Joliet Bridge and Iron Company

433116-l

Bridgeport, Michigan. August 2018. Standing on a finished work of art. The Bridgeport (State Street) Bridge spans the Cass River. The structure had been rehabilitated, turning a pair of rusty and partially twisted Pratt through trusses leaning on a center pier into a structure that had just been put together for the first time. Hours of welding and new bolts, restoring it in-kind and complete with new decking and new railing. The Bridgeport Bridge has become a centerpiece of tourism in a town, which neighbors another popular tourist attraction, Frankenmuth.

95336473_3171369522893675_5417634093196115968_n
Petersburg Road Bridge in Jackson Minnesota. Photo taken by MnDOT in 1979

The bridge itself is a cousin resemblance to a pair of bridges built in Jackson County, Minnesota, where I grew up. This was one of them: The Petersburg Road Bridge which was built in 1907 by a company that became a primary supplier of bridges for a decade, the Joliet Bridge and Iron Works Company. The portals are typical of such a bridge built by Joliet, the one that was later adopted by other bridge builders. Another bridge of similar features was built two years later, spanning the same river as this one: West Branch Des Moines River, but just south of Windom. Both structures are now extant.  Another feature are the builder plaques that represent either a shield or a New York-style trapezoid, as you can see in the Bridgeport Bridge shot.

Still what was the bridge company all about?   I did some research on this while writing a book on Jackson County’s bridges a decade ago and found that the Joliet Bridge and Iron Company was like a fame flower (Phemeranthus rugospermus)- it built dozens of bridges during its short existence.

The company was founded in 1896 by Robert C. Morrison and had agents throughout the USA, including Max J. Frey, the company’s agent in St. Louis, who may have been responsible for the Upper Midwest.  Much of the work was concentrated in the South and Midwest, mostly in Michigan, Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois and Minnesota, though the company also built bridges in countries outside the United States. It garnered international reputation for its prompt action and good workmanship.  At its peak, 400 people were employed at Joliet by 1914 with its bridge building headquarters located on Collins Street, right next to the penetiary.  A subsidiary plant under the direction of George Larimer was in operation in Memphis, Tennessee from 1909 until its closure by 1912. Apart from the Bridgeport Bridge, some of the noteworthy bridges built by Joliet during its almost 25 year run include the earliest known existing bridges- a pair of twin suspension bridges at Chautauqua Park in Pontiac, Illinois, constructed in 1898.  Other examples include the existing historic bridges in Michigan, such as the Black Bridge at Tiny’s Farm and Church in Frankenmuth, the Gugel Bridge south of Frankenmuth, Currie Parkway Bridge and Smith Crossing both in Midland. The Bello Street Bridge at Pismo Beach in California is the only example of a bridge built the furthest away from Joliet’s coverage.  Minnesota once had a lot of bridges built by Joliet, eight of which in Jackson County. All of them have since disappeared.

Despite its popularity in bridge construction, the Joliet Bridge and Iron Company was forced to shut down briefly when Robert C. Morrison died in 1913. His son Raymond K. Morrison took over operations afterwards and reorganized the company as the Joliet Bridge and Construction Company in 1920.  That company continued to construct bridges in the region, despite the decline in steel mills due to the Great Depression and later lesser demand for the product. The company ceased all operations by 1985, making it one of only a few bridge companies that had dominated bridge building at the turn of the century and survived through the Reagan era of the 1980s.  Key structures built during Ray’s era included the Algoma Street Drawbridge in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and the Braceville Arch Bridge in Illinois, which used to carry Route 66. Both structures no longer exist, but it does lead to questions of what other structures had been built by the company before it folded permanently. Just as important is which bridges in foreign countries were built by Joliet, regardless of which era. 

 

Joliet Bridge and Iron is not related to another company located in the same city, the Joliet Iron and Steel Works Company. That company was founded in 1869 but constructed many steel parts for buildings, bridges and the like. That company was taken over three times before it became part of US Steel in 1936. The company closed down by the early 1980s but the site was later converted to a historic site.

The Joliet Bridge and Iron Company represents a bridge company that survived many mergers and crises and still built many structures that represented fine examples of infrastructure that expanded throughout the USA during the first half of the 20th Century. Its innovative designs and great workmanship has resulted in many structures still standing today, most of which in Illinois and Michigan. Many of them have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places and some have even been restored to their former glory. Nevertheless there are still many that have long since disappeared that deserve recognition because of their association with the company and the Morrison family. You can find a database of the bridges that were built by Joliet below:

bridgehunter.com database: http://bridgehunter.com/category/builder/joliet-bridge-iron-co/

HistoricBridges.org: https://historicbridges.org/b_a_listings.php?bitem=builder&bsearch=Joliet+Bridge+and+Iron+Company+of+Joliet%2C+Illinois

HABS/HAER/HALS: https://www.loc.gov/search/?fa=contributor:joliet+bridge+%26+iron+company

.

Forum: The First Bridge You Ever Photographed

 

Petersburg Rd. Bridge
Petersburg Road Bridge in Jackson, Minnesota. Built in 1907, the bridge was torn down in 1995. Photo taken in 1992.

bhc forum new

 

 

As we celebrate National Historic Bridge Month, one question came to mind that would be worth talking about is the first bridge you ever visited- and photographed.

It’s no joke. 🙂

Bridge enthusiasts, preservationists, historians and bridge photographers became great when they saw and photographed their first historic bridge. Just by looking at its age, unique features and its setting, the bridge provides a person with a chance to cross it from the present into the future aspects. That means, with every plank that you cross, you step even closer to your dream job of being a pontist until you reach the opposite side, and to your destination. Your first bridge is the place where you look beyond its history and towards possibilities that are there for you to learn about, research on and write about or (even teach) the histories that tie everything on this planet together, just by that bridge you visited.

My destination to becoming a teacher and writer started with this bridge- the Petersburg Road Bridge on the south end of Jackson, Minnesota. The bridge was built in 1907 by Joliet Bridge and Iron Company, replacing a bowstring arch bridge that had once spanning the West Fork Des Moines River at this spot. The Pratt through truss span with Howe lattice portals with heel struts was in service until it was closed in 1984 to motorized vehicles and in 1992 to pedestrians. After partially collapsing during the Great Flood of 1993, it was torn down in February 1995. The bridge used to be a primary crossing for people living on the south end of Jackson who wished to visit the north end or even the cemetary that was on the west end. And it was that bridge, where I took my first pics, using them for a science presentation in 7th grade in 1991. And while I never became a civil engineer, my interest in historic bridges grew during my time in college, which led to several articles being written on them.

And with that came the Chronicles, in its current form. After eight years, the column lives on. 🙂

I really don’t know if the interest in saving the bridge would’ve saved the Petersburg Bridge, where I spent my time there with the camera, but the bridge did serve as the call to go out and get some more photos of other bridges, and encourage  people to save them.

 

Now it’s your turn: What was your first bridge that you photographed and what got you to becoming who you are because of that? Feel free to leave a comment below or on the Chronicles’ facebook page.  🙂

bhc eric delony

Mystery Bridge Nr. 47: The Twin Bridges over the Des Moines River in Minnesota

Sherman Bridge northwest of Windom. Photos taken in 1962 by MnDOT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next mystery bridge features two bridges and is part of the book project on the bridges along the Des Moines River (for more, click here). This one takes us to Cottonwood County, Minnesota, located north of Jackson County, where the author grew up, and a main throughfare that crosses the river three times in the same county, County Road 15. The road enters the county from neighboring Murray County at Talcot Lake and after crossing the third Des Moines River bridge, terminates at US Hwy. 71 north of the county seat Windom.

Two of the Des Moines River crossings are featured here because they are literally identical. Both bridges feature Pratt half-hip through truss designs, with M-frame portal bracings and V-lace endposts. They are both approximately 80 feet long, despite the fact that the difference in total length between the two are only 40 feet apart. Both were built before or around 1900 but the information is very sketchy- sometimes “suspect” because of questionable data. The only difference is the location of the two- one is next to a golf course just outside of Windom, the other is only four miles to the west after the river bends to flow southeasterly.  To be specific as far as what bridges the author is talking about, here is what we know about the two bridges:

Side view of the Sherman Bridge. Photo courtesy of MnDOT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sherman Bridge :

Location: Des Moines River at the Golf Course, 0.3 miles west of County Road 13  at Sec. 21 Great Bend Twp.

Length: 141 feet total (main span: 80 feet)

Replaced: 1960? with a concrete slab bridge

Thompson Bridge Photo taken in 1962 by MnDOT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thompson Bridge

Location: Des Moines River, 0.4 miles north of County Road 40 at Sec. 14/15 Springfield Township.

Length: 95 feet total (77 feet main span)

Replaced: 1963 with a wooden trestle bridge

Questions remain open regarding the history of the two bridges. First and foremost is the question of the date of construction and the bridge builder. Judging by the features of the two spans, they were most likely built by the same company at about the same time. Some possible bridge builders that did business in Cottonwood County include Raymond and Campbell of Council Bluffs, Iowa, Hennepin Bridge Company of Minneapolis and Joliet Bridge Company of Joliet, Illinois. Judging by the markings of three bridges built in neighboring Jackson County during the time frame between 1880 and 1905, they appear to be the work of Raymond and Campbell, for its agent, George C. Wise had conducted business in the region between 1880 and 1910, both under the auspices of R & C as well as an independent contractor. He had built at least a dozen bridges in Jackson County and most likely did business in Cottonwood County. Yet more evidence in the form of newspaper articles and other information would be needed to confirm this. Joliet Bridge most likely built the Dempsey Bridge, located five miles northwest of Windom over the Des Moines River, but more information is needed to determine if it built other bridges at that time. The same applies to Hennepin Bridge Company, one of many bridge companies operated by members of the Minneapolis School of Bridge Builders which featured the Hewett family, Commodore Jones and Alexander Bayne.

The other question deals with the replacement date for the two bridges- in particular, the Sherman Bridge. National Bridge Inventory database and even the history books have the bridge being replaced in 1960, yet according to records and photos provided by Minnesota Dept. of Transportation, the bridge was still standing as of 1962. This leads to the question of whether the Sherman and the Thompson were replaced at the same time and if so, when. While working on a book on the bridges in neighboring Jackson County, an error was found in the NBI and state historical society records indicating a through truss bridge in Jackson being built in 1930, when city records pin-pointed its construction date of 1907, built by Joliet. This means that in the case of the two bridges, further information will need to be found as to when they were constructed and when they were replaced, in order to update all records to reflect on their history.

This is where you come in. If you have any information on the history of the Sherman and Thompson Bridges including photos of their existence and even replacement, the author would be much greatful if he could use them for the book project. Please send them to Jason Smith at the Chronicles at: flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com.  Any information on the two bridges will be useful to complete their history. It is very rare to have twin bridges sharing the same road with little knowledge. Yet through your help, you can solve their mystery.  Looking forward to the information that is forthcoming.

Thompson Bridge. Photo taken in the 1940s by MnDOT