Oakmont loses historic icon via implosion amid protests.
PITTSBURGH/ OAKMONT- There are demolitions of historic buildings and bridges that are justified because of their derilect state and safety concerns. While options of rebuilding are viable, the removal of safety hazards with no options left are logical. Then there are demolitions of these historic structures that defy logic and break barriers of resistance of locals and agencies wanting to save them because of their potential reuse.
The bridge was imploded today, dropping all but one of the five pinned connected through truss spans into the Allegheny River. This happened just three months after the opening of its replacement span to the north. Workers wasted no time removing the decking and setting the bridge up for the planned implosion, ignoring last minute pleas to save the bridge.
The plan to replace and then remove the historic bridge was a quick and systematic process, where despite its unique design and construction history, both the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and the State Historic Preservation Office agreed to declare this bridge non-historic.
Had the Hulton Bridge been declared eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, Section 106 of the Historic Preservation Laws would have been enforced, forcing the state to look at options to keep the bridge intact once the new bridge opened. The 1544 foot (471 meter) long bridge featured four 260 foot long Parker trusses and one 508 foot long Pennsylvania petit through truss span with bedstead portal bracings resembling the letter X.
A similar design was found in the Donora-Webster Bridge, before the bridge was brought down in July of last year. Despite protests, PennDOT proceeded to initiate the project, even ignoring the proposals to save the bridge- and this despite its rehabilitation done in 2000, where bridge parts were fixed and the entire structure was painted lilac.
With the Hulton Bridge gone, only the C.L. Schmitt Bridge at New Kensington and the West Mifflin-Riverton Bridge are the two remaining multiple-span through truss bridges left spanning the Allegheny River outside Pittsburgh. Yet given PennDOT’s track record of systematically destroying historic bridges despite opposition to the plan, these two bridges may be gone soon as questionable reasons will be found to justify the decision to take the structures down.
There are two ways to stop them: Have local governments or a private party take over the structures and work to maintain them, or protest the draconian policies to tear down the bridges in front of the State Capitol Building in Harrisburg. But that can be done if more people are actively involved in the efforts-
and have a will to learn more about the historic bridges and their role in the development of the transportation system in Pennsylvania and the US. Right now, the interest is more for football and Facebook. When they will take interest remains open.
Here are the clips of the demolition of the Hulton Bridge:
The Oakmont Historical Society, whose members are currently mourning the loss of their historical icon, produced a documentary of the Hulton Bridge, which includes tours across the bridge. Enjoy this 30+ minute documentary below:
Three-day Event to take place September 5-7, 2014.
Labor Day weekend usually marks the end of summer and the start of the school year throughout the US, unless you are living in some states that have already started school. Yet if you or your child is a bridge fan, like Nathan Holth, then you could consider this year’s Historic Bridge Weekend as the event to close out this summer vacation.
This year’s event, hosted by the author and columnist of HistoricBridges.org, will take place in Michigan, focusing on the creme dela creme of historic bridges. The three-day weekend will start with a tour of Historic Bridge Park on the evening of September 5th, beginning at 5:00pm. Located near Battle Creek, this park features six historic bridges that were brought in from places in southern Michigan, restored and erected as trails throughout the park. The complex received the Chronicles’ Ammann Awards for Best Kept Secret in 2011.
After touring southern Michigan and parts of northern Indiana on Saturday (including a Saturday night photo opportunity of the bridges in Grand Rapids), Sunday’s tour will feature a visit to the Big Mac. Built in 1957 under the direction of David Steinman, the five-mile long bridge, with the main span of 3,800 feet, still remains the longest single bridge in the western hemisphere. Also included in the Sunday tour are the bridges in the Sault Sainte Marie area, which will mark the first time that the HB Weekend will include some bridges outside the US. Sault Ste. Marie is located at the US-Canadian Border and features over a half dozen key structures straddling the St. Mary’s River and the international border, including the International Bridge, built by Steinman and Associates in 1962.
If you have any questions or are interested in participating in this rather informal event that will bring together pontists and bridge enthusiasts from all over the country, please contact Nathan Holth using the contact details enclosed here. Highlights of the Historic Bridge Weekend will be provided in the Chronicles in case if it is impossible to make the event but would like to know which bridges to see while visiting Michigan. The author of the Chronicles already has a few bridges to visit on his agenda for his visit to the region in the future.
Author’s Note: A book on the Mackinac Bridge will be featured in the Chronicles’ Book of the Month soon.
Author’s Notes: This is the first of many interviews that will be posted on the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles, as the column will look at the successes of President Obama with transportation policies and with it, historic bridge preservation, what challenger Mitt Romney will bring to the country if elected President, and how the Presidential elections will impact the future of America’s infrastructure and bridge preservation and maintenance in general, which despite improvements since the Minneapolis Bridge disaster on 1 August, 2007 (see part I and part II for more details), there are still some critical flaws that need to be addressed, even after the November 6 elections take place.
The first interview is with Nathan Holth, webmaster of HistoricBridges.org, a website focusing on historic bridges, preservation and some interesting facts that he has gathered since the website was launched in 2005. Most of the coverage is in the eastern half of the US and large parts of Canada. In addition to that, he has been actively involved in the Section 106 and Section 4f Process of the 1966 Historic Preservation Laws and has worked with many parties in ensuring that historic bridges targeted for replacement are preserved, regardless of whether they are in place or in a different location. Here are some questions I had for him, which he took some time to answer. Note that all pictures in this article are courtesy of HistoricBridges.org and the author would like to thank him for the usage.
1. How big of a role have you played in historic bridge preservation since Obama was elected in 2008?
In May, 2011 myself and Luke Gordon worked to remove five abandoned pin-connected truss bridges in danger of collapse in Monroe County, Michigan and place them into storage for future restoration and reuse in new locations. In 2009, myself and Vern Mesler worked to provide the city of Mt. Pleasant, MI with information about the historic significance of a pin-connected pony truss (which turned out to be an 19th Century truss built by Wrought Iron Bridge Company) and the feasibility of its restoration. These efforts helped the city decide to rehabilitate the bridge for pedestrian use rather than replace it with a modern bridge. I have also participated as a consulting party in a number of bridge projects that triggered Section 106.
2. How would you rate the transportation policies in the US in comparison with the policies regarding preserving historic bridges?
Current United States policy toward all bridges (not just historic bridges) encourages deferring maintainance and repair of bridges while encouraging demolition and replacement projects even though these practices cost taxpayers more money in the long run. This is due to limited federal and state aid to help local agencies with costs of basic bridge maintainance and repair (these costs come exclusively out of local bridge agency’s pockets) while at the same time if a bridge has a sufficiency rating of below 50% (a rating that takes into account many aspects of a bridge including structural condition) the agency is elgible for and frequently awarded a huge grant from the federal and/or state government. As such, bridge agencies tend to be rewarded for allowing their bridges to deteriorate, since the grant money is more widely available for demolition and replacement of under 50% sufficiency bridges. From their perspective, they are saving money because the federal government or state pays for it. However from a taxpayer perspective, this will cost more in the long run and is wasteful in this time where the country needs to lower the national debt and budget deficits, while dealing with aging roads and bridges. The current policy is harmful to historic bridges because it is not possible to build a new historic bridge, a historic bridge can only continue to exist by being maintained or rehabilitated.
3. What improvements would you like to see made?
A far greater percentage of federal and state grants to bridge / transportation agencies should be devoted to aid for projects that involve maintaining, repairing, and rehabilitating existing bridges. This is a policy that would be beneficial for all bridges, not just historic bridges, although historic bridges would greatly benefit. Because it benefits bridges in general, such a policy should enjoy widespread support from the people, since even people who could care less about historic bridges could see the value in maintaining bridges better.
From a historic preservation perspective, it would be nice to see Section 106 apply to all public bridges, not just those with federal involvement. This may be tricky to make reality however because it would touch on a greater issue of states rights and sovereignty. It would also be nice to see Transportation Enhancement grants expanded, or a specific funding program for historic bridges be created similar to the Federal Highway Administration’s covered bridge funding program, except that this program would preserve all types of historic bridges.
4. How would you rate Obama’s performance with regards to what was mentioned in nr.2? Do you think it will have an impact on the presidential elections?
Obama has not made any improvements to the way in which bridges are funded. The focus continues to be on demolition and replacement projects with limited to no funding for improving existing bridges.
5. Do you think Romney will do better?
Romney would not do better. Both Obama, Romney, and also the various Senators and Representatives that hold positions on surface transportation committees appear to lack understanding of what actually goes on in the world of bridges. They hold the position that this country suffers from “aging” or “crumbling” “infrastructure” as they loosely describe it. They are correct that the “infrastructure” including bridges is crumbling, however I do disagree that “age” is a problem, since if an old bridge is properly maintained in good condition, it can still be safe and functional. These politicians feel that increasing funds is the primary solution to solve the crumbling infrastructure problem. They seem unaware that if we spent more money on rehabilitation and repair that we might be able to make each dollar go further and make greater improvements to infrastructure without increasing the level of funding. They also seem unaware of how wasteful it is to focus only on demolition and replacement.
At the same time, because liberal policy focuses on having government provide people and businesses with assistance to make sure everyone can be successful, liberals (like Obama) are more likely to continue to provide funds for infrastructure. Conservatives like Romney would more likely believe that the people do not need help from government and therefore feel that maintaining a government-owned system of roads and bridges is not a priority. As such I suppose in the short term reduced transportation funding would prevent some historic bridge demolition and replacement projects from moving forward. However it would not bring a halt to the deterioration of these bridges and they would eventually fail and have to be closed. We really do need funding for bridge projects. We just need to change the focus of those projects to maintaining existing bridges.
6. In your opinion, who will win the elections and how will that impact the transportation policies as well as that of historic bridge preservation?
I expect Obama to be reelected and I see no changes in existing surface transportation policy. However, if Romney is elected, I do not see any changes to surface transportation policy. There is a risk that Section 106 and Section 4(f) could be abolished under Romney however, because these protections for historic structures would be seen as government regulation. With the exception of social/religious issues, where Republicans strongly support big government and heavy regulation, Republicans support drastically reducing the role of government. Since historic preservation is not a religious issue, it is undoubtedly something Republicans wish to get rid of.
7. What are your future plans regarding historic bridge preservation?
I plan to continue projects similar to those I outlined above. Continued work through Section 106, and selective direct efforts to save specific bridges.
Thank you, Mr. Holth for your time and assistance in answering some of my questions and best of luck to you. More interviews between now and 6 November are yet to come.
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.
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…..
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.
This article starts off with a shocking but sober statistic that was presented by Eric DeLony, who worked for the Historic American Builder’s Society and Historic American Engineer’s Record, which is the following: since 1980 over two thirds of historic bridges in the United States have fallen victim to progress, as these bridges, ages 50 and older and unable to meet today’s standards, have been demolished to make way for structures that are sturdier, wider, and longer- able to withstand wider, bigger, and heavier traffic, and as a consequence, contribute to the increase in housing development and commerce and to a certain degree, urbanization. The hardest hit areas are structures built over 100 years ago that used to serve horse and buggy but cannot handle today’s traffic. These include concrete arch bridges, suspension bridges, and truss bridges, like you see in the photo above. While measures have been carried out to save some of the most pristine structures, others that have very high historical value in terms of its history, design, bridge builder, and association with the communities were not so fortunate and therefore, had to be taken down in place of modernized structures that are bland, and have little aesthetic value whatsoever. This includes the recent demolition of the Little Church Road Bridge, which is only 30 minutes south of Chimney Rock Bridge in Winneshiek County. Because of the lack of funding to relocate the 1873 bowstring arch bridge to Decorah to incorporate it into the Trout Run Bike Trail, the third longest bridge of its kind was dismantled and sold for scrap metal, earlier this year.
Beginning in 2006, the founders of Historic Bridges.org (formerly, Historic Bridges of Michigan and Elsewhere), Nathan Holth, Luke Gordon, and Rick McOmber declared November as Historic Bridge Awareness Month. According to the authors of the website, this month was chosen as it serves as the end of the construction season and with that bridge replacement, and the beginning of action by grassroots and private organizations to hinder any plans of replacing historic bridges in the next construction season. The goal of Historic Bridge Awareness Month is to raise awareness of the importance of historic bridges and encourage preservation of these precious but yet rare structures. This includes assisting small groups in preserving their own bridges through consultation, funding, and other means that would work to their advantage. It also includes providing training in restoring historic bridges, so that there are more people working in this field. One must not forget to address this importance of historic bridges to governmental agencies from the top down, including state departments of transportation and the federal government. And lastly, it also includes using media and social-related tactics to bring the importance of historic bridges to the attention of the public.
While the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles is the youngest website to enter the scene with the goal of addressing the historic bridges that are in danger of demolition while providing tour guides to bridges both in the US and Europe, other websites have been addressing the importance of preserving historic bridges for the last 8 years. They include the following main portals:
Historic Bridges of the US: Created by James Baughn and headquartered in Cape Giradeau, Missouri, this website provides the readers with detailed database on the historic bridges that either had existed before being replaced or are still in use, thanks to the usage of photos and information provided by the contributors. The author of the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles is among those who have submitted photos and information on bridges on a regular basis since 2004.
Historic Bridges.org (formerly, Historic Bridges of Michigan and Elsewhere): Founded in 2006 and stationed in Michigan, the site focuses on historic bridge awareness using various bridges in areas mostly located in the eastern half of the US plus parts of Canada as examples. Each bridge has its own commentaries that are accompanied with photos taken in detail by the authors. It also has launched various programs to encourage change in policies towards historic bridges.
Bridgemapper: Founded by Todd Wilson and Lauren Winkler and located in Pittsburgh, this website provides the reader with some information and location of bridges mostly in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio with the goal of encouraging the tourists to visit them before they are gone.
Historic Bridge Foundation: Headed by Kitty Henderson and based in Austin, Texas, HBF provides consultation on ways to preserve historic bridges and ensure that Section 106 of the Historic Bridge Preservation Act is protected.
VJM Metal Craftsman: Based in Michigan, Vern Mesler has been an expert in welding steel and iron for over 34 years and has used this expertise in refurbishing and reassembling historic bridges, which includes establishing a historic bridge park in Calhoun County, consisting of pre-1900 iron and steel truss bridges brought in from outside the county.
In addition to the success of electronic media, social gatherings and conferences have become successful in attracting the public interest in historic bridges, as experts provide advice on ways to preserve historic bridges. In many cases, tours to these bridges have persuaded many people to appreciate the historic value of these structures. The Historic Bridge Convention in Pittsburgh this past August, hosted by Todd Wilson of Bridgemapper, was a classic example of how important these events are to not only those who are bridge enthusiasts but also those who are interested in historic bridges in general but have no real expertise. More on the event can be found in the next column.
And lastly, practical examples of how historic bridges were preserved have clearly shown that it is possible to preserve them with the use of funding, manpower-especially those with expertise in the field relating to historic bridge preservation- and interest from the public. Apart from the aforementioned Historic Bridge Park, there are many examples of historic bridges that have been relocated for reuse, regardless of whether it was for recreational use or for reuse for vehicular traffic. This includes the relocation of the Freeport Bridge to its current place at Trout Run Park south and east of Decorah. The second longest bowstring arch bridge in the US was built in 1878 and was granted a new lease on life as the 160 foot long wrought iron structure has been serving as a picnic area since 1989. Plans for reusing the Ten-Mile Creek Bridge, a kingpost pony truss bridge built in 1895, on the Trout Run Trail is on as scheduled and should be completed by next year at the very latest.
When it was impossible to relocate a bridge, one could also preserve it in place, as was the case with the Kirby Flynn Bridge in Palo Alto County, Iowa. Built in 1883 and moved to its present location on Brushy Bayou Road in 1919 as part of the plan to rechannel the west branch of the Des Moines River, this bridge was in dire straits when the author of the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles visited it for the first time in 1998. The predictions of it being removed was overturned when the county rehabilitated the bridge and reopened it to traffic in April of this year. The Pratt through truss bridge still serves traffic to this day and is an example of a success story that one would ever dream of.
Still despite all the successes that have been presented, the future of historic bridges in the USA is still in doubt, even after the Mid-Term Elections which brought down Chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Jim Oberstar (Rep. Minnesota), who championed the Surface Transportation funding program that encouraged bridge replacement over rehabilitation and preservation. Many politicians and other government officials had until now considered the Section 106 Process as a waste of time and money and had pushed for the abolishment of this. This includes officials in Pennsylvania which not only leads the nation in structurally deficient bridges but also in the number of historic bridges and those that have been demolished since 2001. Whether this attitude will change when the Republicans take control of the House of Representatives and enter the Senate with a more equal balance of power to the Democrats in 2011 remains to be seen. Even though many Republican governors have reiterated the fact that money should be averted from the development of high speed rail lines to repairing roads and bridges, it does not necessarily mean that the destruction of historic bridges will slow to a craw or be brought to a halt. The opposite could very well be the case.
In either case, Historic Bridge Awareness Month should be touted as a success story in the making, as despite the failures in preserving some of the most pristine historic bridges in the country, there is still hope to preserve the rest of the bridges that are considered historic, meaning those ages 60 years and older, from the author’s standpoint. Â What is needed is support in the form of expertise, media coverage and social gatherings, and most importantly, the interest in the public in preserving a piece of American history which is considered one of the most neglected. Through these channels, everyone can accomplish more in historic bridge preservation, and more historic bridges will be reused for the next generation. In turn, the next generation will have an opportunity to learn about this small aspect of American history by visiting these places in person and walking back into time for a few minutes to see how they were built, which is more valuable than seeing them in electronic and print media.
NEXT IN THE CHRONICLES: THE HISTORIC BRIDGE CONFERENCE 2010 IN PITTSBURGH, PA.
Note: For those wanting to see the commentary in connection with the Mid-Term Elections in the USA, please refer to the sister column, The Flensburg Files, as the author interprets the results from an expatriate’s point of view.