An Interview with Clark Vance

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In 2011 at the Historic Bridge Convention in Missouri, I had a chance to meet Clark Vance in person and found him to be open-minded in many aspects, but having knowledge that is enriched for historic bridges, and other artefacts. Mr. Vance just recently retired from his position as high school teacher, but has been a key contributor of historic bridges for bridgehunter.com for as long as the website has existed, providing readers with photos and interesting facts on historic bridges, mainly in the Midwestern part of the US, centering around the states of Kansas and Missouri. Because of his contributions to historic bridges- as a photographer, historian and sometimes consultant- Mr. Vance won the Ammann Awards for Lifetime Achievement in 2018.

I had a chance to interview him recently about his interests in the topic and found some more interesting facts about him, how his interest in historic bridges first started and some words of advice for those who are working in the field of historic bridges, in terms of photography and preservation. This is what I learned from him, as you read the interview:

 

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  1. Tell us more about yourself in terms of professional and private life.

I recently retired from 11 years of teaching engineering, math, and software engineering to high school students. I previously worked in IT and automotive technology. I still enjoy working with and driving my (too many) cars and motorcycles. My wife is a psychologist in private practice and her daughter is a professor at an art and design school. I highly recommend being retired.

 

  1. What got you interested in historic bridges?

My father was a civil engineer with the Kansas Highway Department in the late ‘40s before going to work as a structural engineer in private industry. He didn’t mind my gazillion “What’s that?” questions as a kid and actually had the knowledge to answer a lot of them, particularly about man made artifacts in the natural environment. My curiosity about infrastructure was rewarded with good explanations of whatever odd item caught my attention. Some of my best times as a kid were when he and I would visit road construction sites and he would answer all my questions then add information about things I hadn’t noticed.

 

  1. You do mostly bridge photography, right? Or do you write or talk about them?

My main public activity surrounding bridges is as a contributor to BridgeHunter.com. I’ve enjoyed old maps as a way to see into the past and discover things that are unused and forgotten. My enjoyment of driving back roads and hiking fit with this, and BridgeHunter gave me an excuse to photograph the things I found. I don’t consider myself a bridge expert or historian and I try to avoid spending too much time talking with others about bridges lest they consider me odd(er).

 

  1. Do you teach historic bridges in school? If so, how?

I didn’t get a chance to teach the second year class where we taught truss analysis, so my role as an educator was mostly as an informal consultant for the students working on entries to bridge building competitions. I taught an intro civil class where I got to cover infrastructure and of course I exposed my students to a lot of structural history using bridges. I hope they came to appreciate the significance of structures that their later instructors will possibly dismiss as obsolete.

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  1. What kind of historic bridges do you look for?

Although I enjoy simply documenting older existing structures, my greatest enjoyment comes from locating and documenting bridges that have been forgotten. Most of the time there is little left physically but I like to record the location and identify any visible remnants. Kansas City still has places where one can see the paths worn by the wagons heading out on the Santa Fe Trail. For whatever reason, I feel it’s important for people to remember the paths used in the past.

 

  1. A historic bridge in your opinion is…….

Defining what constitutes an historic bridge is similar to identifying an historic car. Anything old enough is worth preserving, and the more important it was when new, the more significant when old. Even the plainest, cheapest Model T should not be scrapped if it’s possible to preserve it. A Cadillac V-16 is obviously more rare and more worthy of preservation. From the perspective of the people trying to use objects in the economy, is would be foolish and wasteful to try to run a fleet of Model T taxis and it’s equally foolish to expect a tall, narrow pony truss to carry a combine or loaded grain trailer. It’s fun to drive old cars across the Chain of Rocks bridge but trying to keep it as part of the interstate system makes no sense.

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Chain of Rocks Bridge. Photo taken by Jason Smith in 2011

 

  1. What is your favorite historic bridge?

Picking favorites is difficult. Friends and I would walk out on the Chain of Rocks bridge not long after it closed. I haven’t been back since it got cleaned up but I imagine it’s still pretty spectacular. As a kid my family would visit relatives in southeast Kansas and I have a long standing love for the Marsh arches. I also enjoyed driving the old Flagler railroad bridges linking the Florida Keys back in the ‘70s.

 

  1. What historic bridge(s) do you miss the most?

Probably the bridges I miss most are: The Chouteau Bridge in KC. Totally obsolete and awful for trucks and cars alike, it was nonetheless an important bridge when built and quite impressive an an old, still functioning work. The ASB automobile lanes were narrow and had a reputation for fatal accidents where the lanes split to go around the trusses. For better or worse, one could have a close look at the structure and mechanism while driving by. More generally, I miss the many through trusses that were everywhere when I began traveling and which have almost all been replaced by much more efficient boring bridges guaranteed to keep concrete plants busy repairing and replacing them.

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  1.  What words of advice do you have for the following:

 

Photographing Historic Bridges: Get the big picture and the little details. Show the setting and what one would see driving by or passing under. Also, catch the details that can help identify the builder, date, and other parts of the history.

Teaching about Historic Bridges: I wish I had more knowledge about this. I found that I could engage students by providing some of the history behind modern concepts. Bridges played an important role in the development of engineering as a field, so I tried to cover bridge technology in discussions about changes brought about by developments in material science, structural analysis methods, etc.

Preserving Historic Bridges: Two things strike me as most important, public support and technical skills. Right now old bridges are in a place similar to steam locomotives in the ‘50s. They are being phased out and replaced by products deemed superior by policy makers. I don’t think there is much hope of their remaining in common use. The focus needs to be on finding ways to save them from being scrapped and preserving the knowledge needed to put them back in limited use when more of the public has the desire to experience the old technology. Each one lost will make the remaining ones more valuable and more likely to be saved.

 

Thank you for your time, Clark and wishing you all the best in your endeavors. J

 

The next question is who will win the now rebranded Bridgehunter Awards in the category Lifetime Achievement? If you haven’t voted yet, click here and you will be directed to the ballot. Deadline is January 10th and the winner will be announced two days later.

 

Note: Photos posted  but not cited here are all courtesy of Clark Vance.

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How to teach Infrastructural History in School

Waddell Truss Bridge at Volga State Preserve. Photo taken in August 2011

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Joint Article with Sister Column:

 In connection with Files’ series on In School in Germany. More on the series can be found here.

History- a subject that goes beyond borders and looks at things that we never knew about, getting us to think about them, putting them in the context of our own lives and the environment we are living in. It goes beyond the borders of geography and how the countries were developed. It goes beyond arena of sports events and looks at the development of each kind and how the men and women contributed to it. It digs deeper into how the country was mapped out in terms of landscape, networks of infrastructure and the social aspects which led to revolution and redesign by reformists and those who wanted to make their place better than before.  In other words, one has to dig deeper to find the truth and challenge what had been written in the past but was now rebuked because of new evidence.

In school, especially on the secondary level, history is a must, and it is important that students know about the history of their country and the rest of the world for two reasons:

1. To help them become acquainted with their own region and country and discover who they are and where they came from and

2. To encourage them to find out more about themselves and where they live, by looking and exploiting the aspects that are seldom mentioned.

As there are certain requirements written by law and because of certain time constraints, only a peck of the history that exists is even taught in the schools, and when it is taught, it is with the traditional social form of teaching: the book and frontal teaching (German: Frontal Unterricht). It is not surprising that the interest in history among youngsters up to 18 is near the bottom of the food chain, in both countries- more so in the US than in Germany because of the strive of educators to have the students achieve high results in the international tests for math, reading and sciences. But as we see in the PISA studies, and which will be discussed in the Files’ article about Frontal Teaching, sometimes student involvement and allowing them to discover something new can encourage a positive education result, even better than the recent studies.

But even with these constraints, the teacher can make some space for some new things that cannot be found in books themselves- at least not yet, that is. And when students are encouraged to do some work on their own, whether it is analysing a text and writing a review about it or presenting about it, then they will benefit from it in a way that they can add the knowledge to what was taught in the past and have fun doing it. This is where the topic of Industrialization and Infrastructure enters the picture.

During my internship at a Gymnasium (EN: High School) in Germany, I had an opportunity to dig deeper into the history of the development of Germany in the 1800s by looking at aspects like the creation of democracy, Otto von Bismarck’s creation of the German state in 1871 and how Germany became a super power and remained so until the end of World War I. At the present time the students are talking about Germany, Europe and the age of industrialization between 1871 and 1914, where several aspects, such as imperialism, socialism, worker’s union and environment are being introduced. Even the expansion of the transportation infrastructure and the landscape made of steel will be mentioned. Believe it or not, this is the topic the author of the Chronicles and Files is about to do.

Talking about the infrastructure and comparing it between Germany and the US does produce their similarities in terms of inventions and the development of materials for the construction of buildings, railroads and bridges, yet how does a teacher present these aspects to the students without boring them.  Let’s look at the topic of bridges, for example. There are two different arguments for and against presenting this topic. The contra part would be the simple fact that a bridge is a bridge, crossing a ravine connecting point A and point B. If it fails or is too old, then it is replaced. The pro part to this topic feature the arguments about unique bridge designs, bridge builders that were common, including those who immigrated to the States from Germany, like Ralph Mojeski, Lawrence Johnson, Albert Fink, and Gustav Lindenthal, to name a few. Then there is the switch from iron to steel mainly because of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, and lastly the consolidation of 28 bridge builders into the American Bridge Company in 1901 and its competition from other bridge builders in the west, as well as outside the country.

Nathan Holth once presented this topic as a whole during his time as a student teacher (his PPT presentation can be seen here). Some of the unique features, include the builder’s plaque, portal bracing of the truss bridge and ornamental features can enable historians to determine how the development of bridges came about in the US between 1871 and 1914. As I will be the second pontist to present this in a couple weeks time, the topic will be on a wider scale as Germany and US have some similarities with regard to bridge construction. The difference is with regards to the fact that the German concentration seems to be more on canals and railways than with highways, like in the US. Also the full establishment of steel companies, like Thuyssen-Krupp before 1871 enabled Germany to expand the steel-building landscape, constructing bridges and high-rise buildings in large cities, like Berlin and Hamburg, in addition to its fleet of ships.

The question is if one wants to present bridge building in connection with the industrialization- be it in the US, Germany, Europe or when comparing between two countries, what aspects are important and should be presented to the students, keeping in mind that the topic is industrialization, and the time frame is betweenthe 1870s and 1914, the time of World War I?  Which aspects should the students research on in their own spare time? And lastly how should it be taught in high school in comparison to college?

Put your comments here or on the Files’ or Chronicles’ facebook pages as to how you would approach an exotic topic like this, while keeping the topic of Industrialization in mind.  I created a pocket guide to industrial history which includes bridge building as one of the aspects. You can click here to read about it.

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Iowa Transportation Heritage Quiz I: The Answers

I’m also certain that all of you are eager to know the answers to the questions as well. You don’t have to wait any longer, as the answers to the questions can be found here in this posting for transportation heritage and in the next posting for the state’s historic bridges. Have a look at what you have and compare it to what the answers actually are. After looking at them, you can bet that you will learn something new and be a bit smarter than you were before. Please feel free to share your facts with others who may beg to differ or would like to know more about Iowa and its rich history. 🙂

How many Interstate Highways pass through Iowa after 1985?
3
5
7
8 -> I-29, I-35, I-74, I-80, I-280, I-380, I-680, I-235

 

When was the No Passing Zone sign, now a common site on America’s highways, first introduced in Iowa?
1954
1958 -> The NPZ signs were placed along US Hwy. 30 between Clinton and the Missouri River in Harrison County.
1960
1963

 

Which of the two highways that meet in Iowa were named after US Presidents?
Washington and Jefferson
Lincoln and Roosevelt
Lincoln and Jefferson -> The Lincoln Highway, which connected New York City and San Francisco, and the Jefferson Highway which connected Minneapolis and New Orleans meet in Iowa in the small town of Colo in Story County.
Lincoln and Reagan

 

Which of the highways in Iowa was the oldest?
Lincoln Highway -> 1913
Jefferson Highway     (1915)
Avenue of the Saints   (1998)
Blue Grass Road    (1924)

 

Which city had the oldest concrete street in the state (and second oldest in the US)
Bellefountain
Decorah
Mt. Pleasant
LeMars -> Eagle Street (later named 1st Ave. SW) was paved in 1904

 

The Wright Brothers, Orville and Wilbur, were the first to invent the power driven airplane plane and made their first flight in Kitty Hawk in 1903. Their parents originated from which Iowa community?
Cedar Rapids -> Milton and Susan Wright resided in Cedar Rapids between 1878 and 1881
Keokuk
Spirit Lake
Mt. Vernon

 

The Rules of the Road program, first introduced in 1904, was amended to include the minimum driving age. When could a person start driving at that time?
14
15 -> correct answer
16
17

 

The first 24-hour Truck Permit center in the country was established by the Iowa DOT in which year?
1976 -> correct answer
1995
2001
2013

 

At the same time as the answer to nr. 8, Iowa DOT became the first in the country to develop what concept?
Developing logo signing
Producing fast-track paving
Recycle concrete -> The first pavement was produced using recycled Portland concrete.
Curb removal

 

Iowa’s interurban railroads, featuring electrified trolleys existed between 1920 and 1970. How many lines existed during that era?
5
8  -> Tama-Toledo;  Cedar Rapids- Iowa City; Des Moines and Central; Des Moines and Southern, Ft. Dodge, Waterloo, Charles City Western, Mason City-Clear Lake and Southern Iowa
13
20

 

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Photo by Drew Rae on Pexels.com

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Iowa Transportation History Quiz II: The Bridges of Iowa

After answer the questions to part 1 of the transportation heritage quiz,  second part is a multiple choice quiz dealing with Iowa’s historic bridges, the engineers that left their mark in the state and the types that were first experimented for use on the highways.  Answers are here in the Chronicles.  Good luck! 🙂

Which bridge is in the picture above?

Green Bridge in Waverly

Ft. Atkinson Bridge near Decorah

Red Bridge in Des Moines

Rusty Bridge near Spencer

The Kate Shelley Viaduct, located in Boone was named after a girl who was famous for this heroic deed?
She stopped a train from falling into a flooded creek
She rescued the brakeman and engineer from the train that had fallen into a flooded creek
Both of the above
Neither nor- She became president of the Chicago and Northwestern Railways.

Where was the first railroad bridge built over the Mississippi River located?
Dubuque
Keokuk
Quad Cities
Burlington

Which of the following Iowa communities did NOT have a bridge building company
Okoboji
Ottumwa
Oskaloosa
Des Moines

The Melan Arch Bridge, located in Rock Rapids, was the first of its kind to be built using reinforced steel rods. Its designer and inventor Josef Melan originated from which European country?
Austria
Bohemia (now Czech Republic)
Prussia (now part of Germany)
France

Zenas King, who built many bridges in Iowa under the name King Bridge Company in the 1880s and 90s had a son, George, who started his own bridge building business in which Iowa community?
Council Bluffs
Corning
Des Moines
Davenport

Which bridge type was not developed and experimented in Iowa?
Kellogg Truss
Thacher Truss
Marsh Arch
Pratt truss

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Iowa was the first state in the country and the first in the world to invent and construct this bridge type?
Bowstring arch bridge made of steel
Steel girder bridge made of aluminum
Parker truss bridge made of metal
Marsh arch bridge using recycled concrete

Close-up of Thacher Truss

Edwin Thacher patented the first Thacher truss bridge, a bridge with an A-frame in the center panel, in 1884, and the first bridge of its kind was built where?
Independence
Rockford
Estherville
Lake Park

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Which Iowa river has the most number of steel railroad viaducts in the state
Big Sioux River
Little Sioux River
Skunk River
Des Moines River

Hint: Look at the picture of the Kate Shelley Viaduct.

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Which Iowa bridge builder later made a career as a school board president?
A.H. Austin
Lawrence Johnson
George E. King
James Marsh

 

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Iowa Transportation History Quiz Part I

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In connection with the topic on Iowa’s historic bridges, the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles is providing readers with a pair of quizzes pertaining to Iowa’s transportation history, designed to expand their knowledge of transportation. The first of two parts is a multiple choice quiz dealing with transportation achievements in Iowa. Answers are provided here. Good luck! 🙂

How many Interstate Highways pass through Iowa after 1985?
3
5
7
8

When was the No Passing Zone sign, now a common site on America’s highways, first introduced in Iowa?
1954
1958
1960
1963

Which of the two highways that meet in Iowa were named after US Presidents?
Washington and Jefferson
Lincoln and Roosevelt
Lincoln and Jefferson –
Lincoln and Reagan

Which of the highways in Iowa was the oldest?
Lincoln Highway
Jefferson Highway
Avenue of the Saints
Blue Grass Road

Which city had the oldest concrete street in the state (and second oldest in the US)
Bellefountain
Decorah
Mt. Pleasant
LeMars

The Wright Brothers, Orville and Wilbur, were the first to invent the power driven airplane plane and made their first flight in Kitty Hawk in 1903. Their parents originated from which Iowa community?
Cedar Rapids
Keokuk
Spirit Lake
Mt. Vernon

The Rules of the Road program, first introduced in 1904, was amended to include the minimum driving age. When could a person start driving at that time?
14
15
16
17

The first 24-hour Truck Permit center in the country was established by the Iowa DOT in which year?
1976
1995
2001
2013

At the same time as the answer to nr. 8, Iowa DOT became the first in the country to develop what concept?
Developing logo signing
Producing fast-track paving
Recycle concrete
Curb removal

Iowa’s interurban railroads, featuring electrified trolleys existed between 1920 and 1970. How many lines existed during that era?
5
8
13
20

 

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Loving ode to bridge poets: The Unknown Bridge

Upper Paris Bridge in Linn County. Photo taken in August 2011

The Month of Bridge Poets

The month of dedicating our loving odes to bridge poets continue with another bridge poem that was discovered a few years ago. Unlike the previous post (which featured the first poem), this one is untitled and was written by an unknown soul. Yet the author wrote the poem about a bridge that had been serving people and traffic- in a form of horse and buggy- with a question of what stories the bridge may had had at that time. While it was most likely written in the 18th or early 19th century, the central theme has to do with bridges and their own history. Let’s have a look at the poem:

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What stories could these bridges tell

If they could only talk?

They’d tell us of the ones who rode

And those who had to walk.

The rich, the poor, those inbetween,

Who used their planks to cross

The soldiers, farmers, businessmen,

In buggies, sleighs, by “hoss”.

Like sentinels these bridges stand

In spite of flood and fire,

Their rugged, stalwart strength remains our

Future to inspire

Each bridge does have a collection of stories that may have been told by people who either knew about it from the stories told by their ancestors or who had visited the bridge, doing activities that were sometimes memorable, like a Sunday walk with family to catch-up on lost time, and sometimes not so memorable, like a getting into a brawl with archrivals or even worse.

With each crossing of the bridge, a mark is left on its planks, its metal beams and its ornamental railings that can tell of the times of joy and that of trial. Each bridge is part of a community of people wanting to know more about its history, let alone create history to share with the next generations. And therefore, this poem deals with bridges and the stories that are unknown and should be sought, their legacies and how it should remain in place, and their symbol as a structure that serves as an identity to their respective communities.

Author’s note: If you know of the title of this poem and the author’s name, please submit it to Jason D. Smith at the Chronicles and it will be added to the poem. 

Also, after reading the poem, here’s a question for the forum:  Do you have a bridge with a lot of stories that you heard about and/or would like to share with others? If so, please place them in the comment section here or via facebook. We’re eager to read them.

Historic Bridge Conference 2012: Indiana

Inside the Triple Whipple Bridge over Laughery Creek Bridge in Dearborn County. Photo courtesy of Nathan Holth of historicbridges.org

 

Author’s Note: This is part III of the series on Indiana’s historic bridges and the Historic Bridge Conference that took place on 21-23 September.

When you see or hear the word historic bridges, what are the first words that come to mind? Do you know of a historic bridge(s) that you grew up with? What were some fond memories? Were there attempts to preserve or destroy that particular structure and why? And if the structure was destroyed, was it because of lack of information on how to preserve it or was it because of lack of interest?

Each of us grew up knowing a rickety old vintage structure that was nearby, where we crossed on our way to our grandma’s house, or went on family walks or gone fishing. We also saw our favorite bridge succumbing to progress without any knowledge of ways to preserve it for uses other than being a road bridge. But there are some people who are of the opinion that times change, concrete is better than metal bridges that rust and corrode and they are not worth saving….

Not in the eyes of the Hoosiers living in Indiana. The state has one of the highest number of historic bridges in the United States, and one of the highest ratio of those preserved. It was not long ago (15-20 years to be exact) that the number of historic bridges were plummeting, prompting calls from the public and private sectors to take action and preserve what is left of the bridges. Unlike in some states, like North Dakota, Nevada and Pennsylvania where the numbers are either very low or are dropping like a falling meteor, the calls were heeded and today, one can see at least three or four through truss bridges and at least two stone or concrete arch bridges in each county- on average.  How was this done?

The success story of Indiana’s historic bridges became the focal point for this year’s historic bridge conference, which took place in southern and central Indiana. A large turnout gathered in Indianapolis on the evening of the 21st of September to listen to Julie Bowers, Nathan Holth, Marsh Davis, and Dr. James Cooper speak about historic bridges. Ms. Bowers provided the public with a presentation and documentary on historic bridge preservation (the summary on the DVD can be found here), using the Piano Bridge in Texas and the McIntyre Bridge in Iowa as examples. It was followed by Nathan Holth, who recently released a book on the moving bridges in Chicago (vertical lift, swing and bascule), providing some details on the movement to make the City by Wind not only modern in its time (with skyscrapers made of steel) but also movable, with bridges opening to shipping traffic. While Marsh Davis talked about historic bridges and the role of Indiana Landmark, the keynote speaker for the event was Dr. James Cooper, professor emeritus of history at DePauw University at Greencastle (located southwest of Indianapolis). Mr. Cooper spent 40 years writing about historic bridges and presenting to thousands of historians and interested citizens about this unique topic, the history and connection with the development of the state’s infrastructure over the past 150 years, and ways to preserve them through policies and practice. And for over an hour, he spoke about the successes of historic bridge preservation on the Hoosier state. A Q&A session with Mr. Cooper is found in the next article in the Chronicles.

The number of bridges visited is very high; some dealt with bridges that were on the itinerary, like the Cedar Grove, the Madison-Milton and Triple Whipple Bridges, but there were some that were not on the itinerary, but were beautiful enough to stop for a few minutes of photo opportunities, as many pontists and those interested traveled from west to east to see them.  Nathan Holth of Historic Bridges.org provided me with some classic examples of historic bridges that were visited while on tour and a gallery is provided below, with links to the historic bridge pages that were profiled. Have fun viewing them. More to come….

Photo gallery:

 

Guiford Red Bridge in Dearborn County

Vernon Fork Bridge in Decatur County

Lost Bridge in Dearborn and Ohio Counties

George Street Bridge in Aurora (Decatur County)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Galbraith Bridge in Bartholomew County. Previously closed for repairs, it was reopened in time for the Historic Bridge Conference.

Flat Rock Creek Arch Bridge in Jennings County: one of a few in the state where two historic bridges are located next to each other. This 1900 structure is next to a 1920s concrete slab bridge.

Cave Hill Road Bridge in Ripley County

Champs Ford Bridge in Decatur County

Furnas Mill Bridge in Johnson County

Flat Rock Creek Stringer Bridge in Jennings County: located next to its successor, the Flat Rock Arch Bridge

Author’s Note: The interview with James Cooper can be found in the next article. Special thanks to Nathan Holth for the use of the photos for this and other articles pertaining to this topic. Very special thanks to Tony Dillon who coordinated the three-day event and brought in a huge crowd to the event.

The next Historic Bridge Conference (2013) will take place in Iowa. More details will come as the planning progresses.

Tracking Down a Bridge’s History Part I: Overview

Chimney Rock Bridge in Winneshiek County, Iowa. Photo taken in 2009

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Researching a historic bridge is like doing genealogical research. You track down your family history, finding out where you originated from, where members of your extended family are located and finding ways to connect with them. One can find out how many (first, second, third, ….) cousins you really have (including the ones that are once or twice removed), while at the same time, travel to some places where your extended parts of your family once resided. My aunt in Minnesota has done a lot of research into my  father’s side of family for about two decades, finding out that several branches of the family once resided in Europe and parts of Africa, including areas in the north and western parts of Germany, like Bingen and Marburg (north of Frankfurt in the state of Hesse) and Oldenburg (both in Schleswig-Holstein and Lower Saxony.) My uncle on my mother’s side of the family managed to trace down the origins of  the family, which was in northern Schleswig-Holstein in the village of Stein (near Kiel), but had branches of the family residing in the northwestern part of Germany and in particular, in North Rhein-Westphalia.

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Researching a historic bridge is similar to doing genealogical research in many ways. While one can track down the history of the bridge builders, as Alan King Sloan has done with the history of Zenas King and the King Bridge Company in Ohio, and Fred Quivik has done with the Hewett Family, Commodore Jones and Alexander Bayne, who created the Minneapolis bridge building empire in the early 1900s, it is also possible to track down historic bridges, based on the question of where they originated from.  The reason I posed this question is simple: many historic bridges- in particular, truss bridges- were moved around from place to place. This concept was introduced in the late 1890s but was carried out extensively beginning in the 1920s and 30s as part of cost-cutting measures carried out by local communities and counties. Constructing brand new bridges were too expensive because of the scarcity of materials, like steel, resulting in the increase in prices. Other materials, like wood, were prone to weather extremities, resulting in dry rot and fungi that eat away at the wood. Furthermore they cannot resist floods and ice jams as well as those made of other materials. Relocating truss bridges is easy for they can be dismantled, transported to their destination and reassembled on site, before starting its next life serving a new round of traffic going across it.

One of the most well documented bridges in the US: The Three Sister Bridges in Pittsburgh over the Allegheny River. Named in honor of Roberto Clemente, Andy Warhol and Rachel Carson. All built in 1926. Photo taken in August 2010

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Speaking from personal experience, tracking down the history of a bridge can be blessing if the structure had its service life in one place. However, when it is relocated from place to place, it can be a curse, for once the structure is moved out of the county, chances are most likely that the records are lost forever, either intentionally or through other factors. That is why it is important that when tracing down a bridge’s history, you have to have a fond knowledge of history and geography, a good memory and ability to do the math and put the pieces of the puzzle together, and most of all, the passion to do this research and solve the case. While the first few factors can be learned, if you do not have the passion for this type of structural genealogical research, then it will not be fun at all. I have compiled a few simple steps that will help you trace the bridge’s history starting from when and where it was first built, followed by the question of if and how many times it was relocated, all the way up to whether it still serves traffic or was replaced through modernization with the structure being scrapped or recycled for the next modern bridge to be built.

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Step 1: Check out the records that are on file through state and county agencies: Most agencies will have bridge files (also known as inspection reports) available based on the bridge numbering system that was adopted and used for inspection and research purposes. 99% of the time, each file will have a photo of the structure as well as the date of construction. Nine times out of ten, there will be records and photos of the previous structures- the ones that had previously served traffic before they were replaced.

There are two issues that should be taken into account:

1. Not all bridges have records dating back to when it was originally built, let alone when it was relocated. In other words, missing information.  That means if there is a bridge built in the 1950s, even though the design was no longer used on the roadways at that time, chances are that the bridge was imported from another region. A classic example of a bridge that falls into that category is the Chimney Rock Bridge in Winneshiek County, Iowa. Records showed it being relocated to its present site in 1952, yet the bridge was originally built in 1906 by the Continental Bridge Company in Chicago. More information can be found here through an essay written in 2007. In some cases, even in state historic bridge inventories, there are estimated dates of construction even though in all reality, the bridge existed before that date.  In some cases if there is no further evidence to support the construction date, you have to refer to other sources of information to determine whether the date is correct and if not, when exactly it was built and where. 

The second issue is the fact that not all records of structures that were replaced with present structures are kept on file. Some agencies prefer to discard the files once the replacement bridge is open to traffic. The fortunate part is the fact that in the past 35 years, state and county agencies have done a better job of keeping these files available to the public, allowing people to access them for their own purposes. Yet up to the early 1970s, the practice of eliminating old records was well-known for there was little interest in preserving historic bridges at that time. The exception to the rule:  areas that were not only heavily populated with historic bridges but also had detailed records of their history, like the cities of Chicago, Pittsburgh, Minneapolis-St. Paul and New York City, for example.  Regardless of how detailed the information is, bridge files provided by the state and local governments is the starting point for your research.

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Steps 2 and 3: The next two steps are the most time consuming tasks but also crucial ones. You need to look through the newspapers, court records and other documents to determine the following:

1. Whether the data provided on the bridge files is correct,

2. If the bridge is imported from another region, where exactly did it come from,

3. How was the bridge constructed and

4. If the location of the bridge matches that of what is in the bridge files you received from the agencies.

For this, you need to look through as much materials as they are available, especially newspapers, as many libraries and museums have them in archives. You need to plan in days, if not weeks to trace through the archives of one or two newspapers serving one community or region. Sometimes, you have to read through the archived papers twice or three times to make sure the information is accurate. In the case that the bridge is imported from outside, travel may be required if the place of origin is determined. The same procedure applies to other documents, such as city and county records, bridge company records, as well as records from transportation entities, such as railroad companies, etc. One should have a series of maps available to trace the location of the bridge; especially if a bridge was imported from outside, it is important to pinpoint not only its location in the present, but also in the past, regardless of how many times it was relocated. There are many examples of historic bridges that were relocated more than once but research was needed to track down its history, namely through newspapers and maps. The most recent was the Mulberry Creek Bridge, which the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles wrote an article about recently. You can view the article here.

Durrow Road Bridge in Linn County, Iowa. Photo taken in August 2011

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Step 4: Also useful are postcards and oral sources. Postcards with pictures and images of historic bridges can help a person fit the description with the bridge being researched, even though they can become blurry and difficult to see with age. Oral resources in the form of people associated with building the bridge as well as residents living near the bridge can help the researcher by providing some facts about the building of the bridge and its association with the area. It can be an interesting experience when they tell some stories that can be useful for the project. This was the case during a visit at the Durrow Road Bridge in Linn County, Iowa in August 2011, when I found that the 1920s truss bridge was brought in to replace a wooden stringer bridge in 1949 and was named after a century old farmstead located just 300 feet away. The bridge still serves traffic and has been well maintained.

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Step 5: Once you have all the information gathered and exhausted all your resources for gas, travel and copies, you can start putting the information together in chronological order from the time the bridge was constructed for the very first time all the way to the present, putting in the right order the time and place where the bridge was relocated, and adding stories to help fill out the bridge’s history. One will find the story of a bridge’s life more interesting as the pieces of the puzzle come together.

South River Bridge in Warren County. Photo taken in August 2011. This is one of many bridges that was built in the 1950s but is rich in information through records and newspaper articles.

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Should you run into problems with putting the pieces together, sometimes it is useful to spread the word through media sources. The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles is the latest of a handful of websites that has helped researchers by informing the public of bridges, whose information is lacking, not just in a form of mystery bridges- bridges with no information on its place of origin but was relocated to its present site, but also bridges that have existed for many years but are missing the stories and history that makes them potential candidates to be recognized on the state and national levels. James Baughn has a list of photos of mystery bridges on his website, with no information of their places of origin, submitted by various people. The same is with Todd Wilson of Bridgemapper, even though the website focuses mainly on pinpointing the location of the bridges with some basic information on some of them. In either case, informing the people through the use of media, including social media, can encourage new contacts with people with information on the bridge you are researching about, which can help you complete your research in the long run.

Lima Bridge over the Volga River in Fayette County, Iowa. This is one of many bridges that was replaced (this one in the 1970s) but has not been researched properly. This one has potential to be historically significant. Photo taken in August 2011. An article about the bridge can be found here.

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Why is tracing a bridge’s history really important nowadays? Many of the historic bridges are being taken off the highway system by the dozens- either through demolition and replacement, abandonment, or conversion into a recreational bridge- for they have reached the end of their service lives as a vehicular bridge. While states have carried out their research since the 1980s and have renewed the bridge inventories recently, there have been some discrepancies in terms of information that is either inaccurate, missing or both. Part of it has to do with the lack of funding and time to conduct the research. Another has to do with the lack of willingness of some agencies and people to share the information on the bridge’s history, fearing that they could be considered historically significant. As a result, many find ways to avert Section 106 4f of the Historic Preservation Act of 1966, requiring all historic bridges (both listed and eligible) to undergo a mitigation study to document the history of the structure, determine the environmental impact of the bridge replacement project and find alternatives to bridge replacement. Such aversion had worked up to the last decade, but calls have gotten louder by preservationists and other interested groups to review and revise the documentations done on their bridge to determine their historic significance, respect the policies regarding historic bridge preservation versus replacement, and consider preservation for future use.  This is one of the important pieces of the puzzle and one that can potentially save more bridges than destroying them and with that their history.


Running parallel to the need to preserve historic bridges by redoing the inventory, the interest in historic bridges through literature has increased over the past 15 years. Thanks to the likes of Mary Costello, who wrote a two-volume set on the bridges over the Mississippi River, James Cooper, who wrote a book on the bridges of Indiana and the people at the Institution of Civil Engineering at Milton-Keynes near Oxford (England), who wrote a 10-volume set on the bridges in the United Kingdom and all of Ireland, many people are jumping on the bandwagon and writing about the historic bridges in their regions, which includes info-tracking them to find out more about their history. The trend will increase over the next five years, as pontists, photographers, locals and writers will continue to churn out more materials on historic bridges, whose information will be more accurate than the information provided in previous bridge studies. Therefore it is important to treat the bridges like you are doing a genealogical study of your own family: each bridge you profile in your project must have its history traced from the present to as far back to the past as history allows it. This includes the possibility that when a bridge you are researching was relocated from another region, traveling to the place where the bridge was first constructed may be a necessity. Such a measure should not be treated as a burden, but one where you can learn a lot along the way.


While there are many examples of bridges that have traveled a long ways from their original starting point to the present, I’ve identified two examples worth noting which can serve as a reference point for you to start your bridge research. These examples can be found in the next article. Happy Bridgehunting!

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Bridgehunter’s Chronicles now LinkedIn flickr

In the last few days, you have probably seen a couple articles being revised and cleaned up and some changes in the way the Chronicles is being presented in itself. It is no secret that the online column is growing both in size (with more articles and photos than ever before) and popularity.  Therefore, the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles picked up two more social networks to guarantee easier access to the articles and photos.

The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles is now available on LinkedIn, a social network that is exclusively made for professionals from a variety of fields, including those who are involved with history, preservation, historic bridges and the like. To join the page, you must have a LinkedIn account, and all you need to do is type in the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles (which can be done either directly or through my profile) and subscribe. You will receive as many articles and questions for the forum as you normally receive either directly or through the other two social networks that is available through the Chronicles, twitter and facebook. However you may be able to pick up some important contacts from people in your field of interest if you are looking to improve your profile and establish ties at the same time. Should you have difficulties in accessing it through LinkedIn, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Also important to note that the Chronicles, along with its sister column the Flensburg Files is now available on flickr. Just type in FlensburgBridgehunter12 and you will be in the photo gallery, where the best photos taken only by yours truly will be posted for viewing. Each article from now on will provide links to the photos that are posted on flickr. They will be shown either underlined in the text or at the end. This will help reduce the amount of clutter which had been clogging up the column since the early part of the summer and resulted in the author doing some housecleaning (eliminating articles deemed invalid and void and either reducing the amount of MB per photo file before uploading or taking them out altogether).

A pair of examples of how this was done was with two articles on Erfurt, Germany’s historic bridges, which you can see here:

http://thebridgehunter.areavoices.com/2012/06/28/he-bridges-of-erfurt-germany-part-ii-the-bridges-in-the-inner-city/

http://thebridgehunter.areavoices.com/2012/06/19/the-bridges-of-erfurt-germany-part-i-the-outskirts-of-erfurt/

This will not affect the photos used by other with permission, as they will remain as is on the Chronicles page. I will still post some pics in the articles in the Chronicles but they will be on there for a limited time before eventually being transferred to the flickr site.  All other previous articles with still current topics will receive the same treatment as the two articles that were revised on Erfurt’s bridges.

This leads to the pop quiz for all the readers out there. I returned from vacation in Schleswig-Holstein (in northern Germany) and found a real beauty for you to guess at. I would like to know from you the following:

1. Where is it located?

2. What bridge type is it?

3. When was it built: a. 1880s    b. 1910s      c. 1950s      d. 1990s      e. 2010

The answer will appear when the articles of the bridges of Schleswig-Holstein are posted in a couple weeks.