Construction is expected to begin in November. Historic Bridge will be relocated to a natural preserve
BERTRAM/ CEDAR RAPIDS, IOWA- The oldest existing historic bridge in Linn County is scheduled to be replaced this fall. However, the historic bridge will have a new life as a pedestrian crossing. The Bertram Bridge features a hybrid Whipple and Pratt through truss bridge with pinned connections. The truss design is similar to a rarely-used Hammond truss. The bridge was generally built using wrought iron. The portal bracings are Town Lattice which extends to its heal braces. These bracings are ornamental and typical of the portals used for bridges built by the Wrought Iron Bridge Company of Canton, Ohio. WIBCo built this bridge in 1876 and it can be found on Bertram Road spanning Indian Creek at Mischka Press. The 191-foot long bridge is eligible for the National Register.
The 145-year old bridge and its blue-colored bridge has reached the end of its structural life as a vehicular crossing and therefore will be replaced. According to officials at Linn County, construction on the bridge will begin this fall- most likely in November. Peterson Contractors of Reinbeck, Iowa won the contract in December of 2021 at a cost of $2.4 million. The project consists of replacing the bridge with a concrete structure that has two lanes, accommodating the increasing traffic. The road will be closed to all traffic during the time of construction. The truss bridge itself will be dismantled and reassembled as a pedestrian bridge at Indian Creek Nature Center on Otis Road. When the reassembly will be completed and the historic bridge will be reopened remains open, but the project is expected to take up to six months to complete.
You can follow up on the bridge replacement project by clicking on this website. You can sign up to follow the project closely.
The bridge is part of a tour guide done a few years ago. Click here to have a look. A map is enclosed there to help you.
This week’s Pic of the Week provides us with a rare example of a historic bridge that is homemade- built by bridge companies that are local with a local engineer overseeing the design and construction. This bridge is located in Linn County, spanning the Iowa River. The Greencastle Avenue Bridge is located NW of Cedar Rapids in the Hawkeye Wildlife Area. It features a pin-connected Pratt pony truss span and a riveted Pratt through truss span with A-frame portals. Originally built as a three-span bridge in 1922, one of the spans was destroyed in the flooding in 1949 and was replaced with a temporary span in 1950. That span was then removed and filled in, reducing the crossing to only two spans. The bridge has been abandoned since 1992 though one can access the bridge by car from the north side but going down a steep hill. At the entrance to the bridge on the north side, it is all for pedestrians.
The bridge is unique as it was built and rebuilt by four different bridge builders, all of which were located in Iowa. Two of them came from the same county as where this bridge is located- Linn County. The pony truss span was built by the Iowa Bridge Company of Des Moines; the through truss span was a standardized bridge built by the Iowa State Highway Commission of Ames. For the reconstruction of the bridge after the flood of 1949, there were two local bridge engineers responsible: Ned L. Ashton of Iowa City and A.P. Munson of Marion. Ashton was well known for bridges during his time, for each of the Cedar River crossings in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City that exist today were either built by him or whose predecessor spans had been built by him but were replaced in the end. The crossing is the second one in its present location as a previous structure, a through truss span, was built by another Iowa bridge firm, J.E. Jayne and Sons, located in Iowa City. That bridge, known by locals as the Dupont Mill Bridge, was built in 1908 and replaced in 1922. All in all, there were five different bridge builders all in this location, three of which in Linn County! Amazing how such a bridge could have the markings left by locals.
The bridge is not on the National Register but should because of its history, including what was mentioned already. The structure is still in place but is in need of a full restoration in order for it to continue its life as a pedestrian crossing. Given its location and setting, it would be perfect except to say, one could make a picnic area out of it, with info boards on its history and that of the adjacent Dupont Mill. Whether it will happen depends on the interest and there seems to be a lot of interest in keeping the bridge and reusing it. The question is whether Iowa Department of Natural Resources and Linn County would agree. But given the county’s high number of historic bridges and the way they have been maintained, there is a chance that the officials will listen and make the proper maintenance of and repairs to ensure the bridge will continue its use for years to come.
Iowa is celebrating 175 years this year and if there is a piece of history that should be considered, it’s this bridge. While the state has seen the likes of King, Jensen, Thacher, Wickes, and Jayne in several of the bridges, there are some that deserve recognition for their work, like Ashton and Munson. And this bridge represents such a structural work that deserves attention from these people.
The next bridge in the Mystery Bridge series is the second of two installments of the bridges in Jackson County, in eastern Iowa. Yet one can look at it as two bridges, because each one has the same problem: looking for the bridge builder. And judging by the identical length these structures have, it may appear that they came from a multiple span structure that had been cut up into spans before shipping them.
After looking at the now extant Caven Bridge, we have this bridge at Iron Bridge Road. It spans the Maquoketa River on the road bearing the bridge’s name, approximately 8-10 miles NW of Spragueville. It’s at the junction of Miller Access Road. The bridge is a Pennsylvania through truss bridge with riveted connections, I-beams and M-frame portal bracings. It has a total length of 420 feet but the truss bridge’s length is 250 feet, thus making it the longest single-span Pennsylvania through truss bridge built in the state. It’s even longer than the Traer Street Bridge in Greene (in Butler County), which was replaced in 1981 after 79 years in service.
According to records in bridgehunter.com, the bridge was built by the Iowa State Highway Commission, which today is the Iowa Department of Transportation. It was established in 1904 and was one of the first highway institutions to have made firsts in the field of transportation, which included traffic signs, like the No Passing Zone sign, as well as paved highways made of tar and later concrete, and finally bridge designs. Yet despite the claims that the State Highway Commission was responsible for building the bridge, it can only be credited for making the design of the standardized truss bridges, which were introduced from 1910 on. What is missing is having the bridge builder who is in charge of constructing the bridge as well as the company that fabricated and transported the steel from the steel mills. It is a foregone conclusion that a highway agency would not have a bridge building firm with steel mills on their lots unless the agency had vast amounts of land to build the steel mills. That would have taken up half of Ames, where the highway agency is still located today.
This leads us to this question: If the highway designed the truss bridge, like the one on Iron Road, where did the steel come from, and who oversaw the construction of the bridge?
These are the two key questions not only for the Iron Bridge here but also its twin bridge, the Damon Bridge, spanning the same river but on 435th Avenue (County Hwy. Z 34), six miles north of Preston. The bridge has the exact same form as the Iron Bridge but was built six years later, in 1956. If you have any information on the two bridges and their predecessors, feel free to comment in the Chronicles directly online, but also in bridgehunter.com under their respective pages.
Your bridge matters! Best of luck in the research. 🙂
The next two mystery bridges will take us to Jackson County, Iowa, located in the far eastern portion of the state. There are two bridges that fellow pontist Troy Knox of Bridging the Driftless brought to the audience’s attention via his personal blog.
This is the first of them. The Caven Bridge was a single span Pratt through truss bridge that spanned the North Fork Maquoketa River on 60th Avenue north of Canton and Emeline. The bridge had a total length of 160 feet, 110 of which consisted of the truss span. Its portal bracing is A-frame but condensed vertically. Nothing is known about the date except sources had it down for 1900. Whether it was built in that year or a couple years earlier or later remain open. There is no information about the bridge builder, except bridges like this one, judging by its portals, may have been built by the Clinton Bridge and Iron Works Company. Yet there is no information as far as builder’s plaques or any inscriptions in the metal beams.
The reason why the information is in past tense is because the Caven Bridge no longer exists. According to information, crews tore down the bridge in November 2021, even though the bridge had been closed to traffic for some time. It is unlikely a replacement span will be built soon as the road is rarely used and the area is sparsely populated. Nevertheless, it would be a great closure to determine when exactly was the bridge built and by whom.
This is where you come in. Feel free to find and comment about this structure. After all your bridge matters. Thank you for your help and best of luck! 🙂
I was digging out some photos that the new owners of Niland’s Cafe in Colo, Iowa needed as they were preparing to reopen the restaurant and business after a three months absence when I came across this photo, taken in 2013. The photo was shot just after we were finished with the Historic Bridge Weekend in Iowa and we decided to get a few shots of the bridges in and around Des Moines before visiting family in Minnesota. It’s a well-known bridge but its design makes it a very attractive place to visit, even at night when the LEDs are lit. I just had to make some changes to make it what it is here.
It’s the Madrid Railroad Viaduct. The bridge was built in 2010 using the piers of a previous railroad viaduct that used to be a deck plate girder made of steel and was used by the Milwaukee Railroad before it went bankrupt in 1980. Chicago and Northwestern then used the line until it was abandoned in 2002 and the bridge spans were removed. The line was then converted into a rails-to-trails and a new bridge with this unique desgn was put into place. You can see more photos and information on the structure by clicking here.
The bridge spans the Des Moines River between Madrid and Woodward, NW of Des Moines. If you are travelling through the area, I would recommend this stop for some photos and a break as there is a picnic area nearby. If there was ever a book on the Bridges of the Des Moines River in the future, this bridge would be in it, perhaps as a cover page. But it’s up to the author to decide. 🙂
TAMA, IOWA- Created in 1913, the Lincoln Highway is the first trans-continental highway that went from coast to coast. Starting in San Francisco at Lincoln Park, the highway runs for 3,389 miles (5,454 km) through 14 US states before terminating at Times Square in New York City. Much of the route has been marked as US Highway 30 and there are many stops along the way where people can enjoy local dining, do a lot of fun activites and lodge in some of the hotels, all of which have been a fixture along the highway, some for as long as the highway has existed. There are many major crossing and historic bridges one can see along the Lincoln Highway.
Among them is this one, located in Tama in central Iowa. The Lincoln Highway Bridge is located at Roadside Park, spanning Mud Creek. Until it was bypassed by the expressway version of US Hwy. 30 in 2012, this bridge was one of the first sites to see when entering the community of 2800 inhabitants. And its one that is worth a stop. The bridge is a concrete stringer bridge but decorated with ornamental globe lighting and a railing bearing the name Lincoln Highway. The bridge was built in 1915 by local bridge builder, Paul Kingsley of Strawberry Point, Iowa. According to HAER records, the idea of the highway bridge with ornamental railings had a special meaning to it:
“In September 1912, the Midwestern visionary Carl Fisher proposed to group of automotive businessmen a plan to build a road spanning from coast to coast. The route, later named the Lincoln Highway, would start in New York City, finish in San Francisco, an cross 358 miles through the state of Iowa on the way. This monumental undertaking was to be privately funded with the towns and counties profiting from its passage sharing a large part of the construction costs. Thus, a widespread advertisement campaign for the transcontinental highway was launched with each community along its path trying to outdo the next in making itself the most desirable rest stop. The town of Tama distinguished itself from the rest by constructing a special bridge for the route with the words “Lincoln Highway” spelled out in the concrete railing. This bridge remains a most unusual maker for this historic highway.”
-Juliet Landler, HAER, 1995
Despite this, this unique historic bridge is in danger of becoming history, or at least being altered to a point of no recognition. Cracks have been revealed in the bridge span and parts of the railing, much of it has to do with wear and tear over the year. Even as the bridge has become part of the city and local traffic has been using it since the highway was bypassed in 2012, the bridge is still a big tourist attraction. But the future of the bridge is in the hands of the city council, which according to many news stories, is more or less divided.
One party would like to rehabilitate the bridge and make the necessary repairs to the structure to ensure that it continues to function for the next half century. While the city council had put aside funding for bridge repairs of up to $150,000 and the rest of the funding would be covered through a series of donations and support from the Iowa DOT, when presenting the bids for rehabbing the bridge by the engineering firm of Schuck-Britson from Des Moines in October 2021, the lowest bids was double the amount. Still, an in-kind restoration of the bridge would allow the bridge to continue to function as a crossing and as a tourist attraction.
By the same token, there have been growing calls from members from another party, which favors moving the historic bridge, or at least the lettered railings and lamp posts to the adjacent park and install a 15-foot culvert over the river. Their argument was that it was less expensive, easy to maintain and easy to replace even if it had a 15-year lifespan. The downside to this plan is that it would alter the bridge to the point of no recognition and it would lose the tourist appeal, let alone its status on the National Register. This was the case with the Marble Rock Arch Bridge in Floyd County. The three-span concrete arch bridge, built in 1914, was replaced in 1995, but its railings were relocated to a nearby park- out of site and out of mind. 😦
The Tama City Council was supposed to make a decision on the bridge’s future, based on the information they collected, on March 21, 2022. At the present time, no decision has been made. There is a consensus that the bridge should be restored to its original form, but the paperwork and instructions needed for the project is lacking (see article here for details). That plus the increase in costs for restoring the bridge might doom the project altogether. This bridge is the last of the structures along Lincoln Highway in Tama County, after losing a similar icon over Otter Creek at Chelsea in 2006.
Still, to this day, despite the highway being bypassed, the Lincoln Highway Bridge remains a popular tourist attraction and one where its original purpose was to serve as a rest stop for travelers going along this important highway. There is hope that this purpose stays that way- not as a piece of relict being put on display but one that still has this function as a crossing over Mud Creek. If this stays, Tama will continue to have a tourist attraction many people- bridge-lovers, tourists and all people alike- will stop by to see, and enjoy the scenery. ❤ 🙂
After a couple weeks away from the computer, we return to our weekly Pic of the Week, paying tribute to the late James Baughn. Our next pic, where he visited and photographed is one that is very dear because it is the only one of its kind along the longest river in the state.
We know that the Des Moines River, with a total length of 526 miles (845 kilometers), slices through the state of Iowa, including the state capital of Iowa that bears the same name. Even if the river forks into the east and west branches and starts in southern Minnesota, the river is loaded with unique bridges- both past and present, that bridge builders from as many as ten states have left their marks, six of which come from Iowa, including Iowa Bridge Company, A.H. Austin, Clinton Bridge and Iron Company, George E. King, Marsh Engineering, just to name a few. The most notable bridges one can find along the river include the Murray and Berkheimer Bridges in Humboldt County, Ellsworth Ranch Bridge in Emmet County, the Kate Shelley Viaduct in Boone County, the arch bridges in Des Moines,…..
…..and this bridge in St. Francisville, in Missouri!
The St. Francisville Bridge spans the river at the Iowa/Missouri border. It’s a Warren-style cantilever through truss bridge with MA-portal bracings. The connections are riveted. It was built in 1937 by Sverdrup and Parcel of St. Louis, with FW Whitehead overseeing the constructon of the bridge. The bridge was formerly a toll bridge until they were eliminated in 2003. It used to serve the Avenue of the Saints and Jefferson Highway (Highway 27) until it was bypassed by an expressway bridge in 2004. It later served as a frontage road crossing until 2016, when the bridge was closed to vehicular traffic. Since then, the bridge has been sitting usused, awaiting its future.
The photo was taken by Mr. Baughn in 2013, when the bridge was still open to traffic. Given the bridge’s proximity to the nearby park and boat ramp on the Missouri side, combined with the nearby communities, the structure is a great asset and with some repairs and renovations done with the superstructure, the bridge could continue as a local street crossing, sharing the road with a bike route. What is needed is money to strengthen and renovate the structure to a point where it can be reused again. The bridge is eligible for the National Register, which if listed, could open the door for grants and other amenities that will help with the cause. The bridge would be a perfect rest stop for commuters traveling in both directions and St. Francesville would benefit from a newly restored bridge.
The St. Francisville Bridge is unique because of its design as a cantilever truss bridge, something that has become a rarity these days. It is the only crossing along the Des Moines of this kind and one of a few examples of a bridge built by Sverdrup and Parcel, the same company that contributed to numerous major bridge projects in five states between 1920 and 1960. It is time that the bridge is given the tender loving care it deserves.
The question is are you willing to help with the cause?
This bridge is part of a series dedicated to the works of the late James Cooper and J.R. Manning. All photos here are courtesy of the latter, who visited the bridge in 2013.
Eagle Center, Iowa- All it takes is a quick turn onto a gravel road and it all goes down hill from there. All the way to the end and you will find this hidden gem. You cannot drive your car over it because it is too fragil. Hence the barriers and signs saying road closed. Yet you can walk or even bike across if you are careful. The bridge is a through truss, with typical truss design and portals- Pratt and Lattice with heels. You don’t know about this bridge except for its metalic beauty, yet the construction of the bridge corresponds to the history of bridge building during the Gilded Ages- 1870 to 1910. You wonder what can be done to keep the bridge in tact because the structure appears stable and look into ideas on how to keep it in place, even though the road is less traveled and it is hidden in areas often ignored by motorists passing by.
And this is the story behind the W-Avenue Bridge in Tama County, Iowa. Tama County has a diverse collection of truss bridges like this one, most of which can be found along Wolf Creek. Yet this one sticks out as a bridge that has a potential for reuse, even in its current location. There is not much to talk about the structure. The bridge is a typical Pratt through truss with pinned connections built after the turn of the century. It was built in 1903 by George E. King, son of Zenas King who operated his business in Cleveland, Ohio, yet the younger King had established his business in Des Moines and populated the state with bridges with his own signature portal bracings (Howe lattice with subdivided heels). The bridge had a simple life, serving local residents and farmers………
…….until its closure in 2011.
We don’t know the underlying reason behind the bridge suddenly being closed to traffic except for some inspection reports from bridge firms specialized in modern bridges, like Schuck and Britson with its lopsided report on the Cascade Bridge in Burlington, which led to its closure in 2008. Such biased reports and scare tactics are common but following them like lambs to the slaughter house makes structures like this one be dangerous, when in all reality, the bridge is simply fine. Just a few minor repairs and extra special care and the structure would have remained open today.
Or is it closed?
During his visit in 2013, J.R. Manning took a chance to visit the bridge and saw that even though the bridge was out, according to the sign, it was anything but that with missing boulders, signs knocked over and the like. Some of his observations showed that the bridge was in relatively good shape and one could just have simply put a weight limit on the bridge to keep the trucks off of it. The decking was covered in asphalt and there was no real structural issues that would have justified its closure. In other words, the bridge could have taken a few more years of traffic, assuming that cars cross this location which were rare on this stretch of quiet road
Three years later, new barriers were put into place, but one can walk across it, take some pictures and enjoy the scenery that surrounds the bridge, given the fact that it’s tucked away in the valley. Today, the road to the bridge is all covered in grass but the bridge is safe and sound, hidden away and unused except by the local farm nearby. It makes a person wonder whether the bridge will remain as is given its condition or if it will be reused elsewhere. In any case if it remains where it is, it will make for a good bike trail crossing or park. It’s a matter of sprucing it up and making it safe for use. But given its location, it should not be a problem to spend a few thousand for that.
Whether the people will use it or not depends on the will to spend some time down there. The bridge may be out but it’s still in use for those who want to spend time in the nature, along a quiet creek like Wolf Creek…
When we travel along the rural backroads of Indiana, one might see an old, iron through truss bridge along the way, with a four ton weight limit, being narrow and having a wooden deck, yet a fresh coat of paint, LED lighting for safe passage for night driving and a restored plaque with the names of Vicennes, New Castle or Central Plaines on it reveal that it looks brand new. In another location, this time in Wisconsin, one sees another steel truss bridge, located inside a park, serving bikers and hikers. Each bridge having a history info-board describing its history and why it deserves a National Register listing. Each bridge is visited by dozens of people every day, is talked about by teachers who lead field trips with school children to the historic site and is read in history books, magazines and newspapers.
Preserving historic bridges takes a lot of efforts to carry out. It includes collecting documents on the bridge’s history, including the companies that built them. It includes informing the public about the bridge and its significance, to encourage them to take part in the preservation efforts. It also includes a good bridge marketing program where a historic bridge finds a new home if it is in the way of progress.
It especially includes some very key figures who lead the campaign to make preserving historic bridges happen, special people like the people we are honoring in this article.
There were many nicknames for Jerrold Robert Manning (known by many as simply J.R.), including Loose Lug Nuts, the Kitchen Guy or simply Jerry. But if there is one word to describe J.R. when it came to historic bridges, it was “Shooter.” J.R. was a very popular figure in the upper Midwest. Born in Akron, Ohio, the family moved to Michigan and then to Brown Deer, Wisconsin. J.R. attended Algonquin Elementary School, Brown Deer High School, UW-Milwaukee-Mass Communications and Cardinal Stritch University-Business Administration. He mastered Dale Carnegie’s Sales Course and is a Certified Technical Trainer. J.R. was a member Brown Deer U.C.C and St. John U.C.C in Germantown serving as a liturgist and was on several committees. Many people viewed J.R. as a talented salesman and a musician. Yet his key signature was his famous quotes on the meaning of life, something that people like me took with. J.R. however traveled a lot and saw and photographed hundreds of bridges along the way: in Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois. He was a key contributor of photos, histories and news stories of historic bridges in bridgehunter.com, having provided people with some interesting and useful information. Yet his dedication to historic bridges didn’t stop there. He was also a fan of architectural history and one can find dozens of pieces and photos in landmarkhunter.com, which is devoted to historic buildings in the US. I never met him in person but we corresponded frequently via e-mail and social media and as a person, he was a great philosopher- a person who could spend a whole day talking about life over a cup of coffee.
Dr. James Cooper:
If there is one state that would be considered the hub for historic bridges, regardless of the materials used for building it, it would be Indiana. Indiana has one of the most comprehensive marketing programs for historic bridges, where each structure threatened with replacement is relocated to different sites for reuse, while others are rehabilitated with the purpose to prolong their functional lives. It has a comprehensive inventory on the history of bridges and their builders that existed in the Hoosier State. There are even books written on Indiana’s historic bridges, including covered bridges, concrete bridges and even metal truss bridges. Much of this was the work of one pontist, who was a professor of history and sociology but whose passion for bridges spans for half a century.
Born in Princeton, N.J., James L. Cooper moved to Greencastle in 1964 to join the faculty of DePauw University, where he served for more than three decades. At DePauw, Cooper was dedicated to faculty development, becoming the university’s academic dean in 1981 and then vice president of academic affairs in 1983. Yet his interest in historic bridges started in the 1970s.
“I started in the late 1970s with an introduction to material culture studies as a supplement to documentary research. HAER contacts led me into bridge survey work in Indiana which I combined with more traditional research in my survey publications. Then Indiana Landmarks Foundation contacted me to turn bridge surveying/historical research into preservation efforts,” Cooper stated during an interview with the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles in 2012.
For years, he tirelessly worked to document those bridges in a database that now serves as a resource for the historic preservation community. Furthermore, he helped fellow pontist Eric DeLony create an online network, where pontists and people interested in historic bridges would collaborate with each other. This network still exists and has been extended to include social media, especially in LinkedIn. Cooper wrote several pieces devoted to historic bridges, including Artistry and Ingenuity in Artificial Stone: Indiana’s Concrete Bridges, 1900-1942 and Iron Monuments to Distant Posterity: Indiana’s Metal Bridges, 1870-1930. Cooper’s work captured his appreciation for the culture, ingenuity and journey of the people who built, crossed, and settled around the bridges that he so admired.
“I credit him for helping me to understand the fragile plight of Indiana’s metal truss bridges and for shifting my focus towards preserving them. I will always considered him my mentor… something that he chuckled at when I told him one time,” mentioned fellow pontist, Tony Dillon in a statement in bridgehunter.com.
From an author’s point of view, though I only conversed with him via e-mail, Mr. Cooper had extensive knowledge in his field of historic bridges. If you wanted to know about a bridge, engineer or bridge builder in Indiana, let alone the influence of the bridge builders in the Hoosier State on other states, especially after 1900, Mr. Cooper was that man to go to. His extensive research had a domino effect on historic bridge preservation throughout the US and even beyond. Some of the research and practice that has been done in Indiana is being carried out in other states, such as Texas, Oregon, Iowa, Minnesota, New York, etc. with mainly positive results for people wishing to see a piece of history that was a contributing factor in the development of America’s infrastructure.
Mr. Cooper’s work has garnered dozens of awards during his lifetime, including the the Indiana Historical Society’s Dorothy Riker Hoosier Historian Award, the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) Leadership in History Awards and lastly the 2012 Bridgehunter Awards for Lifetime Achievement (which was named the Othman H. Ammann Awards at that time), courtesy of the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles (an interview can be found here.)
Death on August 19, 2021:
On August 19, 2021, both of these fine pontists passed away peacefully, surrounded by family. J.R. was 69 years old and is survived by his wife of 21 years, Kathy and his step son, Steve. A funeral service took place on September 2nd at the Schmidt and Bartelt Funeral Home, in Menomonee Falls, which included a storytelling session at Bub’s Irish Pub in Germantown that followed the service. The service was also live on Zoom.
Dr. Cooper was 86 and is survived by his wife Sheila, his daughter Mairi and her husband, as well as his son, James Jr. and his family (wife and two children). Due to Covid-19, a memorial service will be held at a later time, but burial will take place in Auburn, NY.
While the 19th of August is considered a tragic day in the historic bridge community, it is (and will also be) considered a day of reflection on the years of achievement these two fine people have made, having left marks not only within their respective areas but also beyond. What they have done for historic bridges is being practiced elsewhere, not just in the United States, but also beyond.
While many of us sometimes take life too seriously, here’s a quote J.R. left me in my last correspondence with him back in February, which states otherwise:
“Don’t take life so serious, son, it ain’t nohow permanent.” ~Porky Pine in Walt Kelly’s Pogo
You can only do so much in life. It’s a matter of how you can project your achievements and passions to others. For these fine pontists with a lifetime passion for bridges, all I can say is this: “Thanks for everything.” ❤
With bridgehunting come one event that happens each year in the summertime. The Historic Bridge Weekend was introduced in 2009 through a coalition which featured Todd Wilson, Nathan Holth, Kitty Henderson and James Baughn, among others. The 3-4 day conference brought in many experts in bridge preservation and maintenance, as well as engineers, historians, and many interested bridge enthusiasts and locals with a passion for history.
The first two years of the conference took place in western Pennsylvania, which had one of the highest number of iroan and steel truss bridges in the country, yet it was the same state where the rate of replacing historic bridges was one of the highest in the US. Many of the bridges lost to modernization had ties to bridge building firms in the greater Pittsburgh and Cleveland areas. In fact most of the bridge building companies building bridges west of the Mississippi River prior to 1900 came from Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio and New York, with the likes of King, Groton, Nelson and Buchanan, Lassig and Wrought Iron among others stamping their labels on the portals and endposts, with some ornamental decoration that went along with it.
This picture was taken of the Quaker Bridge by James Baughn in 2010. It was my first year attending the conference and the very first time I met Mr. Baughn, with whom we worked together on his website bridgehunter.com, which is now owned by the Historic Bridge Foundaton. It was this bridge and the movement to save it that caused the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) to turn the tide towards bridge replacement and decided that instead of tearing down history, one can save it, even if it meant relocating the structure for reuse, for the agency had been notorious for being too passive in its policies towards historic bridge preservation.
The Quaker Bridge was built in 1898 by the Cleveland Bridge Company with James R. Gemmill overseeing the project. The bridge is a Pratt through truss span with pinned connections, Town lattice portal bracings and finials on each corner. PennDOT had originally pushed for plans to tear down and replace the bridge as far back as 2004. Yet it took the efforts of Nathan Clark to purchase the bridge and persuade the agency to retract its plan and construct a bridge on a new alignment. The project was completed in 2006 and the truss bridge has remained in place ever since- still in pristine condition as shown in the picture taken over a decade ago but now part a hiking trail, although one can use the bridge for fishing and picnicking.
The Historic Bridge Weekend focused on efforts to preserve historic bridges and maintain them for future use, visiting historic bridges that are frequently visited, while some of them were the focus of preservation efforts. We included a lot of bridgehunting tours in addition to the talks that were given by many including myself. It drew hundreds of people to the event, many from the far outreaches of the country. After the first two events in Pennsylvania, we had our next one in Missouri in 2011, Indiana in 2012, Iowa in 2013 and Michigan in 2014 before it became an informal event afterwards where bridgeshunters gathered to just visit the bridges in the areas of interest. The event in Missouri (James’ home state) included tours of bridges in St. Louis and Kansas City with a big gathering to save the Riverside Bridge in Ozark, an event that reunited friends and made the preservation attempt at Riverside a smashing success. 🙂 The event in Iowa in 2013 was one I coordinated with an open-air speech on James Hippen’s legacy by his wife Elaine at a restaurant in Stone City, a large scale informal event at Sutliff Bridge and its nearby Bar and Grill and in Pella at the golf course with a chance to explore the bridges in the Bluffs region, Des Moines and Boone and along the Mississippi.
What we learned from these events was that there was a large interest in saving these historic bridges by the public, yet the problem is trying to convince government officials to cater to the demands of the public. In some cases, we were greeted with lip service, while behind-the-door deals were carried out to have it their way and not with the people. Sometimes, the media sometimes distorts the information on the bridge without thinking that the bridge has a unique value in terms of its history and its association with the community. Still, the word gets around faster with social media than what modernists and government officials championing bridge replacement try conveying, which led to the creation of this online column and its social media pages in 2010. In turn, we have over three dozen pages devoted to historic bridges and preservation around the world on facebook, twitter and even Instagram. Some focus on bridge photography, which is the most liked because they contain brief information on the structures’ history. Yet there are individual pages that focus on preserving a bridge which has gained thousands of supporters each bridge. Save the Riverside Bridge in Ozark had over 3000 supporters on its facebook page, for example. In any case, the Historic Bridge Weekend has produced a large interest in bridges around the world, and when word on a historic bridge being a target for replacement comes around, the interest in saving the structure will be there, each with ideas on how to save it and each one with ties to the bridge and the memories that go along with it.
The Historic Bridge Weekend brought back a lot of memories of friends and bridges, ideas and stories and with that, a circle of pontists that has gotten tenfold bigger since its inauguration. It is hoped that the tradition will continue in the US, Europe and beyond, so that more people can take interest in bridges, its design and especially ways to preserve them for generations to come. The event is not just for pontists but for everyone with an interest in bridges, their histories and how they are tied together with community.