An Interview with John Marvig

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Photo of John Marvig in front of the (now extant) Wagon Wheel Bridge in Boone County, Iowa

When we think of historic bridges, we think of roadway bridges built of metal or stone, having truss, arch, suspension or beam designs, each of which has a well-documented history pertaining to the date of construction and the builders, as well as its significance to the community and infrastructure. It is rare to find history of railroad bridges that had made a different in a community…..

….that is unless you are John Marvig.

Since his 6th grade year, Marvig has been travelling the Midwestern US, photographing and documenting historic and modern railroad bridges for his website. Since its inauguration in 2011, the website has over 1200 bridges, big and small, covering eleven states and counting. The secret to the Chaska (Minnesota) native’s success as a railroad bridge photographer and writer I wanted to find out through this interview, as Marvig won the 2016 Ammann Awards for Lifetime Achievement, the youngest person to ever have received this distinction. Here are some Q&As conducted with this now sophomore at Iowa State University, majoring in Civil Engineering:

BHC: What got you interested in historic bridges; in particular, railroad bridges?

Marvig: When I was a kid, there was a bridge on I-494 in South Saint Paul known as the Wakota Bridge. That old tied arch structure always interested me, and I always took note when we drove to my grandparents farm in Wisconsin. Along the way, there were a number of other bridges I would take notice of from a young age. When I was younger, I had also wanted a model railroad. One thing led to another, and I would be taking pictures of a local railroad bridge by the fall of my 6th grade year. It grew from there, and became a full blown passion (or obsession, depending on how you look at it). Another bridge, an old railroad swing bridge located in my hometown of Chaska was always fascinating to me, since it only continued to exist in memory. Seeing the history that was lost really encouraged me to peruse my passion.

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North Redwood Railroad Bridge. Photos taken by John Marvig and avbailable via website.

BHC: What got you interested in historic bridges; in particular, railroad bridges?

Marvig: Creating my website was an idea that was formulated in a 7th grade technology class where we learned basic coding. John Weeks runs a website with numerous bridge photos on it, which also captivated my interest. From an early and very basic website to the full blown site it is now, it has steadily grown. I have well over 1000 bridges documented, I am just waiting to get the pages created! The hardest part is coding the pages. I manually code them, instead of using a form which automatically creates the pages (similar to Bridgehunter). This allows me the flexibility to change pages to meet the needs of the specific structure or the intended audience. However, this can be very time consuming. A page I have been working on for the Eads Bridge in Saint Louis took nearly 4 hours from start to finish to create. I continue to anticipate the site growing steadily. I have a waiting list of pages to add of over 350, and that list grows often.

 

BHC: Your focus on your website is railroad bridges. What makes them special in comparison to highway bridges?

Marvig: Railroad bridges, in my opinion, are the pinnacle of American engineering. While highway bridges were not built to carry a heavy load, railroad bridges were constructed to carry a load of many times a typical highway bridge. This results in some bridges that are engineered to perfection. In addition, railroad companies rarely reported construction of bridges and oftentimes did weird things such as relocation of spans. This makes it a unique challenge to document and research these structures.

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Crookston Railroad Bridge.

BHC:  Many railroad companies try to repel photographers and bridgehunters from photographing RR bridges. Why is that and how did you successfully managed to do that?

Marvig: Railroad companies are afraid of the liabilities of people being on their property. I have gotten around this by using public access, asking other landowners or walking along the riverbanks to the structure. My most important goal is to stay safe and set a positive example for others.

 

BHC:  Set a positive example- what examples?

Marvig: Two ways to look at this. The first is safety and to obey the rules. Walking on railroad property or bridges is very dangerous, and I try to use it as a last resort to get to bridges. On my site, I generally make notes of how I got to the bridge so others will hopefully follow that route. The other positive example I like to set is the strive for preservation and passion I demonstrate. I hope this spreads to others and we can see a positive turnaround in bridge preservation.

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Bergfeld Pond Bridge in Dubuque. This span was one of several from the 1868 span over the Mississippi River

BHC:  Did you have any confrontations with landowners accusing you of trespassing or other items? Many bridgehunters have dealt with this problem over the years- yours truly included on many occasions.

Marvig: I have. While I generally find that landowners are more than happy to talk to myself and my father, who often accompanies me on these trips, I have seen some people I hope not to deal with again. I would say 90% of people are nice and usually interested, and oftentimes tell their life story. I have however had instances of some real cranks. I’ve had hunters “accidentally” shoot my direction, I’ve had ladies in trailers yell at me because I’m parked on a public gravel road and I’ve had others claim a public road is theirs. However, a vast majority are some of the nicest people I’ve met; and in a few cases people I’ve kept in contact with.

 

BHC:  Bridge historians, like Eric Delony have often mentioned of railroad companies being very hesitant re. nominating railroad bridges deemed historic on the National Register because of their historic significance. From your experience, is this the case and if so, why is that?

Marvig: This is true. One example is the Redstone Bridge in New Ulm, Minnesota. The railroad has refused to nominate the structure repeatedly, even though the state attempted to get them to. This structure is an 1880 swing span, and one of the oldest known in America. Despite this, if the railroad chooses to demolish it, nobody can do anything about it. Fortunately, the State of Minnesota has said they will not let Canadian pacific demolish the structure, and when it is abandoned it should be preserved.

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Redstone Bridge spanning the Minnesota River in New Ulm.

BHC: Is the Redstone Bridge still in service?

Marvig: Yeah, its part of a spur to a quarry. I’m really hoping it is abandoned soon. With CP not doing well financially, I really hope that we can see a step in preservation made within the next decade

For more on the bridge, please check out the Tour Guide on the Bridges of New Ulm by clicking here. People in New Ulm as well as officials at the State Historic Preservation Office in St. Paul are interested in saving this bridge and nominate it on the National Register of Historic Places.

 

BHC:  What can be done to convince railroad companies to nominate their bridges to the Nat. Reg. as well as restore the bridge for future use? What examples have been mentioned?

Marvig: In my opinion, the only real thing that can be done is to make it worth it for them financially.  If an incentive was offered to a railroad to bypass historic bridges and preserve them, I’m quite sure they would be willing.

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Colfax Railroad Bridge in Wisconsin

BHC: Which RR bridges have you been involved in which has been successfully inducted into the National Register?

Marvig: While I do not believe any of the bridges I’ve helped preserve are listed as a separate listing on the NR, the railroad bridge across Main Street in Carver, MN (about 10 minutes from home) was to be demolished in 2011, but I worked with the city to preserve it. I believe it might be listed as a contributing resource currently.

 

 BHC:  Which RR Bridges you were involved in was converted into a Rails for Trails Crossing?

Marvig: Currently, I have not had any converted to trails. However, the bridge in Carver is eventually scheduled to become a trail. In addition, I’ve been working with the Midtown Greenway in Minneapolis to preserve and convert the Short Line Bridge. The Missouri River Bridge in Bismarck is another example of a structure I am working to get preserved for this use.

 

 BHC: Which Railroad Bridge is your all time favorite?

Marvig: It’s hard to determine what my favorite bridge is, as there are a large number of structures I love. The Redstone Bridge in New Ulm, as well as the northwestern bridge in Eau Claire are two of my favorite bridges. These were both built in 1880 and are extremely old examples of rare truss types.

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Chicago and Northwestern Viaduct in Eau Claire, Wisonsin. This quintuple Warren deck truss bridge is now a bike trail crossing.

 

 BHC: If there is a person who is interested in bridge photography, what tips would you give him/her?

Marvig: As for tips for others, I would suggest starting with places you have passion for. If there is a bridge in town that you want to know more about, go take some pictures. Unique and historic bridges are going the way of the dodo bird in the United States, and photography is a form of preservation.

 

 BHC: And what about establishing a website like you have? The last question includes the use of social media, wordpress and the question of making a magazine out of it.

Marvig: To create a website, be prepared to have a large chunk of time taken up. The initial coding is tough, and manually adding pages is a long process. Research is also essential. I think I’ve spent several hundred dollars on research since 2010, as google doesn’t provide all answers. My biggest advice though is to create your website to be expandable. Make sure it has as many features as you want. I have 1200 pages on my site currently, and I’m working on reviewing and adding new features to these pages. It’s a lot easier to correct 12 pages than 1200.

Regarding social media, that isn’t my strong point. However it is essential to be able to reach out to a new audience to educate and inform about historic bridges. When I first started doing bridges in 2009, social media was a rather new invention, and I did not invest time heavily in it. Currently, I spread my message of bridges through both Facebook, and Instagram.

BHC: Thank you for your time for this interview.

Marvig: No problem.

To learn more about his work, click onto his website here. There you can find details of every bridge he’s visited, which includes its history and dimensions, as well as the number of trains crossing it daily (for most crossings). He has updated his website regularly and therefore, it is necessary to visit the site often. Enjoy some railroad facts and figures. 🙂

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Long Meadow Bridge Open to Bike Traffic

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Photo taken in 2011

Four-span Camelback through truss reopened to traffic after a two-year rehabilitation program.

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BLOOMINGTON, MINNESOTA (USA)- The people of the City of Bloomington wanted their bridge back. People attached to the bridge wanted it back. Developers of the Mall of America Expansion Project wanted their bridge back. Now, after a two-year project and being closed down to all traffic for 14 years, the Long Meadow Bridge, spanning the lake bearing its name at the site of Old Cedar Avenue, is back. Since last weekend, the 860-foot long bridge, built by the Illinois Steel Company in 1920, has been opened to cyclists and pedestrians, thus restoring the key link between Bloomington and Burnsville. The project was part of the plan to provide better access to the Mall of America, where over $9 million was spent on the project. Upon first observations of the bridge in 2011, the question remained just how this mammoth of a task was to be completed. Here is a short summary of how it was done:

The Bridge before the Project (Photos taken by the author in 2011)

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The lower stringers were removed from the bridge, thus leaving the truss superstructure as a skeleton. They were replaced with new, modern ones with thick I-beam frames that would withstand the extremeties. The original ones were so corroded that they could not be salvaged. In addition, the piers and footing of the bridge were replaced. This was done by lifting the bridge span onto towered scaffolding, allowing the workers to replace the gusset plates, lower beams and the piers themselves. All of the gusset plates and most of the piers and abutments were replaced, thus giving the bottom half of the bridge a new modern form. Once the bridge spans were placed back onto the newly built piers, new concrete decking was added, as well as new coat of paint on the trusses, and finally new railings and lighting. A photo gallery of the whole project, courtesy of the City of Bloomington, can be seen in detail by clicking here. However, a few pics from the gallery were taken out to show a preview of how the project was completed.

With the bridge open to traffic, people will once again have the opportunity to use a historic structure for their own use- observing wildlife, walking with family, biking or even shopping if they wish to visit the Mall of America. It has revitalized the historic Cedar Avenue Route, which includes the Minnesota River crossing. But more importantly, the project shows that with a lot of political effort, combined with financial resources and technical know-how, even the most difficult issues can be resolved without having to scrap a piece of history to waste. Such problems on other bridges would have warranted their demolition and replacement. However, the city of Bloomington, the state of Minnesota, and many people attached to the bridge stuck together to the very end, withstanding all possible opposition and hesitancy, to make sure that the bridge is brought back to it rightful owners, which is theirs. With this mammoth project behind them, comes the first accolades. Apart from its listing on the National Register, one of its first awards coming up is the Ammann Awards for Best Example of a Preserved Historic Bridge. It has just become the first candidate. Many more will come, but you have a chance to vote on it come December. Stay tuned. 🙂

 

Bridge Restoration Project (overview): 

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All photos courtesy of the City of Bloomington. Used with permission.


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The Bridges of New Ulm, Minnesota

6th Street Overpass in New Ulm. Photo taken by the author in 2010

Going back to the series on Ulm and New Ulm with sister column The Flensburg Files, we will take a look at the bridges in the American counterpart. Located along the Minnesota River at the junction of the Big Cottonwood River, New Ulm, with a population of 13,400, has some of the characteristics of Main Street USA. Yet as you pass through, everything you see is German, from names to buildings and monuments, as well as the market square and the Oktoberfest.

New Ulm is served by two key highways: Minnesota Hwy. 15 between St. Cloud and Iowa going north to south, and US Hwy. 14 between Mankato and Rochester in the east and Walnut Grove and Brookings to the west. The railroad line owned by Canadian Pacific runs parallel to this highway. These highways and railroad had once made New Ulm a key trading center when it was established in 1854 and rebuilt after the Dakota War of 1862. With that came the crossings along the Minnesota and Cottonwood Rivers, which helped serve this purpose. Today, the highways are modernized and with that, longer and wider bridges to serve traffic- at least for the east-west route as New Ulm and Mankato are located only 15 miles from each other, making commuting easier. Yet many traces of history can also be found mainly to the south of New Ulm, where historic bridges once stood but today only a pair of vintage railroad bridges are still standing. This guide takes you through the city of New Ulm and the historic bridges that had once existed but have been replaced. The purpose is to remind visitors of their existence and the bridge companies that were responsible for turning New Ulm into a city of commerce, a title still held as proudly today as its German heritage. Most of the bridges profiled are located to the south and east, with a pair of outlyers to the north. You can find them on this map, when clicking here.

6th Street Arch Underpass:

The stone arch bridge spans 6th Street North, carrying the Canadian Pacific Railroad. The 38 foot long stone arch bridge was constructed in 1909 and had originally served both the east-west route (owned by CP) and a north-south route which was once owned by the Minneapolis and St. Louis Railroad. That line connected New Ulm with Winthrop (in the north) and Storm Lake, Iowa (in the south) until its abandonment in 1970. The bridge now only serves the CP route, but it serves as a key entrance to German Park, located just to the west of this bridge in the northern part of the business district.

12th Street Overpass in New Ulm. Photo taken by John Marvig in September 2011, shortly afterwards it was replaced.

12th Street Overpass: 

This bridge is located at the far end of New Ulm, spanning 12th Street North, carrying CP Railroad. Built in 1911, the 30-foot bridge featured a plate girder decorated with wooden railties. However, due to structural concerns, the bridge was replaced with a combination steel and concrete structure in 2012. It still serves traffic today.

Redstone Bridge (side view). Photo taken by John Marvig in January 2013

Redstone Railroad Bridge

Located over the Minnesota River opposite the city center, the Redstone Bridge is the longest of the bridges in New Ulm and one of the longest of the railroad bridges spanning the Minnesota River. The 880 foot long bridge, consisting of two quadrangular truss spans with Town Lattice portal bracings and a 207-foot long swing span built of Pratt design and featuring a beam-style with heels portals, was built in 1880 by the Leighton Bridge and Iron Works Company in New York. It originally served the main line of Chicago and Northwestern Railroad, connecting New Ulm and St. Peter. However, the line was detoured in 1971 to have it connected with Mankato, thus rendering the line to St. Peter useless. The bridge still serves rail traffic but only to the quarry near the Courtland Cutoff before it terminates. The piers of the swing span was reinforced with concrete in 2014 to stabilize the structure, but overall, the bridge is still in use and maintains its historic significance. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Portal view of the approach span. Photo taken by John Marvig in May 2015

DM&E Cottonwood River Railroad Bridge west of the Minnesota River in New Ulm. Photo taken by John Marvig in May 2015

D,M&E Cottonwood River Railroad Bridge:

Located only a half mile northwest of Redstone Bridge, the Cottonwood River crossing is the longest bridge over the Cottonwood River (and the last crossing before its confluence with the Minnesota River only 600 feet to the east) at 733 feet total. The bridge features two quadrangular truss main spans with A-frame portal braces, each measured at 157 feet, with the rest being wooden trestle approach spans. These were replaced with concrete and steel trestle spans in 2009. The bridge was built in 1913, using the piers of the 1890 span, which had deteriorated to a point where replacement was necessary. The bridge continues to serve rail traffic to Mankato today, for it is the main line served by Canadian Pacific Railroad. 


Poor Farm Bridge before its replacement. Photo courtesy of HABS HAER
Poor Farm Bridge before its replacement. Photo courtesy of HABS HAER

Poor Farm Bridge:

Located just west of MN Hwy. 15 on Cottonwood Street, Poor Farm Bridge represented a lone example of a bridge built by the Security Bridge Company based in Billings, Montana. The structure was built in 1907 and featured a pin-connected Pratt through truss with Howe lattice portal bracings with heel bracings, with a total measurement of 155 feet. The bridge continued to serve traffic until a cracked eyebar in the bottom chord led to its closure in February 1991. It was replaced with its present structure 3 years later.  Had the advancement of historic bridge preservation been as predominant as it is right now, chances would have been likely that this bridge would have been standing, serving light traffic or at least be used as a pedestrian crossing. But the lack of technology pertaining to fixing broken iron and steel beams contributed to its demise.

Portal view with the builder's plaque. Photo courtesy of HABS HAER
Portal view with the builder’s plaque. Photo courtesy of HABS HAER

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Courtland Cutoff Bridge

Located over the Minnesota River 300 feet north of the present 20th Street Bridge, the Courtland Cutoff Bridge featured two Pratt through truss spans with Town lattice portal bracings supported by 45° heels. The bridge’s end posts and vertical posts were both V-laced, and it appeared to be built of iron. Although there are no records as to who built the 1892 bridge, the portal bracings and the builders plaques are typical of that built by Massilion Bridge Company in Ohio. But more information is needed to confirm this argument. The 335-foot bridge served traffic until 1978, when the present bridge was built on a new alignment. By 1980, the bridge was moved to the history books with the parts being reused for other purposes. Today, like the truss bridge, the Courtland Cutoff serves as a shortcut to Mankato without having to drive through down town New Ulm.

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Metzen Bridge:

Spanning the Cottonwood River east of the present Hwy. 15 crossing, the Metzen Bridge was built in 1880 and named after a nearby farm that had existed since the establishment of New Ulm in 1854. The bridge was built in 1880 and represents an example of a typical Wrought Iron Bridge Company bridge with its ornamental Town Lattice portal bracings and builder’s plaques. The 441-foot bridge featured a pin-connected Whipple through truss span (148 feet) and steel approach spans. Until 1932, the bridge was the primary crossing for Hwy. 15 going south of New Ulm. After a new crossing was built on a new alignment 700 feet to the west, the ownership of the Metzen Bridge was switched over to the city, which owned it until its removal in 1981. The bridge originally was located where Shag Road makes a sharp right going north and east towards the Cottonwood River Railroad Bridge. It originally was called Bridge Street because of the bridge. Yet Bridge Street terminates nears the Jensen Motors site, 250 feet north of the bridge. Had the bridge been standing, it would have been listed on the National Register because of its rare truss design. Ideally, it would have an excellent crossing for a bike trail leaving New Ulm going either south or along the Cottonwood.

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Broadway Avenue Bridge (Hwy. 15)

Built in 1932 replacing the Metzen Bridge, the Broadway Avenue Bridge featured a continuous deck truss design using a combination Howe and Pratt designs. The connections were riveted. At 66o feet, the bridge was the second longest along the Cottonwood River. It was built on a new alignment alongside the Milwaukee Viaduct, a steel viaduct built in 1899 that had served the New Ulm-Madelia-Fairmont line until 1971. The purpose was to eliminate the dangerous curves presented by the Metzen Bridge, making the straightened road safer for travellers entering and leaving New Ulm. This was kept in mind in 1983, when the bridge was replaced with its present structure.

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Flandrau State Park Bridge (CSAH 13)

Together with the Minnesota River Crossing at Hwys. 14 and 15, the Flandrau Bridge represented a classic example of a multiple span steel truss bridge built by the Illinois Steel Bridge Company. This bridge was built in 1921 and featured a two-span Camelback truss bridge with A-frame portal bracing and riveted connections. It provided travellers with a direct access to Flandrau State Park from the south until its replacement in 1962.

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Hwy. 14 Minnesota River Bridge

Together with the Flandrau State Park Bridge, this bridge was built by the Illinois Steel Company in 1922. It featured a Parker through truss main span with two Warren pony truss approach spans (all with riveted connections), totalling a span of 350 feet. The A-frame portal bracings were replaced with Howe lattice portal bracings in 1939 to accomodate the increasing height of trucks crossing the Minnesota River going in and out of New Ulm. In 1963, as part of the plan to widen the highway to four lanes, the bridge was replaced with its present structure. Today, the crossing still serves Hwy. 14 between New Ulm and Mankato as well as Hwy. 15 between New Ulm and St. Cloud, providing New Ulm with commerce from the north and east.

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This article is part of a series on the cities of New Ulm, Minnesota and Ulm/ Neu Ulm, Germany, produced together with sister column, The Flensburg Files. To access the articles in the series, please click on the symbols for access….

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Many thanks to Pete Wilson from Minnesota Department of Transportation for his help in finding some information and photos on the bridges, as well as John Marvig for allowing the author to use some of his photos. 

The Bridges of New Ulm, Minnesota

6th Street Overpass in New Ulm. Photo taken by the author in 2010

Going back to the series on Ulm and New Ulm with sister column The Flensburg Files, we will take a look at the bridges in the American counterpart. Located along the Minnesota River at the junction of the Big Cottonwood River, New Ulm, with a population of 13,400, has some of the characteristics of Main Street USA. Yet as you pass through, everything you see is German, from names to buildings and monuments, as well as the market square and the Oktoberfest.

New Ulm is served by two key highways: Minnesota Hwy. 15 between St. Cloud and Iowa going north to south, and US Hwy. 14 between Mankato and Rochester in the east and Walnut Grove and Brookings to the west. The railroad line owned by Canadian Pacific runs parallel to this highway. These highways and railroad had once made New Ulm a key trading center when it was established in 1854 and rebuilt after the Dakota War of 1862. With that came the crossings along the Minnesota and Cottonwood Rivers, which helped serve this purpose. Today, the highways are modernized and with that, longer and wider bridges to serve traffic- at least for the east-west route as New Ulm and Mankato are located only 15 miles from each other, making commuting easier. Yet many traces of history can also be found mainly to the south of New Ulm, where historic bridges once stood but today only a pair of vintage railroad bridges are still standing. This guide takes you through the city of New Ulm and the historic bridges that had once existed but have been replaced. The purpose is to remind visitors of their existence and the bridge companies that were responsible for turning New Ulm into a city of commerce, a title still held as proudly today as its German heritage. Most of the bridges profiled are located to the south and east, with a pair of outlyers to the north. You can find them on this map, when clicking here.

6th Street Arch Underpass:

The stone arch bridge spans 6th Street North, carrying the Canadian Pacific Railroad. The 38 foot long stone arch bridge was constructed in 1909 and had originally served both the east-west route (owned by CP) and a north-south route which was once owned by the Minneapolis and St. Louis Railroad. That line connected New Ulm with Winthrop (in the north) and Storm Lake, Iowa (in the south) until its abandonment in 1970. The bridge now only serves the CP route, but it serves as a key entrance to German Park, located just to the west of this bridge in the northern part of the business district.

12th Street Overpass in New Ulm. Photo taken by John Marvig in September 2011, shortly afterwards it was replaced.

12th Street Overpass: 

This bridge is located at the far end of New Ulm, spanning 12th Street North, carrying CP Railroad. Built in 1911, the 30-foot bridge featured a plate girder decorated with wooden railties. However, due to structural concerns, the bridge was replaced with a combination steel and concrete structure in 2012. It still serves traffic today.

Redstone Bridge (side view). Photo taken by John Marvig in January 2013

Redstone Railroad Bridge

Located over the Minnesota River opposite the city center, the Redstone Bridge is the longest of the bridges in New Ulm and one of the longest of the railroad bridges spanning the Minnesota River. The 880 foot long bridge, consisting of two quadrangular truss spans with Town Lattice portal bracings and a 207-foot long swing span built of Pratt design and featuring a beam-style with heels portals, was built in 1880 by the Leighton Bridge and Iron Works Company in New York. It originally served the main line of Chicago and Northwestern Railroad, connecting New Ulm and St. Peter. However, the line was detoured in 1971 to have it connected with Mankato, thus rendering the line to St. Peter useless. The bridge still serves rail traffic but only to the quarry near the Courtland Cutoff before it terminates. The piers of the swing span was reinforced with concrete in 2014 to stabilize the structure, but overall, the bridge is still in use and maintains its historic significance. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

 

Portal view of the approach span. Photo taken by John Marvig in May 2015

 


DM&E Cottonwood River Railroad Bridge west of the Minnesota River in New Ulm. Photo taken by John Marvig in May 2015

D,M&E Cottonwood River Railroad Bridge:

Located only a half mile northwest of Redstone Bridge, the Cottonwood River crossing is the longest bridge over the Cottonwood River (and the last crossing before its confluence with the Minnesota River only 600 feet to the east) at 733 feet total. The bridge features two quadrangular truss main spans with A-frame portal braces, each measured at 157 feet, with the rest being wooden trestle approach spans. These were replaced with concrete and steel trestle spans in 2009. The bridge was built in 1913, using the piers of the 1890 span, which had deteriorated to a point where replacement was necessary. The bridge continues to serve rail traffic to Mankato today, for it is the main line served by Canadian Pacific Railroad. 


Poor Farm Bridge before its replacement. Photo courtesy of HABS HAER
Poor Farm Bridge before its replacement. Photo courtesy of HABS HAER

Poor Farm Bridge:

Located just west of MN Hwy. 15 on Cottonwood Street, Poor Farm Bridge represented a lone example of a bridge built by the Security Bridge Company based in Billings, Montana. The structure was built in 1907 and featured a pin-connected Pratt through truss with Howe lattice portal bracings with heel bracings, with a total measurement of 155 feet. The bridge continued to serve traffic until a cracked eyebar in the bottom chord led to its closure in February 1991. It was replaced with its present structure 3 years later.  Had the advancement of historic bridge preservation been as predominant as it is right now, chances would have been likely that this bridge would have been standing, serving light traffic or at least be used as a pedestrian crossing. But the lack of technology pertaining to fixing broken iron and steel beams contributed to its demise.

Portal view with the builder's plaque. Photo courtesy of HABS HAER
Portal view with the builder’s plaque. Photo courtesy of HABS HAER

Courtland Cutoff 1

Courtland Cutoff Bridge

Located over the Minnesota River 300 feet north of the present 20th Street Bridge, the Courtland Cutoff Bridge featured two Pratt through truss spans with Town lattice portal bracings supported by 45° heels. The bridge’s end posts and vertical posts were both V-laced, and it appeared to be built of iron. Although there are no records as to who built the 1892 bridge, the portal bracings and the builders plaques are typical of that built by Massilion Bridge Company in Ohio. But more information is needed to confirm this argument. The 335-foot bridge served traffic until 1978, when the present bridge was built on a new alignment. By 1980, the bridge was moved to the history books with the parts being reused for other purposes. Today, like the truss bridge, the Courtland Cutoff serves as a shortcut to Mankato without having to drive through down town New Ulm.

Courtland Cutoff 2

 


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Metzen Bridge:

Spanning the Cottonwood River east of the present Hwy. 15 crossing, the Metzen Bridge was built in 1880 and named after a nearby farm that had existed since the establishment of New Ulm in 1854. The bridge was built in 1880 and represents an example of a typical Wrought Iron Bridge Company bridge with its ornamental Town Lattice portal bracings and builder’s plaques. The 441-foot bridge featured a pin-connected Whipple through truss span (148 feet) and steel approach spans. Until 1932, the bridge was the primary crossing for Hwy. 15 going south of New Ulm. After a new crossing was built on a new alignment 700 feet to the west, the ownership of the Metzen Bridge was switched over to the city, which owned it until its removal in 1981. The bridge originally was located where Shag Road makes a sharp right going north and east towards the Cottonwood River Railroad Bridge. It originally was called Bridge Street because of the bridge. Yet Bridge Street terminates nears the Jensen Motors site, 250 feet north of the bridge. Had the bridge been standing, it would have been listed on the National Register because of its rare truss design. Ideally, it would have an excellent crossing for a bike trail leaving New Ulm going either south or along the Cottonwood.

 

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Hwy 15 B 1

Broadway Avenue Bridge (Hwy. 15)

Built in 1932 replacing the Metzen Bridge, the Broadway Avenue Bridge featured a continuous deck truss design using a combination Howe and Pratt designs. The connections were riveted. At 66o feet, the bridge was the second longest along the Cottonwood River. It was built on a new alignment alongside the Milwaukee Viaduct, a steel viaduct built in 1899 that had served the New Ulm-Madelia-Fairmont line until 1971. The purpose was to eliminate the dangerous curves presented by the Metzen Bridge, making the straightened road safer for travellers entering and leaving New Ulm. This was kept in mind in 1983, when the bridge was replaced with its present structure.

 

Hwy 15 B 2

 


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Flandrau State Park Bridge (CSAH 13)

Together with the Minnesota River Crossing at Hwys. 14 and 15, the Flandrau Bridge represented a classic example of a multiple span steel truss bridge built by the Illinois Steel Bridge Company. This bridge was built in 1921 and featured a two-span Camelback truss bridge with A-frame portal bracing and riveted connections. It provided travellers with a direct access to Flandrau State Park from the south until its replacement in 1962.

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Hwy. 14 Minnesota River Bridge

Together with the Flandrau State Park Bridge, this bridge was built by the Illinois Steel Company in 1922. It featured a Parker through truss main span with two Warren pony truss approach spans (all with riveted connections), totalling a span of 350 feet. The A-frame portal bracings were replaced with Howe lattice portal bracings in 1939 to accomodate the increasing height of trucks crossing the Minnesota River going in and out of New Ulm. In 1963, as part of the plan to widen the highway to four lanes, the bridge was replaced with its present structure. Today, the crossing still serves Hwy. 14 between New Ulm and Mankato as well as Hwy. 15 between New Ulm and St. Cloud, providing New Ulm with commerce from the north and east.

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This article is part of a series on the cities of New Ulm, Minnesota and Ulm/ Neu Ulm, Germany, produced together with sister column, The Flensburg Files. To access the articles in the series, please click on the symbols for access….

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Many thanks to Pete Wilson from Minnesota Department of Transportation for his help in finding some information and photos on the bridges, as well as John Marvig for allowing the author to use some of his photos. 

Mystery Bridge 46: The Disappearing Bridge in Nicollet County, Minnesota

Photo courtesy of MnDOT

Just recently, as I was looking for some information on some historic bridges for a book on one of the rivers in Minnesota, I happened to stumble across this bridge by chance. Located over the Minnesota River south of Fort Ridgely State Park, the only information gathered from an inventory of all bridges constructed in Minnesota revealed that the bridge was built in 1905, carried a township road, and was 259 feet long.  I bundled that bridge (known to locals as the Hinderman Bridge) in with my other bridge inquiries to MnDOT, only to receive this black and white picture from 1941. As you can see in the picture, the bridge was a two-span Pratt pony truss with pinned and eyebar connections.  According to information from MnDOT, with the construction of the MN Hwy. 4 Bridge to the northwest and a new bridgeat County Highway 13 in 1987, it was determined that the truss structure was rendered useless and was therefore abandoned, taken off the road system and most likely ended up in the back yard of a private farmstead.  Using Googlemap, it is revealed that the bridge no longer exists, as it was removed at a certain date, even though it is unknown when that took place, let alone why it happened to begin with.

The Minnesota River is laden with lots of information on bridges, both past and present, much of which have been documented for public availability at local museums, the state historical society and even online. Yet there are many questions that have yet to be answered with regards to this bridge. First and foremost, we have the issue of location. Many historic maps in the early 1900s had revealed that the bridge no longer existed with the exception of the canoe map provided by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, leading to the question of what type of service the road served before it was closed along with the bridge.  This was one of the findings that fellow pontist John Weeks III thought was odd, during his visit to the bridge in 2008. Yet the Hinderman Bridge does have some history behind it as Weeks discovered while researching about this bridge:

The bridge was named after Captain Hinderman and was once a popular ferry, connecting Ridgely Township in Nicollet County and the village of Home in Brown County. In 1905 the state appropriated $1,800 for a new crossing to replace the ferry, and the bridge was later built under the direction of Captain Hinderman and William LaFlamboy on the Nicollet side and Hans Moe from Sleepy Eye on the Brown side.  It is unknown where the steel was fabricated and who the bridge builder was, but it is likely that Hinderman and local residents may have ordered the structure from the bridge builder and it was shipped to the location to be assembled.  Information from a source with relation to the Hinderman family revealed that the bridge was washed out by flooding in 1951 but was later rebuilt at the exact location. But more concrete information came from the great-granddaughter of Captain Hinderman in 2012, who revealed that the bridge had been in service for 82 years before it became a liability for Brown County (which had own the bridge) because of a weight limit of three tons and was later closed to traffic in the fall of 1987.  More information about the bridge can be found through John Weeks’ website here.

This was all the information that was found about the Hinderman Bridge. All that is left of the bridge is wood pilings and the road approaching what is left of the bridge from both sides. A center pier in the middle of the Minnesota River, which revealed a two-span structure was knocked into the river by flooding in the 2000s. Yet it still does not answer the following questions:

1. Who provided the steel and was contracted to build the bridge?

2. When was the bridge removed and why?

3. When was Hinderman’s Ferry in service, and how long did the village of Home exist?

Any information about the bridge would be much appreciated, so that we can close the book on the story of this bridge that had once been an important crossing but became an unknown memory after 1987. The article and information about the bridge are available through bridgehunter.com, where you can place your comments in the section by clicking here. Yet, you can contact the Chronicles and John Weeks III using the contact details provided both in the Chronicles page here as well as here.

The author wishes to thank Peter Wilson at Minnesota DOT for providing some important information and photos of this bridge. 

Height detector test: New innovation for high truss bridges?

Photo taken in August 2013

In light of the I-5 bridge disaster over the Skagit River in Washington State, whose cause was a truck hitting the portal bracing of the Warren through truss bridge, questions have flown around as to whether a witch hunt to eradicate them is worth all the billions of dollars to be spent, or if it makes more sense to restrict them further for a fraction of the price and if so, how?

What about the usage of height detectors? This concept may be unusual to many engineers and politicians, but they are being used in many regions of the country today.

Like this one in Le Sueur, Minnesota. Located along the Minnesota River, the largest community of Le Sueur County with 4,000 inhabitants is the birth place of William Mayo, one of the founders of the world-renowned Mayo Clinic in Rochester, two hours to the east of town. While the town has a nice city center to the east of the railroad, it does have a thorn on its side, something city officials are hoping to get rid of when the railroad decides to abandon its line between Mankato and Shakopee, which is this deck plate girder bridge:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This railroad bridge crosses Hwy. 93 and has provided numerous headaches for drivers for two reasons: 1. The hill leading to the underpass is steep and after going underneath the bridge, you end up on the Minnesota River bridge and 2. The underpass is too narrow and too low for trucks to pass, forcing many truck drivers to use the exit to the north of town (at Hwy. 112 and US Hwy. 169). As the railroad is very active on this line, state and local authorities for many years have tried to place warning signs on both ends of the crossing, even warning drivers from as far away as US Hwy. 169 to consider other options if their load is too wide or even too narrow.

This concept was found just east of the interchange on Hwy. 93. How it functions is simple: if an overheight truck passes by the detector, an alarm will activate warning drivers of the danger ahead forcing him to change his course. A secondary alarm is activated warning police and other officials of the danger ahead so that they can act quickly and stop the person before reaching the underpass or bridge with a low clearance.

Given the lack of ability of some drivers to pay attention to weight and height restrictions of many bridges in the country, with the resulting factor being damage or destruction of the structure, this concept may be the best solution to the problems involving bridges with these handicaps. With millions of bridges with height restrictions on America’s highways, the cost for replacing every single structure would be so exorbitant that it would put the entire country back into an economic recession that would be worse than the one we just saw recently in 2008/09. This is not counting the cost for environmental impact and mitigation surveys and the design of the structure. In Minnesota alone, at least two dozen of these bridges are still in operation on the state’s highways, many of which still have some years of service left, like the Hwy. 7 Bridge west of Montevideo. This Parker span has spanned the Chippewa River since 1959 and is in tip-top condition.

Photo taken in December 2010

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This leads us to our question for the forum:

Do you think that height and weight restriction devices like the one in Le Sueur would be the most effective way to keep overweight and/or oversize vehicles from utilizing bridges with such restrictions? If so, how can we ensure that these people obey these restrictions without damaging or destroying the bridge? If it is not a viable solution, what alternatives would you recommend?

You can place your comments here on this page, or on the Chronicles’ facebook or LinkedIn pages. By doing so, you might have some ideas to share with others, who might find them interesting and useful. Furthermore it will help many people who think replacement is the only option to look at more reasonable options which can save money and force many people to think common sense.  Looking forward to your thoughts on this innovation, which seems to be a very effective solution to our height and weight problems on the roads.

Note: The Skagit River crossing reopened to traffic on 15 September after crews replaced the temporary Bailey truss spans with concrete beams spans, built at the site where a section of the truss bridge collapsed. More information can be found here.

The Minnesota River crossing featured a 700 foot truss bridge (400 foot Pennsylvania, 200 foot Parker and 100 foot Warren pony) built in 1923 by the Wausau (Wisconsin) Bridge and Iron Works Company, replacing an iron Post through truss bridge. It used to carry US Hwy. 169 before it was relocated to the west and served as a bypass in 1967. The bridge was replaced with a current structure- a concrete slab bridge- in 1984. A photo of the Post truss can be found here as well as the 1923 span (here).

Long Meadow Bridge in Bloomington, Minnesota

Side view of the Long Meadow Bridge and plane enroute to the Twin Cities International Airport. Photo taken in August 2011

Inspite the number of historic bridges being demolished or wiped away because of natural disasters, there are a few bright spots to consider. The Long Meadow Bridge in Bloomington, MN is one of them.  Spanning the Long Meadow Lake arm of the Minnesota carrying Old Cedar Avenue, this 1920 structure, featuring five riveted Parker through truss spans with M-frame portal bracings has had a long history in itself. The current structure is the second crossing at this site where a major thoroughway used to exist. Originally connecting Minneapolis with the southern suburbs of Apple Valley, Bloomington and other smaller towns, Cedar Avenue used to be a major throughway back in the times where freeways did not even exist, with three major bridges carrying the major highway- Tenth Avenue Bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, the Minnesota River Swing Bridge, and this one, located just to the north of the Swing Bridge. The Swing Bridge and this bridge were built at the same time in 1890, with the latter featuring trestle approaches a possibily a swing span as its main span. Evidence of this can be found in pictures, as shown by John Weeks, who has visited this bridge many times (click here for pictures).  Yet for some reason, be it lack of boat traffic or flooding, the swing span and trestles at Long Meadow Lake were replaced with a series of fixed spans in 1920, which has not been altered since then.  Both bridges served traffic crossing the island and providing access between the southern suburbs, the International Airport and downtown Minneapolis. This was until the bridges were rendered useless with the construction of the tied arch bridges in 1979, and Cedar Avenue (which had become Hwy. 77 in 1949) was rerouted to this freeway bridge. Sections of Cedar Avenue were eventually either rerouted or cut off with the construction of the Hwy. 62 Crosstown and I-494 Freeways, while the swing span over the Minnesota River was torn down shortly after the opening of the Hwy. 77 Bridge in 1980. Yet the Long Meadow Lake Bridge continued to serve traffic until it was deemed unsafe and was closed to cars in 1993 and later to all pedestrians and cyclists in 2002, fencing it off and removing 30 feet of decking on each side of the bridge. Despite the construction of a pedestrian bridge south of the bridge over the Minnesota River, there has not been any access to the airport, Mall of America (built in 1991) and the rest of the Twin Cities from the south.

But that is about to change!

For years, officials from several aspects of government, including the City of Bloomington, the National Park Service, the National Wildlife Preserve, and the state government have been wrestling over the future of the bridge, with the majority of the Bloomington City Council wanting to see the bridge torn down and replaced with a berm or a new crossing, and the federal agencies wanting the bridge to be kept as it is part of the national wildlife refuge which includes 35 miles of wildlife along the Minnesota River starting at Ft. Snelling State Park south of St.Paul. With the fight lingering, it seemed that there would be no end in site, and the bridge would eventually become part of naturing, decaying slowly but surely.

But recent decisions made this month has given the Long Meadow Bridge new life. This is thanks to Representative Ann Lenczewski, DFL-Bloomington, who had been fighting to provide funding for the reconstruction of the structure. How she successfully accomplish this task though required some clever thinking and some support from House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL- Minneapolis and Governor Mark Dayton, DFL. The scoop: The Mall of America. Built in 1991 as the largest mall in the country at that time, officials wanted to expand the facility to include more shopping, lodging, gambling and parking possibilities, a project worth over $1.5 billion.  State legislators on 22 May agreed on a proposal to provide $250 million towards the project and additional $9 million for the bridge. There was a catch though, which was no cent would be spent unless the City of Bloomington agreed to reconstruct the bridge.  While the city breathed a sign a relief that funding is available and were very forthcoming on the proposal, they had another catch to the plan: officials cannot tear down and replace the bridge!

10 days ago, the Long Meadow Bridge was listed on the National Register of Historic Places because of its association with the type of bridge used during the 1920s, when the era of standardized truss bridges with riveted connections and heavy steel to accomodate traffic was in full motion. It was also part of the history of the Old Cedar Avenue and for many residents, the history of Bloomington itself.  With its listing on the National Register of Historic Places, the bridge will receive new life as a pedestrian and bicycle bridge as it will undergo extensive rennovation to reopen the important link between the southern suburbs and the airport and the Twin Cities.

How this bridge will be rehabilitated remains unclear. Judging by the author’s visit in 2011, combined with inspections done by the Minnesota Dept. of Transportation, the major problems contractors will be facing will be the decking portion of the bridge, as many floorbeams and cross beams have corroded away to a point of irreparability and will have to be replaced. Yet if lessons are learned from three other examples, the Merriam Street, Washington Avenue and 4th Avenue Bridges, it is most likely that the Long Meadow Bridge may be set into a concrete bridge, which will function as the main bridge with the truss bridge being the ornament. On the other hand, if wood decking is needed, than new steel beams will be needed to support the deck and to function as a standing structure.  The superstructure itself appears to be in great condition despite the rust but will most likely be repainted so that it is protected against weather extremities. While it is unclear what the condition of the piers are, learning the lessons from the collapse of a railroad bridge in Calgary, Alberta (Canada) because of flooding, it is most likely that they will have to be inspected for scouring and be reinforced and or replaced.  And lastly, the old highway will need to be cleared of downed trees and other vegetation which had taken over since 2002. The road does not necessarily need to be replaced  as it still retains its historic character, yet some touch-ups will be needed to ensure that safety and aesthetics go together like bread and butter.

The hill will be steep to climb regarding rehabilitating the bridge, but one can use $9 million wisely to make the bridge what it was before it was closed to all traffic and return the bridge to its original form- as a piece of history connecting three key points. Thanks to Ann Lenczewski, DFL-Bloomington, the wish of restoring the bridge and opening it up again will become a reality. The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles will keep you posted on the latest on this bridge.

Photos:

Photo taken in August 2011
Ariel view of the Cedar Avenue Bridge taken in 1968 by MnDOT. The expressway bridge built 600 feet south of the bridge was built 10 years later.

 

Cedar Avenue Swing Bridge over the Minnesota River built south of the Long Meadow Bridge. Portal view of the bridge photographed by MnDOT
Oblique view of the Cedar Avenue Swing Bridge over the Minnesota River in an open formation. Photo taken by MnDOT

You can see a gallery with photos taken of the bridge by the author with some details and explanations here.