BHC Pic of the Week Nr. 167 Tribute to James Baughn

The 167th Pic of the Week has a perfect fall setting that was photographed by James Baughn in 2017. The bridge in the foreground however, as easy as you can access it, may be in danger of collapse.  This crossing is located across Blackwater River at McAllister Springs Access and features a Parker through truss span with Howe lattice portal bracings supported by curved heels. It’s near the village of Hustonia in Saline County, Missouri. The bridge has eight panels and has a length of between 160 and 190 feet. While there is no information on the date of construction, the pinned connections and the portals indicate a build date between 1890 and 1910.

At the time of the photo, the bridge was in a balancing act with the brick abutments cracking and spalling thanks to a tree that grew through it. Furthermore, the decking has rotted away to a point where the lower chords have been exposed. Some of lower beams have been shifted or are missing. Trees have landed on the bridge with branches found on the top chord and on the stringers. And lastly, the approach spans have disappeared with only V-laced columns dangling from the abutments. Another flood or two will seal the deal and put the bridge into the water. If that doesn’t happen, then most likely the bridge may collapse under its own weight. This happened with the Schell City Bridge in 2012 after years of abandonment, even though the decking was all but intact. Further photos taken this year shows a worsening state of the bridge. Click here to view.

The only way this bridge could be saved is if it is dismantled and restored in parts and built on new abutments as the old ones cannot be salvaged. Furthermore, it would have to be relocated to a better site where people can access the bridge. If and whether it is possible depends on the funding available but also the interest. Even if it was put into storage, it would be better than to just simply remove it.

The McAllister Truss Bridge is a bridge full of surprises, with history to be found on it and ways to preserve it. Yet it is a bridge in need of help and it hoped that someone will come to its rescue before Mother Nature finishes it with the next flood.

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BHC Pic of the Week Nr. 164  Tribute to James Baughn

After a couple weeks away from the computer, we return to our weekly Pic of the Week, paying tribute to the late James Baughn. Our next pic, where he visited and photographed is one that is very dear because it is the only one of its kind along the longest river in the state.

We know that the Des Moines River, with a total length of 526 miles (845 kilometers), slices through the state of Iowa, including the state capital of Iowa that bears the same name. Even if the river forks into the east and west branches and starts in southern Minnesota, the river is loaded with unique bridges- both past and present, that bridge builders from as many as ten states have left their marks, six of which come from Iowa, including Iowa Bridge Company, A.H. Austin, Clinton Bridge and Iron Company, George E. King, Marsh Engineering, just to name a few.  The most notable bridges one can find along the river include the Murray and Berkheimer Bridges in Humboldt County, Ellsworth Ranch Bridge in Emmet County, the Kate Shelley Viaduct in Boone County, the arch bridges in Des Moines,…..

…..and this bridge in St. Francisville, in Missouri!

The St. Francisville Bridge spans the river at the Iowa/Missouri border. It’s a Warren-style cantilever through truss bridge with MA-portal bracings. The connections are riveted. It was built in 1937 by Sverdrup and Parcel of St. Louis, with FW Whitehead overseeing the constructon of the bridge. The bridge was formerly a toll bridge until they were eliminated in 2003. It used to serve the Avenue of the Saints and Jefferson Highway (Highway 27) until it was bypassed by an expressway bridge in 2004. It later served as a frontage road crossing until 2016, when the bridge was closed to vehicular traffic. Since then, the bridge has been sitting usused, awaiting its future. 

The photo was taken by Mr. Baughn in 2013, when the bridge was still open to traffic. Given the bridge’s proximity to the nearby park and boat ramp on the Missouri side, combined with the nearby communities, the structure is a great asset and with some repairs and renovations done with the superstructure, the bridge could continue as a local street crossing, sharing the road with a bike route. What is needed is money to strengthen and renovate the structure to a point where it can be reused again. The bridge is eligible for the National Register, which if listed, could open the door for grants and other amenities that will help with the cause. The bridge would be a perfect rest stop for commuters traveling in both directions and St. Francesville would benefit from a newly restored bridge.

The St. Francisville Bridge is unique because of its design as a cantilever truss bridge, something that has become a rarity these days. It is the only crossing along the Des Moines of this kind and one of a few examples of a bridge built by Sverdrup and Parcel, the same company that contributed to numerous major bridge projects in five states between 1920 and 1960. It is time that the bridge is given the tender loving care it deserves.

The question is are you willing to help with the cause?

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Endangered TRUSS: Grand River Bridge on Old Highway 5 in Daviess County, Missouri

JB

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Sometimes historic bridges are better off when they belong to nature and are left untouched. Yet there are some that have a potential for being reused as a pedestrian bridge. There is a story behind this Endangered TRUSS species that I’m presenting you here and it goes back a decade to the time of the Historic Bridge Weekend in Missouri.

We were on our last day together- myself, James and Todd (Wilson) and had just completed a long day of bridgehunting in the western part of Missouri and part of Nebraska. The Weekend was marred by one natural element which hindered my ability to keep to my original schedule- flooding! The Missouri River flooded its banks and 90% of the valley was under water. The valley included areas between Kansas City (where we were staying) and Sioux City, Iowa, and included the greater Omaha area. The highways were not passable, towns were completely under water and much of the infrastructure, including bridges, were either damaged or destroyed.  Instead of combing up the western half of Iowa, I was forced to replan everything to include stops in Des Moines and in central Iowa on my way back to Minnesota.  The problem was which bridges could I stop along the way?

That was where James came in and showed me a few locations for photo opportunities. Daviess County was one of them, and it was loaded with historic bridges. Dozens of metal truss bridges were on my path going to Iowa, many of which were a maximum of 10 minutes away from Interstate 35, which connects Des Moines with Kansas City.

JB

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Of the 8-9 bridges I photographed, I found this structure to be the most unique. The bridge spans the Grand River just a half mile west of US Hwy. 69 south of Pattonsburg. It features a two-span through truss design, the larger being the Whipple and the smaller being the Pratt. Each have pinned connections and Lattice portal bracings. The bridge has a total length of 330 feet. It was built by the Kansas City Bridge and Iron Company in 1883, using steel from the Carnegie Steel plant in Pittsburgh. The bridge used to serve a main highway (Old Hwy. 5) until it was bypassed by US Hwy. 69 and its bridge in 1932. 35 years later that would be bypassed by Interstate 35 located two miles to the east.  It continued to serve traffic until the early 1990s and has been sitting unused ever since.

JS

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When I visited the bridge in August 2011, the entire structure was closed off and part of the decking disappeared, thus making crossing the bridge practically impossible. What made the bridge unique was because of its location next to the forest. In one of my photos, the smaller Pratt truss span was partially hidden in the trees. Given its proximity to the river and to the trees nearby, plus the fact that the old former highway is closed off on both sides of the bridge, one could wonder if the bridge and the road would make for a bike trail. It doesn’t necessarily mean a new stretch of road needs to be built. But it would be a trail that followed the original highway between Pattonsburg and Santa Rosa, but terminating at a nearby town to the south, like Alta Vista, or it could curve to nearby Lake Viking, using sections of the road that are in place already.  And even if it connected Pattonsburg and the bridge, where it could be converted to a picnic area, it would be enough to satisfy locals wishing to get some fresh air and go walking or even biking.

JS

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Since that time, four of the bridges I visited on my tour from Kansas City back to Iowa have been replaced, others may be up, especially if liability issues come about. Yet if there was a choice, this structure should be the first one saved. The bridge has some connection with the history of the development of roads in the area, yet it has more potential than that, if people come together with resources and all to make repurposing and revitalizing the area around the bridge happen. The bridge is eligible for the National Register and its history in connection with the region will make the structure a really attractive place to go for an afternoon picnic and all. It’s a question of finding the will to do just that. 

JB

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More information on the bridge can be found here.

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JB: Photos taken by James Baughn in 2010

JS: Photos taken by Jason Smith in 2011

Mystery Bridge Nr. 155- An Unusual Vierendeel Bridge in Missouri

Our 155th Mystery Bridge takes us to Vulcan, in Missouri and this unusual bridge. The bridge was built by Missouri Pacific Railroad in 1949 and spans not only Highway BB but also a small stream running alongside it. The bridge was built using concrete and features a rather unusual style that is similar to a rare truss design, the Vierendeel.

Arthur Vierendeel patented the design and it consists of trusses where only the vertical beam supports the upper and lower chords of the truss. Normally, truss bridges use triangular beams, consisting of a combination of vertical and diagonal beams needed to support the span. Because of the lack of diagonal members, Vierendeel trusses employ moment joints to resist substantial bending forces.. Vierendeel trusses are more common in Europe, with most of the trusses being located in Belgium. This includes the first truss built in 1902 at AvelgemBelgium. Most of the spans can be found in and around the metropolitan areas of Brussels and Antwerp. While Vierendeels are seldom to be found in the United States, the city of Glendale, California has three Vierendeel truss bridges: the Geneva Street, Kenilworth Avenue, and Glenoaks Boulevard bridges, all two-lane bridges spanning 95 feet. They were built in 1937 as part of the Verdugo Flood Control Project, the first project of the United States Army Corps of Engineers after passage of the Flood Control Act of 1936.

While steel Vierendeels were common for bridge construction, it was not unusual to find them made of concrete, which takes us back to this bridge in Vulcan. One can see clearly that the spans are Vierendeel using heel supports to ensure that the bridge maintains its stability. Originally the bridge was built as part of the project to introduce fast moving trains between Missouri and Texas. The structure is still being used by Union Pacific Railroad to this day. The question is who was behind the design of this bridge and what were his/her motives for using the Vierendeel?

This is one for the historians and pontists to find out. 😉 Happy Bridgehunting, folks.

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BHC Pic of the Week Nr. 154 Tribute to James Baughn

With bridgehunting come one event that happens each year in the summertime. The Historic Bridge Weekend was introduced in 2009 through a coalition which featured Todd Wilson, Nathan Holth, Kitty Henderson and James Baughn, among others. The 3-4 day conference brought in many experts in bridge preservation and maintenance, as well as engineers, historians, and many interested bridge enthusiasts and locals with a passion for history.

The first two years of the conference took place in western Pennsylvania, which had one of the highest number of iroan and steel truss bridges in the country, yet it was the same state where the rate of replacing historic bridges was one of the highest in the US. Many of the bridges lost to modernization had ties to bridge building firms in the greater Pittsburgh and Cleveland areas. In fact most of the bridge building companies building bridges west of the Mississippi River prior to 1900 came from Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio and New York, with the likes of King, Groton, Nelson and Buchanan, Lassig and Wrought Iron among others stamping their labels on the portals and endposts, with some ornamental decoration that went along with it.

This picture was taken of the Quaker Bridge by James Baughn in 2010. It was my first year attending the conference and the very first time I met Mr. Baughn, with whom we worked together on his website bridgehunter.com, which is now owned by the Historic Bridge Foundaton. It was this bridge and the movement to save it that caused the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) to turn the tide towards bridge replacement and decided that instead of tearing down history, one can save it, even if it meant relocating the structure for reuse, for the agency had been notorious for being too passive in its policies towards historic bridge preservation.

The Quaker Bridge was built in 1898 by the Cleveland Bridge Company with James R. Gemmill overseeing the project. The bridge is a Pratt through truss span with pinned connections, Town lattice portal bracings and finials on each corner. PennDOT had originally pushed for plans to tear down and replace the bridge as far back as 2004. Yet it took the efforts of Nathan Clark to purchase the bridge and persuade the agency to retract its plan and construct a bridge on a new alignment. The project was completed in 2006 and the truss bridge has remained in place ever since- still in pristine condition as shown in the picture taken over a decade ago but now part a hiking trail, although one can use the bridge for fishing and picnicking.

The Historic Bridge Weekend focused on efforts to preserve historic bridges and maintain them for future use, visiting historic bridges that are frequently visited, while some of them were the focus of preservation efforts. We included a lot of bridgehunting tours in addition to the talks that were given by many including myself. It drew hundreds of people to the event, many from the far outreaches of the country. After the first two events in Pennsylvania, we had our next one in Missouri in 2011, Indiana in 2012, Iowa in 2013 and Michigan in 2014 before it became an informal event afterwards where bridgeshunters gathered to just visit the bridges in the areas of interest. The event in Missouri (James’ home state) included tours of bridges in St. Louis and Kansas City with a big gathering to save the Riverside Bridge in Ozark, an event that reunited friends and made the preservation attempt at Riverside a smashing success. 🙂 The event in Iowa in 2013 was one I coordinated with an open-air speech on James Hippen’s legacy by his wife Elaine at a restaurant in Stone City, a large scale informal event at Sutliff Bridge and its nearby Bar and Grill and in Pella at the golf course with a chance to explore the bridges in the Bluffs region, Des Moines and Boone and along the Mississippi.

What we learned from these events was that there was a large interest in saving these historic bridges by the public, yet the problem is trying to convince government officials to cater to the demands of the public. In some cases, we were greeted with lip service, while behind-the-door deals were carried out to have it their way and not with the people. Sometimes, the media sometimes distorts the information on the bridge without thinking that the bridge has a unique value in terms of its history and its association with the community. Still, the word gets around faster with social media than what modernists and government officials championing bridge replacement try conveying, which led to the creation of this online column and its social media pages in 2010. In turn, we have over three dozen pages devoted to historic bridges and preservation around the world on facebook, twitter and even Instagram. Some focus on bridge photography, which is the most liked because they contain brief information on the structures’ history. Yet there are individual pages that focus on preserving a bridge which has gained thousands of supporters each bridge. Save the Riverside Bridge in Ozark had over 3000 supporters on its facebook page, for example. In any case, the Historic Bridge Weekend has produced a large interest in bridges around the world, and when word on a historic bridge being a target for replacement comes around, the interest in saving the structure will be there, each with ideas on how to save it and each one with ties to the bridge and the memories that go along with it.

The Historic Bridge Weekend brought back a lot of memories of friends and bridges, ideas and stories and with that, a circle of pontists that has gotten tenfold bigger since its inauguration. It is hoped that the tradition will continue in the US, Europe and beyond, so that more people can take interest in bridges, its design and especially ways to preserve them for generations to come. The event is not just for pontists but for everyone with an interest in bridges, their histories and how they are tied together with community.

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BHC Pic of the Week Nr. 147: Tribute to James Baughn

As summer vacation is approaching, we would like to take you to a man-made lake and this unique duo crossing, located in Taney County, Missouri. The Shadow Rock Bridge spans Swan Creek at the site where US 160 once crossed near the town of Forsyth. The crossing features two different bridges, located next to each other but having different types and even heights. The lower bridge features an open-spandrel deck arch with concrete deck cantilever approach spans. That span was built in 1932 by M.E. Gillioz and replaced the first crossing, a two-span Pratt through truss bridge with A-frame portal bracings. The higher bridge succeeded the arch span 20 years later. The two-span Parker through truss bridge with riveted connections and WV portal bracings was built by Porter and DeWitt in 1952. Both bridges are still being used to this day, with the arch bridge serving as direct access to Shadow Rock Park and statue. The truss spans carries through traffic but is in need of new paint and some rehab work, though the picture taken by Mr. Baughn doesn’t show the rust but the silver coloring.

Duo bridges of this kind are rare to find these as they are either being replaced with modern structures or removed in their entirety. This was noticeable with a bridge couple in Floyd County, Iowa at Nora Springs. We had a two-span arch bridge at First Street that was built in 1916 and a taller Viaduct at Congress Street built only 300 feet away in 1955. It was a pleasant site to see them side-by-side during my visit there in 1998. Sadly both are gone now- the viaduct was replaced in 2008, the arch bridge was removed in December last year. 

But aside from the Shadow Rock Bridges where two bridges are side-by-side and at least 65 years old, which other examples do you know? Feel free to comment. Who knows, it might give bridgehunters a chance to visit them this summer, especially as we’re slowly but surely returning to normal after a year in standstill because of the Corona epidemic and chaos caused by…… You know who I’m referring to, right? 😉

Happy Bridgehunting, folks! 🙂

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BHC Pic of the Week Nr. 146: Tribute to James Baughn

Photo taken by James Baughn
This is our 151st Mystery Bridge as well!

This week’s Pic of the Week James Baughn series takes us to Osage City and this unusual railroad bridge. The Osage City Railroad Bridge spans the Osage River in the town of Osage City at the site where Water Street is located on the west bank. The bridge features from west to east: one pony plate girder span, one riveted Pratt through truss bridge with vertical endposts and heel portal braces, and five pony plate girders. It is unknown when the bridge was built, yet records indicate that the this span was built reusing parts from a previous bridge. There are two reasons behind it- one that is physically present and one that is theoretical. The practical point falls in line with the through truss span. Judging by the connections between the endpost and the upper chords, it appears this bridge span was imported from another bridge- a rather large one, be it a swing bridge bascule bridge, or a deck truss bridge. The reasons are that the markings indicate that a truss span was cut out of the bridge and imported to this location to serve as high-clearance span and encourage ships to pass under that span. This would have to have been done as the river bed of the Osage River was at its lowest below the water level.

The theoretical standpoint of having a patchwork bridge span may have come by the owner’s pursuit of reusing spans from another bridge in order to cut costs of building a new span. That story takes us to the Booneville Railroad Bridge, which spans the Missouri River and features a vertical lift span. That bridge used to belong to Union Pacific Railroad (UP) which had purchased the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad (a.k.a. KATY Lines) in 1988 after it went out of business. Before UP’s purchase of KATY, an agreement was made with the State of Missouri a year earlier to designate the entire line into a state park trail and the Booneville Bridge was part of the incorporation plans. Unfortunately, UP wanted to demolish the vertical lift span and take the five spans to Osage City for use at the crossing. After the plan was announced in 2004, and the Department of Natural Resources ceded ownership of the bridge to UP, Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon sued the DNR and later UP for breaching the 1987 agreement. At the same time, a preservation group was formed, and the bridge was ultimately spared demolition. UP backed off from the bridge and decided to pursue another unused bridge for reuse, hence this truss span.

It is obvious that the truss span at the Osage City crossing came from another bridge. The question is when was this patchwork bridge built? And why was it built?

The irony behind the Osage City Bridge is that UP did build a brand new bridge alongside the truss span and the line is now two-tracked, meaning this patchwork bridge now has one way traffic. This happened in 2014. As UP was working to expand its network and cutomers, the modernization and widening of the tracks were a necessity to compete with the likes of Burlington Northern Santa Fe, Norfolk & Southern, Canadian Pacific and Southern Pacific, though I would give UP credit for its attempts of reusing the truss bridges for cost-cutting purposes. Not every bridge that is over a century old means it’s the end of the road and it must be demolished.  This is something that the likes of BNSF should consider, especially as they’re pursuing the demolition of a prized piece of historic artwork in Bismarck, North Dakota.

I bet Ralph Mojeski is turning over multiple times in his grave for that.

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BHC Pic of the Week Nr. 144th: Tribute to James Baughn

Our next Pic of the Week paying tribute to James Baughn also pays tribute to Earth Day. This year’s Earth Day took place on April 22nd and this year’s event is symbolic, for the United States under President Joe Biden has returned to the Paris Summit and to the table with two goals in mind:

  1. To fix the alliances with other countries, which were beset with hostility, ridicule and ignorance from the previous Presidency whose main slogan was „American First!“
  2. To challenge the countries to do more by setting their own ambitious goals of reducing Carbon Dioxide levels, reducing global warming and restoring the environment wherever is possible.

The Biden effect has played out in other countries, where the green movement in politics, policies and even personal preferences is in full swing. In Germany alone, the Greens party not only has a successor candidate for Chancellor in Germany in Annalena Baerbock, they also has one who is ambitious and has a plan to make Germany greener. At the time of this post, the Greens are leading the CDU party under the helm of current Chancellor Angela Merkel in the race, even though the German elections are five months away.

But putting aside the Green movement in politics, the Biden effect has had a pivotal effect for it shows that if you are a leader and set the benchmarks, the other countries will follow suit and not only reach (or even surpass) the benchmark, but also challenge others with their own goals. With China, Russia, the EU, India, Brazil and Japan as key players, this race to stop the rise in global temperatures and the subsequent climatic effects will eventually become the race to see who is the greenest and the biggets icon.

But how important is Earth Day?

Have a look at the photo taken by Mr. Baughn in 2015. It’s of the Herculaneum Bridge, spanning Joachim Creek on Highways 61 and 67 in Herculaneum in Jefferson County. The bridge was built in 1934 by M. E. Gillioz in Monett, Missouri. The bridge builder was responsible for dozens of bridge built in the 1930s, some of which are still in service today.

With the increase in the numbers and intensity of droughts and flooding, as well as extreme temperatures, this photo serves as a reminder of how dire the situation is. With flood water levels falling four feet shy of the bridge’s portal bracings, this photo shows the 15 foot tall Camelback through truss bridge almost completely covered in water. Normally you see bridges inundated when dams are built. But not like this.

This bridge was lucky because of its design and riveted connections. It had been rehabilitated prior to the flood. And at present, after emergancy inspections and repairs , this bridge is still in use.  Yet flooding has destroyed dozens of bridges globally, annually. Not just trusses, arches and trestles, but also modern bridges built only 20 years ago! There are enough examples to go around.

If this example is not convincing enough, ask yourself this question: How has your region changed over the past 10 years? 20 years? 30 years? Compare this with the weather patterns your parents and grandparents have experienced and when finished, ask yourself this question:

Is this what we want? For our kids and grandkids?

When looking at our potential fourth year of drought coming our way in Germany and parts of Europe, combined with the death of forests in many areas in Saxony and Thuringia, and fewer amounts of snow in the winter, I can tell you my answer: No, this is not our planet. 😦

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BHC Pic of the Week Nr. 139: Tribute to James Baughn

Our next Pic of the Week takes us to Booneville, Missouri. The city is located on the Missouri River in Cooper County, yet the city was famous for saving this prized railroad bridge. The Booneville Bridge is a multiple-span through truss bridge with a vertical lift span, all of the spans are polygonal Warren with A-frame portal bracings. This bridge is the third crossing over the Missouri, having been built in 1932 replacing another multiple-span truss bridge with a swing span that was built in 1896 by the American Bridge Company of New York. The first crossing had been built in 1874 by another American Bridge Company, but one in Chicago.

Union Pacific Railroad (UP) used to operate the structure until the bridge and the line were abandoned in 1992. That is where the problems started. The railroad company wanted to remove the tracks and subsequentially the bridge. The community of Booneville, plus bike organizations and preservationists wanted to save the bridge and incorporate it into the KATY Trail. There were petitions, phone calls and the like, but UP ignored every plea and started arrangements to demolish the bridge, with the backing of the US Coast Guard and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which saw the bridge as a hindrance towards navigation. This was where one person stepped in and halted the plan: Jay Nixon.  As Attorney General, he took on the DNR over the bridge before extending the lawsuit to UP in 2005-06. Yet his ascension to governor of Missouri in 2009 sealed the deal and with that, the defendants stepped down and UP handed over ownership to the City of Booneville.  Rehabilitation followed and the bridge reopened in 2016.

Fast forward to 2021 and we see the bridge open to the public. It’s still not part of the KATY Bike Trail as of yet because of technical issues involving the lift span and the expenses involved to repair and renew them. But that’s no stranger as this was seen with the rehabilitation of the Stillwater Lift Bridge in Minnesota, which has been open to traffic since May 2020. But it is hoped that the problem will be fixed and there is a chance that the trail is relocated to the historic bridge from the highway bridge, to reduce the risks of accidents and personal injury. Nevertheless, the bridge is still a monument that can be accessed with a newly constructed bridge deck and has a great observation deck viewing the Missouri River and the city’s skyline.

James Baughn, who photographed this bridge in 2005, documented the bridge story quite well in his bridge profile, one that is ripe enough for a book on the trials and successes in saving and restoring the Booneville Railroad Bridge. It is hoped that when the bridge is finally in use as a bike trail crossing that the story is updated and someone, like Jay Nixon, whose state park is named after him, will write about it, let alone tell us about how he saved the bridge.

Stupp Brothers Bridge Company of St. Louis, Missouri

Buck O’neil Bridge in Kansas City- A product of the Stupp Brothers Bridge Company. Photo taken by Mark Frazier

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The Westward Expansion was one of the greatest developments in American History. From 1865 until the end of World War I in 1918, millions of miles of roads and railroads were built west of the Mississippi River.  And with that came bridges, big or small, that crossed whatever ravine was in the way. Hundreds of bridge building companies were established between 1865 and 1910 and while half of them either folded or merged with other bridge building firms, others remained in the business and with enough capital and a set of minds that were strong-willed and innovative, they succeeded in building unique crossings and competing with the bigger and more powerful conglomerates. Some of the companies eventually continued their business well into the 20th Century.

In the case of Stupp Brothers, they have been building bridges and other forms of artwork for 165 years and counting. Many people don’t know much about Stupp Brothers except when you find historic truss bridges with the Stupp plaques on them. Most of these bridges can be found in Missouri but this was because Stupp has its headquarters in St. Louis.  When looking at the history of bridge building, some of the unique crossings have been built by Stupp. Aside from the Jefferson City Bridges, Stupp built the Bird’s Nest Bridge in Crawford County, Broadway Bridge in Kansas City, the Martin Luther Bridge in St. Louis, and the Route 66 Meramec River Bridge west of St. Louis- all of which still exist to this day.

More closely is the history of the Stupp Brothers Bridge Company itself, for its founder, originated from Germany in what is now North Rhine-Westphalia. And this is where the story starts.  I did some research on the company and interviewed Judith Stupp, wife of the current president, John Stupp, in 2017 as efforts were being taken to find funding to restore the Meramec Bridge.  While the role of Stupp with that bridge will be discussed later due to changes in developments to date, here’s what we learned about the bridge company, the Stupp family and 165 years of engineering success.

Bird’s Nest Bridge in Crawford County. Photo taken by James Baughn

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1. Who were the founders of the bridge company?

 Technically, the bridge business was founded by George, Peter and Julius Stupp, the sons of Johann Stupp, but the story begins with Johann. Johann Stupp was born in 1827 in Cologne (Köln), Germany- Prussia at that time. He was trained as a metal smith and during his wanderberuf he developed friendships with several other young wanderers.

Economic conditions convinced some of these friends to immigrate to the US. Initially Johann resisted, but in 1854 he chose to join his friends in St Louis, Missouri. The influx of Germans was so great that by 1860, of the 160,783 citizens of St Louis, 50,510 were German-born.

By 1856 Johann was married and had started his own business fabricating small machine parts and doing some ornamental iron work. He brought his brother Peter to St Louis to work as foreman at J. Stupp and Bros., Blacksmiths.

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2. What role did Stupp Brothers play in the Civil War, both regarding the bridge building business as well as in their private lives?

Though there is no documentation to prove it, there is a family conviction that Johann’s shop made iron plates for the fleet of seven ironclad gunboats built by John B. Eads to support the union effort to take control of the Mississippi and its tributaries. Eads was under intense pressure to produce the fleet in 90 days, so it seems likely that a shop like Johann’s would have been involved in the effort. Johann hadproduced iron plates for barges while still in Germany. Johann served in the “Home Guard” during the Civil War. This group was instrumental in preventing Missouri from seceding from the union.

By 1867 the firm was being advertised as the South St. Louis Iron Works. They fabricated fire escapes, railings and various ornamental items. In the late 1860’s the firm received a sub-contract to fabricate the gates at the newly created Lafayette Park. It was a triumph for the shop. Of the 32 gates Johann created 30 remain standing. Johann would concentrate on ornamental iron gates and fencing for the rest of his time in the business. Johann was a superb craftsman, meticulous and an artist in his trade. He died in 1915 at the age of 88.

By 1873 all three of Johann’s teenaged sons worked in the business. George was office manager, Peter was assistant pattern-maker and Julius was a bolt cutter. That same year saw the credit crisis known as The Panic of 1873. Johann had borrowed $3000 from an unscrupulous lender and, unable to pay the loan when called, lost the business. As a result of this experience no doubt, George Stupp had enrolled in business classes. In 1878 George formed the George Stupp South St. Louis Ornamental Zinc and Iron works. When Peter and Julius came of age a partnership was formed and the name was changed to Stupp Bros. With George in charge the company began to move from ornamental to structural work. One of the firms earliest orders was from the Anheuser-Busch Brewery.

Hurricane Deck Bridge in Camden County (now replaced). Photo courtesy of the MoDOT Archives

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3. How did Stupp play a role in the Westward Expension?

The 1880’s was an ideal time for the newly formed company. St. Louis was growing and prospering, it was fourth among American cities in gross value of manufactures and fifth in capital invested in manufacturing. When Stupp built its first bridge in around 1886, it was one of five bridge companies in St. Louis.

In December of 1890, the brothers incorporated, changing the firm’s name to Stupp Bros.

Bridge and Iron Company. America was becoming an industrial giant, Americans were pouring into the frontier, cities like Omaha, Dallas, Denver and San Francisco had emerged from frontier outposts. The networks of roads and rails in the east were improved and expanded, while new lines pushed westward creating and feeding new markets for manufactured materials. Buoyed by the expanding market, in 1893 the brothers expanded their plant by adding a second story to house an office and drafting room.

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4. How did the bridge building expand after the Civil War? How many branch offices did it have and which ones still exist today?

In the early 1900-1920’s there were offices in Iowa City, Iowa, Kansas City, Missouri and downtown St Louis. Today manufacturing is done in Bowling Green, KY with the sales office at the company location in St Louis where has been since 1902.

Meramec River (Route 66) Bridge west of St. Louis. Photo taken by James Baughn in 2015 after the deck was removed.

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5. While as many as 28 bridge companies merged to become the American Bridge Company in 1901 (including the Wrought Iron Bridge Company), Stupp didn‘t engage in this venture and continued to build bridges in the face of competition. How did the company achieve that successfully?

Independent minded. It is unknown whether or not they were ever approached about a merger. The company had the capital  to remain independent.

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6. What major projects has the bridge company been involved with since 1900? Bridge examples included.

Stupp’s contract records identify nearly 20,000 projects. Bridges make up a significant portion of them though not the majority of them. Some notable projects include:

  • Hurricane Deck at Lake of the Ozarks, MO (1936 Prize Bridge winner)
  • George P. Coleman Bridge over the York River, VA (Multiple swing spans-1990’s)
  • Randolph Street Bascule Bridge Chicago 1970’s
  • Ohio River Bridge Renovations Louisville, KY 2014-2016 (20,000 tons)
  • Truss Bridges over the Missouri River at Washington, Herman, Chesterfield, St. Charles, Jefferson City, Miami for the state of Missouri 1940s to 1960’s
  • Choteau Bridge replacement at Kansas City MO 2001
Martin Luther King Bridge in St. Louis. Photo taken by James Baughn

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7. Who is in charge of the company today and what kinds of bridges are being built today in comparison with 100 years or even 150 years ago?

John Stupp is the president of the company and R. Philip Stupp, Jr. Is our executive vice president. They are cousins and great-great grandsons of Johann. Three members of the sixth generation are currently working for the company.

Stupp began building bridges in the 1880s.  Most of the bridges Stupp fabricated in this time frame were less than 100 foot in individual span lengths.  The majority of the bridges were truss bridges.  The vertical elements of truss bridges are top chords, bottom chords, vertical and diagonal struts.  These components form panels and the completed panels span the crossing.  Horizontal members tie the two trusses together and support the roadway. Thru trusses, deck trusses, and pony trusses are three types of bridges that made up the majority of our contracts during the period.  Railroad bridges and highway bridges were our primary bridge products.

In 1902 Stupp moved to a much larger plant and began building much larger structures (longer spans require larger structures)  Trusses remained a dominant bridge type for another 100 years.  Our expanded capabilities allowed us to build arch bridges, long span railroad bridges, and moveable bridges.  Categories of moveable bridges include bascule, swing span, and lift.  Rolled beams (wide flange) were introduced by Carnegie Steel and then mass marketed by Bethlehem Steel around the turn of the century.  Their use greatly reduced the cost of short span bridges and these are known as rolled beam bridges. 

Plate girder bridges became cost effective and widely used after welding was perfected in the 1950’s.  Prior to then riveting plates together with angles was the preferred method.  Today plate girder bridges make up over 80% of the steel bridge market.  Plate girder bridges are the only bridge type that Stupp manufacturers since 1999.

Photo by James Baughn

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To learn more about Stupp Brothers, click onto the link here and read more about it.

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