This week’s Pic of the Week keeps us in Minnesota but takes us towards the Twin Cities. About a half hour drive southwest of Minneapolis we have the city of Shakopee, located on the Minnesota River. The city of 41,500 inhabitants has a lot of popular places of interest, including Valleyfair, Cantebury Downs, and the Renaissance Festival, in addition to its historic city center (even though it has been dwarfed by a population explosion in the past 30 years.) When you follow the former US highway 169 (county highway 69) into the city and want to cross the Minnesota, you can at this one.
The Holmes Street Bridge features two bridges. The newest one (in the background) was built in 1993; the historic bridge in the foreground, a continuous Warren deck truss span was built in 1927. That structure replaced one of several swing bridges that had existed along the river from Mankato to St. Paul. The bridge is 645 feet total in length and had six spans, including an underpass on the Shakopee side. That span has a flight of stairs that connect the street with the bridge itself. The bridge carried US 169 before it was carried over to the 1993 crossing for awhile. The highway eventually was relocated again five years later when it became an expressway and bypassed Shakopee and its cross-river neighbor Chaska. County 69 became the replacement although with many cars driving through the city, it has the characteristics of a major highway in Minnesota with a four-lane highway whose lanes are much wider than a typical county road.
This photo was taken in August 2009 as we were making a brief stop for a break. The bridge was already open for pedestrians and cyclists and I saw quite a few of them passing by as I photographed the structure. The bridge was scheduled to be rehabilitated a year later, but it didn’t stop me from getting some details of the decking and truss superstructure before some of the elements were eventually replaced. While some of the gussets were replaced, the lighting and railings were completely replaced with those mimicking a nostalgic era of over a century ago. You can find more photos per bridgehunter.com here.
There is a story that came along after the photos were posted on bridgehunter.com. An insurance agency in Shakopee found this picture, the pic of the week feature, so interesting that they wanted to use it for their campaign. The green light was given- but under one condition. I wanted an example oft he finished product once it was released in the public. I received a folder with the name of the insurance agency in the end. It was a neat souvenir that I still have at home. And for the agent, a way to bring a relict of the past to the public to show them what makes Shakopee a unique community, despite it becoming an urban sprawl. A win-win situation for all.
Shakopee went from a small town of 9,400 in 1980 to an urban community of 41,500 by 2018, an increase of 31,000 over the course of almost four decades. Together with Chaska, the twin communities have a population of ca. 70,000 inhabitants. Ironically, Chaska had only 4500 inhabitants before sprouting in the 1990s. It has almost 27,000 residents. Both are part oft he Minneapolis/ St. Paul Metropolitan area, which has a total of 3.9 million people, counting the Twin Cities plus all the cities surrounding it.
This week’s Pic of the Week brings winter, holidays and bridgehunting together. It’s a throwback to 2010 and my trip to the States for Christmas. Together with another fellow pontist, who is also a civil engineer, we had a chance to visit several bridges in and around the Twin Cities before he had to leave to visit family members. Even though I also visited some friends in the Cities, I stopped for some photo opps along the way, like this one in Minneapolis at Boom Island Bridge. This 8-panel through truss Bridge with pinned connections and Howe lattice Portal bracings was built in 1901 by –Butler-Ryan Co.of St. Paul, Minnesota, with Charles Frederick Lowethof Cleveland, Ohio being the designer and R.B. Tweedy being the chief engineer. The bridge was most recently renovated for bike use but when this was taken, there were eight inches of snow on the ground- thick enough for even snowmobiling. The purplish-blue setting reflects on the overcast skies with the ground all covered in snow. A great scene for a picture like this, taken while in tunnel view. Sometimes the best bridge pics are taken when there’s snow on the ground and in certain angles like this one. 🙂
Enjoy the pic and have a great Holiday Season! 🙂 ❤
During a period between 1870 and 1940, the United States experienced an exponential growth in the number of not only iron and steel truss bridges, but also the number of bridge companies and steel mills. Originating from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana and New York, companies were established in the 1870s but through consolidations and insider business training, the numbers expanded westward, reaching Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota and Iowa by 1910.
With these expansions came the development of the schools of bridge builders. Consisting of family dynasties and strong ties among the builders, these bridge builders were established either as family businesses or businesses with closest ties- whose founders later established ventures out west as a way to compete with the giant monopolies, like the American Bridge Company. Many schools of bridge builders existed beginning in the 1880s, including ones in Pittsburgh, Chicago, Ohio, New England,
and this one in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Minneapolis School of Bridge Builders featured bridge builders having established companies in Minneapolis and points to the east. These bridge builders were either self taught, had ties with companies to the east or both, and had a close-knit network of family members and close partners who later established companies or contracted westwards in the Great Plains and western states. They included the Hewett Family (William, Seth, Arthur), Commodore P. Jones, Lawrence Johnson and Alexander Bayne. Jones and Bayne were responsible for the Minneapolis Bridge Company, which was the longest tenured bridge company in the Minneapolis School and one of the longest in the United States.
Founded in 1887 by Commodore P. Jones, the Minneapolis Bridge Company has a unique history, some of which is still being debated by historians and scholars today. What is known is the fact that the bridge company operated under different ownerships as well as different names. According to the 1985 study on Minnesota’s bridges by Robert Frame, the company operated under Minneapolis Bridge Company from 1888 to 1898 and from 1913 to 1941, the Minneapolis Bridge and Iron Company from 1898-1910 and as the Minneapolis Bridge Construction Company 1941- ca. 1944. Jones operated the company before he left in 1910 to join Seth Hewett (with whom he was partners in the bridge business some years earlier) and formed the Great Northern Bridge Company, which operated until 1922.
It is unknown what happened to the company between the time span of 1910 and 1913, although some sources claim that the company was out of business by 1910 and was restarted in 1913. But more research is needed to determine whether this was the case. However, one of Jones’s disciples, Alexander Y. Bayne took over the company in 1913, and the Minneapolis Bridge Company resumed its bridge building business. Bayne was president of the company from 1913 to 1917, when his partner, Oliver Matteson took over the presidency and held it until 1926. Matteson had been an agent of the company up to 1917 as well as an agent for two other previous companies prior to the resurrection of the Minneapolis Bridge Company.
Another bridge builder, Isak Helseth took over the operations in 1941 and presided over the company until it folded in 1950. Assuming the bridge company was not closed down between 1910 and 1913, the Minneapolis Bridge Company relocated twice in its life span: first to the Met Life Building from its original location at the Lumber Exchange Building in 1913 and seven years later to 3100 NE 6th Street. The company was known to have constructed dozens of bridges during its existence. The 1985 study by Frame indicated that five were built by Jones and 27 by Bayne. However upon doing a count by the writer as part of a book project completed eight years ago, 31 bridges were constructed under Commodore Jones and dozens of others by Bayne.
Several historic bridges remaining in the country were built by Minneapolis Bridge Company, almost all of which were under the operations by Bayne, even though he had another business in Canada. Examples of bridges built by the company that are still standing include the following:
Meeting on Bridge Project scheduled for 29 October at River East in Minneapolis.
The St. Anthony Parkway Bridge, spanning the railroad yard in the Minneapolis suburb of Columbia Heights, has been a focus of concern for transportation officials, historians and locals alike, for although the bridge is historically significant, rust and corrosion was revealed on the bridge, prompting measures to ensure that the bridge is replaced as soon as possible.
Over five months after the article was written (see link here), the project appears to have moved forward. Plans have been approved to replace the five-span Warren through truss bridge, built in 1925 and features a set of skewed portal bracings, with a crossing featuring a through truss span and girder spans. The original trusses are being offered for sale by the City to be used for several purposes. The lone exception is one of the spans will be salvaged and used as an interpretive memorial located on the western end of the bridge. That means four spans are available for grabs to be reused on a local road or bike trail.
If interested, there is an informational meeting on Monday 29 October, 2013 from 6:00- 8:00pm at the River Village East, Community Room, located at 2919 Randolph St NE in Monneapolis. There, the public can discuss about the project and express their interest in the purchase of the old bridge. There will be more meetings to come between now and the time construction actually starts, which is next fall. The new bridge is expected to be open to traffic by the end of 2015. More information about the project can be found here. This includes the contact details in case of any questions.
The Chronicles will keep you posted on the latest involving the St. Anthony Parkway Bridge, but in case you know someone who wants a historic bridge for a bike trail, park or road, there are four spans available for you to get while they are still there…
Author’s note: There are a lot of unique features that make the Twin Cities in Minnesota worth visiting. One of those has to do with the bridges. Regardless of type, hundreds of them can be seen while travelling through the area by car, boat or even by walking, dating as far back as 1884 with the Stone Arch Bridge, the Merriam Street Bridge built at the Broadway Avenue crossing site in 1887 before saving and relocating one of the spans to its present, or even the arch bridges that have been spanning the Mississippi River for over 80 years. This year’s Society for Industrial Archeology Conference took place in Minneapolis and St. Paul. And as the author could not make it because of time commitments, another colleague and fellow pontist Amy Squitieri, who works at Mead & Hunt located in Minneapolis, Madison (WI) and Austin (TX), was there and was happy to provide you as the reader with the highlights of the three-day event that took place May 30- June 2. Here are the highlights and photos, all of which speak for themselves. Enjoy!
From Amy Squitieri:
Bridge enthusiasts came in force to the SIA Annual Conference in St. Paul. Friday’s sold-out bridge tour, Mighty Mississippi: A Twin Cities Riverboat Cruise with the Expert, was organized by Bob Frame of Mead & Hunt, which co-sponsored the tour in partnership with the Historic Bridge Foundation. Tour guides included historians with expertise in bridges and the Mississippi River, bridge engineers, and the Dispatcher with Upper River Services, a barge operating service.
Our first stop during the brief land-based portion of the tour was the Seventh Street Improvement Arches (1884) in St. Paul, one of the few helicoidal stone arches in the United States. As participants gathered to take pictures (see photo), State Bridge Engineer Nancy Daubenberger welcomed us to the bridge tour and to this ASCE National Historic Engineering Landmark, one of only three in Minnesota.
Arriving at St. Anthony Falls, we left the bus and walked across the deck of the 1883 Stone Arch Railroad Bridge, the second ASCE National Historic Engineering Landmark and now a major trail crossing (photo of participants gathered mid-span for an introduction to the Mighty Mississippi). The 2,100-foot, 23-arch bridge includes a six-degree curve (photo as seen from the deck of our Mississippi riverboat, the Magnolia Blossom).
The riverboat tour began at the top of the lock chamber and proceeded down river on a cruise for the remainder of the day, ending in downtown St. Paul. We observed historic bridges of the Twin Cities from the riverboat deck, cruising from the waterpower center of the Historic Minneapolis Mill District at the Falls of St. Anthony to the traditional head of navigation at St. Paul. A full tour description is here (http://www.siahq.org/conference/twincities/fridaytour1.html)
Highlights of the tour included the Cappelen Memorial (Franklin Ave.) features a 400-ft. main span—setting the world record for a concrete-arch span when the bridge was completed in 1923 (see photo). This bridge is among an important group of large reinforced-concrete arch bridges that were built in the Twin Cities, particularly over the Mississippi, in the 1920s.
As we passed by the Omaha Railroad Swing Bridge (1915), the operator opened it for us (see photos of bridge opening). One participant noted that “operation of the swing bridge was a WAY COOL high point.” Near the end in St. Paul, we saw the beautiful rainbow arch Robert Street Bridge (1924-25).
The program for Saturday featured the 23rd Historic Bridge Symposium with 13 speakers from as close as the Twin Cities and as far as Vermont and Texas. Represented were cultural resource professionals at State DOTs, consultants, reps of Army National Guard and National Park Service, advocates and enthusiasts. The audience ranged from about 25 to max of 50 during the day-long symposium.
The Historic Bridge Foundation sponsored the symposium and director Kitty Henderson served as moderator. Speakers and topics, with quick highlights, were as follows: Session 3A
Michael Krakower, “Restoration of the Oaklawn Concrete Bridge” – Early reinforced arch and only bridge by renowned architects Greene & Greene
Deborah Baldwin Van Steen, “History vs. Technology: Emergency Repairs to the Route 33 Bridge, Hightstown, New Jersey” – Bridge washed out in flood and was restored with modified railings to meet current safety guidelines
Christopher H. Marston, “Salvation, Documentation, and Reconstruction of the Moose Brook Bridge Howe Truss” – A wood bridge burned and was carefully rebuilt with lessons about timber strength and craftsmanship Session 3B
Scott Newman, “Historic Bridge Projects: A Preservation Reality Check” – Shared several recent VT rehab projects including the famous Checkered House Bridge, a widened truss.
Katherine Haun, “Bridge Engineering from the Bottom Up: Substructure Matters on the Red River of the North” – A fascinating look at how the abutments and bearings were designed to accommodate sinking soils
Raina Regan, “The Bailey Bridge: Misconceptions in Identification, Significance, and Preservation” – Her detailed research has shown that extant US “Bailey Bridges” post-date World War II Session 3C
Rebecca Burrow, “How to Date a Bridge: Case Studies on Steel Truss Design”
Nathan Holth, “Creative Bridge Building in Early 20th Century Chicago”
Mark M. Brown, “Bridges of the Recent Past: Three Texas Case Studies” – Entertaining! Session 3D
Gary W. Houston, “Two Lessons for Historic Urban Bridge Protection Offered by San Antonio’s Hays Street Bridge” – Lesson 1: Public art shouldn’t be forced onto a historic bridge; Lesson 2: Public bridges are for public users, not private concessionaires
Amy Squitieri and Kristen Zschomler, “Minnesota’s Bridges: Lessons Learned and Current Best Practices” – We shared recent rehab projects with a focus on common challenges of railings, rivets, stone/concrete repair techniques, adequate width and capacity
Justin M. Spivey, “Crowd-Sourcing Historic Bridge Research” – You can find out a lot on the web, some good and other info is more suspect
Session abstracts and speaker bios are available here;
On a personal note, it was a great pleasure to see my colleague at Mead & Hunt, Bob Frame, receive SIA’s most prestigious honor, the General Tools Award, for his lifetime contributions to industrial archeology. As one of the leading historic bridge experts in the country, Bob conducts research, completes evaluations and documentation, and leads historic bridge assessments. He has contributed to eight statewide historic bridge surveys. Details about Bob’s accomplishment are included in a blog post (http://www.meadhunt.com/insights/historic-preservation/frame/)
Bridge fans should make plans to attend next year’s SIA conference in Portland, Maine, and the 24th Historic Bridge Symposium. The conference is tentatively scheduled for mid- or late-May. Updates will be provided on the SIA website http://www.siahq.org/conference/SIAconf.html
Author’s Note: Some of the bridges mentioned here will be profiled separately in the future as there are some interesting stories that went along with them and how they were preserved. The Chronicles will do an interview with Bob Frame as well, for he devoted over 40 years to historic bridge preservation, including publishing inventories on historic bridges in Minnesota, the oldest version of which I still have in my possession and have been using to track down the history of the bridges in Minnesota.
Another colleague, Kaitlin O’shea of Preservation in Pink, was also there and provided highlights of the Conference from a preservationists point of view. You can see the article with pictures here.
Special thanks to Amy Squitieri for her help in providing us with information and photos of the event, the latter of which can be seen below:
The St. Anthony Parkway Bridge, also known as the Northtown Bridge, is one of Minnesota’s historic bridges that deserves some recognition in itself. Located in the western part of Minneapolis near Columbia Height, this five span Warren through truss bridge with riveted connections is one of the last bridges of its kind to span the railroad yard in the Midwest. Built in 1925, the 530 foot long bridge is built in a 40° skew, another rarity one can find in the region, if not the country! Despite the lack of information about the bridge- thanks largely in part to missing plaques on the end posts of the bridge- the Northtown Bridge is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places as it is located on the Grand Rounds of Parkways and crosses a historic railyard owned by Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railways- all of which have been considered nationally historic!
In the meantime, the bridge has suffered a great deal, both in its outer appearance as well as with the decking. Officials at BNSF and the City of Minneapolis revealed in their surveys that the bridge is corroding, especially in the decking because of the trains passing underneath the structure combined with the use of salt in the winter time. Furthermore, the upper part of the bridge has sustained substantial damage to the portal bracing and upper chord, probably caused by trucks trying to cross the bridge despite height restrictions. A pair of photos in this article combined with a link to more photos (shown here) reveal a close-up view of the damage to the bridge.
As the city is actively pursuing a replacement bridge, pondering between a basket arch bridge similar to the Mississippi River Crossing at Lowry Avenue and a cable-stayed bridge similar to the Sabo Bridge, the question is what to do with the present structure, for even though one or two of the damaged spans are most likely going to be scrapped, the remaining spans have the potential to be reused, either along a bike trail in or around the Twin Cities area, or somewhere on a rural road for light vehicles, as has been done before. It may be possible that because of its historic status, the city may save only one of the spans, relocate it and reuse, as was the case with the Broadway Avenue Bridge in 1987, when one of the spans was relocated to its Merriam Street location, which still serves traffic to this day.
While the replacement plans are in the starting phase, the plans regarding the future of the present St. Anthony Parkway Bridge is still open. So let’s take a look at the bridge and ask ourselves this question:
What would you do with the current St. Anthony Parkway Bridge?
a. Relocate the remaining truss spans to rural locations- and if so, which areas would be potential candidates?
b. Relocate the trusses to the bike trail in and around the Twin Cities area- and if so, which bike trails could use a historic bridge?
c. Relocate the trusses to the bike trails elsewhere in Minnesota and the surrounding states- and if so, which ones need a historic bridge?
d. Relocate one of the trusses to a street location, like the Merriam Street Bridge- if so, which street in Minneapolis would be a candidate
e. Keep one of the trusses and relocate it to a nearby park
f. Other options
Please place your comments here, on the facebook pages or send your comments via e-mail. However, just as important as replacing the bridge is addressing the importance of saving the truss bridge to the state historical society and other state agencies, as well as organizations that specialize in bridge rehabilitation so that they have a chance to think about the options and support your decision. A link to MNHS is enclosed here, if you want to talk to the personnel about it.
When there is a will, there is a way to save a historic landmark that is part of a bigger district. While the city parks administrator would like a new crossing that is a signature for the City of Minneapolis, would it not be better to have a relict of history be saved that is just as big a signature for the city and its historic district as the new bridge? Minneapolis has a lot of history that can be reached by bike, foot or car and St. Anthony Parkway Bridge is one of those that deserves its place in history, live and in person…
All eyes seem to be focused on the Midwest for this year’s conferences and tours dealing with architecture, history and preservation. Apart from the ISPC Conference last month in Michigan and the upcoming Historic Bridge Weekend Conference in Iowa in August, a conference on industrial archaeology is coming to Minnesota at the end of May. The Society of Industrial Archaeology, based at Michigan Tech University, hosts a four day event every year, focusing on a region that is rich in industrial architecture and history. The organization has been hosting the event for 41 years, whereas a symposium devoted to historic bridges has been taking place since 1991.
This year’s event will take place May 30-June 2 in the Twin Cities at the St. Paul Hotel. Pre-conference tours and the introductory session will be on the 30th, followed by a Friday tour of the Mississippi River and its crossings, as well as places to the south of the Twin Cities (in Rice County), Film Festival and Book Signing session in the evening. Saturday will be the busiest with presentations, business lunch and the Historic Bridge Symposium, featuring presentations by six pontists from various fields, including Nathan Holth, Christopher Marston, Mark Brown, Rebecca Burrow, Amy Squitieri and Scott Newman. Kitty Henderson of the Historic Bridge Foundation, which is co-sponsoring the event with SIA, will emcee the symposium. And a post conference tour of the Mississippi River Waterfront and the newly refurbished Union Depot station in St. Paul on Sunday will round off the event.
Information on how to register for the four day event can be obtained here. You will also find all the contact information in case of questions. Highlights of the event will be provided by those taking part and will be posted in the Chronicles.
Here is a question for many who are involved in marketing historic bridges: 1. What types of bridges have you marketed and sold, 2. How big were they, 3. Were they sold in chunks or in its entirety, 4. did you have to finance the relocation or did the parties do it themselves and 5. (most importantly), were there any takers?
From the point of view of the pontist and historian, the realistic answers for these questions are mainly truss bridges (mostly single span pony trusses) whose length did not exceed an average of 150 feet, although most multiple spans were sold in chunks, parties had to pay for the relocation and rehabilitation costs unless state and federal grants were available and finally, only 10% of the people were interested and actually took the bridge, even though another 40% were interested but did not have the financial resources to cover them. While some states, like Indiana, Texas, Iowa and Vermont have had more success than others, these statistics are alarming and also sobering, as mentioned by Eric Delony in a publication on the disappearance of historic bridges, published in 2003.
Which brings us to this case study involving the Sabula-Savanna Bridge. Spanning the Mississippi River and connecting the former in Jackson County, Iowa with the latter in Caroll County on the Illinois side, this half a mile long bridge was built in 1932 by the Minneapolis Bridge Company and features a Pratt through truss approach span and a cantilever through truss main span, all blue in color. The SaSa Bridge is unique because it represents one of the rarest examples of historic bridges built by the Minneapolis Bridge Company, one of a half dozen bridge building companies located in the largest city in Minnesota. While the Minneapolis bridge building empire dominated much of Minnesota and all areas to the west during the time span of 1880 and 1940, its influence was not as big in Iowa and Illinois thanks to their own set of bridge builders that existed during that time, like the Federal Bridge, Iowa Bridge, and Wickes Construction (all of Des Moines), the Clinton Bridge and Iron Company, the largest of the bridge builders in Iowa, and Illinois Steel, which built numerous bridges in Illinois and parts of Iowa. Even more unique is the cantilever truss span, which features a K-truss design. K-trusses are different from other trusses, where two diagonal beams, which start at the same vertical beam on one side of the panel meet in the midle of the next vertical beam, creating a K-shaped truss. These trusses were developed in the late 1920s and became popular around the world, as K-truss bridges were built for railroad crossings in Europe. Here in the US, one can find a large quantity of K-trusses in Oklahoma and Pennsylvania but here in Iowa, only one bridge of this kind exists, which is this bridge.
The situation with the bridge is as follows: The Illinois Department of Transportation wants to replace this bridge with a modern one to accomodate more traffic passing through the region. Construction on the new bridge is set to begin in 2015 and upon completion in 2-3 years’ time, the old structure will be removed. However, the IDOT has decided to give the bridge away- for free! All 2,500 feet of the structure is yours if interested, except for one catch: you need to relocate the bridge and maintain its historic integrity in the process, while the DOT will pay for the costs to equal that of the demolition costs. Plus you are responsible for maintaining the bridge and the liability that goes along with that. Plus the bridge would have to be gone within 30 days of the opening of the bridge. Still interested?
The offer has created an outcry among historians and pontists alike, which ranges from being “unrealistic” to “laughable.” One even mentioned that the costs of maintaining the bridge “forever” is ironic for IDOT has had a bad record of maintaining and preserving historic bridges in their state not counting the greater Chicago area. As mentioned in an earlier posting, the same agency is pursuing the demolition of relict bridges along US Hwy. 50 in order to expand the highway to four lanes. The opinion on the IDOT side has been indifferent as well as one person mentioned that no takers would be expected.
No takers means preparing the bridge’s obituary early then, is it not?
There are some questions though that will result in having the offer being revised at the convenience of other agencies working either at the same level or above the IDOT. Firstly, the SaSa Bridge is also owned by the State of Iowa, which has had an excellent record of preserving the remaining existing historic bridges in the state- mostly in an area east of the Des Moines River, with reports of many truss and arch bridges being relocated to parks and picnic areas for reuse and some being reused as part of the bike trail. Yet according to their website, there seems to be little or no cooperation with its next door neighbor, opening the door to ownership disputes.
Secondly, while environmental impact surveys are being carried out, there is no mentioning of Section 106 of the Historic Preservation Law, which focuses on alternatives to demolition and the documentation of the bridge prior to the project beginning. As the SaSa Bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the states are required to conduct the survey before construction starts.
And finally, as it is impractical to relocate a bridge of that size and mass, records have indicated that bridges like this were given to county authorities for use in their system as soon as the new highway bridge is in use. Many examples of such arrangements exist, among them, the St. Francisville Bridge over the Des Moines River at the Iowa-Misouri border. The cantilever Warren through truss bridge, built in 1927, was made obsolete by a freeway bridge, made to carry the Avenue of the Saints linking Mason City and St. Louis, and was subsequentially taken over by the counties of Lee (Iowa) and Clark (Missouri), which has maintained it as a street bridge ever since.
Keeping these arguments in mind, one has to ask himself whether this arrangement of giving the bridge away like IDOT is doing is both legal and practical or if there will be legal action to force the agency to revise its proposal to allow other parties to take over the bridge in its place, to use either for local traffic or part of the bike trail. Given the landscape of the Mississippi River valley and the counties affected by the bridge project, leaving the bridge in place and maintaining it “forever,” as IDOT stated in its offer just makes sense for everyone involved. The fortunate part is construction will not start for another two years, which means more meetings and other proposals will be brought forward before the project is finalized and the excavators can start digging for a new abutment for SaSa’s replacement. Story to be continued…..
More information and photos of the bridge can be found here, as well as in the words marked and underlined in the text.
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.
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.
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. 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. 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.
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. 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.
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.
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!