out in the country with little support for this place.
Enochs Knob Road Bridge – Workin’ Bridges supplied Molly Hoffman with an estimate and Scope of Work for the bridge in Franklin County, Missouri. This bridge has been slated for replacement but our findings showed that another look at the engineering might make a difference in keeping it, although the approaches had been worked for a replacement structure. This would also be a great pedestrian/equestrian bridge but the local population doesn’t want the party contingent there. These bridges are magnets and it is up to us to educate those that hang out their on how to maintain and care for the bridges. Enochs Knob has a lot of ghost stories and history so it will be interesting to see where that project goes.
The Piano Bridge – Workin’ Bridges was given the rights to document the full restoration of this bridge. During my time talking about bridges, I have often had to defend the engineering without being an engineer. The engineers from TxDOT will talk about their reasons for restoring these bridges – low daily traffic and an alternate route are two of the criteria they look at when evaluating keeping bridges in their system. Texas will be doing a lot of restorations in the next two years from funds already allocated by legislature. The documentary / reality construction content will be utilized in a variety of ways, formats and hopefully find distribution to a wide audience, educating them about saving our historic resources.
What difficulties have you dealt with and how have you overcome them?
Most of preservation nation is made up of experts and consultants who consistently get the grant monies.
Bridges are not at the top of the list when it comes to granting or giving donor money.
Bridges were added to the National Register of Historic Places in the 90s from a grant from the National Parks Service,
Being listed on the National Register affords no protections from tearing down, it might slow the process but it has no authority to dictate saving a project.
Local SHPOs don’t know much about historic bridges.
Section 106 is only of use when there is federal money involved and most projects that I look at are small county projects where there is no money. The counties have figures out if they don’t use the Federal money that regulations are different.
It has been very frustrating for our group for many reasons, not being in any town or city and being on the county line are drawbacks for resources.
How does Workin’ Bridges differ from other preservation groups?
We differ at Workin’ Bridges because we are a non-profit, we can do the construction and estimating of a project. People need to know what a project is likely to cost before they can decide to move forward or to write a grant. Most grants don’t allow you to do any work on a project before the grant is approved. Workin’ Bridges can step in to bridge that gap so that the project has a solid basis and can move forward with good decisions. We can also do the work from start to finish with our expert contractors. Sometimes a project has enough money right at the beginning to get something done, so waiting to go through bureaucratic hoops just costs money. Again, if we had been able to use the $50,000 to fix our bowstring in place we would have been way ahead of the game now. And we aren’t out here to make a fortune, although it’s not that we don’t charge fair prices. And we turn any profits we make into the next project, so it is a win-win for bridges.
Nels’ expertise is what I needed when I was trying to save our bowstring, so that is what I am trying to do for the community, get him out there saving more bridges. He is just so knowledgeable and passionate about these bridges, and he is willing to work with me as I find more people that need help. As Nels put it after our visit to Arkansas and Kansas, “We do better work together” It’s good that I can use my background in architecture, design and data management and keep him in the field workin’ bridges.. We are making progress and 2012 has a lot of potential. We hope to be part of the work that goes on at the Cedar (Avenue) Bridge in Bloomington, Minnesota and hoping to start negotiations on the Kern Bowstring (near Mankato, Minnesota), We also put in an option to be part of the Gilliece Bowstring restoration when it comes up for removal.
Workin’ Bridges also has bridges for a sale. Currently a bowstring, a King Post Pony and Pratt from Upper Bluffton, Iowa and several other pony trusses that are at BACH Steel in Michigan.
Winter is a great time for us to go out and do site visits and estimates, spring is the time for grant writing, late summer, fall and early winter a good time to get the work done. I hope Workin’ Bridges will be around for a long time,
I have utilized bridgehunter.com for finding projects from a variety of sources. Nathan Holth of historicbridges.com does a great job of culling information from around the country and letting the rest of us know about different projects all around the country on their forum on on his own website.
The TRUSS awards last year on bridgehunter.com were the bridges we went after, and quickly I started asking questions on the forum. ., With the success of the Piano Bridge trip, where we had just delivered a product that was utilized to negotiate a better deal, I contacted Judge Scroggin in Faulkner County on the way back from Texas and he requested a site visit from us, which we executed in early April. I also contacted the local commissioners in Bourbon County, Kansas and went to visit them in January, 2011. I had been to many county level meetings during the bowstring ownership negotiations so I knew some of their concerns. I was blown away when they each said they were surprised that they could do anything with an NRHP historic bridge, having been told by previous members they could not touch it. When I suggested that they would be responsible when it fell into the river they were shocked and yet understood. Now ten months later they have a plan for the very historic Long Shoals to be the centerpiece of their river park, The Fort Scott /Bourbon County Riverfront Authority (FSBCRA) also had us estimate a King 1910 RR Bridge and Military (Marmaton) Bridge – a 3 King bowstring, both sited over the Marmaton River in Fort Scott and to be utilized for the trail system. The FSBCRA has already been granted over $1.5 for developing the roads and trails, and a bridge had already been specified for crossing in the master plan. Their willingness, even at many times the cost of the concrete pedestrian bridge specified for $100,000, is to be commended, Their executive team and county moved very quickly, realizing that they had a resource they had never considered before. They also see the economic value of a unique structure, one that is also a part of their history, that will add to the overall historic climate of the fort and downtown.
Can you specify with some examples?
Vern’s Mesler’s mission is to train people about metals and how to work with them. That includes bridges and he has been on the forefront of getting that message out,. There is more work to do because many engineers still believe you can’t weld old iron and of course, no one hot rivets anymore and you can’t save that old bridge. We do! Or at least the team I work with does and we support all that takes the Historic Metals Workshop at Lansing Community College. It is worth the trip.
Historic Bridge Foundation
Located in Texas, this foundation brings together information to help in projects that utilize federal funding. Their board of directors is comprised of pontists whom I have mentioned previously. What I have found is that many counties don’t have that funding and are looking at other ways, like selling bridges to private organizations.
National Trust for Historic Preservation
Funds expert consultants, but if you don’t know what you need it is hard to write for the grant. Now I know the experts in engineering and with Workin’ Bridges Scope of Work – a grant can be effectively written for the expert planning required to begin, architectural or engineered plans.
The Keeper – Nels and I had a phone meeting with the Keeper of the Register, Carol Shull, and her deputies Paul Loether and Barbara Wyatt. They had many suggestions but were still adamant that site is very important to bridges and they would not allow permission for the Upper Bluffton Bridge to remain on the NRHP which would allow it to be eligible for grants. They were aware that Long Shoals was coming up but it had time to go through the process and more will be revealed. If permission isn’t granted, I don’t know that the Long Shoals bridge will still be a candidate for use in the river park. They also suggested working with the local EPAs to add a section where every property should be addressed historically, whether utilizing federal funds or not. Just a second look, in my opinion, would be great.
Everyone has their role to play, the photographers and bridge experts at bridgehunter adding to the mix daily, the historian at historicbridges.org analyzing each feature of everytype of bridge, but we look at these projects from a viewpoint of construction. These are big projects and most people don’t know where to start, so that is where we differ from Indiana or Pennsylvania, they have the product but it’s not easy to see it to completion. We can go all the way to landscaping if that is necessary, and we work with proven engineers experienced in truss bridges. As stated before preservation seems to add zero’s to a job, when that isn’t necessary. I think Workin’ Bridges fills a niche, we’ll see.
What will the Future Hold for Workin’ Bridges?
NSRGA was started with one goal, to preserve the bowstring bridge and the greenbelt around it. I didn’t know it was a King and I didn’t know it had a name, we call it the Skunk River Bridge. I, quite frankly, thought all bowstrings were Hales, after I saw footage of the Jones County bowstring lift by the national guard. Our bridge is too big for the helicopters to lift so they couldn’t help me, but their may come a time when I too shall see another bowstring fly.
Some find it quite ironic that I am out here trying to save other bridges when the McIntyre bowstring bridge lays in the backyard at BACH Steel. That delay, failure to find funds, forced the board to think outside the box. We want to restore our bridge and we were able to start and make Workin’ Bridges effective because we are a non – profit, and they trusted that I had the skills and education to make it work. We’ve been at it almost a year.
Our model is similar to Habitat for Humanity or more closely to Dry Stone Conservancy. The Dry Stone Conservancy teaches masonry skills and offers competitions and a list of contractors. I called them for information on contractors for some of the stone piers we are working with like Long Shoals where we will preserve as many original as possible.
I would like to develop contacts in every state. We know that BACH and Davis Construction can’t handle all of the jobs, and many state grants want their dollars to stay with experts in state. so our mission to is find projects of any size and scope, and give the clients the best estimate and quality workmanship they can get. Davis Construction has also been certified in more states, including Iowa, so we are able to look at all kinds of projects, including some with Federal and Historic Monies. So we are either training or consulting in many states and also, when the jobs finally come up, we can go through the construction process. Davis at last word was estimating the Sutliff Bridge at Workin’ Bridges request and we are holding out that the Cedar Bridge Project in Bloomington will become a reality.
This results ultimately in restored iron bridges that can ultimately serve a population for several more generations. There are not that many iron experts, I know, I tried to find them. It is one of our missions to train the next generation of craftsmen while working on our own projects. In the meantime, we educate the elected officials that have the issue of “truss bridges” on their plates. We educate engineers and bridge lovers. We do that by showing the team working a complete restoration (at the Piano Bridge) in Dubina, Texas, explaining the process in detail, This documentation should result in more people saving more bridges. Distribution will be key. Funding is necessary. Anyone still has time to get in on the funding of this documentary as the big bridge lift happens the first of December or thereabouts.
Since the interview, a pair of important points to pass along to the reader:
1. The Piano Bridge was dismantled during the first week of December of this year. The general plan is to sandblast and prime the truss parts and the pin-connections will be either repaired or replaced. It will then be reassembled on site and reopen to traffic sometime in the next year or so. It is touted as a success story for Workin’ Bridges although there are many bridges that are have been pursued and are close to being preserved.
2. The Upper Bluffton Bridge appears to have found a home with a local snowmobile club, even though it is unclear where it would be relocated. The last time there was something mentioned about the bridge, it is still on a piece of land away from its original site. The future of the bridge remains unclear from this point on. However, the Gilliecie Bridge will be replaced as soon as the funding is available even though the bridge will be up for the taking. Should a party take on the bridge, it will need to be dismantled and completely restored, especially because of the damage to the upper chord of the bridge.
3. The Long Shoals Bridge will be relocated to Fort Scott as soon as the funding for the relocation is available. It will be used along with some other historic bridges as a pedestrian bridge. At the moment, almost $1.7 million has been awarded to the Riverfront Authority and another $3.3 million is needed to complete the project, including $90,000 for relocating the Long Shoals Bridge to the park.
4. For more information on how you can help with the projects that Workin’ Bridges is carrying out, use this link to contact Julie Bowers: http://skunkriverbridge.org/ The author would also like to thank Ms. Bowers for the use of some of her photos of the bridges that are either the target of her next projects or are currently undergoing renovation and/or relocation.
Foreword: When we think of historic bridges and US culture and history, two points come to mind, and these are based on a questionnaire conducted last year. The first point is most people will relate the US with the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City. From a German point of view, it is obvious as they were the works of two German-born civil engineers- Joseph Strauss (who was born to German immigrants in Cincinnati) and John (or Germans would call him Johann) Augustus Roebling, who originated from Mühlhausen in western Thuringia. These two bridges are icons as they were built during economic hardships and using the labor of people wanting to work to make a living, let alone make ends meet. One will find both bridges used as one of the symbols of American pride. The second point is when it comes to bridge types that are popular in the eyes of the Americans (and those visiting the US), the covered bridges- those built of wood- have the podium hands down. They go as far back as the 1700s, with the majority of those still standing today being built between 1830 and 1880. Regardless of color and size, design and appearance, these covered bridges are a symbol of love- where lovers meet- and shelter from the rain. This love affair with covered bridges goes further back than the “Bridges of Madison County,” a film produced in 1994 with Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep that takes place in Iowa and has made Madison County a household name and its association with covered bridges. Apart from the ones Madison County and places in southeastern Iowa, one can also find massive amounts of these unique vintage structures in Ohio, Pennsylvania and the New England states. Several articles have been written about these structures, including the latest one on the covered bridges in Pennsylvania and in particular, the Kissing Bridge in Lawrence County. A link found here: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/11286/1181459-55-0.stm.
Yet, despite receiving massive support from state and local governments in renovating and upkeeping the bridges, one has to ask if other bridge types are receiving the same amount of treatment as the ones I mentioned. In an editorial in response to the Kissing Bridge article written by Nathan Holth, the answer to that question is clearly no, and the reasons are obvious, as it will be interpreted from my point of view. If one would rank the historic bridges needing funding either for maintenance or for conversion into a place of recreation, the bridge types needing the most attention are first and foremost the covered bridges, followed by deck arches made of concrete, stone, or brick, and lastly suspension bridges. Down at the bottom, are the bridges made of metal- in particular, cantilever truss, truss and stringer (beam). While stringer bridges have the least value of the bottom three, the other two have been the most neglected as they have been dubbed as bridges that eventually rust and corrode away, too expensive to maintain (even with a simple paint job and replacing the tiny parts that keep them together), and simply too dangerous. They are also a target for scrap metal as some people have successfully dismantled them illegally just so they can get as much money out of the deal as possible; especially since metal prices have skyrocketed over the years. Examples of bridges that have fallen victim to missing metal parts have occurred in Pennsylvania and Mississippi, but other states have been hit but not reported, at least not in the newspapers. And lastly, in light of the I-35W Bridge collapse on 2 August, 2007 which killed 13 people and injured as many as 115, especially the cantilever truss types are being targeted for fast-track replacement fearing a weakening of one section could bring the whole bridge down- a myth that has not only yet to come true but one which a little doctoring up of weak sections at a price of $1000 will prolong the bridge’s life by 30-40 more years, a practice that has been done in places outside the US, even Germany. This is better than having to replace the structure with that whose life is only 50 years and it comes at a cost of millions of dollars; most of which comes out of the taxpayer’s pockets.
The years of misunderstanding and neglect overshadow the beauty of many of the bridge types that are target of metal. The truss types may be common, like the Pratt, Parker, Warren, etc., but they were products of previous truss types that were rare and unique. One can see a fine Camelback truss bridge like the Tremaine Bridge in Hamilton County Iowa, one of the rarest in the state and even the country, but will see even rarer ones like the bowstring arch bridges, the longest of which can be found near Mankato with the Kern Bridge, at 190 feet -only surpassed by the Blackfriar’s Bridge in Ontario (Canada). The portal bracing of the overhead truss bridges represent a signature by the bridge builder; a symbol of how truss bridges were developed. While one will find the common A-frame portal bracing, like the Albright Bridge- located down river from the Tremaine, there are many unique ornamental designs that can be found on some bridges built in the 1880s but highly ignored, like the Hardin City Bridge in neighboring Hardin County. And finally the historic connection of many bridges- regardless of type- are the most ignored for even though they are the product of hard work and innovation- a signature of the great age of Industrialization between 1870 and 1920- let alone the identification of local culture- they are rarely mentioned in the history books and they mostly go unmentioned except in oral history.
Fortunately many agencies and organizations in the private and public sectors have seen the historic value these structures do have and are taking measures to preserve them for the next generation to appreciate. They have involved the government, applied for grants, and done fund-raisers. Yet still, more needs to be done to ensure that these structures receive as much treatment as the covered bridges, let alone the icons that many people associate America with. This includes having more funds available, strengthening the existing preservation laws (and making them transparent) and involving the politicians who are willing to support the initiatives. The question is how to do that?
Therefore I would like to share Mr. Holth’s letter and the one which gave him an incentive to write this and would like to ask you a pair of questions: 1. Do you think that the current grants and other means of support are encouraging or discouraging historic bridge preservation and 2. If there was a way to improve the policies on preserving places of historic interest (and in particular, historic bridges), what would it be? I’m looking forward to your input on this topic.
Special thanks to Nathan Holth for allowing me to put this topic and his letter to the attention of the audience. Mr. Holth runs a website called Historic Bridges.org, which looks at the problems and ways bridges can be restored, using many examples of bridges he has visited and documented since it has been in operation in 2003. He resides in Michigan and is a social studies teacher.
I saw your article on Pennsylvania’s historic covered bridges in the Post Gazette and I wanted to suggest that a good followup article might be one that explores the Commonwealth’s historic iron and steel truss bridges.
I have been photo-documenting historic bridges since 2003 and from Day 1 I have been both shocked and frustrated at how the highway agencies, tourism agencies, the media, and even the public at large have this immense interest in covered bridges yet at the same time, metal truss bridges, rich in both beauty and heritage, are ignored and often demolished and replaced with new bridges.
Your article mentioned that Pennsylvania has one of the largest collection of covered bridges in the country. Nearly all of these bridges have been beautifully cared for and preserved. Did you know that Pennsylvania also could claim that same statement for historic metal truss bridges? Further, did you know that despite that fact, Pennsylvania likely has one of the worst track records in the country for actually preserving these metal truss bridges?
It is in my opinion both imbalanced and unfair to spend tax dollars preserving nearly every covered bridge in the Commonwealth, while at the same time hardly spending any money to preserve historic metal truss bridges in Pennsylvania. Moreover, call me crazy, but when I think of what defines Pennsylvania’s heritage and history, I think of the iron and steel industry. What better expression of that heritage than the metal truss bridge? While many of the steel mills that Pennsylvania once have no longer operate and have been demolished, the products of those mills remain in the form of these bridges.
Your article actually touches directly on a very striking example of this imbalance of metal truss bridges versus covered bridges. You mention a map that Somerset County produces that guides tourists to historic covered bridges in the county. Why doesn’t the county include its historic metal truss bridges? Somerset County is home to a very impressive collection of historic metal truss bridges. Somerset County is home to the Bollman Bridge, a truss bridge that is partially made of cast iron and was built in 1871. Unlike many covered bridges which have had their materials replaced and design changed over their lives, the materials seen on this bridge are the same materials that were there in 1871. Cast iron truss bridges are also one of the rarest bridge types in the country, far more rare than covered bridges. And how can they ignore the beautifully lightweight beams and the ornate builder plaque of the Maust Bridge? Metal truss bridges do not look anything like covered bridges, but they are extremely beautiful. Their economical use of materials makes these bridges look so lightweight they almost appear to defy physics as they carry traffic. Many of them have decorative details including builder plaques and ornamental steel bracing. And unlike most covered bridges, visitors can stand on a metal truss bridge and enjoy an open, unrestricted view of the rivers these bridges cross. Below is a partial list showing some of the best metal truss bridges in Somerset County.
Finally, it is worth noting that the exact same thing goes on in Washington and Greene Counties. Both counties heavily promote their covered bridges but little is done with their amazing collections of historic metal truss bridges.
It breaks my heart to think of all the tourists who use these covered bridge tour guides and probably drive right by these bridges, unaware of their existence and significance.
It is my opinion that an article or a series of articles exploring historic metal truss bridges in Pennsylvania would be unique content for the newspaper and of interest to readers. It certainly would be some subject matter that would be fresh and new. You can explore all the historic bridges in Pennsylvania that I have visited on my website here: www.historicbridges.org/map_penn.htm. Another excellent resource on historic bridges in Pennsylvania is located at www.bridgemapper.com.