Rome Bridge Gone!

Photos taken by James Baughn

ROME/SPRINGFIELD, MO-  While flooding has taken its toll on many bridges in the region, another bridge located in Douglas County, Missouri met its end yesterday. Yet the removal was planned. The Rome Bridge was a two-span Pratt through truss bridge featuring a four-rhombus Howe Lattice portal bracings with curved ankle braces. The 102-year old bridge was the product of the Kansas City Bridge Company but was built under the direction of J.H. Murray and Company. Upon completion in 1913, the bridge was 201 feet long (two 100-foot truss spans) and 15 feet wide.

Yet despite its historic significance and its proximity to a nearby park, talks had been underway to replace the bridge for three years because of structural concerns and its age. Attempts were undertaken to convince county officials and a preservation group to take a stand to stop the plans for replacement, part of that was in connection with the successes with the Riverside Bridge, which had been fixed and reopened prior to the unveiling of the plans to tear this bridge down. Unfortunately, to the dismay to many preservationists and locals, the ideas fell on deaf ears as county officials went ahead with the replacement project. With the truss bridge now reduced to a pile of scrap metal, a replacement bridge will take its place, most likely being scheduled for opening to traffic by the end of the year at the earliest. But memories of the bridge will remain and a facebook site (which you can click here) features a gallery of photos and videos of the bridge when it was still in service. There are a pair of videos below, which takes you across the bridge- that is before it was taken down yesterday.


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Riverside Bridge in Ozark Closed Again

Photo taken in August 2011
Photo taken in August 2011

Flood Damage Prompts Immediate Closure; Replacement being Considered

OZARK/ SPRINGFIELD, MISSOURI-  At about this time four years ago, attempts were made to raise funds, sign petitions and collaborate with government authorites to save and repair the Riverside Bridge in Ozark, a 1909 Canton Bridge Company product that has been spanning the Finley River for 106 years, serving as a key crossing to the northwestern part of the city. All these efforts bore fruit as the local road authority allowed for repairs to be made and the bridge to be reopened, all in 2013. These successful attempts garnered state, national and international recognition.

Sadly though, the bridge’s days may be numbered. For the second time in five years, the bridge was closed to all traffic today.  Record setting flooding in the region resulted in much of Ozark and Springfield becoming inundated and bridges being five feet under water. The Riverside Bridge was one of them, as floodwaters washed over the bridge and only the top half of the bridge could be seen. When floodwaters receded, officials from Missouri Department of Transportation inspected the bridge to reveal structural damage to the railings and the lower chords. The bridge will be closed indefinitely until plans are revealed regarding the structure’s future. According to news channels covering the story, it appears that replacement is likely, although both MoDOT and the City of Ozark agree that the historic bridge should be saved, repaired and used again.  The bridge’s closure means it is back to the drawing board for many people who were part of the Save the Riverside Bridge group, led by Kris Dyer, for efforts to save the bridge took 2 years before the city gave the go ahead to rehabilitate and reopen the bridge. With the bridge closed again, the question now has become: “What’s next?”

A video with the interview with the local engineer explains that the repairs are possible but in the long term, replacement may be unavoidable:

Judging by the photos and videos, the damage to the bridge was mainly due to debris slamming into and getting entangled into the bridge. The rest of the structure appears to be in shape. Yet officials would like to see the bridge replaced and the truss bridge relocated. This is in part due to property rights issues around the structure. But suppose instead of replacing the bridge, one can supplant the truss bridge into a concrete bridge, where the trusses lose their function but serve as a decoration, but the concrete bridge would act as the crossing? With several examples existing in places like Indiana and Minnesota, it is an option worth considering. While a new bridge will cost up to $3 million, the cost for such a project will be just as much. Yet one thing is clear, no matter what happens to the bridge, rehabilitating it, replacing it and relocating it, or even placing it onto a concrete bridge, action will be needed to ensure that the next flood will not take out the crossing altogether. That means, a little bit more money will be needed to save the Riverside Bridge.

The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles will keep you informed on the latest developments regarding the Riverside Bridge. Click onto the highlighted links to take you to the bridge, its history and the attempts to save it the first time around.

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Mystery Bridge 37: Truss Bridge in Christian or Greene County (Missouri)?

Photo courtesy of Wayne Glenn

Our next mystery bridge goes back to Missouri, and in particular, Christian County. As you all know, the county is home to Riverside Bridge, winner of the 2013 Ammann Awards for Best Historic Bridge Preservation. Yet the county residents cannot get enough of the historic bridges, as many locals have been digging up old photos and interesting facts about the historic bridges in the region.

This bridge is one of them. Wayne Glenn, a local historian, received this old picture of the bridge from a person with a collection of photos from Ozark, and brought it to the attention of others, including Kris Dyer and other pontists. It’s a through truss bridge, built using a Pratt design and featuring A-frame portal bracings. Judging by the design of the plaques on each portal, there is a debate as to whether it was built by the Wrought Iron Bridge Company or the Canton Bridge Company, both of which are located in Canton, Ohio. Most of the bridges in Christian County were built by CBC between 1904 and 1915, including the Riverside Bridge (which was built in 1909), with only a couple more truss bridges built by the Pioneer Bridge Company of Kansas City, according to James Baughn in an e-mail correspondance with other pontists. Yet, as he added, there is a possibility that the bridge may have been built in Greene County, as a structure similar to the picture above was built by WIBCo in 1896 but was rehabilitated by CBC in 1904, as the former became part of American Bridge Company in 1901. That bridge spanned Clear Creek northwest of Springfield but was replaced in 1991.

Clear Creek Bridge northwest of Springfield. Photo courtesy of HABS/HAER

But looking at the old photo by Glenn, it appeared that it was taken on a Sunday afternoon, when everyone was in their Sunday dress, yet it is unknown when the photo was taken, let alone how the two gentlemen in the photo managed to climb up to the top of the truss structure, as a ladder seemed to be absent. One has to assume that the bridge existed between 1890 and 1910, during the time of the existence of the two Canton Bridge builders. Reason for that was the early usage of steel and the letter-style portal bracings that replaced the ornamental Town lattice type, yet pin-connected trusses were still in extensive use. It would not be until 1910-15 that riveted connections were introduced for truss bridges.

This leads to the following questions:

1. If the photo was taken in or around Ozark, where was this bridge located? Who built the bridge- the Canton companies or Pioneer? It is doubtful that the bridge was a predecessor to the current structures that existed, like the Red, Green or even the Reed Road Bridges, just to name a few. Furthermore, as the characteristics of a CBC Bridge features the X-frame ornaments, as seen on the Riverside Bridge, the old photo featured none of that, leading to the question of whether WIBCo built the bridge but was modified with the replacement of the portal bracings. This leads us to the second question.

2. If the bridge did not come from Ozark, where was it originally built? Was the structure the one at Clear Creek in Greene County, or did it originate elsewhere?

Any information on the part of Glenn and Co. would be very useful. You can provide that at the Chronicles at or Kris Dyer at Christian County prides itself on its history and ways to preserve its heritage. After seeing Riverside Bridge be saved, history is being taken seriously. This includes finding artifacts which serve as pieces of a puzzle that is being put together by the many people who take pride in the county, its history and its heritage.

Riverside Bridge to be repaired and reopened

Photo taken in August 2011

The repairs will short term while a permanent solution is being sought out for the bridge.

After three years of politicking, fund-raising, public speeches and publicity from all sides of the spectrum, residents of Ozark, Missouri and Christian County are celebrating a well-deserved victory, for the Riverside Bridge will be repaired and reopened to traffic in the coming months. The two-span through truss bridge, built 103 years ago by the Canton Bridge Company, was closed to traffic in September 2010 after it failed an inspection and was fenced off to all traffic in March 2011 fearing potential liability issues on the part of the county. However, efforts led by Zach and Kris Dyer and the organization Save the Riverside Bridge, combined with support from pontists from outside Missouri have led to the Christian County Special Roads District to initiate the repairs, which will include repairing the concrete piers and replacing the railings and parts of the bridge deck at the cost of $170,000. When completed in approximately five months, the bridge will be in service with a five ton weight restriction, minus all emergency vehicles that need to cross the structure to get to their destination.

However, these repairs are only temporary, as both the county and the state department of transportation are looking for a permanent solution for the bridge, which will feature building a new structure on a new alignment and handing the bridge over to the bridge preservation group and city for use as a recreational bridge. Already scratched was a proposal to build a low-water crossing by the Special Roads District because of high costs and the structural flaws it would feature, including being inundated by high waters and the potential for it to be undermined and turned over by flood waters (please refer to the Chronicles article here for more details). No matter how the bridge will be built, construction will not start for at least two years due to tie needed to buy the property adjacent to the bridge and to design the new bridge.

This might give Dyer’s organization more breathing room to rake in the funds to make the Riverside Bridge a permanent crossing for bikes and pedestrians. Already, the Save the Riverside Bridge has collected thousands of dollars in support for restoring and reusing the bridge. More and more people have joined the organization via facebook. Fund-raising events have been going on frequently since the beginning of 2011. Support and expertise were provided by bridge experts and enthusiasts from the US, Germany and elsewhere. Even the 2011 Historic Bridge Conference made a stop in Ozark for dinner and presentations that were visited by nearly 100 people including Lou Lapaglia, the County Commissioner.  While the plan to reopen the bridge is a victory for Dyer and Co., the organization knows that it must continue to push for a permanent solution for everyone to be happy with.

And with the Riverside Bridge being part of the National Register of Historic Places, in addition to being an integral part of Christian County’s history and heritage, combined with the support from people from Missouri, the US and around the world, there is a great potential that the Riverside Bridge will become a success story and a poster boy for other projects involving restoring and reusing historic bridges to follow suit.

The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles will keep you informed on the latest with the Riverside Bridge, but would like to congratulate Zach and Kris Dyer and the rest of the Save the Riverside Bridge for their tireless efforts. It is one giant leap towards the ultimate goal and thou shall continue to keep going until the summit is reached and the sun rises to greet a newly restored historic bridge laden with bikes and pedestrians, all saying thank you for a job well done. Keep up the good work.

More on the bridge and the comments can also be found here.


Riverside Bridge Update: The Battle over the Ownership

Riverside Bridge. Photo taken in August 2011

There is usually a problem when it comes to preserving historic bridges and that is the question of ownership and liability. Most of the time agencies and parties involved in a historic bridge in question usually pass the buck (or deferring the responsibility) around until no one wants to take responsibility for the historic bridge because of the fear of being liable for anything that happened on/to the bridge and the potential for lawsuits that would follow.  In many cases, bridges that have been left abandoned for many years are subsequentially removed because no one was either able or willing to take on the burden of ownership for the bridge. Many examples, big and small, come to light, whether it is the Lane Bridge over the Upper Iowa River in Allamakee County, Iowa, which was removed in 2007 for safety concerns, or the Cedar Grove Bridge in Indiana, which the Indiana DOT is pursuing demolition options despite restrictions with regards to preservation laws by the state and opposition by locals wanting the structure saved. Then there is the Bellaire Toll Bridge over the Ohio River in Bellaire and Benwood (in Ohio and West Virginia) which no one wants to take claim for the cantilever truss bridge that has been abandoned for over 20 years and all are collaborating to have this structure removed, if nothing has happened to it already.

Oblique view of the Cedar Grove Bridge in Indiana. Photo courtesy of Tony Dillon

But back in Ozark, Missouri, the situation is much different with the Riverside Bridge. The 1909 structure has been closed since September 2010 and tempers have been flaring up with regards to the future of the bridge, but in a rather different way. Support for saving the bridge has been increasing exponentially since Kris Dyer established the Save the Riverside Bridge Initiative in January 2010. The bridge has received the support from the community and the county. Additional support has come from the outside from the preservationists both within and outside Missouri and many interested people. The county claims ownership of the bridge and has withheld any taxpayer money on the bridge until a solution is found for the bridge.  Yet opposition has come from the Christian County Special Road Commission and its two members, Scott Bilyeu and Keith Robinette. They claim that the bridge falls in its jurisdiction and would like to see it torn down at the earliest possible convenience and replaced with a low-lying crossing, as a cost-effective measure, even using its own funding to carry out the task. This was based on a pair of recent meetings in July, the most pivotal was the one on July 25.
The low-lying crossing is designed to allow water to flow under and over the slab structure supported by piers and constructed just above the river. Two examples of such a low-water crossing can be found at Island Park in Rock Rapids, Iowa. They cross the Rock River with one located at the park’s northeast entrance and the other carries a road from the main park to a nearby dam north of there. The reason why these structures are not used often on roadways are three-fold. First of all, such crossings serve as a dam, hindering the river’s flow and causing flooding and potential erosion upstream. Secondly, if the river level increases, it makes the crossing impossible and even dangerous for those chancing the crossing. And finally, in the case of flooding, such low-water crossings can also be ripped out without noticing. For the low river crossing near the dam at Rock Rapids, the current structure is the second one after the first one was destroyed in a flood, either in 1993 or 2008. These crossings are used for roads that are the least traveled.

Sideview of the low-lying crossing at Island Park in Rock Rapids. Photo taken in August 2009
Remains of a previous low-lying crossing that was destroyed in a flood. This is the one north of Island Park in Rock Rapids. Photo taken in August 2009 This is located right next to the new crossing (as seen in the picture above)

As for the Riverside Bridge, the traffic flow was fairly high at the time of its closing, as the bridge connects Ozark and Fremont Mills to the north. The demand for the bridge to be reopened, or rather have a new bridge built next to the old one with the old one being converted to a pedestrian bridge is high. The problem at the moment is the funding and the location of the new structure. To the west of the bridge is a former restaurant site which is owned by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to the east  there is private property. While FEMA is against the construction of any bridge at the restaurant site, there is opposition from land owners to building the bridge on their site. And according to Missouri DOT, restoring the bridge to serve vehicular traffic is not an option. The option of relocating the two-span truss bridge is not a favorable one but it is open and being considered a last-resort option for the support for keeping the bridge in its place is high.  Then there is the funding issue for no matter what action is taken, the consequence on the funding aspect will be great. The county is dependent on Bridge Replacement Off-system (BRO) funds, which is used for roads and bridges built more than 10 years ago. The Special Roads District’s main motive is to complete the construction of the bridge before the funding is lost and given to other areas in need. It would cost between $150,000 and $300,000 to build a low-lying bridge instead of the $1.7 million bridge, which would be higher and safer, but as Bilyeu claims, the county has no money for.

The main key however is not the funding aspect or where to relocate the bridge, but more of the ownership aspect, as stated in a recent newspaper article from neighboring Springfield. Both the county and the special roads district have separate statutes as to how much funding is allocated and who has the say over the bridges. Yet, according to all sources involved, they contradict each other. The county special roads commission claims the Riverside Bridge is theirs because they are responsible for the structure’s upkeep, yet the county claims ownership over that bridge as well as all of the bridges in Christian County and has the last say over how money can be spent for the bridge. The end result is a potential court battle with all parties sitting on the sidelines while the attorneys battle it out to see who is right.

While each agency, whether it is the state, federal government or local authorities has a statute stating the responsibilities for the infrastructure and how it should be built, kept up and funded, the problem has become a double-edged sword with the Riverside Bridge entering the stage. While many have passed the responsibilities and liabilities onto others to keep themselves from being responsible and taking on the liability issues, this debate is more of agencies fighting to take responsibility over a bridge, an exact opposite of what we had been seeing until most recently. It is unknown how far the debate will go, but it may go pretty far, involving state authorities and even the federal government, but no matter how the county and the courts decide, it may have implications in other counties in Missouri and beyond as to who has the final word over the ownership of the bridges and how they are maintained and/or preserved. For some preservation groups, it may be a blessing if a historic bridge is in a county and the commissioner is keen on preserving historic bridges. However, if a historic bridge is in a county, like Franklin County, where the county officials disregard the historic integrity of the structure and the preservation laws that exist to protect it, it could be fatal. And if the logic of having a cheap bridge, like a low-lying crossing to cross a river exists, the county could be paying more of a price if flooding takes it out- and at the expense of life.

Note: Franklin County is where the Enoch’s Knob Bridge is located. Officials have signed-off on the bridge and is now the responsibility of a demolition contractor, who will tear it down and replace it with a concrete bridge. The project is expected to begin as soon as possible. An article on the bridge can be found here.

Riverside Bridge update.

Photo taken in August 2011


Last August, the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles did a tour of the bridges of Missouri as part of the 2011 Historic Bridge Conference, which included tours of the bridges of St. Louis, Kansas City and some in central and western parts of the state. Among the stops was Ozark in Christian County, where a two-span Pratt through truss bridge, the Riverside Bridge, built in 1909 by the Canton Bridge Company, was the focus of preservation efforts by a local group headed by Kris Dyer to save the structure. A fundraising event took place during the Conference, where over 80 people attended the event.

Almost a year later, changes have taken place and still there is no end in sight regarding the bridge and its future. Why is that?  Ms. Dyer was grateful enough to keep all those interested informed on the latest on this bridge and here is the update as seen right now:

Change in Contractors:

The most glaring change was the fact that Matthews and Associates, which was contracted by the county to submit a plan to replace the Riverside Bridge, was let go in March as the project came to a standstill due to lack of funding. The county had approved spending of up to $500,000 in fixing nine bridges but sadly, did not have enough funds from the federal government as both the Republicans and the Democrats in Washington were deadlocked on a bill that would authorize spending on the next five years. Even if the bill was passed, it is unclear how much the state would receive, let alone Christian County. Currently, a stop-gap bill was passed at the end of March by the House to allow construction projects to proceed while the bill is being amended according to recent news. Nevertheless, the process of letting out the contract has started over again which leads to the question of the fate of the Riverside Bridge.

Cannot be fixed; cannot be moved; cannot be demolished:

The cost for replacing the Riverside Bridge will be between $2 and 3 million, regardless of who will build it and where it will be built. Building it on alignments would cut into ownership land on the southeast end of the bridge and land purchased by FEMA (Federal Emergancy Management Agency) at the site of the former Riverside Restaurant. Yet as the bridge is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, demolition is not an option either. Yet the county and the organization vying to save the Riverside Bridge have their backs to the wall due to funding issues combined with legal issues, including liability. To repair the bridge and reopen it to traffic would not be feasible, according to the Missouri Department of Transportation, as the substructure has been worn out beyond repair. Furthermore, the county would have to pay back up to $100,000 to the federal government’s Bridge Replacement Offset Fund, the money that was spent on Matthews and Associate to date.  Should the next contractor be hired to take over, the risk is great that a bridge would have to be built at or right next to the site, as there would be some legal wrangling with FEMA with regards to building on their property, while at the same time, there would have to be some approval from nearby property owners to build a bridge on their property.  Talks of moving the truss bridge onto a neutral site were also considered, but questions remain of where to relocate the bridge and there were some reservations about this plan. To tear it down would not be feasible for the Section 106 Process (assessing the environmental and cultural impact of altering or replacing a historic place) would have to be carried out before funding on the state and federal levels could be approved. And even then, support for saving the Riverside Bridge has increased since the Historic Bridge Conference in August 2011 as thousands have donated their time and (financial) resources to this project and would like to finally see results- meaning the return of the Riverside Bridge to cycle and pedestrian traffic and incorporating it into the local bike trails that are being built in and around Ozark.

Transparency needed:

What has made the situation more frustrating is the lack of transparency between the county and the public on this issue. As of right now, there have not been any public meetings on the project and its progress, and tensions grew to a boil at the last meeting on March 15th when county commissioner Lou Lapaglia announced the plan to terminate the contract with Matthews and Associate and not return the money spent to the federal government. Many people believed that much of the action between the county, the state and the contractor were behind closed doors with little or no public input. The people believe that the only legal and moral way to solving this problem is to return the money and find ways to fixing the bridge so it can be used again. There is hope that with the increase in support for the bridge combined with the results of the meeting on the 15th, that there will be more transparency and public involvement in the future, especially once a new contractor has been announced.


As a general rule, attempts to successfully replace a historic bridge usually run behind closed doors and without the public being notified. Speculation is that the county is trying to do that to save money and throw history by the wayside. The problem is however universal, as much of the US has seen much of its infrastructure crumble and there is no money to fix it.  Yet there seems to be a glitter of hope for the Riverside Bridge. It is unknown how the next contractor will act regarding this bridge. It is possible that some agreements can be made to use private lands for a new bridge while at the same time rehabilitate the bridge for reuse as a recreational infrastructure. Yet should that fail and the only viable option is to replace the bridge on site, then taking the bridge off the foundations and setting them on land may be a win-win situation as some parts of the bridge may have to be fixed or replaced before putting it back on. It is clear that should the bridge remain standing, the piers supporting the two through truss spans will have to be repaired or replaced due to cracks that were noticed during the inspections and in my visit in August. The truss bridge itself is in good shape and it would be a shame that it was demolished because of the inability to look at options of fixing it ans reopening again. In fact, such a plan would be met with opposition and shot down through the voting process.  It is  likely that the Riverside Bridge will be saved and reused again in the near future; especially after all the funding and efforts made towards the bridge. It is more of a question of whether a new bridge can be built on alignment and the old one can be fixed and reused again or whether the truss bridge can be relocated if a new bridge at its original location is necessary. Only the people of Christian County (not just the government) can decide that.


To be continued…..



Oakland Mills Bridge to Close because of Neglect: A wake-up call to better protect historic bridges?

Oblique view of the bridge from the south bank of the river

Vandalism: a way to express oneself or a way to show a towards the places we have? Vandalism, regardless of form- spray-painting, breaking windows of buildings, intentionally crashing into historic buildings, stealing artifacts from historic monuments- has taken new forms over the past five years, as many people- frustrated by the circumstances that have put them at a disadvantage- are venting out their anger in the newest but ugliest form. In the case of historic bridges, this includes some of the wildest and yet most creative stories ever imagined, from vandalizing a bridge in order for it to be eligible for replacement funds (as was the case with the Little River Truss Bridge in Seminole County, Oklahoma) to a group of people stealing a 50 foot steel bridge near New Castle, Pennsylvania, and selling it for scrap metal. Even an ignorant person crossing a bridge despite weight and height restrictions and causing damage or forcing its collapse into the river counts as defacing property. Unfortunately, the rage caused by hatred, anger over a topic, ignorance, or simple stupidity always comes at a price, as historic bridges, damaged by vandalism are closed to traffic, denying the passers-by with an opportunity to see the structure up close and personal. In the worst-case scenario, these bridges are replaced with modern structures, costing tax-payers hundreds of thousands of dollars, which they do not even have, given the economic situation the US (and other countries) are still facing. Unfortunately, with law enforcement at an all-time low because of budget cuts, more and more people are trying their best to inflict damage wherever possible and get away with it, even though if caught, they are obliged to pay for damages or face jail time.

Close-up of the original portal bracing

The Oakland Mills Bridge near Mount Pleasant in Henry County, Iowa, is a classic example of a bridge that has been a target of vandalism and disrepair for the longest time- to a point where local authorities are considering closing the bridge over Skunk River at the earliest possible convenience. Built in 1876 by the Missouri Valley Bridge and Iron Company of Leavenworth, Kansas under the supervision of John Schreiner, this multiple span crossing was unique because of its design and history, making it part of the National Register of Historic Places. The 358 foot long bridge comprises of two spans of Pratt through truss bridges (each being 7 panels), two Howe pony truss spans (one on each end of the bridge) and wooden trestles connecting the through truss spans and the northern pony truss span. The portal bracings have a unique ornamental design featuring a curved heel bracing with a circular design in the inside, supported by rain-drop-like curves, with a series of ornamental curves on the inside of the circular design. Sadly, the southernmost portal bracing is the only one that features that unique design, while the others feature dull 45° heel portals that were replaced in the last 30 years (at least).

Make-shift portal bracings

The Oakland Mills Bridge was one of the first bridges to be built in Iowa, using a Pratt through truss design that superseded the bowstring arch bridge beginning in the 1880s. The bowstring arch bridge was common for bridge building in the 1870s and 80s, but they had one flaw, which was the fact that disassembling, transporting and reassembling the structure was difficult because of the upper chord being an arch design. With Pratt trusses, and in particular, pin-connected trusses, the bridge can be taken apart, piece by piece, before being transported from one place to another and being reassembled again. Pin-connected trusses were later replaced with those with riveted connections- meaning the parts are supported by gusset plates- as they were sturdier and more weather-resistant. The bridge builder, the Missouri Valley Bridge and Iron Works Company, dominated the southern part of Iowa with bridges, before the turn of the century when bridge builders in Iowa, like the Clinton Bridge and Iron Works Company and George King took over the scene in bridge building.

Upon visiting the bridge during my trip through Iowa and Missouri in 2011, I saw that the bridge was in dire need of a face-lift. Since its conversion into pedestrian use and its incorporation into the Oakland Mills State Park in the 1970s, the structural integrity and stability of the bridge has fallen into a steady decline. Here are some examples of the dire state of the historic bridge from the photographer/columnist’s point of view:

Make-shift railings that were built towards the center of the bridge to protect the original railings from vandalism. If the original railings were still in place, they were victim of neglect and vandalism. Some of the railings that replaced the original railings about three decades ago have already seen signs of wood decay and and dry rot. With the make-shift railings in place, the width of the bridge decreased by 1/3 from 18 feet to 12 feet, making passage on the bridge only possible through foot.

Deck view with the make-shift and some outer fencing

The decking of the bridge is poor and should be replaced in its entirety. Regardless of age, the flooring has taken quite a beating due to floods, weather extremities and some attempts of vandalism. If the decking was put into place 30 years ago, they resemble a decking that was on the bridge at the time of its completion, and no wood can last that long without having some protection on it (like varnish)

Make-shift lean-to shelters on the through truss spans

The picnic area is laughable in comparison to even some of the historic bridges with better picnic areas. In a photo taken for a magazine in the early 1980s, the Oakland Mills area had two picnic areas on the through truss spans- one per span- that each had a parasol, used to keep out the sun and the rain. Sadly these disappeared in favor of make-shift lean-tos that are tied to the vertical beams of the truss span. It is unknown how long they have been there, but this primitive contraption is an eyesore to people crossing the bridge and since they are tied to the truss structure, they are not doing the superstructure any favors regarding the tension applied to the vertical beams.

Pin-connections with signs of discoloration on the truss itself

Apart from the missing portal bracings, which matches the damage done to the portal bracings of the Mead Avenue Bridge in Pennsylvania (which is closed to traffic and in imminent danger of being removed if no one comes to its rescue), much of the truss structure is rusted with some parts in need of replacement. While preserving the bridge in its place is of utmost importance, which the county did a good job of doing, maintaining the superstructure using paint and other rust protectant is just as important.

North approach with trestle spans and northernmost pony truss span

While I did not see this on my visit, reports from the local newspaper indicated that the trestle span portion of the bridge was decaying because of rotting wood on the columns. While it appeared that there was no sagging or swaying, in the long term, it could potentially undermine the portion of the span. Interesting enough, this portion of the span was introduced as a replacement to the third (and longest) through truss span destroyed in an accident in the 1940s.
Lighting is lacking for the structure. While the truss spans are lighted with LED, it is not enough to light up the structure in its entirety, thus leading to safety hazards and potential liability issues.

Keeping these facts in mind, what is there to do with the bridge? As a general reaction among the owners of a historic bridge, the first priority is to demolish the bridge and replace it with a mail-order-bridge, consisting of welded trusses that represent little or no aesthetic value. Yet given the fact that the bridge is one of the oldest remaining structures of its type left in Iowa, and its history and design makes it part of the National Park Service through the National Register of Historic Places, there are ways to rehabilitate the bridge and reuse it again for recreational purposes. If asked how to rehabilitate the bridge, the following suggestions would be made:

1. The whole super structure needs to be rehabilitated, but in certain sections. That means the two through truss spans would represent one section and the pony trusses as another section. These sections would have to be taken apart by spans and relocated to neutral sites so that they can be rehabilitated individually.
2. The through truss spans will have to be disassembled with parts being sandblasted and replaced. This has been accomplished with many through truss bridges in the United States; most notably the truss bridges at Historic Bridge Park in Michigan, the Zoarville Station Bridge in Ohio, and the latest example, the Piano Bridge in Texas. However, the make-shift portal bracings need to be replaced with the original portal bracing that is remaining on the southern span of the through truss bridge. Making replicas of them is time and money-consuming but doable.
3. The trestle spans will have to be replaced in its entirety with those replicating the original span but made of treated wood. An alternative to that would be to include more pony truss spans imported from outside Mt. Pleasant, but that may compromise the historic integrity of the bridge. Regardless of the guidelines set out by the National Register of Historic Places, adding these truss spans may present a better appearance to the bridge as a whole in comparison with what the bridge features right now.
4. The piers supporting the two truss spans will need to be rehabilitated. Age and weather has taken its toll on the stone piers as cracks are starting to appear and spall, and moss is growing on them, which has the potential to weaken the piers even further.
5. More lighting is needed on the bridge. While LEDs presents a makeshift appearance to the bridge, better is to install street lamps on the bridge, and even further, have lighting from the shore shine onto the structure at night to make it more attractive.
6. The entire trusses will need to be painted to protect the trusses from further rust and corrosion caused by weather extremities and flooding. This will need to be done through sandblasting the old paint off the affected truss parts and painting it with a color that would fit the environmental surroundings. In my opinion, a mahogany or dark red color will suffice.
7. New decking is needed for the entire truss span. This can be done by using treated timber or concrete, as long as the rehabilitated bridge can hold it. In addition, as cyclists use the bridge frequently, the decking should be divided up into two lanes- one for bikes and one for pedestrians and benches. Another option would be to reintroduce the picnic areas on the through truss spans (meaning shelters with parasols and picnic tables), but the cyclists would be required to walk their bikes across the river for safety purposes.
8. Finally, video surveillance and police patrols will be needed on the bridge to ensure that vandalism is avoided. Should a vandal be caught, fines and possible imprisonment should be enforced to set an example for others considering doing damage to the bridge.

The cost for such a project will be big- ca. $1-2 million for the entire rehabilitation alone and another $500,000 for the extra features. However, these costs are nothing in comparison to replacing a bridge with a new structure, which is an average of $4-6 million. Even removing the entire structure alone is more expensive than rehabilitation. But the actual costs will be evaluated in the near future, as a couple interested groups are inquiring about the bridge and are planning to do a cost estimation for bridge rehabilitation and later designating places to disassemble and work on the bridge, before the project can actually begin. Whether these aforementioned suggestions will be considered depends on the opinions of the other parties interested in the bridge. The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles will keep you posted on the developments on this situation and the plans for the Oakland Mills Bridge.

Reflections of the bridge at dusk with LED lighting seen on the northern through truss span

To close this column, there is a word of advice to be given to people who are working to save historic bridges, based on experience seen with these structures in the past. Some parties have fought to save a historic bridge just by leaving it open for pedestrians and cyclists only for as long as possible and hope that the issue is tabled. This is not enough, as maintaining the historic bridge takes on just as big of importance as converting the bridge into pedestrian use. In many cases, historic bridge rehabilitation is needed to ensure that the structure can support pedestrians and cyclists as long as it did, when automobiles used the bridge- meaning in the case of bridges like the Oakland Mills Bridge, 100-130 years. Some groups leave the bridge in place in order to pursue funding options, as is the case with the Riverside Bridge in Missouri. But for liability reasons, they are closed to traffic and fenced off. In either case, bridges left neglected and prone to vandalism can collapse under their own weight in the long run. This happened recently with the Columbia and Schell City Bridges in Missouri- the former collapsing because of flooding and the latter collapsing under its own weight.  If there is a historic bridge that is targeted for replacement and a party is interested in preserving it, that party must consider the state of the bridge and look at the options for bridge rehabilitation and converting it into recreational use both for safety and liability purposes, as well as for the interest of the tourists interested in the bridges. Leaving a historic bridge open and giving it a “window dressing” as it was the case with the Oakland Mills Bridge, without considering the option of rehabilitation, just does not cut it, for in the long term, weather extremities, flooding and potential vandalism will make the bridge more dangerous to cross, forcing authorities to close and later remove the structure. Rehabilitating the structure and remodeling it to make it appearance for passers-by has become the most viable choice for preserving the historic bridge. Maintaining the historic bridge is just as important to ensure that the structure fulfills its purpose as a recreational bridge that is appealing to everyone.

The Oakland Mills Bridge represent a classic example of a bridge whose neglect and vandalism has put it in danger of being closed and possibly removed, despite its listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Perhaps this bridge will represent a warning signal for other historic bridges, implicating that in order to save a bridge, it has to be remodeled for recreational purposes and maintained for safety purposes in order to prevent it from being degraded.
A couple Iowa historic bridges that are closed to traffic, the Cascade Bridge in Burlington and the Wagon Wheel Bridge west of Boone, are currently targets of debates between replacing them with modern slab bridges and rehabilitating them for recreational reuse. Both are listed on the National Register and have been documented by the Historic American Engineering Record. Perhaps the proponents and opponents of historic bridge preservation should consider the pros and cons to bridge preservation in comparison to bridge replacement before any decision is made on their future as well.  This applies to other historic bridges in the United States as well…

Note: The Columbia Bridge in Franklin County, built by the Columbia Bridge Works of Dayton, Ohio in 1880, was closed to traffic in 1980 and was left abandoned until it collapsed in early 2010. The truss was sold for scrap. The Schell City Bridge in Vernon County, built in 1900 by the Canton Bridge Company,  was closed to traffic a few years ago despite attempts to shore the abutments with parts from an old truss bridge. The pony truss span collapsed in 2010. The Parker through truss span followed in February of this year.