Washington, Missouri (USA)- Replacing this unique Missouri River crossing is like the film True Crime. The almost 20-year old film featured a newspaper reporter who uses a half a day to rebuke claims that a person sentenced to death is innocent because of discreptancies. The last second evidence to avert the execution: a locket that was stolen by a killer who shoots the clerk at a convenience store and runs off, while the wrongly accused was using the restroom.
With the last beam of the new bridge in place, the clock is starting to tick loudly for the Washington Truss Bridge, which spans the Missouri River at Hwy. 47 in Washington. Built in 1936 by three different bridge builders located in Missouri and Kansas, the Bridge features a multiple-span cantilever through truss with X-frame portals and was built during the time of the Works Progress Administration, a program initiated by Franklin D. Roosevelt to encourage people to partake in projects in response to the Great Depression. Missouri Valley Bridge and Iron Works in Leavenworth (Kansas) and two St. Louis Bridge builders- Stupp Brothers as well as Sverdrup & Parcel Company were responsible for designing and constructing the 2,500-foot span, which was once one of the key landmarks of Washington.
Unfortunately for this bridge, its days appear to be coming to a close as a new span is currently being built right alongside the old span. While the length of the new structure will be about the same, the new bridge- a multiple span steel girder span- will be wider, with two 12-foot lanes, two 10-foot shoulders and one 10-foot lane for bikes and pedestrians, which will total 54 feet in width- two and a half times the width of the current bridge. After two years, the last beam was put into place on 12 June and work is now underway to pour the concrete. City officials expect the new bridge to be open by December 1, pending on weather. The truss spans will be imploded at the beginning of 2019. Talks of saving the truss bridge was getting around, however, unless a petition drive is started to save the bridge for recreational use, Franklin County will be down to four through truss bridges that carry traffic, one of which has been relocated and restored. Yet two of them are scheduled to come down within the next five years.
Franklin County once had a wide array of through truss bridges. In fact, during the Historic Bridge Weekend in 2011, there were at least a dozen bridges of its kind left in service. With the Washington Bridge coming down, we may not have any bridges left to visit and photograph, a sign of the times for many who are disinterested in the history of America and its infrastructure. It doesn’t mean that the bridge is lost yet. There is still a chance to save it. But the time is running to start the drive and convince the State that the Bridge should be saved. It’s more of the question of who is willing to be that person who pulled off a stunt similar to what Everett did in True Crime.
An ariel view of the two bridges can be seen here:
A summary of the history of the construction of the Washington Truss Bridge via film can be seen here. A rather interesting documentary on how the bridge was built:
This tour guide takes us to southeastern Iowa, where we have not only one but six bridges in the area where Harvey and Tracy are located. One mystery bridge, one extremely haunted one carrying a dead end low maintenance road, one railroad bridge that had a tragic end, another railroad bridge that was located next to a sunken ferry and two abandoned ones that are being considered for a bike trail. All of them span(-ned) the Des Moines River within a 10-mile radius of a small town of Harvey. Located approximately seven miles east of the county seat of Knoxville in Marion County, Harvey has a population of roughly 250 inhabitants. Judging by the appearance of the houses and even the two churches, the town had seen its better days, as the majority of them live at or below the poverty line and most of the buildings are run down, the yards littered with junk needed to be removed if the assistance is available. It doesn’t look any better for the town of Tracy, located three miles down river in Mahaska County. The town of 150 inhabitants had once seen better days with the railroad in business, connecting it with Oskaloosa, which is 10 miles to the east and the county seat.
But looking at Harvey, these characteristics are only scratching the surface, as the town, and the surrounding area, and the crossings along the Des Moines River are all haunted in one way or another. Photographing the bridges, there is a sense of eeriness that makes a person stay close to the car and not wander off, fearing that he will not return. The region used to be bustling with railway and commercial traffic in the 1800s and early 1900s. In fact, Harvey was plotted in 1876 by the railroad with a line passing through later that year, connecting Knoxville and points east through the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy. But the line that passed through Harvey was abandoned, and one by one, commerce moved away to nearby towns, but leaving traces of the past in the forms of ghosts and other paranormal activity that makes the region haunted, but researchers curious about its history. If there is a word of advice I have for the passers-by it is this: Never travel alone in the dark, for you are being watched. Travel in groups and in the day time to ensure that you are safe and sound. Make sure you do not wander off away from the cars, and never ever get lost when photographing in the area!
On one of the evenings in August of 2011, I took a tour of the region and its bridges. There were five historic truss bridges that I found and spent some time photographing them: The Horn’s Ferry, Wabash Railroad, Harvey Railroad, Belle Fountain, and Eveland Bridges. While the Horn’s Ferry Bridge has a topic of its own (click here), the primary focus of this tour is on the other four bridges. In addition to that, there is an abandoned highway that used to pass through Harvey in a form of Iowa Highway 92, the same highway that used to crisscross Madison County, and its numerous covered bridges that existed (now there’s only six fully restored structures). It snaked its way towards the Des Moines River before crossing north of Tracy. The highway was straightened and bypassed in 1978 but numerous questions remain about the highway. And lastly, east of Tracy is the remains of a railroad bridge which has a history of its own, including that of its tragic end 60 years ago.
This article provides you with a tour of the area and its bridges with some insight from the author on the structure and its significance. It will also include some stories of his encounters with some rather strange things that happened while on tour. We’ll start off with our first bridge:
The first bridge on the tour is one of two that used to be a railroad crossing but was repurposed to serve cars. The Wabash Railroad Bridge can be found spanning the Des Moines River just south of the present crossing at Keokuk Drive (CSAH T-17). It was built in 1881 by the Oliver Iron and Steel Company, even though it is unclear whether it was the company that had been operated by Henry Oliver in Pittsburgh or James Oliver in the state of Indiana. It consists of three Pratt through truss spans with pinned connections and Lattice portal bracings. The overhead bracings are V-laced with 45° heel supports. The center span was replaced in 1905. The total length is 545 feet long, meaning three 150-foot long spans plus an approach constructed in 1951 when it was converted to vehicular traffic. The Wabash Railroad was created in 1837 but started using the name out of the creation of several small railroads in 1865. The company served the Midwestern states which included an area between Kansas City and St. Louis to Chicago, Detroit, parts of Ontario and ending in Buffalo. This included the line going through Harvey and Tracy enroute to the Quad Cities (E) and Omaha (W). After its receivership in 1931 and purchase by the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1933, several tracks were sold off, including this line and the bridge, which Marion County purchased in 1946. The bridge was eventually converted to a vehicular crossing by 1951 and the line was turned into a gravel road connecting Harvey and Oskaloosa. The bridge was bypassed by a newer crossing in the late 1980s but remained a crossing as a gravel road until its closure a few years ago. Today, it is a pedestrian crossing with each ends being barricaded and steel fencing having been installed. Plans are in the making to include the crossing into the bike trail network connecting Pella and Van Buren County. In 2013, the remains of an antique ferry boat were found 500 feet south of the crossing. It is possible that a ferry used to serve locals during the time the Wabash Railroad was in service, but more information is needed to prove these claims. The Wabash folded into Norfolk and Southern in 1991, ending its storied 153 year run.
Built in 1878 by the American Bridge Company, this four-span Pratt through truss bridge was one of the first bridges that featured the bridge company’s signature portal bracings (as you can see in the pictures below). They were used often for railroad crossings with most of them built after the consolidation of 26 bridge companies in 1901. The bridge served rail traffic until it was abandoned in 1938 and purchased by the county, which then converted it into a roadway bridge. At some time later, the Des Moines River was re-channeled making the road expendable. Yet it still serves this dead end road to nearby farms along the river today. The railroad that used the bridge was the Rock Island, which started its decline at the time the bridge and the line were sold off and was eventually liquidated in 1980.
The bridge is surrounded by thick trees, which covers the structure and makes the tall and narrow structure a haunted place to visit. During my visit to the bridge, the first impression after looking at the entrance was that of walking through a dark black hole filled with bats, owls, and creepy insects. Crickets were already out in full force chirping away. Everything else was deathly still as I was crossing the structure, taking pictures of it. Yet as I was at the easternmost portal entrance to the bridge, I heard gunshots ringing out from the opposite end of the bridge. The first shot did not stir me but it did scare off the birds that had been dining in the nests. The second shot however made me rethink my stay on the bridge as there was speculation that someone was shooting at me (or trying to). There was no one approaching me on the bridge and no other people in the vicinity of the structure. The third gunshot was the final signal for me to make my exit as I rush towards the car, hearing more gunshots along the way, got in and took off. As I was leaving, a party of two people on an ATV rushed onto the bridge. If this was a way of shooing someone from the bridge just so they could have it, then they could have done better than that. Yet even if no guns were being used, the bridge is probably one of the most haunted structures you can ever cross, ranking up there with the Enoch’s Knob Bridge in Missouri. The best time to visit the bridge is in the daylight, where you can get the best pics and are most likely not be frightened by spooky creatures and guns going off without knowing where it came from.
Old Highway 92 Bridge:
Among the four being profiled here is another mystery bridge- the first in Mahaska County, Marion’s neighbor to the east. The first time this crossing came to my attention was on a GoogleMap, where there are two crossings bearing the name Hwy. 92- the present one in Marion County and what is left of the previous crossing on the Mahaska side, approximately 1.5 miles south of the present crossing. The road approaching the previous crossing is still in its original form- concrete from the 1930s and really narrow. Yet when arriving at the crossing, it is barricaded with signs and broken down excavators on each end, with the road turning to the south and becoming gravel. Another piece of evidence to be presented was the fact that a US geological survey map of the 1930s indicated that the crossing consisted of four spans and a truss design, similar to a Parker design. And lastly, National Bridge Inventory records indicated that the present Hwy. 92 bridge on the Marion side was built in 1978. Given the fact that the Belle Fountain Bridge is located a half mile downstream, it is possible that the Old 92 Bridge was removed as it was deemed expendable and obsolete. Yet we do not know whether it is true or not.
What we do know is there are many questions that need to be answered about this bridge, such as: 1. What did the old bridge look like? Was it a Parker truss bridge or another truss type? 2. When was the bridge built? Who built the structure? and 3. When was the bridge removed? Was it in 1978 or afterwards? And why was it removed?
This bridge is located in a small unincorporated village of Belle Fountain, located 1.5 miles south of Hwy. 92 on the west bank of the Des Moines River. It is one of the earliest bridges built by a prominent bridge builder in Iowa, the Clinton Bridge and Iron Works Company, which built the structure at a cost of $9750 in 1898. The four-span Pratt through truss super-structure features A-frame portal and strut bracing and pin connections, the former of which was recently introduced to replace the Lattice portal bracing. The bridge is 595 feet long with each span being 145 feet. The bridge has been a subject of neglect, especially after the Old 92 Bridge was built in 1930 and located 0.5 miles upstream. The lack of maintenance of the structure for unknown reasons prompted its closure. Since then the truss bridge has been allowed to remain in place with the flooring rotting away to expose the bottom chord. However, given the awareness of the bridge and its historic significance and connection with Belle Fountain, interest is being garnered in restoring the bridge and reincorporating it into a bike trail. When and if that will happen remains to be seen. One of the factors to keep in mind is to rid the bridge of the overgrowth, which has been ruling the eastern truss bridge for some time, as you can see in the photos. Given the fact that the bridge has been sitting abandoned for a long time, it is possible that the bridge may have to be disassembled, with the parts being sandblasted and replaced, and the foundations being rebuilt, before reassembling it back into place. The cost for the whole work would be a fraction of the cost for replacing the bridge outright. Having a restored bridge like this one would be a blessing for the community and the county, which seems to have embraced preservation given the importance of this bridge.
The next bridge on the tour is the Eveland Bridge. Like the Belle Fountain Bridge, this bridge replaced a ferry that was used to cross the river. It is perhaps the only bridge originally built by a bridge company in Indiana, the Fort Wayne Bridge Works, which built the foundations in 1876 and erected the three-span truss bridge in the spring of the following year. It featured three spans of the Whipple through truss with the portal bracing representing the exact truss design. The structure was made of iron and featured pin-connections. Flooding wiped out the center span in 1903 and was subsequentially replaced with a pin-connected Pratt through truss bridge made of steel. Since its closure in the early 1990s, it has sat in its place waiting to be reused, but not before replacing the decking (which has rotted away substantially) and possibly reconstructing the trusses. Photographing the bridge is really difficult as both sides of the river are heavily forested with the southern bank being littered with trailer homes and small houses. It also does not present a welcoming feeling when driving past the structure, especially as there are many dogs roaming around, waiting to chase the next person away from the area. With a lack of lighting in the area, it is especially creepy at night when driving, let alone walking. But nevertheless, I took advantage of the little daylight that was left and got a pair of pics before anything unusual happened, and then drove back to the hotel in Des Moines, which was a good hour’s drive away. Like the Belle Fountain Bridge, the Eveland may be getting a new lease on life, as plans are in the preliminary stages to convert the bridge into a bike trail. Given its remote location, the whole area surrounding the bridge may benefit from having a bike trail pass through, as business and other services could be established to serve the bikers and tourists. It will also mean more lighting in the evening for those going on an evening stroll, something that this area and the bridge itself need very badly. It all depends on the costs, the interest and the question of what can be realized and what can be scrapped.
The last bridge on the tour is one with a long history- and one that ended in tragedy. The Tracy Railroad Bridge consisted of two Whipple through truss spans with an X-frame portal bracing, all being pin connected. The bridge was originally built in 1882 by George S. Morrison for the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad (later became part of the BNSF Railways), spanning the Missouri River near Plattsmouth, Nebraska. Three bridge builders were behind the construction of the bridge, one of which- Keystone Bridge Company in Pittsburgh- had a hand in relocating and rebuilding the bridge at Tracy in 1903 for the Minneapolis and St. Louis Railroad. This was part of the plan to build a sturdier three-span Pennsylvania truss bridge at Plattsmouth while the 1882 bridge was needed for the line at Tracy. From 1903 to its removal in 1950, the bridge was located over the Des Moines River near the site of present-day Cedar Bluffs Natural Area, while the line connected Eddyville with Knoxville. After many years of disuse, workers in 1950 dismantled the structure and sold the parts for scrap. But it came at a price of one life, for one person was crushed to death as the eastern span fell thirty feet into the river. Another person was on that bridge and jumped into the river as it fell. He suffered only minor injuries. The accident happened after the western half of the bridge was removed. The rest of the eastern half was pulled out of the water and hauled away by another demolition company, months after the incident. The Tracy Bridge was a work of art of one prominent bridge builder, yet its life ended on a sour note, even though had the preservation movement started after World War II, there might have been a chance for this bridge, just like its neighbors to the north.
It will be interesting to see what the future brings for the bridges in the greater Harvey area. Plans are in the making for a bike trail network going from its terminus at the Horn’s Ferry Bridge to Eddyville, possibly using the crossings for cyclists to pass through. This will bring a new lease in life for the ones that have been unused for a long time but whose history can be contributed to the development of the infrastructure in the state of Iowa over the past 150 years. And while it will take up to seven years to finalize the plans and actually build the network, when it is completed, people will take advantage of the trail and learn about the history of each village and bridge they pass by. And even if some of the bridges are haunted, it is unlikely that anyone will actually be taking the trail at night, unless they are as gutsy as I was when visiting the bridges last year. But it is a sure bet that safety features, including lighting, will be considered to accommodate those who dare to encounter the paranormal at night. As for the towns of Harvey and Tracy, the coming of the bike trail may help turn things around for a community that had seen its better days. Having the trail will boost commerce, like it did during the days of the railroad. And with that will bring good fortunes for the community, something that the people surely have been waiting for that for a long time and owe themselves to that share of the pie of prosperity.
A map of the bridges can be seen here. Should you be interested in helping out with the bike trail project in one way or another, please contact the county conservation board, historical societies and other groups involved and see what you can do for them.
After a brief history of the Bonnie Doon Railroad and its main crossing over the Rock River in Lyon County, the next mystery bridge takes us down the Big Sioux River to its last original crossing, before the coming of the Interstate Highway era, until its confluence with the Missouri River. The Three Corner’s Bridge is located at the site of the Two Rivers Golf Course in Sioux River, spanning the river at the Iowa/ South Dakota border, approximately two miles west of the point where the two rivers merge, as well as the two states and Nebraska meet. The crossing used to be located north of the last physical crossing before its junction, the I-29 bridge, which has been serving traffic since the mid-1950s. It is most likely that the crossing is at the place where a pedestrian crossing, which provides access to the golf course, is located. Yet more information is needed to either support or counter these claims.
But before going into the debate on this structure’s actual location, let’s have a look at the bridge itself. The structure that used to exist appeared to have two different truss bridges built from two different time periods. What is clear is the truss span on the right appears to be much older- having been built in the 1880s and consisting of a pin-connected through truss bridge with V-laced end-posts and an X-frame portal bracings with curved heels. The diagonal beams appear to be much thinner than the vertical beams, this leading to the question of whether the former were built using thin iron beams or with steel wiring. In addition, the design of the bridge leads to the question of its stability, which leads to the question of whether the bridge collapsed under weight or by flooding and was replaced by the span on the left, a Parker through truss span, made of steel, with pinned connections, A-frame portal bracings and featuring beams that are thicker and sturdier. The span on the right, which appeared to be an all-iron structure, had at least two spans total- one of which spanned the main river channel and was replaced by the Parker span. The Parker span was one that is typical of many Parker spans along the Big Sioux River, having been built between 1900 and 1915 by the likes of Western Bridge Company of Lincoln, Nebraska, Clinton Bridge Company of Clinton, Iowa, and the bridge builders from the Minneapolis School of Bridge Builders- namely Commodore P. Jones, Alexander Bayne, as well as Seth and William S. Hewett. However, it does not mean that the Parker span replaced the lost iron span during that time. It is possible that it was put in place between the 1930s and 1950s, which was the time when bridges were relocated and reused as replacements because of the scarcity of steel on the count of the Great Depression, followed by the onset of World War II and later, the Korea War. With flooding that occurred during the 1940s, especially in 1945-6, it it possible that the Parker was relocated to the spot because of that. Records have already indicated multiple bridge replacements in that fashion, including those in Crawford, Harrison and Monona Counties in Iowa. It is unknown when the entire bridge was removed, but chances are because of the increase in urban development combined with the creation of the golf course, the bridge was removed between the 1960s and early 1980s.
To sum up, the bridge is very unique but has a lot of missing pieces in the puzzle, which if assembled thanks to help from people like you, can round off the story of the structure that contributed to the development of Sioux City’s infrastructure. What do you know about this bridge in terms of:
The date of construction of both the iron Pratt and steel Parker structures
The bridge builders for both structures
When the iron bridge collapsed and how
Whether the Parker span was original or if it was brought in from somehwere and
If it was relocated, from where exactly and how was it transported
The dimensions of the bridge and lastly,
When was it taken down and why.
Use the question form below and see if you can help put the pieces together. You can also comment on the Chronicles’ facebook pages and encourage others to paricipate. Let’s see what we can put together regarding this bridge, shall we?
The bridge is pinpointed at a location where another truss bridge, a continuous Warren through truss, is located. This one is open to pedesrians accessing the golf course. If you know about this bridge, please feel free to add that to the comment section as well.
The I-29 Bridge was originally built in the early 1950s to accomodate traffic over the Big Sioux River enroute to Sioux City. The bridge collapsed in 1962 due to structural failure and flooding and was subsequentially replaced with a steel beam structure a year later. An additional span was added to accomodate southbound traffic.
KANSAS CITY- The Kansas City Royals baseball team finally snapped out of their doldrums this year and not only reached the playoffs in Major League Baseball for the first time since 1985, but was two runs shy of winning their first World Series in 29 years. Yet the city has lost over half its pre-1945 bridges during that time span. With the Fairfax and Platte Purchase Bridges coming down this year, the trend seems to be continuing without slowing down.
Work is underway to replace the twin cantilever Warren through truss bridges that span the Missouri River, carrying US Hwy. 69 from I-635 in Kansas City into Wyandotte County Kansas. The spans feature a southbound span built in 1935 and a northbound span built 22 years later. Specifically, here are some details about the bridges:
Location: Missouri River at US Hwy. 69 southbound
Built: 1935 by the Kansas City Bridge Company
Length: 2,594 feet total; largest span is 470 feet
Width: 20 feet
Last rehabilitated: 1979
Platte Purchase Bridge:
Location: Missouri River at US 69 northbound
Built: 1957 (presumably by the same company)
Length: 2,601 feet; largest span is 474 feet
Width: 25.9 feet
Last rehabilitated: 1997
The plan is to replace the twin spans with one span that will accommodate six lanes of traffic. The project has already started with the southbound lanes being shifted onto the Platte Purchase Bridge and the Fairfax Bridge being demolished first. As soon as the new bridge is completed by late 2016, the Platte Purchase Bridge will follow suit. Both of the bridges, which had once collected tolls until 2000, had been made available for taking by the Missouri Department of Transportation until May of this year, when no takers were announced and the decision was made to turn these beautiful spans into a pile of scrap metal. The Fairfax Bridge, named after the city in Kansas, had been considered eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places The Platte Purchase Bridge was named after the Platte Purchase of 1836, where Missouri annexed the northwestern part of the state along the Missouri River up to the Iowa border, including the suburbs that belong to Kansas City today. That purchase was in violation of the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which drew the border between the free states and territories of the north and those of the south, including Missouri. Yet the two are the latest casualties of truss bridges along the Missouri River that are dwindling rapidly in numbers. Since 1990, over 80% of the pre-1950 bridges along the second longest waterway in the United States have been replaced with only a handful of examples being kept for recreational and historic purposes. This includes the Paseo Bridge, located downstream in Kansas City. The 1950 suspension bridge over the Missouri River carrying I-29 was replaced by the Christopher Bond Bridge in 2010 and later removed. While Kansas City still has a large number of historic bridges, including those along the Missouri and Kansas Rivers, as will be shown in the Chronicles’ tour guide, the numbers are decreasing. And with the Fairfax and Platte Purchase Bridges coming down within the next two years, we could see numerous other examples being torn down in favor of modern but bland structures less appealing to travelers and tourists. While the Royals may have woken up after a long sleep and suddenly become contenders again, it is time for the rest of the city to wake up, look at their heritage and see to it that some of it is saved before it is too late- before we can only see them on youtube videos, as seen below:
Located along the Missouri River west of St. Joseph, Doniphan County, Kansas has a rather unique set of historic bridges. Unlike the standard designs that were used during the renaissance of bridge construction between 1880 and 1930, many of the bridges found in this county were built using unusual designs that were considered absurd in the eyes of bridge engineers and politicians alike, but considered a work of art in the eyes of historians and preservationists today. Also unique are the fact that these bridges were recycled and reused in locations that are still sparesly used today. It does not necessairily mean that they were relocated per se. Some of these bridges were rebuilt, using steel parts taken from other bridges that were dismantled and scrapped. Reason for this is due to a lack of financing for hiring contractors to build bridges, using steel from mills from the east, the county commissioners during that time found creative ways of reusing the steel parts to construct “new” used bridges. While they have not been considered eligible for the National Register just yet, due to a lack of information on their history, they will surely be considered in the coming years, when local authorities and the Kansas State Historical Society will relook at these bridges and determine which ones are historically significant.
Six bridges are being profiled in this tour guide article. Five of them are located within 10 miles’ distance of US Hwy. 36, which slices through the county. One of them is a railroad bridge over the Missouri River at St. Joseph. The sixth bridge is located 20 miles south of St. Joseph along the tributary of the Missouri, just west of its confluence with the second longest river in the US. Only one of the six bridges profiled here has been replaced. While there are four other pre-1920 steel truss bridges and a half dozen wooden stringer bridges still in use in the county, these six are the créme dela créme because of their unique design and their construction, using recycled steel parts. We’ll start off with the first bridge:
Location: Duncan Creek at Randolph Rd. near Blair. 3 miles north of Hwy. 36
Bridge Type: Pin-connected Parker through truss with four panels
Date of construction: 1935
Status: In use.
Comments: The Blair Bridge is perhaps the smallest of any Parker through truss bridges built in the history of bridge building in the US, with the main span of only 86 feet (the total length is 91 feet) and only four panels. Normally one would find four panels on a pony truss bridge. Yet looking at the pinned connections, the portal and strut bracings as well as the V-laced bracing on the bridge’s top chord, it appears that the bridge was assembled using parts from a bridge dismantled before the date of construction. It is clear that the date of construction is not accurate. It is possible that either the bridge was relocated to this place or it was put together on sight using parts from a pre-1900 structure(s). Evidence is pointing to the latter because of its unusual appearance, which would have violated the standardized truss codes put in place by the state when they introduced 7+ panel Parker trusses with riveted connections in ca. 1915. Whoever was the genius behind this bridge has yet to be discovered through research. In either case, the bridge still retains its original form today and is open to traffic.
Location:Cottonwood Creek on Larkinburg Rd., 3 miles west of Hwy. 7, 4.6 miles SSE of Bendena and 12 miles S of Hwy. 36
Bridge Type: Pin-connected Pratt through truss, with A-frame portal bracings and a shortened middle panel
Date of construction:Before 1900
Status: Still in use on a minimum maintenance road
Comments: At a total length of only 75 feet, the Bendena Bridge is one of the shortest Pratt through trusses built in the history of bridge building. While the bridge has a total of five panels (typical of a 100-foot through truss span), the middle panel is only a third of the length of the other four panels. This leads to the question of whether this bridge was rebuilt using parts from another bridge or if it was relocated here but the panel was shortened in length to accomodate the crossing over a small creek. It is clear that the bridge originated from a period up to 1910 for pinned connections were popular during that time.
Location:Tributary of Missouri River on Monument Rd., 1.2 miles E of Doniphan and 0.3 miles W of the Missouri River
Bridge Type: Waddell Pony Truss with riveted connections
Date of Construction:ca. 1920
Status: In use
Comments: The Doniphan Bridge represents an example of an earlier use of welded and riveted connections. It is considered a Waddell truss because of the subdivided connections which are not found in a kingpost pony truss design. Yet how it was resembled is unusual because of the use of steel I and H-beams that were bolted and welded together. It is possible that this bridge was assembled using steel parts from a building or a bridge. Given the excessive use of steel for heavier crossings and sturdier buildings, it is possible that this bridge was constructed between 1915 and 1940. More information is needed to determine its construction date. In either case, the unusual appearance of the bridge makes it eligible for some accolades on the state level, at least.
Location: Charlie Creek at 190th Rd., 3 miles south of Hwy. 36 and 2.3 miles west of Hwy. 220
Bridge Type:Stone arch bridge with 35° skew
Status: Replaced with a concrete culvert
Comments: The Charlie Creek Bridge was a unique crossing for two reasons: 1. It was a stone arch bridge that was built before 1920 and 2. Despite having a total length of 30-40 feet, the bridge was built oin a 35- 40° skew, thus allowing the creek to flow freely underneath the road. This was something that the county engineer kept in mind, when this bridge was replaced with a concrete culvert crossing in 2010, as it too has a skew similar to the old one.
Location:Old railroad grade on Old US Hwy. 36, 600 feet south of US Hwy. 36, three miles E of Troy.
Bridge Type: Concrete through girder with Art Deco design
Status: Open to traffic
Comments: Before the highway was straightened out 20 years ago, the original highway presented curves and stops through even the smallest of communities. The viaduct, which crosses a once-used railroad line connecting Troy and St. Joseph, was once part of the original highway, which had a sharp double curve going over the tracks. With the realignment of the highway to eliminate this dangerous curve, the highway was relegated to a county road and the bridge became the responsibility of the county engineer. Today, the bridge, built using the textbooks standardized bridge designs in the 1920s, is still in use, carrying a gravel road. It can be seen from the new alignment just to the south.
Location: Missouri River 0.4 miles north of Pony Express (US 36) Bridge between Elwood (KS) and St. Joseph (MO).
Bridge Type: Pennsylvania Petit (3 approach spans) and Polygonal Warren Through Truss Swing Span.
Status: Still in use but plans include abandoning the line and crossing.
Comments: This railroad crossing is the second span at thus location between St. Joseph and Elwood, carrying the Union Pacific Railroad Bridge. It is one of three remaining swing bridges and one of only six movable bridges left over the Missouri River, plus one of two that are still in operation. Yet plans call for the line and the bridge to abandoned, thus triggering an initiative to convert this crossing into a rail-to-trail line. If successful, the bridge will share similar stories with Poughkeepsie Viaduct in New York and the Booneville Bridge in neighboring Missouri, the latter of which appears to have their dream of a bike trail crossing come true. More on the project to follow as information is revealed.
To summarize, the Doniphan County bridges may be ordinary because the county is one of the more sparsely populated in Kansas, yet their historical and aesthetic value make them jewels found in an empty and highly weeded field. The bridges are worth hundreds of photos and many hours of research to determine how the county found ways to make use of old parts into fancy srtuctures. Especially with the ones in Blair, Bendena and Doniphan, their construction history and designs will definitely make them candidates for the National Register. And this apart from the nomination by the Chronicles for the 2014 Ammann Awards for Best Kept Secret in the field of Tour Guide.
The Author wishes to thank Robert Elder for the use of his photos for this article/tour guide and for providing some interesting facts in the bridgehunter.com website. You can click on the title of the bridges to go to the individual bridge pages for more info and to contribute to the discussion forum
Historic bridge burned with scrappers drooling for money. Another set of historic bridges destined for scrap metal. Historic icon receives a new icon. A replica of a lost bridge to be built. A pair of historic bridges to be focus of restoration campaign.
While away on hiatus for three weeks, which included the four-day long Historic Bridge Weekend in Iowa, a lot of events unfolded which involved historic bridges. This include a tragedy involving a historic bridge in Iowa whose future is now in doubt. Keeping all this in mind, the Chronicles will feature a summary of the events that are non-related to the Historic Bridge Weekend with the author’s feedback on each of the themes. Links are provided in the text, as usual.
Bunker Mill Bridge burns. Future in doubt.
Spanning the English River southeast of Kalona, this bridge is unique in terms of its appearance. It was built in 1887 by the King Bridge Company of Cleveland, Ohio and featured a six-panel iron Pratt through truss bridge with Town Lattice portal bracing with a span of 120 feet long. With the north trestle span being 170 feet long- enough to fit another through truss span- the total length of the bridge is 290 feet. In 1913, the Iowa Bridge Company reinforced the bridge which included the addition of M-frame portal bracing. Closed since 2003, plans were in the making to convert this bridge into a bike trail connecting Richmond and Kalona in Washington County. Sadly, the bridge, which was visited during the Historic Bridge Weekend, was burned on the morning of 12 August, destroying the entire bridge deck. The truss span is still in tact but it is unknown how much damage was done to the superstructure. At the present time, work is being undertaken to determine whether the bridge can be salvaged and relocated. At the same time however, sources have informed the Chronicles and the pontist community that the scrappers are making a bid to obtain the bridge for scrap metal. Police and fire officials are determining the cause of the fire, which is suspected to be caused by arson. The Chronicles has a separate article on this bridge based on the author’s visit to the bridge which will be posted after an interview with organizers trying to save the bridge is done.
Two Missouri River Bridges to be demolished. Two to be replaced soon.
If the rate continues its course, there will no longer be any pre-1960 bridges along the Missouri River by the year 2030. Two continuous truss bridges built in 1938 have been replaced and are closed to traffic, despite the 2-year delay because of the Great Flood of 2011 which turned the Missouri River into the Red Sea for 3/4 of the year. Already one of the bridges, the Amelia Earhart Memorial Bridge in Fort Atchinson, Kansas, built at the time of the disappearance of the first female pilot to cross the Atlantic Ocean, is scheduled to come down beginning 23 September after the tied arch bridge was opened to traffic. The demolition is scheduled to take two months to complete. The Rulo Bridge, which carries US Highway 159 through the Nebraska town of Rulo was rerouted to the new bridge and is now closed awaiting demolition. This may happen at the earliest in the fall but most likely in 2014. The Centennial Bridge in Leavenworth, a two-span tied arch bridge most likely to follow as Missouri and Kansas DOTs are planning on its replacement which will happen in a few years. And finally, a pair of duo continuous Warren truss bridges, the Fairfax Bridge (built in 1935 by the Kansas City Bridge Company) and the Platte Purchase Bridge (built in 1957) in Kansas City are planned to be replaced beginning in 2015. The reason for replacing the US Highway 69 crossing was because of its narrowness. To know more about the Missouri River Bridges, it will be mentioned in detail in a presentation provided by James Baughn during the Missouri Preservation Conference, which takes place 18-20 September in Booneville. More information can be found here.
Another slab bridge collapses- this time in Illinois
Engineers and politicians are running out of bridge types to condemn in favor of modern bridges. Reason: another concrete bridge has collapsed after a truck rolled across it! This happened near Woodlawn, Illinois on 6 September. Woodlawn is near Mt. Vernon in Jefferson County. The bridge is over 200 feet long and was built in 1977. Fortunately, nobody was hurt when it happened for the structure collapsed right after the truck went across it. Investigators are trying to determine whether the weight of the loaded truck was too much and if a weight limit should have been imposed. This is the second post 1970 bridge that collapsed this year (a 1987 bridge in Missouri collapsed this past July) and has raised questions of whether weight limits should be imposed on all bridges and highways to ensure their prolongitivity and driver safety. But despite the “less is more” mentality that is becoming the norm in society, it will most likely take a few more collapses of modern slab before it get through the heads of the engineers and government agencies that are responsibility for the infrastructure in the US.
Bay Bridge Replacement opens to traffic.
When the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge first opened to traffic in 1936, the eight mile long bridge spanning San Francisco Bay was the longest in the world, with two sets of suspension bridges connecting Yerba Buena Island with San Francisco and a cantilever truss bridge and beam bridge between that island and Oakland. Since 3 September, the Oakland portion of the bridge has been replaced with a cable-stayed suspension bridge and closed to all traffic while cars are travelling on the new span. For those who are not familiar with this portion of the bridge, it was that particular bridge which partially collapsed during the Earthquake of 1989, the one that killed over 300 people, caused the double-decker Nemitz Freeway in Oakland to collapse and brought the World Series at Candlestick Park to a halt. A person videotaped the bridge and a car falling into the collapsed portion of the bridge. A link can be found here. The bridge collapse prompted notions to replace that portion of the Bay Bridge and bring the suspension bridge portion up to earthquake proof standards, together with the Golden Gate Bridge. 24 years later, they got their wish with a cable-stayed suspension bridge made using steel made in China. This is still sparking a debate on whether Chinese steel has as high quality as American steel, especially as several flaws were discovered while building the Oakland portion of the bridge, which included broken bolts and anchors holding the stayed cables. Despite the bridge being a remarkable landmark that will surely be documented in 50 year’s time, especially with the statue found at the island, it is questionable of whether $4 billion was necessary to build the bridge or if it would have made sense to rehabilitate the cantilever bridge. This includes the cost and time it will be needed to demolish that bridge, which will commence sometime next year.
With all the bad news involving bridges in the US, there are some drives to save historic bridges with one being replicated after a 70 year absence. More in part 2 of the Chronicles’ Newsflyer.
In connection with my last article on Thacher truss bridges, we are going to have a look at this bridge, the Okoboji Bridge. Located four miles west of Fostoria over the Little Sioux River on 180th Avenue, this bridge is unique both in terms of its design as well as its history. Built by the Clinton Bridge and Iron Works Company, this riveted truss bridge is the only one left in the country that is a pony Thacher truss, if one looks at its configuration and compare it with the examples mentioned in the last article. Yet the reason for the configuration is in connection with its history. It was built at its original location in 1909- over the strait connecting East and West Lake Okoboji, connecting Okoboji to the north and Arnolds Park to the south, carrying what is today US Hwy. 71. Yet the bridge was a replacement for the numerous swing bridges that had been built and rebuilt since 1859. The 1909 truss bridge was also a swing bridge that operated by machine instead of by hand, like its predecessors, made of wood and whose towers featured stayed wired cables. Pictures of that bridge can be seen here, including the bridge in its opening position.
While the Thacher truss bridge served as an important asset to the region, the increase in traffic- both vehicular as well as marine, combined with the coming of Hwy. 71 in 1926 made it expendable and was replaced in 1929 by a fixed span- a closed spandrel arch bridge, which was later widened and modified in 1997 as part of the plan to widen all of Hwy. 71 to eliminate the bottleneck traffic that had been common, especially in the summer time and during the Fourth of July. Yet with the bridge being in service for only 20 years, the county decided to recycle the bridge and move it to an out-of-the-way remote and present location- over the Little Sioux River on a road served by a pair of farms, each located on the opposite sides of the small meandering stream. It had served traffic until its closure for structural reasons in the early 1990s.
Yet the future of the bridge is without hesitation, in serious doubt. During my visit to Iowa in August 2011, I looked for the Okoboji Bridge, only to find, as you can see in the picture above as well as through a gallery via flickr that the bridge was a victim of flooding. Although not as severe as the one three years earlier, the flooding in Iowa in June and July caused substantial damage and loss to many crops and houses, thanks in part to a wet and stormy winter, combined with the late spring thaw, unseasonable temperatures and above normal rainfall. In fact, the hardest hit area were along the Missouri River, where a line between Sioux City and Kansas City was covered in water, turning the river into the Red Sea, and forcing an unprecedented detour of I-29 which followed I-35 to Des Moines and then I-80 to Omaha, for its original path was all but underwater. It was unexpected that the Little Sioux River, a small meandering stream that flows quietly like a snake through the farmland would become a lake full of rushing water. And for this bridge, it stood in the way of the flood, resulting in the truss bridge being knocked off its foundation and landing right into the river, with fallen trees and debris covering it.
Upon inspecting the bridge, photographing and filming it, the bridge seemed to be in excellent shape with some damage to the flooring. Yet with some work on the bridge, which includes repairing some bridge parts and repainting it, it could be reused again, either as a vehicular or a pedestrian bridge. Given its location, it is unlikely that it will be used again at its present location but can be relocated somewhere else in the county. Dickinson County has had a good track record regarding reusing truss bridges for cost-effective purposes, as two bridges (also along the Little Sioux River) were replaced using truss bridges that had been located elsewhere, either in Okoboji or to the south. The Okoboji Bridge would be of best service when relocated. Yet whether the county and IaDOT would agree with this proposal depends on their willingness to save this unique piece of artwork and the costs that would incur in the relocating and rehabilitation process. Even though I did get a chance to talk to IaDOT and some other people about the bridge, the flood issue was foremost on their minds and it was understandable if this issue was tabled because of that. Yet today, even with fewer resources, one can have a look at the bridge and decide how to proceed from there.
Keeping this in mind, have a look at the photos I posted on flickr and the film I produced that is available on youtube and decide for yourself if:
1. The bridge is salvageable and why,
2. What should be done with the bridge in terms of repairs and rehabilitation, and
3. Do you know of a place where this bridge would be of better service?
You can post your comments here, via facebook and through e-mail. Another person of contact would be Julie Bowers at Workin Bridges. Her contact details are found here.
Author’s note: additional photos and info can be found by clicking on the underlined words.
Pennsylvania Truss Bridges: The longest of the truss bridge types that were used for America’s transportation system, but the rarely used. Or was it? This is the question that many researchers have been asking for many years, as many of them are compiling materials for bridge books, for even though statewide surveys were carried out at the earliest 20 years ago, questions about the credibility of the information has come up, which includes finding out how useful these bridges actually were, let alone how many of them were actually built in comparison to what was found in the research. Part of it has to do with the number of post cards and old pictures that people have found recently of old bridges that carry the signature design.
Developed and patented in 1875 for the Pennsylvania Railroad, the Pennsylvania Truss Bridge is similar to the Parker Bridge, because of its polygonal top chord, yet it has subdivided diagonal beams supporting the main diagonal beams. Furthermore, as seen in the photo of the now extant Orr Bridge in Harrison County (Iowa), diagonal beams cross not one but two panels at the center of the span. Pennsylvania trusses were used not only as single span crossings but also for wider river crossings as multiple spans, including those along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, many of which have long since disappeared. Reason for that is the fact that these bridges can range from 130 to 600 feet long, some even longer. While these bridges were used for that purpose, the danger was that of the pressure applied to the roadway, creating tension to the diagonal beams and upper chord, resulting in the failure of even one of the subdivided beams, and as a consequence, the failure of the entire structure. That is the reason why they were used rarely. Or were they?
This is where we look at the state of Iowa as the subject of debate. 20-25 years ago, a survey was conducted on Iowa’s truss bridges revealed that even though some Pennsylvania truss bridges were used for large crossings, like the Mississippi River crossings at Clinton and Muscatine, as well as the longest single-span crossing in the state at Greene (at 249 feet), the number of these bridges were rarely used in bridge building between 1880 and 1920. Seven bridges listed in the survey were examples of this bridge type, including the Thunder and Old Rusty Bridges in Spencer, the Bridgeport Bridge near Keokuk, one span of the multi-span Boone Bridge, the Rubio in Washington County, and the Berkheimer Bridge west of Humboldt, and the Orr Bridge. The Orr and Rubio Bridges have long since been removed. The Berkheimer Bridge currently holds the title as the longest bridge in the state, despite being closed to traffic between 2001 and 2005 for rehabilitation.
Yet two problems have come up that have the potential to refute the claim of its rare use on the state’s roads. The first one is the fact that at least three bridges surveyed have Pennsylvania truss types but have a flat lateral top chord, thus making them Camelback Pennsylvania trusses. This includes the Gochenour Bridge in Harrison County, and two bridges spanning the Cedar River in Mitchell County: the Otranto Bridge and the Deering Ford Bridge, the latter of which was replaced 15 years ago; the former is now privately owned and can be seen from its replacement bridge.
Otranto Bridge in Mitchell County. Photo taken in August 2011
The other one, which is perhaps the biggest of the problems supporting the claim is the number of Pennsylvania truss bridges that had existed prior to 1970. Even though they were demolished before a HABS-HAER survey was conducted on the Greene Bridge in 1979, two years prior to its demolition and replacement, recent discoveries by a pair of pontists residing in Iowa reveal that more of these that existed, thus putting the historic survey’s claim in doubt. This is not only applicable to multiple-span bridges, but also and especially to the single-span bridges. Some examples supporting the claim include another Skunk River crossing at Brighton, east of the Rubio Bridge, the Second Street Bridge in Independence, The Lincoln Highway Bridge over the Wapsipinicon River in Clinton County, a Big Sioux River crossing near Canton, South Dakota, Ripley’s Bridge in Floyd County, and a Little Sioux River crossing at Sioux Rapids in Buena Vista County. With as many bridges of this kind along the Little Sioux River, one can even stretch the claim that the river may be the river with the highest amount of Pennsylvania trusses.
In addition to the argument supporting more Pennsylvania trusses built in Iowa, it is possible that other bridge companies may have contributed in its construction of Pennsylvania truss bridges. While it is true that the Clinton Bridge and Iron Works Company constructed the majority of these truss bridges, including the ones in Greene, Spencer, and west of Humboldt, other bridge companies, such as the Iowa Bridge Company of Des Moines, Chicago Bridge and Iron Works, and even the Canton Bridge Company in Ohio took a piece of the bridge building pie as well. If one adds the Gochenour and Orr Bridges to the list of unknown bridge builders, as they were imported into Iowa in the 1950s, then one can claim that other bridge companies tried to keep Clinton from monopolizing the bridge building industry in Iowa by building their own Pennsylvania truss bridges, even though surveys confirmed that Iowa BC and Chicago B and IWC constructed them.
The last one is the fact that Pennsylvania truss bridges were built well into the 1960s, for one can find two of these structures in Jackson County, spanning the Maquoketa River: one at Iron Bridge Road, and one on County Highway Z-34. It is possible that other bridges of that type built during that period can be found in Iowa as well, for these bridges were part of the standardized truss bridges, featuring riveted connections, that were introduced on Iowa’s highways beginning in 1914, although they were not used as often as the other truss bridge counterparts, such as the Pratt, Warren and Parker truss bridges.
All these claims lead to the following questions for the forum:
1. How many Pennsylvania truss bridges were actually built in Iowa between 1880 and 1960?
2. What other single span Pennsylvania truss bridges existed prior to 1970, besides the ones mentioned in the article? When and where were they built and who was the bridge builder?
3. Why were Pennsylvania truss bridges built beyond 1920 instead of the other truss types?
There are four ways to answer this question: One is directly through the social networking sites of Facebook and LinkedIn under the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles; the other is by leaving a reply in the comment section; the third option is via e-mail, and the fourth option is through the Historic Bridge Weekend, which takes place August 9-11 (please see the info here). There you can leave the info and photos in the Info and Photo Box, provided at the evening events or you can talk to the author directly, as he will be directing the conference in its entirety. The information will be used for the book project on Iowa’s Truss Bridges, which is ongoing as information is being collected as of present.
Pennsylvania truss bridges were a useful commodity on America’s roads, and to a certain degree, they still are today. Yet it remains questionable how many were really built and why they disappeared so rapidly, even though their lifespan was the same as any other truss bridge built between 1860 and the present- 70-120 years, pending on how they were used and how they were and still are maintained today.
Special thanks to Hank Zaletel and Luke Harden for digging out and submitting the photos, as well as allowing me to use the photos for this article.
Before starting in on this subject, here’s a rhetorical question for all pontists and highway engineers who have pre-1950 bridges in their database: Why are historic bridges demolished and replaced? Is it because of structural issues? Is the cost for maintenance too high? What about liability and safety concerns? And lastly, have you ever been in a situation where you have a historic bridge and you were forced to choose between tearing it down and replacing it or rehabilitating (or restoring) it to prolong its useful life?
Author’s note: Discussions and stories are welcomed both here as well as via facebook and LinkedIn.
There are many reasons for demolishing a historic bridge, but just as many reasons countering it in favor of rehabilitation and restoration, either for further use as a vehicular bridge or reuse as a recreational bridge. However, one bridge in Otoe County, Nebraska is being replaced as part of the plan to reconstruct and expand the bike trail network, because it is not considered historic. Logically speaking, if a historic bridge has little or no value in terms of aesthetic appearance and historical significance, or if it was altered to a point where its value has been compromised, it would be understandable. What is driving historians, preservationists and pontists to the point of insanity is the fact that this bridge is a bowstring arch bridge, a truss type that is becoming rarer to find nowadays.
A bowstring arch bridge, in simple terms is a type of truss bridge where the top chord creates an arch span that is supported by vertical and diagonal beams. It is similar to the Parker Truss design except the fact that the top chord is curved and not polygonal like its cousin. Squire Whipple designed and patented the design in 1848 and various bridge builders have varied their design based on the design of the top chord. The most common are those with the Phoenix columns (patented by the Wrought Iron Bridge Company) and the H-beam design with bolts sticking out on the top side, which was patented by the King Bridge Company. The longest bowstring arch bridge in the US is the 190-foot long Kern Bridge near Mankato in Minnesota, built in 1873 over the Le Seuer River and closed since 1990. The longest in the world is the Blackfriar’s Bridge over the London River in London, Ontario in southern Canada. The 1878 bridge has a span of 224 feet long. Both of these bridges are works of the Wrought Iron Bridge Company.
The Steinhart Park Bowstring Arch bridge, located at the park bearing its name west of Nebraska City is an example of a bowstring arch bridge with H-framed upper chords, but one that is rare in itself in Nebraska. It is unknown where the bridge was originally built, but records indicated that it was relocated to the park to span South Fork Table Creek several years ago. The only modifications done on the bridge was halving the width and replacing some bolts, but it remained in service until its closure because of safety concerns. Plans were in the making to construct a bike trail that would encircle the western portion of the city and use the park as its hub point, as stated in a recent article by the Hamburg Reporter in Hamburg, Iowa. This would include using the location of the bowstring arch bridge as a crossing. While the city received a grant for the bike trail network, construction was delayed due to the historic significance of the bridge, hence involving the state historical preservation office to determine how historically significant the bridge really is.
The decision made by Jill Dolberg that the bowstring arch bridge is not considered historic despite its rarity cleared the last hurdle for the demolition of the structure to commence, but it has sparked an outcry from the bridge and preservation community regarding the treatment of historic bridges by the local government and private sectors. It also contradicts the way historic bridges are being treated despite being modified for reuse. One has to look across the Missouri River into neighboring Iowa to see enough examples of historic bridges being reused, some of which still maintain their status on the National Register of Historic Places. Two examples come to mind: the Yellow Smoke State Park Bridge in Dennison (Crawford County ) and the Moneek Bridge in Castalia (Winneshiek County). The one in Crawford County was constructed in 1945, one of a dozen bowstring arch bridges built at that time to replace the ones that were destroyed in the flooding. The one at Castalia was built by Allen and McEvoy, local contractors , in 1872. Both were relocated to parks when they were rendered useless for vehicular traffic, and despite modifications, both were considered historically significant as they still are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
To consider the bowstring arch bridge as non-historic serves as a slap in the face and leads to the question of whether the preservation policies that exist on the state and national levels are sufficient enough, or if tougher measures are needed to ensure that more funding and technical know-how as well as tougher sanctions against owners for neglecting historic properties are needed to ensure that all parties are better informed about the possibilities for restoring historic bridges and making them safer for people to use, while at the same time educate them on how to maintain historic places of interest, rather than neglect them like it was the case with this bridge.
As plans are underway to raze the bowstring arch bridge, making way for a modern and rather bland structure to take its place to serve the planned bike trail, many people will most likely pay homage to the bowstring arch bridge, while at the same time, protest this decision to let go of one of the rarities of Nebraska City. Already the city has lost two key Missouri River crossings to progress (a highway bridge and a railroad bridge built by George S. Morison), and the loss of this bridge will contribute to the city becoming more modern, at the expense of history. The decision to not consider the bowstring arch historic enough- and thus allowing the demolition to proceed- is being scrutinized by many as being one of the most illogical decisions made by a historian or any member working for a state historic preservation office in the country. It is definitely not winning any points with the author of the Chronicles, who might have an award ready for Nebraska City and the Nebraska SHPO to accept…..
Author’s note: Special thanks to James McCray for allowing the author to use of his photos for this article.
REMINDER: Do not forget! Nominations for the 2012 Ammann Awards are still being taken. Deadline for accepting photos, historic bridges and historic bridge preservationist is 1 December. At the moment we have a few entries, but if you submit your entries, the numbers will increase and we will have a wide selection to choose from regarding voting. Act now and make yourself and your entry known! More info can be found here.
There are many ways to look at a bridge and determine its value, both aesthetically as well as historically. From an engineer’s point of view, the bridge is built to function as a vehicular crossing until it is rendered obsolete and considered for replacement. From a historian’s point of view, each bridge has its own history and identity to the community, going beyond the bridge builder, the dimensions and unique value that make it eligible to be protected by preservation laws. From a photographer’s point of view, each bridge has a beauty that makes it fit into the landscape, whether it is a truss, arch, cable-stayed or suspension bridge.
In the case of David Plowden, each bridge not only presents a beauty that warrants a black and white photo worth remembering, but it contributes to the history of the American architecture, infrastructure and transportation. Born in 1932, Plowden started his photography career at the age of 25, providing the readers with a look at the development of American society, from the steel mills to the farming community, from the slums of the big cities, to Main Street USA, where small talk and hard work are the norms. He has published over 20 books including his latest one on the state of Iowa (which was released earlier this year), where a traveling photography exhibition of the state and its hilly landscape is currently taking place until 2014.
In the book Bridges: The Spans of North America, published in 2002, Plowden combined his photographic genius with some history to provide readers with an insight into the development of bridges in North America, beginning with those made of wood in a form of covered bridges, followed by brick and stone bridges, the metal bridges (both in terms of short- and long river crossings) and finishing with the bridges made of concrete. The over 400-page work provides the reader with an in depth look at the types of bridges that were developed, the bridge builders who used them for their crossings and where the bridges were located. While some of the bridge types mentioned in the book are well-known to the bridge community and historians, such as the Bollmann Truss Bridge at Savage, Maryland the concrete arch bridges of Pennsylvania and Oregon, and the common suspension bridges, like John Roebling’s suspension bridges, there are some others that had been mentioned briefly in other documents but were brought to life in this book, like the Whipple-Murphy truss bridges, many of which were constructed along the Missouri River between Sioux City and Kansas City under George S. Morrison in the 1880s, the Poughkeepsie Suspension and Railroad Bridges in upstate New York or even local bridges like the Bellefountain Bridge in Mahaska County, Iowa. Plowden provides a tour into the life of each bridge engineer and his contribution to the American landscape with examples of bridges that bear his name and were meant to serve traffic for many years.
As for the bridges themselves, the photos taken by Plowden were genuine and provide the reader with an inside look at the structure’s appearance from a photographer’s point of view. Some bridges were photographed in areas that were run down and were not part of the urbanization movement in the 1960s, such as the outer suburbs of Pittsburgh, for example. Some bridges in his book were taken in heavily industrialized areas, like New Jersey. And then there are others in the book that had a unique natural background, like the bridges of Oregon and western Canada. In terms of how they were photographed, there were many bridges that were photographed at a portal view- meaning the entrance of the bridge, presenting the reader the bridge’s facial feature before entering the structure. This includes the past bridges, like the Point Bridge in Pittsburgh as well as those in the present, like the railroad bridge at Beaver, Pennsylvania. While some of the bridges are known to the bridge community today, there are many that were rarely recognized but brought to the light by pushing the snapshot button and presenting a black and white picturesque view that definitely belongs to an art gallery somewhere. While many of these bridges, such as the Central Bridge over the Ohio River in Cincinnati and the St. Mary’s Bridge in West Virginia, a sister of the Silver Bridge, which collapsed in 1967 killing 46 people, have long since been demolished, Plowden photographed most of them in the 1960s and 70s, giving the reader an idea what they looked like before they were replaced. Each bridge photographed in the book has some information on its history and the status at the time of its publication.
It is very difficult to write a book on the history of bridges and how they were developed without having to narrow the focus down to the key aspects. In the case of the books on the bridges of Erfurt, Germany, one was focused on the technical aspects; the other on the historical aspects. One cannot have insight into the bridges without having to read both pieces of literature, even though they are both in German. In the case of Plowden’s book, he divided the subject up into the materials used for bridge construction, followed by the bridge types that were used and the engineers who built the bridges. To a certain degree, when focusing on bridges on a scale as large as North America’s it is a good idea, for it provides an overview into the development of the bridges from the beginning to the present time. This has been used in a couple other literary pieces, the latest of which will be the book of the month for August on Minnesota’s bridges by Denis Gardner (which falls nicely into the five-year anniversary of the I-35W bridge disaster in Minneapolis).
Yet when looking at the content of the book, most of its focus was on the development of bridges in the United States, together with the photos he took, with a small fraction being focused on Canada’s bridges (like the Lethbridge Viaduct in the province of Alberta and the Quebec Bridge). Most of the information and photos of the bridges came from those in the northern half of the US along the major rivers and in the northeastern part of the US, such as the Ohio River Valley, the Hudson River, and the Mississippi. These areas were the breeding ground for bridge development that spanned over 150 years and expanded into the Plains Region and beyond. If a person was to be picky about the content of the book, and focus on the history and development of bridges per se, then perhaps Plowden could have had two different books on the subject- one for the US and one for Canada. After all, despite the fact that this history run parallel in both countries, each one had its own set of bridge builders and bridge types with much of Canada’s bridge designs being imported from Europe as it had close ties with Great Britain and France.
But there are two main reasons why Plowden chose to incorporate the two countries into one for the book. First of all, the history and development of the bridges were interchangeable. Canadian bridge builders immigrated to America to start their business and prosper. Bridge companies in the US had exceptional influence in Canada. The designs used for bridge construction were mostly similar in both countries, with a few minor exceptions. That means we have cantilever truss bridges in both countries, and we competed with each other to construct the longest and tallest bridges. And through their exchanges in information and designers, both prospered during the Industrial Age of the late 1800s.
The other reason is the fact that Plowden is a photographer by heart. He not only provides people with a look into the lives of others in black and white, but he also provides them with unique scenery through the photos of antique works of art that still rules the streets (even though the numbers have dwindled rapidly over the years). He does not just showcase the photos for people to see. That would be too easy to do, especially in today’s technological age where anyone can post their pics on facebook, flickr and other websites. But each bridge that is photographed is accompanied by a story of its existence and the bridge builder responsible for erecting the structure and sharing his success to others so that they can either follow the lead or challenge it. The book provides the reader with general knowledge of the development of the bridges and the role of the engineers that contributed their history. And even if the majority of the readers are not engineers, bridge fanatics or historians, and even if one is unable to read the entire book from cover to cover, looking at the bridge photos themselves is enough to tell the story of how it was built and how it became part of North American history.
So to end this review process, get your cameras ready and set out to go bridgehunting. Find a bridge that means a great deal to you, regardless of its appearance and surroundings, its history and identity to the region and regardless of its age and whether you can cross it or spend time walking to it. As soon as you find it, start shooting. Show the bridge to others and make it known to the public of its value through your camera lens and point of view. After all, there are more people interested in historic bridges than you know. Plowden knew about it and therefore, the book is sitting in my bridge library, waiting for me to open the page and have a look at the work that he did. Pride can help you prosper and people will take note of that. Author’s note: I just sent a batch of interview questions to Mr. Plowden for him to answer and send back. As soon as I have them, they will be posted in a separate article.