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 on here.
1. This year will mark the 30th anniversary of the bridge being converted to recreational use with the main highway being rerouted over the dam. Unfortunately it will also mark the 20th anniversary of the bridge’s (near-) tragedy for unknown reasons. It was really fortunate that the groups involved fought to keep the remaining spans standing to be used as observation decks, but it would be curious to know the causes of the bridge collapse.
2. While little known to the pontist community, some people have tried to keep the memory of the bridge alive through marketing, like this attempt to sell the Horn’s Ferry Bridge mousepad, for example. There is hope that someday, a history book on the bridge will be written, although it will be mentioned in a book I’m writing about Iowa’s truss bridges. More information to come in the next posting.
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.