Mystery Bridge Nr. 38: The Aqueducts of Rome

Aqua Alexandrina in Rome. Source:

If one ties this article in with the Mystery Bridge article about the aqueduct in Ravenna, Italy, then one should consider this part II in the search for information and answers to the role of Theoderich the Great in restoring the architecture and infrastructure during his regime. As mentioned briefly in the article about the Ravenna Aqueduct, the Ostrogoth leader defeated and later murdered Odoacre in 493 to become the second king of Italy. His predecessor had established the Italian kingdom after dethroning the last emperor of the Western Roman Empire, Romulus Augustus, son of Orestes, in 476 and held power until his death, but not before having a tumultuous last four years through war with the Ostrogoth. Theoderich ruled until his death in 526, and left a legacy that is disputable in the books. Architecturally, he spearheaded the construction of basilicas and other monuments- mostly in Ravenna, but also in other cities, like Rome and Verona.

Yet, as we saw in the article about Ravenna, he also led efforts to restoring the infrastructure- in particular, aqueducts. The question is: apart from the Ravenna aqueduct, what other aqueducts did he build?

Let’s look at the ones in Rome, for instance. Situated on the Tiber River, the present-day Italian capital once had a central network of aqueducts, which channeled water into and around the walled city from the Mediterranean Sea. 11 of them totaling over 320 kilometers were constructed between 312 BC with the Aqua Appia and 226 AD  with the Aqua Alexandrina (as shown in the picture above). Restoration of the viaducts started in the third century AD to improve the flow of water into Rome, but was interrupted with the invasion of the Germanic Tribes beginning in the 4th Century, at the time of the partition of the Roman Empire into East and West in 395. As they did throughout the region, the invaders destroyed the aqueducts and other forms of infrastructure until the Western Empire ceased to exist in 476.

Restoration did not start again until Theoderich the Great took power. Like in the times before 476, the infrastructure was the responsibility of the local governments and private residents, for the Italian kingdom was in a transition phase and did not have enough money available to reestablish itself and its institutions. Theoderich was very conservative in his plans to rebuild the infrastructure and chose the most important areas first for development: namely, Ravenna and Rome, but also in Verona and other smaller cities. While Ravenna was very important for him, and it was important to supply clean water to a city surrounded by marshland, his focus was also on restoring the aqueducts in Rome. While he had provided support to the local government to rebuild the aqueducts, he hastened the process in ca. 509 due to political corruption and other delays.

Many sources, written between 1980 and 1995 have not mentioned much about which aqueducts were restored during Theoderich’s era, and some even credited Belisarius for restoring key aqueducts after he captured Rome in 538, 12 years after Theoderich’s death. This was part of the plan of East Roman emperor Justinian to drive the Ostrogoths away from Italy and recapture parts of the lost land of the Roman Empire. Yet more information has come to light as to how the Ostrogoth restored the aqueducts during his 33-year reign over Italy, and therefore, as part of the project on the restoration of the infrastructure in Italy during Theoderich’s regime, the question is:

Which aqueducts in Rome were restored during Theoderich’s regime and who engineered these restoration efforts?

What other forms of infrastructure (not just aqueducts but also roads, bridges and canals) did Theoderich oversee in restoring for reuse for the population living in Italy?

Place your comments here or send the info via e-mail to the Chronicles at Other contact info can be found in the article on Ravenna’s aqueduct, where some information  is being sough about this one as well. You can click here to view the article. Any articles and leads on the infrastructure in Rome and Italy during Theoderich’s regime will be most helpful in completing this project.



Mystery Bridge 31: Thacher Truss Railroad Bridge in Waverly, Iowa

Thacher Truss Bridge in background. Photo courtesy of Luke Harden.
















A few months ago, the Chronicles did a special on the Thacher truss bridges, designed and patented by Edwin Thacher and first used in 1884 in the state of Iowa. To refresh the reader’s memory, the Thacher truss is a combination of Warren, Kellogg and Pratt truss with an A-frame in the center panel of each truss span. While the Wrought Iron Bridge was reported to have built these trusses, using the exact design prescribed by Thacher, the King Bridge Company built the hybrid version of the design that resembled a Warren truss bridge with a center panel that is half the length of the outer panels.  If you count in the Phillips Mill Crossing in Rockford, the pony truss variant located west of Milford and the three hybrid Thachers in Emmet County, Hamlin County (South Dakota) and near Hastings, Minnesota, a total of ten Thachers were reported to have been built.

With this mystery bridge, as seen in the picture, let’s make it eleven Thachers.

Fellow pontist Luke Harden came across this picture of a Cedar River crossing in Waverly. According to the information, the bridge (which is in the background behind the wagon bridge) served the Chicago and Great Western Railroad and featured at least three spans of the Thacher truss. The bridge was about 400-500 feet long, looking at the picture more closely, with each truss span being about 120 feet long. The bridge served traffic until a train derailment brought down the entire structure in 1914.

Collapse of the bridge in 1914. Photo courtesy of Hank Zaletel

This means that the structure was in place for no longer than 30 years. Even more curious is the fact that the trusses were built using a combination of wood and steel, making the railroad bridge look rather unusual for the materials used for bridge construction. While bridge builders used iron and wood for construction in the 1860s and 1870s, it is even rarer to see a wooden truss bridge built using steel truss support, although one is reported to exist in Allamakee County in the Red Bridge (abandoned for over four decades).

While the bridge no longer exists- a replacement was built but only existed for another 30 years before the railroad abandoned the line and removed the bridge- piers from the structure can be seen from Adams Parkway Bridge, located next to it in the northeast end of the city. Yet more information about the bridge is needed. For instance: when exactly was the bridge built? What were the exact dimensions? Who built this bridge? And lastly what was the cause of the mishap. Any information on the bridge can be submitted using various channels including the comment section of the Chronicles.

Furthermore, information is needed for the Adams Parkway Bridge, for the two-span truss bridge existed before its replacement in 1968, yet its markings is similar to a bridge built by the Clinton Bridge Company at the turn of the century, including the portal bracings. Both bridges will be included in the Iowa Truss Bridge book, which is being compiled by the author even as this article is being posted. Any information would be much appreciated.

With this latest discovery, it leads to the question of how many other Thacher truss bridges were built in Iowa, let alone in other parts of the US. We’ll find out more as other pontists and people finding old photos will bring bridges like this one to the attention of the readers and other interested people alike.


Mystery Bridge Nr. 28: Unusual Swing Bridge in Virginia

Photo submitted by Nathan Holth. Source: History of Nansemond County

Swing bridges have become a rare commodity on our roads today. Built using a center pier designed to turn the span at a 90° angle, most of them were built using mostly Howe, Lattice, Baltimore or even Warren trusses. There are many examples of such bridges that used to exist but have long become a distant memory, like the Hojack Swing Bridge in Rochester, New York, The Willis Avenue Bridge in New York City, The Inver Grove Heights Swing Bridge south of Bloomington and the Burlington Railroad Bridge. The engineers who built these bridges during the heyday of industrialization (1870- 1920) went out of their way to make the swing bridges not only functional for horse and buggy to use and to allow ships to pass, but also appealing to tourists and later historians and preservationists.

This bridge in the city-state of Suffolk, Virginia is another example of an appealing swing bridge that has long since been demolished. Judging by the picture submitted by Nathan Holth, this bridge appears to have been built of iron and has one of two designs: 1. A pair of kingpost truss spans supported by a central panel consisting of two pairs of vertical towers with light weight diagonal beams holding the trusses made of heavier iron together or 2. a Camelback truss bridge whose center panel is thinner and lighter than the two outer panels. In either case, the bridge was a hand-powered swing bridge, used to allow boats to pass. It is similar to another photo that was submitted by the same person but located at Reed’s Ferry in Virginia.

Photo submitted by Nathan Holth

The problem with both bridges is threefold. First of all, while the designs are similar to each other, it is unknown who designed and built the bridges, let alone when they were constructed, except to say that for the last question, it appears that the period between 1875 and 1895 would best fit for iron was used often for bridge construction before it was supplanted by steel after 1890.

Also unknown is the location of the swing bridge, for in the top picture, it was claimed that it was located in Everet’s, whereas in the bottom photo, it was located at Reed’s Ferry. It should be confirmed that Everet’s was located in Nansemond County, which was subsequentially absorbed into the city-state of Suffolk in 1974. While Suffolk has a total population of 1.7 million inhabitants as of present (including 87,000 in the city itself), its land size is the largest in the United States and is larger than the German states of Hamburg, Berlin and Bremen, as well as the Vatican City and Monaco combined! Given the village’s absorption, it is unknown whereabouts it was located when it existed prior to the 1970s.

Perhaps it may have something to do with the fact that many streams in the city-state were dammed and henceforth, lakes were created as a result. While the Nansemond River flows through Suffolk, as many as five lakes and reservoirs were created, which meant that bridges like this one were either removed before the projects commenced, or were inundated and the bridge parts have long since rusted away. In either case, there are many questions that need to be resolved for this unique bridge, namely:

1. When did Everet’s and Reed’s Ferry exist?

2. When were the bridges in their respective communities were built and who built them?  When were they removed?

3. When was the Nansemond River dammed and the lakes created?

All information on the two bridges should be directed in the Comments section of James Baughn’s website by clicking on the name Everet’s Bridge. You can also add any information on Reed’s Ferry Bridge in the Comment section if you have any that will be helpful.


Fast Fact:

The Nansemond County portion of the city-state of Suffolk has a unique history of its own, as it was named after Nansemond, a native American tribe who lived along the river at the time of the arrival of the English colonists in Jamestown in 1607. Under the name of New Norfolk County, it became one of the oldest counties in the US, having been established in 1636. After being divided into Upper and Lower Norfolk in 1637, the Upper portion became Nansemond County in 1646 with the county seat later being Suffolk (it was established in 1742 and was a county seat eight years later). It remained a county seat until Suffolk and Nansemond became a city-states in 1972. Interesting note was the fact that Suffolk had been an independent city from 1910 up to then. Subsequentially Nansemond became part of the city-state Suffolk two years later. A city-state in this case means that even though it is part of the Commonwealth of Virginia, it is an independent city, having its own government and laws as well as responsibilities for its infrastructure, education system, and the like. Virginia still supports Suffolk with funding, but has little influence on the activities of the city-state, making it similar to the aforementioned city-states, as well as the Spanish state of Catalonia, which is much larger than Suffolk.



Mystery Bridge Nr. 26: Unusual Truss Bridge in Iowa

Portal and overhead view. Photos taken by John Marvig

Have you come across an unusual bridge while travelling or bridgehunting? If so, what did the bridge look like, and did you do some research to determine what bridge type it was? Many engineers came up with rather unusual bridge designs during the age of industrialization between 1850 and 1920 which were experimented on roads and railroads. While most of them were used rarely and have long since been extinct, like the Kellogg truss bridge which was used on the Philips Mill Bridge in Floyd County, Iowa, there are some unusual bridge types that were used and whose examples still exist today, like this bridge.

The Muchakinock Creek Bridge, located in Mahaska County, Iowa between Oskaloosa and Eddyville, carries the Union Pacific line on a single track and is one of a handful of through truss bridges whose design is rather unique for a short-span crossing. Built in 1901 by the Phoenix Iron Works Company of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, the bridge features a V-shaped truss design that is subdivided diagonally and for the center panels, horizontally. It is classified as a Warren through truss, though when looking at it closely, it could be perceived as a Pratt through truss with subdivided connections. Even weirder is the upper chord of the through truss span, where instead of featuring sway bracings resembling a Howe truss design, it features bracings resembling the subdivided kingpost truss bridge, similar to the one located at Schonemann Park south of Luverne, Minnesota.  A diagram produced by John Marvig shows the unusual configuration:










Two of the four known bridges that are built using this unusual truss configuration are located along this line. The other two are located over Miller Creek in Monroe County along an abandoned railroad. It is obvious that this truss type was used for short crossings as each bridge averaged four panels and 110 feet in length. But it is unknown not only how many were built between 1890 and 1920 and how many more exist beyond the ones found in Iowa so far.

Example of a bridge of a similar design that existed near Manly in Worth County, Iowa. Photo courtesy of John Marvig

The fabricator, Phoenix Iron Works was famous for its unusual bridge designs, as it constructed the longest viaduct in the world using another unusual truss type, the Fink truss, over Lyon Brook in Chenango County, New York, in 1869. The 830 foot long bridge survived only 25 years and was known infamously for deaths and other haunted stories that occurred there. It was also famous for truss bridges built using the Phoenix column, end posts were built using octagonal sides, as shown in this picture. This contributed to the company producing a spin-off in the Phoenix Bridge Company, which existed from 1883 until 1962 and was responsible for building many key bridges, including the Manhattan Bridge in New York City and the Walnut Street Bridge in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The Iron Works has ceased production in Phoenixville since 1984 but the facilities are being transformed into other uses including designating some as historic sites.

For many reasons, the Chronicles needs your help. If you know of any bridges that feature similar designs like the ones found in Iowa as well as the dates of construction, etc., please send a line and provide the information. These unusual bridge types are important parts of the history of America’s infrastructure and many of them have a chance to become a historical landmark, as well as a key component to bike trails that will be developed over the next few years, including the crossings along Miller Creek in Monroe County.  Send your info and comments to or drop them off in the Comment section as well as on facebook. History is important and many of these artefacts deserved to be recognized for their unusual designs and the builders who developed them in the first place. That is what the Chronicles is there- research, preserve and teach to future generations about bridges and their role in architectural and transportation history.

K-Truss Bridge

Before I go into the topic on K-truss bridges, the second of many to come in a series on unusual bridge designs, I would like to tell you how I managed to come across this bridge, located over the Monongahela River near the town of Speers in western Pennsylvania. I did a paper on this subject during my time of my Master’s studies at the University of Jena in eastern Germany and sent out a request on the topic of K-truss bridges to the Bridge Mafia, as Eric DeLony coined it- a group of hundreds of bridge experts with a vast knowledge of bridges, history and preservation.  Already I knew of the number of K-trusses that existed in Oklahoma, according to Wes Kinser’s website on Oklahoma’s historic truss bridges. Yet I did not know that there was a bridge like this, built in the 1920s carrying the Wabash-Erie Railroad. Given its proximity to the I-70 Belle Vernon Bridge located right next to it, combined with many problems trying to get to the bridge for the best shot, I took the chance and hugged the pier of the I-70 Bridge, sliding and creeping around with my body literally glued to it and with almost no space to turn around. Fellow pontists Nathan Holth and Luke Gordon, who were bridgehunting with me at that time, were at the scene and the photos speak for themselves.

KTruss 1
The following two photos were taken by Nathan Holth
K-truss 2
Arriving at Destination: Ready, set, snap!


According to Kara Russell at PennDOT, this bridge is the only one left in the state, and one of only a couple left in the country, whereas the K-truss bridges seen on the roadways in the country are solely through trusses. But what makes a K-truss so unique?  It is clear that the truss type is a cross between a Parker and a Pennsylvania petit but feature two subdivided diagonal beams per panel that meet at the center of the vertical beam, featuring the letter “K” in the alphabet. There are two types of K-trusses that exist: one that features the subdivided beams going outwards away from the center of the span, creating a rhombus shape at the center of the span, as seen in the bridge at Speers. Yet the other type features subdivided beams going inwards, towards the center of the span, creating the letter “X”.  This truss design is one of three that feature diagonal beams resembling a letter in an alphabet. The other two are the Warren (with the W-shape) and the Howe lattice or double-intersecting Warren, which feature the letter X. Technically, a two-panel Warren truss design, resembling the letter V also counts in the mix.

Close-up oblique view of the K-truss as seen with the Speers Railroad Bridge. Note, like the bridges in Oklahoma and Tennessee, the connections on this bridge are riveted.


Example of the first type of K-truss that exists, except the Speers Bridge has a sub-divided Rhombus shape


Little is known about the K-truss bridge design except to mention that it was invented by Phelps Johnson of the Dominion Bridge Company in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. According to information collected to date, the K-truss came into existence in the United States during the age of Standardization in the 1920s. During that time, fancier but structurally deficient truss designs, such as the Thacher, Kellogg and Whipple trusses, were either phased out or modified with heavier truss beams and riveted connections with the goal of handling heavier volumes of traffic. Apart from the bridge near Speers, Tennessee and Louisiana were the first two states that introduced and built K-trusses in the 1920s and 30s.  Oklahoma began to adopt this truss design in the mid-1930s but its construction reached its peak during the 1940s and 50s.  As many as 54 of these K-truss bridges were reportedly built in that state during that time period, three out of four of which are still standing today, making it the state with the highest number of K-trusses. Bridges featuring the K-truss include:

Washita Bridge in Johnston County

Salt Creek Bridge in Osage County

Ralston Bridge

Alaska is the youngest state to implement the usage of K-trusses, as five bridges were built along the two main highways (Parks and Richardson) with the longest being a three-span 1300-foot bridge near Nenana (the main span being 500 feet).  Each of the five bridges were built between 1966 and 68 and are still in use.  And lastly, K-trusses were used on cantilever truss spans, including the Savanna-Sabula Bridge spanning the Mississippi River between Iowa and Illinois. Built in 1932 by the Minneapolis Bridge Company, the Sab-Sav served traffic until a replacement bridge, a through arch built alongside the structure, was opened to traffic in 2017. On March 8, 2018, the old bridge was demolished.

The Sab-Sav Bridge before its replacement came along. Photo taken in January 2015.

Even though Phelps Johnson invented the K-truss, it is unknown when he first used it, for although the first of these trusses were built in the 1920s and 30s, there are reports that K-trusses existes in Europe as well. Two bridges in Germany carry the same truss design and appear to be either as old as the earliest of these truss bridges in the US, if not older. This includes the Rhine River crossing near Mainz at the junction of the Main and Rhine Rivers. The other is a railroad bridge in Passau, spanning the Danube River, connecting the town with an industrial district in Austria. Both bridges carry rail traffic but the Mainz crossing is one of the heaviest used bridges in the greater Frankfurt area, for it serves regional and long distance train services connecting Mainz and Wiesbaden with Frankfurt and its international airport. It is possible that both bridges may have been built after World War II replacing previous structures that were destroyed by Allied bombings. Yet given the pristine condition of the towering portal entries in Mainz combined with the wear and tear of the trusses, it is possible that both these bridges may have existed before the war and somewhat survived the war in tact.   Ironically, while K-truss bridges are no longer being built in the US, they are still being used in Europe and elsewhere as an alternative to more expensive bridge types, such as arch and suspension bridges. This includes the Novi Sad Bridge in Serbia (built in 2000), The Tamur River Bridge in Dharan in Nepal (built in the 1980s), and The Ganga River Bridge in Patna, India (currently being built).

This takes us back to the deck truss railroad bridge near Speers, which is still being used for rail traffic even as this is being posted. While Phelps Johnson invented the truss bridge design, questions remain when the first bridge was built using the design and where. It is impossible to invent the truss type during the time he was alive (he was born in 1849) and not use it, like the other engineers had done with theirs, including the Thacher Truss as seen in the article here.  It is possible that despite a handful of bridges being built in his time that the truss bridge design was shelved for a few decades before being rediscovered and modernized during the age of Standardization in the 1920s, in which it made its comeback through the 1960s before jumping overseas. But more information is needed to answer the questions, mainly:

1. When exactly did Phelps Johnson invent the K-truss bridge? When and where was it first used?

2. When was the K-truss rediscovered and used again during the age of Standardization? (Note: pending on which state, the age started around 1915 and lasted until World War II)

3. Apart from the ones in the United States, where else have K-trusses been used in Europe, Asia and elsewhere and why are they used more commonly there?

4. What do we know about Phelps Johnson and his work as engineer and bridge builder? He had worked for the Wrought Iron Bridge Company prior to taking the presidency at the Dominion Bridge Company.

Any information pertaining to the K-truss can be submitted via e-mail, but also through facebook and LinkedIn. Who knows how many more K-trusses are/were out there but we do know that they were and are still popular for bridge construction. It is just a matter of finding out when it was used and why the design was on hiatus. Good luck with the research and that stunt I told you about: Don’t do this at home. We’re die hard professionals that have a passion for finding the truth and beauty behind these artifacts, no matter what the cost…

N Holth
Photo taken from the pier of the Belle Vernon I-70 Bridge in Speers

It was a good thing that Nathan Holth (pictured here) still had photos of my daring act and sent me a few to be used in the article (I’d had a couple from him earlier that disappeared with an old computer that crashed after the Historic Bridge Weekend in Pittsburgh) and would like to thank him for providing me with the spares to be used and saved for story-telling purposes. 

Another round of thanks goes to the Bridge Mafia for their help in obtaining the K-truss info so far and to Kara Russell at PennDOT for mentioning the Speers Bridge.


bhc 10th anniversary logo alt

Mystery Bridge 18: The Bridges of Quedlinburg, Germany

Adelheidbruecke overview. Photo taken in December 2012

Located at the foot of the Harz Mountains on the north side in Saxony-Anhalt, Quedlinburg with a population of 24,000 inhabitants may be a typical small town, which like its counterparts, used to have industry during the Communist era before the Revolution of 1989 and German reunification in 1990, but is suffering from demographic changes. Yet it is one of the most famous tourist attractions in Germany for various reasons. It was founded in 922 and much of the architecture that exists today- the castle complex (founded by Henry Fowler and built by Otto the Great in 936), the Quedlinburg Abbey (founded by Fowler’s widow, Saint Mathilda), and streets upon streets of Fachwerk houses (houses built with a wooden truss skeleton- date back to the period between 922 and the 1600s. It survived almost entirely unscathed in World War II and this contributed a great deal to being nominated as part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.  During Christmas time, Quedlinburg hosts the Advent market, held every weekend. Winter sports festivals take place in February, and the town is one of the main tourist attractions in the summer time.

As Quedlinburg is situated along the Bode River, which starts in the Harz Mountain region and empties into the Elbe near Magdeburg, and has several tributaries snaking its way through the historic district, one would think that the town would take pride in their historic bridges, just like its northern German counterpart Friedrichstadt, right?

Think again.

Quedlinburg has over a dozen bridges spanning the Bode River, Word Creek and other tributaries flowing through the town. While many have been replaced over time because of neglect caused by the GDR Government not financing enough to restore them, there are quite a few bridges, whose historic value is high, yet there is no information in terms of its construction date, the builder and any stories that are associated with them. Unlike all the records kept in Quedlinburg, including the Annals started by the Frauenstift (founded by Saint Mathilda), the records on the bridges in town seem to be non-existent, or are they?

The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles needs your help. If you have any information in forms of old records, old photos and stories pertaining to any of the bridges in Quedlinburg, please contact Jason Smith at the Chronicles at: You can include them in the comment section. Information in the German language is also acceptable and the author will be happy to translate it into English.  Once all the information is gathered, a summary and tour of the bridges in this historic town will follow.

To give you a taste of what Quedlinburg has to offer, here is a small gallery of bridges with information to help you start off the search for information on the town’s bridges. As Germans would say, “Vielen Glueck mit dem Jagt.”


Close-up of the Adelheid Bridge. Almost all of the bridges are arches, but this one is unique because of its artwork on the spandrel. Can you identify what that is and where the picture came from? Adelheid Bridge is located over the Bode at the junction of Adelheid and Turnstrasse
Bahnhofsbruecke over the Bode at the train station. This used to be an arch bridge before it was replaced. The abutments and some stone railings were saved and incorporated into the new bridge.
Word Creek crossing at the entrance of the old town from Word Garden. This is near Carl-Ritter-Strasse.



Tracking Down a Bridge’s History Part I: Overview

Chimney Rock Bridge in Winneshiek County, Iowa. Photo taken in September 2009

Researching a historic bridge is like doing genealogical research. You track down your family history, finding out where you originated from, where members of your extended family are located and finding ways to connect with them. One can find out how many (first, second, third, ….) cousins you really have (including the ones that are once or twice removed), while at the same time, travel to some places where your extended parts of your family once resided. My aunt in Minnesota has done a lot of research into my  father’s side of family for about two decades, finding out that several branches of the family once resided in Europe and parts of Africa, including areas in the north and western parts of Germany, like Bingen and Marburg (north of Frankfurt in the state of Hesse) and Oldenburg (both in Schleswig-Holstein and Lower Saxony.) My uncle on my mother’s side of the family managed to trace down the origins of  the family, which was in northern Schleswig-Holstein in the village of Stein (near Kiel), but had branches of the family residing in the northwestern part of Germany and in particular, in North Rhein-Westphalia.
Researching a historic bridge is similar to doing genealogical research in many ways. While one can track down the history of the bridge builders, as Alan King Sloan has done with the history of Zenas King and the King Bridge Company in Ohio, and Fred Quivik has done with the Hewett Family, Commodore Jones and Alexander Bayne, who created the Minneapolis bridge building empire in the early 1900s, it is also possible to track down historic bridges, based on the question of where they originated from.  The reason I posed this question is simple: many historic bridges- in particular, truss bridges- were moved around from place to place. This concept was introduced in the late 1890s but was carried out extensively beginning in the 1920s and 30s as part of cost-cutting measures carried out by local communities and counties. Constructing brand new bridges were too expensive because of the scarcity of materials, like steel, resulting in the increase in prices. Other materials, like wood, were prone to weather extremities, resulting in dry rot and fungi that eat away at the wood. Furthermore they cannot resist floods and ice jams as well as those made of other materials. Relocating truss bridges is easy for they can be dismantled, transported to their destination and reassembled on site, before starting its next life serving a new round of traffic going across it.

One of the more well documented bridges in the US: The Three Sister Bridges in Pittsburgh over the Allegheny River. Named in honor of Roberto Clemente, Andy Warhol and Rachel Carson. All built in 1926. Photo taken in August 2010

Speaking from personal experience, tracking down the history of a bridge can be blessing if the structure had its service life in one place. However, when it is relocated from place to place, it can be a curse, for once the structure is moved out of the county, chances are most likely that the records are lost forever, either intentionally or through other factors. That is why it is important that when tracing down a bridge’s history, you have to have a fond knowledge of history and geography, a good memory and ability to do the math and put the pieces of the puzzle together, and most of all, the passion to do this research and solve the case. While the first few factors can be learned, if you do not have the passion for this type of structural genealogical research, then it will not be fun at all. I have compiled a few simple steps that will help you trace the bridge’s history starting from when and where it was first built, followed by the question of if and how many times it was relocated, all the way up to whether it still serves traffic or was replaced through modernization with the structure being scrapped or recycled for the next modern bridge to be built.
Step 1: Check out the records that are on file through state and county agencies: Most agencies will have bridge files (also known as inspection reports) available based on the bridge numbering system that was adopted and used for inspection and research purposes. 99% of the time, each file will have a photo of the structure as well as the date of construction. Nine times out of ten, there will be records and photos of the previous structures- the ones that had previously served traffic before they were replaced. There are two issues that should be taken into account: 1. Not all bridges have records dating back to when it was originally built, let alone when it was relocated. In other words, missing information.  That means if there is a bridge built in the 1950s, even though the design was no longer used on the roadways at that time, chances are that the bridge was imported from another region. A classic example of a bridge that falls into that category is the Chimney Rock Bridge in Winneshiek County, Iowa. Records showed it being relocated to its present site in 1952, yet the bridge was originally built in 1906 by the Continental Bridge Company in Chicago. More information can be found here through an essay written in 2007. In some cases, even in state historic bridge inventories, there are estimated dates of construction even though in all reality, the bridge existed before that date.  In some cases if there is no further evidence to support the construction date, you have to refer to other sources of information to determine whether the date is correct and if not, when exactly it was built and where.  The second issue is the fact that not all records of structures that were replaced with present structures are kept on file. Some agencies prefer to discard the files once the replacement bridge is open to traffic. The fortunate part is the fact that in the past 35 years, state and county agencies have done a better job of keeping these files available to the public, allowing people to access them for their own purposes. Yet up to the early 1970s, the practice of eliminating old records was well-known for there was little interest in preserving historic bridges at that time. The exception to the rule:  areas that were not only heavily populated with historic bridges but also had detailed records of their history, like the cities of Chicago, Pittsburgh, Minneapolis-St. Paul and New York City, for example.  Regardless of how detailed the information is, bridge files provided by the state and local governments is the starting point for your research.
Steps 2 and 3: The next two steps are the most time consuming tasks but also crucial ones. You need to look through the newspapers, court records and other documents to determine the following: 1. Whether the data provided on the bridge files is correct, 2. If the bridge is imported from another region, where exactly did it come from, 3. How was the bridge constructed and 4. If the location of the bridge matches that of what is in the bridge files you received from the agencies. For this, you need to look through as much materials as they are available, especially newspapers, as many libraries and museums have them in archives. You need to plan in days, if not weeks to trace through the archives of one or two newspapers serving one community or region. Sometimes, you have to read through the archived papers twice or three times to make sure the information is accurate. In the case that the bridge is imported from outside, travel may be required if the place of origin is determined. The same procedure applies to other documents, such as city and county records, bridge company records, as well as records from transportation entities, such as railroad companies, etc. One should have a series of maps available to trace the location of the bridge; especially if a bridge was imported from outside, it is important to pinpoint not only its location in the present, but also in the past, regardless of how many times it was relocated. There are many examples of historic bridges that were relocated more than once but research was needed to track down its history, namely through newspapers and maps. The most recent was the Mulberry Creek Bridge, which the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles wrote an article about recently. You can view the article here.

Durrow Road Bridge in Linn County, Iowa. Photo taken in August 2011

Step 4: Also useful are postcards and oral sources. Postcards with pictures and images of historic bridges can help a person fit the description with the bridge being researched, even though they can become blurry and difficult to see with age. Oral resources in the form of people associated with building the bridge as well as residents living near the bridge can help the researcher by providing some facts about the building of the bridge and its association with the area. It can be an interesting experience when they tell some stories that can be useful for the project. This was the case during a visit at the Durrow Road Bridge in Linn County, Iowa in August 2011, when I found that the 1920s truss bridge was brought in to replace a wooden stringer bridge in 1949 and was named after a century old farmstead located just 300 feet away. The bridge still serves traffic and has been well maintained.
Step 5: Once you have all the information gathered and exhausted all your resources for gas, travel and copies, you can start putting the information together in chronological order from the time the bridge was constructed for the very first time all the way to the present, putting in the right order the time and place where the bridge was relocated, and adding stories to help fill out the bridge’s history. One will find the story of a bridge’s life more interesting as the pieces of the puzzle come together.

South River Bridge in Warren County. Photo taken in August 2011. This is one of many bridges that was built in the 1950s but is rich in information through records and newspaper articles.

Should you run into problems with putting the pieces together, sometimes it is useful to spread the word through media sources. The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles is the latest of a handful of websites that has helped researchers by informing the public of bridges, whose information is lacking, not just in a form of mystery bridges- bridges with no information on its place of origin but was relocated to its present site, but also bridges that have existed for many years but are missing the stories and history that makes them potential candidates to be recognized on the state and national levels. James Baughn has a list of photos of mystery bridges on his website, with no information of their places of origin, submitted by various people. The same is with Todd Wilson of Bridgemapper, even though the website focuses mainly on pinpointing the location of the bridges with some basic information on some of them. In either case, informing the people through the use of media, including social media, can encourage new contacts with people with information on the bridge you are researching about, which can help you complete your research in the long run.

Heron Road Bridge over the Volga River in Fayette County, Iowa. This is one of many bridges that was replaced (this one in the 1970s) but has not been researched properly. This one has potential to be historically significant. Photo taken in August 2011. This one is used as a background photo for this website.

Why is tracing a bridge’s history really important nowadays? Many of the historic bridges are being taken off the highway system by the dozens- either through demolition and replacement, abandonment, or conversion into a recreational bridge- for they have reached the end of their service lives as a vehicular bridge. While states have carried out their research since the 1980s and have renewed the bridge inventories recently, there have been some discrepancies in terms of information that is either inaccurate, missing or both. Part of it has to do with the lack of funding and time to conduct the research. Another has to do with the lack of willingness of some agencies and people to share the information on the bridge’s history, fearing that they could be considered historically significant. As a result, many find ways to avert Section 106 4f of the Historic Preservation Act of 1966, requiring all historic bridges (both listed and eligible) to undergo a mitigation study to document the history of the structure, determine the environmental impact of the bridge replacement project and find alternatives to bridge replacement. Such aversion had worked up to the last decade, but calls have gotten louder by preservationists and other interested groups to review and revise the documentations done on their bridge to determine their historic significance, respect the policies regarding historic bridge preservation versus replacement, and consider preservation for future use.  This is one of the important pieces of the puzzle and one that can potentially save more bridges than destroying them and with that their history.
Running parallel to the need to preserve historic bridges by redoing the inventory, the interest in historic bridges through literature has increased over the past 15 years. Thanks to the likes of Mary Costello, who wrote a two-volume set on the bridges over the Mississippi River, James Cooper, who wrote a book on the bridges of Indiana and the people at the Institution of Civil Engineering at Milton-Keynes near Oxford (England), who wrote a 10-volume set on the bridges in the United Kingdom and all of Ireland, many people are jumping on the bandwagon and writing about the historic bridges in their regions, which includes info-tracking them to find out more about their history. The trend will increase over the next five years, as pontists, photographers, locals and writers will continue to churn out more materials on historic bridges, whose information will be more accurate than the information provided in previous bridge studies. Therefore it is important to treat the bridges like you are doing a genealogical study of your own family: each bridge you profile in your project must have its history traced from the present to as far back to the past as history allows it. This includes the possibility that when a bridge you are researching was relocated from another region, traveling to the place where the bridge was first constructed may be a necessity. Such a measure should not be treated as a burden, but one where you can learn a lot along the way.
While there are many examples of bridges that have traveled a long ways from their original starting point to the present, I’ve identified two examples worth noting which can serve as a reference point for you to start your bridge research. These examples can be found in the next article. Happy Bridgehunting!

Mystery Bridges 9 and 10: The bridges of Oregon

The state of Oregon has a lot to offer: Lots of hills and mountains covered with luscious green pine trees and other forms of flora, all lined up along the Snake, Wilamette and Columbia Rivers and its numerous tributaries. And of course, with as many historic bridges as the states of Indiana, Ohio and Iowa. The state has a wide variety of historic bridges to choose from, regardless of bridge type, builder, age and especially, history. This includes the likes of the St. John’s Bridge in Portland, built in 1931 and spans the Wilamette River. Portland, the state’s largest city, has as many historic bridges as the number of bridges total in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis-St. Paul).   There are the bridges that carry the famous coastal highway US 101, such as the Astoria-Megler Bridge over the Columbia River in Astoria and the Yaquina Bay Bridge in Newport.
It is also not a surprise that with as many bridges (both built prior to and after 1945) as the state has, that one needs to document them to find out more about their historic backgrounds and determine their significance to the state’s history. The Oregon Department of Transportation (DOT) conducted their bridge inventory and research in the 1980s and has started renewing its bridge inventory  recently, finding some historic bridges that have some holes to fill in their historic background. This is where Rebecca Burrows of Oregon DOT needs your help. There are two bridges that she brought up to my attention while I was away on vacation. Both of them have records claiming that they were built in the 1950s, yet judging by their aesthetic appearance, they were most likely relocated to their present spots. A summary of both are presented below, each accompanied with photos taken by Michael Goff, also from Oregon DOT.
Bridge 9:
Name: Deer Creek Bridge
Location: Deer Creek carrying Oregon Hwy. 82 in Wallowa County
Bridge type: Polygonal Warren pony truss with riveted connections but alternating vertical beams resembling a panel with an A-frame
Built (or relocated): 1964
Length: 112 feet

One can discuss about this bridge as if determining whether the glass is half full or half empty. On the one hand, it is possible that truss bridges like this one were built during this time as steel was still plentiful and counties found ways to construct bridges that were affordable and appealing to the scenery surrounding it. Some examples of such bridges include:  a pair of bridges over the Arkansas River in Chaffee County, Colorado, built in the early 1990s. However it is possible that the bridge was relocated to this site from another part of the state because such truss designs were becoming rare, and most standardized bridge designs built after 1930 required vertical beams. Recent findings (including a plaque of the people involved in the construction of the bridge appear that the bridge was built between 1905 and 1925.  In either case, the bridge is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places because of its design. However, more information on the bridge’s history- in particular determining whether the bridge was relocated here or not- is needed in ensure that the truss bridge is not converted into a pile of scrap metal, as the bridge is up for replacement at the time of this posting.


Photo taken by Michael Goff, used with permission
Photo taken by Michael Goff, used with permission

Bridge 10:
Name: Cobleigh Road Bridge
Location: Big Butte Creek carrying Cobleigh Road near Eagle Point in Jackson County
Bridge type: Parker through truss bridge with riveted connections and  3-rhombus Howe lattice portal bracing with sub-divided heel bracing
Built (or relocated): 1954
Length: 200 feet (main span); 300 feet (total length)
Unlike the previous bridge, it is very obvious that this through truss bridge was relocated here for two reasons: 1. With a width of 16 feet, it would fall short of the requirements of having a bridge with a width of at least 28 feet, as the states introduced these requirements in the 1950s. And 2. The portal bracing would fail to meet the minimum vertical clearance requirements that were being enforced at that time, which was at least 15 feet high. In fact, beginning in the 1950s, highway through truss bridges with low vertical clearance and whose portal bracing had knee bracing were retrofitted to ensure that the vertical clearance requirements were met. This included replacing the portal bracing with those that are a third as deep as the original and cutting off the heel bracing. None of this was done on this bridge. Judging by the portal bracing and the riveted connections, it appears that the bridge was built between 1915 and 1925,  at the time when standardized truss bridges with riveted connections were introduced, making pinned connected truss bridges obsolete. What makes the bridge look younger is the recent paint job that was done on the bridge, making it look like it was built in the late 1930s.  This leads to the question of where this bridge originated from. While newspaper articles may help solve the mystery, people closest to the bridge are perhaps the most important source, for many of them may still be alive to explain the story of the bridge.


Photo taken by Michael Goff, used with permission
Detail view of the riveted connections. Photo taken by Michael Goff, used with permission
Close-up of the portal bracing. Photo taken by Michael Goff, used with permission
Photo taken by Michael Goff, used with permission

Those with information on the two bridges should contact Rebecca Burrow and/or Michael Goff, who will be all ears with regards to any stories and articles that you have. You can also contact Jason Smith at the Chronicles, who will update you on the status of the bridges once the mystery of these bridges is solved. The contact details are below:

Rebecca Burrow:

Michael Goff:

The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles:

The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles brings people and history together, bridging the past and the future by providing people in the present with information on historic bridges in the US, Europe and elsewhere. It is available through, and now through facebook, twitter, LinkedIn and flickr.


Now taking mystery bridge photos and articles/ campaigns to save historic bridges

Ft. Atkinson Bridge in Winneshiek County, Iowa









While the author has been busy profiling some of the historic bridges, providing readers with tours of areas with high numbers of historic bridges, following up on preservation attempts on many, writing about ways to preserve them and digging out some interesting facts on them, or should I say how to find them, there are many historic bridges out there that are threatened with demolition but preservation groups are working to save them and need your help. This includes the Orange Road Bridge in Ohio, the Ft. Atkinson Bridge in Iowa and the Amelia Earhart Bridge in Kansas, just to name a few.

The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles would like to help you bring these historic bridges to the attention of the readers, with the goal of providing support and addressing the issues involved with these precious vintage structures.

If you are part of an organization that is working to save a historic bridge or know a historic bridge that is threatened with demolition but would like to save it, please provide a short summary of the structure (history, status, etc.) as well as plans for preserving the structure and a couple photos and send them to Jason D. Smith using the following e-mail address: The information will then be posted on the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles, where you will receive some feedback and support for your historic bridge with hopes that you will garner enough support and interest to save the structure.  These articles will be posted starting in September.

In addition to that, the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles is also looking for any mystery bridges that deserve to be posted. If you have a bridge, whose information is missing and would like to know more about its origins, please send the author a photo with some information (including what questions you want solved on this structure) to the above-mentioned address. The mystery bridges will be posted in the Chronicles beginning in September and listed under the heading “Mystery Bridges.” An example of one is found here. Please be aware that these mystery bridges you present must be those that were built in 1945 and earlier.

The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles is a column that brings the past of historic bridges to light, and provides support for preserving historic bridges for future generations to come. After all, historic bridges are relics that deserve our attention.