Red Bridge as a Romantic Pedestrian Crossing

Photo taken in August 2011

There is something very special about this particular crossing, especially when I visited it in 2011. We can start with the design features of the Red Bridge, located over the Blue River at Minor Park in the southern part of Kansas City. While it is rare to have bedstead trusses- truss spans with vertical endposts- this 1932 bridge features a curved version of a bedstead endpost, as you can see in the picture above. This is a common bridge type found in Europe, yet this bridge, whose name is because of its color, is most likely the only surviving structure of its kind in the US.  According to historical accounts, this bridge is located at the site where Daniel Boone and Jim Bridger used to settle in the 1820s. The Santa Fe Trail once ran at this location. And the original crossing used to be a covered bridge, built in 1859 by a Scotsman named George Todd, on masonry piers. It was replaced 33 years later.

When the present Red Bridge was built as the third crossing in 1932, Harry S. Truman, oversaw the design, bid and construction of the structure- as Presiding Judge of the Jackson County Court (akin to today’s County Legislature)! This was the same Truman who later became US President, taking over after the death of Franklin Roosevelt in 1945 and serving eight years. Sources indicated that the Red Bridge was his favorite of all the bridges in Jackson County, Missouri, where he spent most of his life.

Now, after 80 years, the bridge has a new purpose in life- to serve as a lover’s crossing. Since 2012, the bridge has been integrated into the bike trail network serving Kansas City, as it still crosses Blue River and goes through Minor Park and Golf Course. And given the fact that the bridge is almost 300 feet long, which includes the Art Deco-style approach spans and main piers, lovers are making use of the 93-foot curved Bedstead Parker through truss main span by doing something that was adopted by the people in Cologne, Germany with their beloved Hollernzollern Bridge: putting locks on the bridge’s railings, as a sign of permanent love and affection toward each other, and throwing the key into the river. This tradition was first used after the bridge was converted to a pedestrian crossing in 2012 and, according to latest reports, hundreds of locks have been placed on the railings.

An interesting concept that had existed for many decades with the famous Rhine River crossing, yet it is making its way to the US. It leads to the question of whether and where such practice exists on other (historic) bridges in the USA and Europe. Furthermore, are there other “Lover’s Bridges” where people don’t use locks and keys to show their love but other traditions. If you know of some stories about such bridges, place them in the comment section at the end of this article, or in the Chronicles’ facebook page. Readers would be happy to hear about such bridges that exist and the stories that go along with them.

In the nearest future, another Red Bridge article will be featured in the Chronicles. My question to you is as there are many Red Bridges in the US, where are they located? Apart from the one in Kansas City, there are two in Iowa, one in…… Any ideas?

 

Book/Documentary of the Month: A Tour of the Rhine in NRW

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Hollernzollern Bridge at Cologne. Cologne and the River Rhine Region in NRW won the Bridge Tour Guide Award for 2013. Photo taken in March 2010

There are many ways to write a book on bridges, let alone do a documentary for a TV program. One can focus on one bridge and its history, but that is more for locals who are closely attached to the bridge. One can focus on a region with a handful of bridges, like writing about bridges in a county or district. Again, the main focus would be the locals, but it would draw some attention from other bridge enthusiasts. As the region gets bigger, so do the number of people who are closely tied to the bridges, and the people from outside who are interested in these sturctures.

However, if you want to focus on bridges along the river, like we have here along the Rhine River, this is where one has to be walk a fine line. While documentaries like the one televised by German Public TV Station WDR can draw hundreds of thousands of viewers to the region, one has to be careful that the people do not become bored with each and every single bridge that is documented and told in the language that everyone can simply understand. This does not mean that it is impossible to talk about a tour of bridges along the rivers. The problem is when the length of the rivers are longer and there are more crossings, then one really needs to divide the project into segments dealing with region, history and in a certain degree, importance to the community.

One of the most successful projects is a two-volume book written by a former Iowa teacher, Mary Costello, on the bridges of the Mississippi River. Her book featured sketches of bridges she drew while on tour and some history to each one, yet it was divided unto the bridges along the Lower Mississippi (Gulf of Mexico to Iowa) and the Upper Mississippi (Iowa to Lake Itasca, Minnesota, where the river began). But what about another long river, the Rhine River?

The Ludendorff-Brücke at Remagen after American troops conquered the Rhine Region in March, 1945. It collapsed two months later. Photo taken by unknown soldier, credit to US goovernment as public domain

For 1200 kilometers (or 760 miles), the Rhine starts in the Swiss Canton of Grisons in the southeastern part of Switzerland in the Alpine region and makes its way north, forming borders with Liechtenstein and Austria before entering Lake Constance and forming the border with Germany. After Basel, the river creates a border between the Bundesrepublik and France before flowing into Germany after Karlsruhe. After passing through Mannheim, Mainz, and Frankfurt, the river creates a deep gorge which slithers its way from Bingen to Bonn and later through the industrial metropolises of Duesseldorf, Cologne and Leverkusen.  After turning west from there, it enters the Netherlands, where after passing through Rotterdam and Utrecht, it creates a delta where the river empties into the North Sea near Katwijk.  Nearly 100 bridges cross the Rhine, half of them in Germany. Each of them has a history of its own, not only in terms of its design and construction, but also its involvement in history.

When WDR (an arm of Berlin-based German public TV channel ARD with its branch office in Cologne) produced the two-part documentary on the Rhine River crossings in 2010, it was aware of the fact that it had to narrow its focus to only a few bridges, for each one had its own personal history to it, and the broadcasters there were aware that they could not afford to lose their audience with too many bridges, nor get into conflict with other German public TV stations who could benefit from this experience, like HR, which covers Hesse and Rheinland Palatinate and SWR, which covers the Saarland and Baden Wurttemberg. Therefore, WDR focused its bridge documentary on just the bridges in North Rhine-Westphalia, covering the bridges of Cologne, Duesseldorf and Duisburg.

The End Result?

A two part series where the first part focuses on the historical aspect. The story there starts in 1945 where the Nazis, in a desparate attempt to fend off the Allied Troops that were enchroaching the country, blew up any bridges along the Rhine that were not destroyed. Yet the mission was unsuccessful because of one of the last standing bridges at Remagen, the Ludendorff Railway Bridge, which the Americans captured on 7 March, 1945. Yet the bridge collapsed 10 days later but not before the troops constructed the bridge heads on both sides of the Rhine so that they could construct a pontoon bridge in its place. The original bridge heads were kept in place and is now a memorial.

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Hollernzollernbruecke and Cathedral in Cologne Photo taken in March 2010

The bridges laid in ruins together with the cities that were bombed out. Yet, one bridge, the Hollernzollern Bridge was rebuilt, using the through arch spans that were bombed off the piers and were sitting in the Rhine. Originally consisting of two three-span arch bridges, an additional one was added in the 1950s and today is the key link for trains travelling to Frankfurt and points to the east of Cologne Central Station. The Bridge serves as a symbol of love, as the railings are covered with padlocks with signs of love written all over them. Legend has it when lovers meet, the padlock was locked on the fenced railing with the keys thrown into the Rhine.

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Love locks on the Hollernzollern Bridge

But the first part also featured a tour of the bridges, inspected by the city engineer on a regular basis to determine how stable the structure is and what repairs are recommended. Marc Neumann, the city engineer serving Cologne provided a tour of the inside portion of the Zoo Bridge in Cologne, one of the most heavily traveled vehicular bridges in Cologne that was built in 1962 and is a box girder bridge, the first built in Germany at that time. Other highway bridges in Cologne have dealt with problems with increased traffic and the city has desperately tried to keep up the pace by constant maintenance of the bridge, as shown with the Severin Bridge, a cable-stayed suspension bridge that was the first post-war modern bridge built over the Rhine in Cologne. The 1959 structure was the focus of structural issues with its stayed cables, which needed to be replaced with the rest of the bridge being painted lime green afterwards. The purpose: to protect the bridge from the salt and other debris that have a potential to make the bridge rust and corrode.

Oberkasseler Brücke in Dusseldorf  Photo taken by V. Janssen

The second part of the series focused on other bridges in the state. Apart from the ones at Remagen, there were many cable-stayed and steel arch bridges that were mentioned in the documentary. While the Theodore Heuss Bridge, built in 1957, was the first cable-stayed suspension bridge built in Germany, there are two bridges are worth mentioning: The Bridge of Solidarity in Duisburg and the Oberkasseler Bridge in Duesseldorf. The Oberkasseler Bridge was built in 1973 replacing an ornamental arch bridge built in 1909 that was structurally deficient. The bridge was built alongside the old structure on the south end and after the old bridge was razed, the entire cable-stayed bridge featuring a set of towers planted in the middle of the roadway, was moved 47.5 meters to the original location of the 1909 bridge, a feat unimaginable for a bridge of that size and length, at 617 meters.  The Bridge of Solidarity in Duisburg was built in 1950 replacing a similar bridge built in 1936. Yet the name stamms from a group of protesters who blocked traffic to the bridge to protest the closing of a steel plant nearby. From 10 December, 1987 until 20 January, 1988 the workers walked the picket line on the bridge and the nearby company they had worked, resulting in the state government discussing about the crisis in the steel industry and the bridge being renamed at the request of the protesters. A unique action that one can rarely see today unless one is in southern Europe protesting the European Union’s bailout package with the conditions, as seen in Spain, Greece and Cypern.

Bridge of Solidarity in Duisburg. Attribution: © Raimond Spekking / CC BY-SA 4.0 (via Wikimedia Commons) 

The Rhine Bridges in North Rhine-Westphalia are unique in a way that one has to go beyond the appearance of each structure to look at its history, how they were built and rebuilt, and how they are integrated into the lives of the people today. While focusing on safety and history were the key elements of the document series, the report also looked at how the people and their bridges go together, whether it is a person living inside a bridge or if there are musicians performing inside or underneath the bridge- both were found at Zoo Bridge in Cologne. The Rhine bridges in North Rhine-Westphalia, once a pile a rubble because of the war, are now a part of the lives of the residents who use it regularly to get from point A to point B. And even if we are in the post-modern era where sleek modern designs dominate the land and cityscapes, the memories of the bridges, how they looked like in the past and how they look like now will remain in their memories for generations to come.

With this in mind, I would like to close with a couple questions for the forum, and for those interested in producing a thorough and history and culturally enriched documentary similar to what was produced by WDR on the Rhine Bridges of North Rhine-Westphalia. The documentary covered many key points that were important for people to know about bridges, infrastructure, safety, culture and history, giving them some interest and perhaps an incentive to pursue something that is similar to what was shown on TV. But the questions posed here are something different from what was profiled here. Keeping the documentary in mind:

1. How would you do a documentary on bridges along the river? Would you chop the river up into segments or keep it the same? Which aspects would you include?

2. When looking at the documentaries enclosed below (in German), what is your opinion of the documentary? What words of advice would you give to people wanting to do what WDR did with the Rhine? This applies not only to the Rhine itself but other rivers.

3. Which other rivers would you imagine doing a documentary on apart from the Rhine and Mississippi Rivers?

Links:

http://www.wdr.de/tv/wdrdok_af/sendungsbeitraege/2013/0222/Brueckengeschichten_vom_Rhein.jsp

http://www.wdr.de/tv/wdrdok_af/sendungsbeitraege/2013/0301/brueckengeschichten_vom_rhein-helden.jsp

Rhein River Crossings to see (in NRW):

Ludendorff Bridge

Severin Bridge

Hollernzollern Bridge

Zoo Bridge

Theodor-Heuss Bridge

Bridge of Solidarity

Oberkasseler Bridge

Griethausen Railway Bridge

These are the bridges mentioned in the TV documentary. There are dozens of others that were not mentioned but should be visited. Please click on the Rhine River Crossings for more details.

 

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Bridgeport Bridge (finally) comes down

Portal view Photo taken in August 2010

When you first take a look at this bridge, you’ll find that it is located in a very rural setting- abandoned for many years with lots of vegetation overgrowing on and around the structure, making it impossible to cross unless you want to deal with beds of thorns, poison ivy, and deer ticks. However, as you can see in the next pictures, the augmented views of the bridge, taken from the side of its successor, a piece of bland concrete piece of monotonous artwork which puts a blotch in the city scape, you will find that the bridge has gone through years of abuse and neglect, with peeling paint, rusting sections, and flooring system that has been taken out, exposing the bottom chord, most of which is corroding or missing. If you go underneath the bridge, like yours truly did during the time of the Historic Bridge Conference in Pittsburgh, last August, it was like going through the jungle of Dante (as in Dante’s Inferno), with the banks of the Ohio River, where this bridge spans, being littered with garbage, signs of darkness thanks to the overgrowth on the bridge and if there was a hint of sunlight, it created a very eerie sensation, as if you were walking through a bombed out cathedral after the war with blown out windows, charred pews and pipes of an organ, and the silence and loneliness you only see when you are clinging barely onto life while facing death at the same time.

I’ve only seen one bridge that had this eerie sensation and that was with a railroad bridge spanning the Rock River on the west end of Rock Valley, Iowa, even though it has long since been converted to pedestrian use. However, after being on and underneath this structure, it really shows what nature can do to a structure after years of neglect and what life can do to someone or some agency for neglecting it to begin with.

The Bridgeport Bridge, spanning the Ohio River at Wheeling, West Virginia, separates the state with Ohio to the east. It is one of the rarest bridges of its kind that you can find in the US- a three-span bridge whose endposts are vertical and not diagonal like a common truss bridge has. One can find those in many places in Europe, like the Hollernzollern Bridge over the Rhein River in Cologne, Germany or the Chancy Bowstring Truss Bridge over the Rhône near Geneva, Switzerland. Yet by examining the portal bracing and the finials that are located at each corner on the upper chord, it is typical of an American truss bridge, as many portal bracings on arch and truss bridges in Europe at that time were either a common portal (A-frame) or have a concrete arch entrance, like you see when entering the castle across the drawbridge. Also unique is the fact that unlike the Hollernzollern Bridge, the bridge is a three-span  pin-connected Parker through truss bridge, with all these aforementioned features, which leads to the question of why a bridge company would market that in their truss bridge catelogue, like the Wrought Iron Bridge Company did.

When the bridge was built in 1893, the Wrought Iron Bridge Company was in the middle of marketing their bridges through the catelogues. That means governments and residents wanting to have a bridge in or near their town or home would order the bridge through the company catelogue, then have the company agent send the order to the manufacturers, who construct the parts to fit the needs of the customer before it could be shipped by train and assembled on site. Wrought Iron’s style of business, similar to ordering products through a Sears Catelogue in the US or Quelle in Germany (before it folded in 2009), was later practiced by other bridge companies that wanted to keep the bridge company giant in check; especially after Wrought Iron Bridge became part of the American Bridge Company consortium seven years after the Bridgeport structure was built. It is unclear how many bridges similar to Bridgeport’s were ordered and built, but it did become clear that unless something is done to keep the crossing at Wheeling intact and used for anything apart from vehicular use that consequences would come out of it, which would scar the city for life.

The Bridgeport Bridge used to serve US Hwy. 40 until the successor was built, the Military Order of the Purple Heart Bridge, in 1998. Before that, the roadway was strengthened in 1987 by adding a Bailey truss bridge onto the deck to serve as a roadway. Unfortunately, it was not enough to accomodate the traffic flow and it was closed to traffic once the Purple Heart Bridge was open to traffic. Then it just sat there, rotting away until it became clear that the structure, deemed a beatuy when it was first opened to traffic, because an ugly eyesore, which needed to be removed- at least in the eyes of the City of Wheeling.

Attempts have been made for at least five years to do something with the structure- either restore it for pedestrian use or remove it. The former was brought up by preservationists and those interested in saving the structure, but fell on deaf ears. The latter was attempted by those who did not want the structure anymore but it fell on deaf ears due to funding and opposition.  Promises and predictions to remove the bridge has gone on since 2006, with the last call to remove it being in 2009. That did not happen. Now the US Coast Guard has come in, ordering the bridge to be removed post haste, as debris and parts from the bridge have fallen into the Ohio River. Therefore, the plan is to have the bridge removed beginning in July, with help from the department of transportation offices of both Ohio and West Virginia. The project is expected to take two months, but it will also include salvaging the most memorable parts to be exhibited at the local museums. Whether this plan will be realized due to the deficit problems in the US and the struggling growth of the economy remains to be seen. Given the situation that is being dealt with at the moment, it is possible that the plan may yet be pushed back again, and again, and again……

While removing Dante’s jungle may be a relief to many, it will serve as a permanent scar to the community as the structure would have served as a complement to what Wheeling has already. It has one of the oldest suspension bridges in the country, as well as a historic city center, and the city does have some unique features that make it attractive. It was just too bad that the Bridgeport Bridge was not one of the historic features that should be saved. While leaving the bridge closed to traffic may serve as a temporary solution, it was indeed an out of sight and out of mind tactic, which once the bridge is eventually removed, it will remain a site where it once stood and it will remain in the minds of many in the community, that will associate Wheeling with this bridge.

PHOTOS (All were taken in August 2010 and linked through Flickr):

Inside the bridge with the roadway removed.

Dante’s jungle: The sun shining into the lower chord of the bridge

Dante’s Jungle: The abutment and the portal bracing from the banks of the Ohio River

Abutments: Note the bottom abutments (together with the center piers) came from a bridge built around 1837. The ones on top are from the 1893 bridge

Behind the bridge. Note: You can see the Ohio State Line sign hanging from the lower strut bracing just as one would get off by car when it was open to traffic. That sign, along with some other memorabilia from the bridge, are expected to be saved and displayed at the museum before the rest of the structure comes down.

Close-up of the finials at the corners of the bridge- this time at the center piers. Some of them will be preserved for display purposes.