2018 has presented itself with many surprises in all aspects. In particular with bridgehunting and bridge photography, where readers, followers and enthusiasts have been awed by many historic bridges abandoned for many years until discovered most recently, communities where historic bridges that are little mentioned are getting recognition, and historic bridges that are the spotlight for photographers and preservationists who worked successfully to breathe new life into them.
And with that, the 2018 Othmar H. Ammann is now open to business. Between now and December 3rd, the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles is now accepting entries of (historic) bridges and people who have worked to save them for reuse. Named after the Swiss bridge engineer who left his mark in bridge building in New York and the surrounding area, the Award is given out, both on the national and international levels in te following categories:
Best Bridge Photo
Best Example of a Restored Historic Bridge
Lifetime Achievement (including post mortem)
Tour Guide- Communities, Counties, Districts with a high number of historic and fancy modern bridges
Best Kept Secret- Individual Bridge
Mystery Bridge and
Bridge of the Year.
More details can be found here. You can also find the results of the previous winners of the awards so that you have an idea which bridges, photos, etc. deserve to be entered.
Do you have a bridge, set of bridges, bridge photo(s) or even person(s) who has devoted time and effort to historic bridges that deserve recognition on the national and international levels? Send them here via form or e-mail:
You have until December 3rd to submit your entries. For bridge photos, please submit them using JPEG and keep it under 1MB, if possible. If you have any questions, please contact Jason Smith using the abovementioned form or e-mail address. Voting will proceed afterwards, ending on 8th January, 2019, with the winners being announced on the 12th. We will use the same scheme as before with polldaddy yet we may experiment with other options when we vote. More will come when the entries end and the voting begins. The contest is open globally. Anyone can enter. 🙂 If you have a bridge worth mentioning or a photo worth showing, let’s see it! 🙂
When we think of historic bridges, we think of roadway bridges built of metal or stone, having truss, arch, suspension or beam designs, each of which has a well-documented history pertaining to the date of construction and the builders, as well as its significance to the community and infrastructure. It is rare to find history of railroad bridges that had made a different in a community…..
….that is unless you are John Marvig.
Since his 6th grade year, Marvig has been travelling the Midwestern US, photographing and documenting historic and modern railroad bridges for his website. Since its inauguration in 2011, the website has over 1200 bridges, big and small, covering eleven states and counting. The secret to the Chaska (Minnesota) native’s success as a railroad bridge photographer and writer I wanted to find out through this interview, as Marvig won the 2016 Ammann Awards for Lifetime Achievement, the youngest person to ever have received this distinction. Here are some Q&As conducted with this now sophomore at Iowa State University, majoring in Civil Engineering:
BHC:What got you interested in historic bridges; in particular, railroad bridges?
Marvig: When I was a kid, there was a bridge on I-494 in South Saint Paul known as the Wakota Bridge. That old tied arch structure always interested me, and I always took note when we drove to my grandparents farm in Wisconsin. Along the way, there were a number of other bridges I would take notice of from a young age. When I was younger, I had also wanted a model railroad. One thing led to another, and I would be taking pictures of a local railroad bridge by the fall of my 6th grade year. It grew from there, and became a full blown passion (or obsession, depending on how you look at it). Another bridge, an old railroad swing bridge located in my hometown of Chaska was always fascinating to me, since it only continued to exist in memory. Seeing the history that was lost really encouraged me to peruse my passion.
BHC:What got you interested in historic bridges; in particular, railroad bridges?
Marvig: Creating my website was an idea that was formulated in a 7th grade technology class where we learned basic coding. John Weeks runs a website with numerous bridge photos on it, which also captivated my interest. From an early and very basic website to the full blown site it is now, it has steadily grown. I have well over 1000 bridges documented, I am just waiting to get the pages created! The hardest part is coding the pages. I manually code them, instead of using a form which automatically creates the pages (similar to Bridgehunter). This allows me the flexibility to change pages to meet the needs of the specific structure or the intended audience. However, this can be very time consuming. A page I have been working on for the Eads Bridge in Saint Louis took nearly 4 hours from start to finish to create. I continue to anticipate the site growing steadily. I have a waiting list of pages to add of over 350, and that list grows often.
BHC:Your focus on your website is railroad bridges. What makes them special in comparison to highway bridges?
Marvig: Railroad bridges, in my opinion, are the pinnacle of American engineering. While highway bridges were not built to carry a heavy load, railroad bridges were constructed to carry a load of many times a typical highway bridge. This results in some bridges that are engineered to perfection. In addition, railroad companies rarely reported construction of bridges and oftentimes did weird things such as relocation of spans. This makes it a unique challenge to document and research these structures.
BHC: Many railroad companies try to repel photographers and bridgehunters from photographing RR bridges. Why is that and how did you successfully managed to do that?
Marvig: Railroad companies are afraid of the liabilities of people being on their property. I have gotten around this by using public access, asking other landowners or walking along the riverbanks to the structure. My most important goal is to stay safe and set a positive example for others.
BHC:Set a positive example- what examples?
Marvig: Two ways to look at this. The first is safety and to obey the rules. Walking on railroad property or bridges is very dangerous, and I try to use it as a last resort to get to bridges. On my site, I generally make notes of how I got to the bridge so others will hopefully follow that route. The other positive example I like to set is the strive for preservation and passion I demonstrate. I hope this spreads to others and we can see a positive turnaround in bridge preservation.
BHC:Did you have any confrontations with landowners accusing you of trespassing or other items? Many bridgehunters have dealt with this problem over the years- yours truly included on many occasions.
Marvig: I have. While I generally find that landowners are more than happy to talk to myself and my father, who often accompanies me on these trips, I have seen some people I hope not to deal with again. I would say 90% of people are nice and usually interested, and oftentimes tell their life story. I have however had instances of some real cranks. I’ve had hunters “accidentally” shoot my direction, I’ve had ladies in trailers yell at me because I’m parked on a public gravel road and I’ve had others claim a public road is theirs. However, a vast majority are some of the nicest people I’ve met; and in a few cases people I’ve kept in contact with.
BHC:Bridge historians, like Eric Delony have often mentioned of railroad companies being very hesitant re. nominating railroad bridges deemed historic on the National Register because of their historic significance. From your experience, is this the case and if so, why is that?
Marvig: This is true. One example is the Redstone Bridge in New Ulm, Minnesota. The railroad has refused to nominate the structure repeatedly, even though the state attempted to get them to. This structure is an 1880 swing span, and one of the oldest known in America. Despite this, if the railroad chooses to demolish it, nobody can do anything about it. Fortunately, the State of Minnesota has said they will not let Canadian pacific demolish the structure, and when it is abandoned it should be preserved.
BHC:Is the Redstone Bridge still in service?
Marvig: Yeah, its part of a spur to a quarry. I’m really hoping it is abandoned soon. With CP not doing well financially, I really hope that we can see a step in preservation made within the next decade
For more on the bridge, please check out the Tour Guide on the Bridges of New Ulm by clicking here. People in New Ulm as well as officials at the State Historic Preservation Office in St. Paul are interested in saving this bridge and nominate it on the National Register of Historic Places.
BHC:What can be done to convince railroad companies to nominate their bridges to the Nat. Reg. as well as restore the bridge for future use? What examples have been mentioned?
Marvig: In my opinion, the only real thing that can be done is to make it worth it for them financially. If an incentive was offered to a railroad to bypass historic bridges and preserve them, I’m quite sure they would be willing.
BHC:Which RR bridges have you been involved in which has been successfully inducted into the National Register?
Marvig: While I do not believe any of the bridges I’ve helped preserve are listed as a separate listing on the NR, the railroad bridge across Main Street in Carver, MN (about 10 minutes from home) was to be demolished in 2011, but I worked with the city to preserve it. I believe it might be listed as a contributing resource currently.
BHC:Which RR Bridges you were involved in was converted into a Rails for Trails Crossing?
Marvig: Currently, I have not had any converted to trails. However, the bridge in Carver is eventually scheduled to become a trail. In addition, I’ve been working with the Midtown Greenway in Minneapolis to preserve and convert the Short Line Bridge. The Missouri River Bridge in Bismarck is another example of a structure I am working to get preserved for this use.
BHC: Which Railroad Bridge is your all time favorite?
Marvig: It’s hard to determine what my favorite bridge is, as there are a large number of structures I love. The Redstone Bridge in New Ulm, as well as the northwestern bridge in Eau Claire are two of my favorite bridges. These were both built in 1880 and are extremely old examples of rare truss types.
BHC: If there is a person who is interested in bridge photography, what tips would you give him/her?
Marvig: As for tips for others, I would suggest starting with places you have passion for. If there is a bridge in town that you want to know more about, go take some pictures. Unique and historic bridges are going the way of the dodo bird in the United States, and photography is a form of preservation.
BHC:And what about establishing a website like you have? The last question includes the use of social media, wordpress and the question of making a magazine out of it.
Marvig: To create a website, be prepared to have a large chunk of time taken up. The initial coding is tough, and manually adding pages is a long process. Research is also essential. I think I’ve spent several hundred dollars on research since 2010, as google doesn’t provide all answers. My biggest advice though is to create your website to be expandable. Make sure it has as many features as you want. I have 1200 pages on my site currently, and I’m working on reviewing and adding new features to these pages. It’s a lot easier to correct 12 pages than 1200.
Regarding social media, that isn’t my strong point. However it is essential to be able to reach out to a new audience to educate and inform about historic bridges. When I first started doing bridges in 2009, social media was a rather new invention, and I did not invest time heavily in it. Currently, I spread my message of bridges through both Facebook, and Instagram.
BHC: Thank you for your time for this interview.
Marvig: No problem.
To learn more about his work, click onto his website here. There you can find details of every bridge he’s visited, which includes its history and dimensions, as well as the number of trains crossing it daily (for most crossings). He has updated his website regularly and therefore, it is necessary to visit the site often. Enjoy some railroad facts and figures. 🙂
If there is a word of advice to give to a person wanting to engage in the hobby of photography, it would be this:
1. Look the surroundings. What do you see beyond the naked eye? What is most unique about the surrounding that is worth photographing?
2. Choose an object and/or a person you find attractive. Why choose this subject and how unique is it from the eye of a photographer?
Photography has become a popular hobby for many people, as they find the best spot/subject for a good photo opportunity and after taking dozens of snap shots, find the best photo that they are proud of- that they display for others to see, and benefit from the prize money from the photo contests sometimes. 🙂
For Jet Lowe, photography has been a major part of his life for almost five decades. Ranging from skyscrapers to bridges, Lowe has produced some of the most unique shots of his subjects from angles that even some of the amateur photographers today can even dream of doing. Lowe was selected as the winner of the 2014 Ammann Awards in the category of Lifetime Achievement for his role in photographing hundreds of bridges in the US, Europe and elsewhere, and the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles had an opportunity to interview him about his experiences and the secret to being a great photographer. Here is what we found out about him:
1. Tell us about yourself: how did your career start, and how did it lead you to HABS-HAER?
I owe my career to an academic trip to Haiti in 1966. A faculty member of the school I was attending loaned me his Pentax h3v with which to take pictures. It was a one month trip, film was expensive so I rolled my own cassettes of 20 or more black and white tri-x, a dozen rolls of kodachrome and basically got hooked. This was my first year of college, from that point on I knew I wanted to be a photographer, did not know exactly how to go about it so I ended up majoring in Art History which in retrospect was a great choice. Straight out of college I landed a job as the staff photographer for the Georgia Historical Commission doing museum photography as well as photographing historic districts for the then new federal program of the National Register of Historic Places. It was working for the Historical Commision that put the bee in my bonnet about how it might be neat to work for HABS some day ( I did not know about HAER at the time which in retrospect was a much better match).
2. How did you become interested in photography?While traveling in Haiti with my professor’s loaned camera I found myself ending up in places that I might not have been in had I not been in search of images, and meeting people. The Haitians although quite poor economically have a strong and magical spirit.
3. A large portion of your photos posted on HABS-HAER have been historic bridges. Are they your primary targets, or do you also photograph other historic places, such as buildings, stadiums, etc.?As the staff photographer for HAER our mandate was and is to photograph the engineered and built environment of the United States. From windmills to the Space Shuttle, No small mandate! I like to think of bridges as a subject matter for HAER(Historic American Engineering Record) like houses have been for the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS). Bridges tend to encapsulate the structural engineering thought of any given time period.
4. Which bridge you photographed was your favorite?The George Washington Bridge over the Hudson always comes first to mind for its complexity, significance, as well as photogeneity.
5. Which bridge was the most difficult to photograph? How did you overcome this difficulty? I would have to say the Brooklyn Bridge because it was my first major documentation of a nationally significant bridge. The documentation was to involve getting to the towers via walking up the cables. Never having done this caused me a bit of anxiety in the week leading up to the day of working on the bridge. The maintenance men who were my hosts drily assured me they had not lost any one yet walking up the cables. The Brooklyn Bridge was also the first one that I photographed from the air using a world war II vintage aerial camera. One thing that helped in overcoming the more difficult hurdles of the assignment was a week spent in New York getting as many photographs completed on the ground before climbing the towers. When the big day finally arrived I was at least fairly familiar with the structure. One of the great privileges of my job at HAER was the opportunity to climb around on numerous other big suspension bridges,including the Takoma Narrows, Oakland, Golden Gate, and Verrazanno Narrows to name a few that are now housed in the HAER collection.
6. Which bridge that you had photographed but was later demolished was one that you wished to have preserved and why?The Bellows Falls (Vermont) arch suspension bridge was amongst the most elegant of bridges I have photographed and represented also one of the greatest losses to our patrimony.
7. Many other photographers, including James Baughn (who finished second in the Lifetime Achievement category) and (Nathan Holth, who finished third) have done a great deal of contributions of photos for their historic bridge websites. How important has photography been in addressing the importance of historic bridges and ways to preserve them? Photography is still the most palpable way of showing us the way a bridge structure looked, and occupied its environment. I think the photographer David Plowden deserves credit for being one of the first photographers to focus attention on the contribution and richness that bridges add to our built environment.
8. If someone is interested in photography as a profession, what advice would you give him/her and what is the outlook in your opinion?I think there will always be a market out there for photographers that have a special vision and are obsessed with their work. Young photographers should look at the work of others and study the great prints in the museums and also think in terms of converting their favorite images in to a photographic print, not just an electronic entity. It is probably even more difficult to break into the discipline as a means of making a living now because of the dilution of the medium via iPhones and the internet. The outlook is difficult, however I can not stress enough the rewards for following one’s muse.
The last sentence stated by Jet Lowe could not be any clearer than that. With social networks and iPhones dominating our livelihoods, many of us have a canny for selfie shots, shooting events in our lives, or even getting some shots of places of interest while travelling. However, the quality of real photography has declined because of the flooding of pictures that would be considered null and void in the eyes of the professionals. However, it does not mean that professional and amateur photography will die off. Many of us will specialize in areas once considered unknown, such as night photography, landscape photography and forms of architectural photography (and in particular, bridge photography) because they are important for people interested in not only looking at them on display but also to document the historical importance, using them as a springboard for preservation efforts. Therefore, one should not be afraid of engaging in such a unique hobby. It may not be a full-time profession, but it is one that will satisfy the interest of the photographer and those interested in taking a look at his/her work. So to close the interview, take the camera, take your girlfriend out with you, take some shots of what you think is beautiful and show her life from your perspective- from your own lens. You may never know what your photos will look like, let alone be worth when selling them on the market or entering them in a contest. Henceforth, click-click!
Interested in picking up a good photo? Perhaps one of a historic or modern bridge as a gift or an addition to one of the rooms in the house? If interested, one of the fellow pontists and professional photographer is selling them this weekend.
David Parker, who owns Parker Photography based in Stillwater, Minnesota, is hosting a garage sale this Saturday, June 7th from 1:00 to 5:00 pm at his studio, located at 1149 Bergmann Drive in Stillwater. There, you will have an opportunity to purchase one of his works, as well as order any unprinted photos that are not in stock. Some of the photos on the selling block include landscapes, historic buildings and bridges in parts of Minnesota (including the Twin Cities), including this one, the Browns Creek Bridge, which received the 2012 Othmar H. Ammann Award for Best Kept Secret.
Refreshments will be provided. For more information or if you have any questions, please contact Mr. Parker using the following contact details here. Hope to see you there and best of luck finding the best photo. 🙂
With a number of bridge photographers increasing in vast numbers, surely there would be a bridge photo contest to encourage them to submit the best ones for a grand prize right?
In the eyes of the American Society of Civil Engineers, the answer is yes. For the first time ever, the ASCE opened the bridge photo contest in March of this year with 13 winners announced in July (see link here) and 20 finalists selected for the Viewer’s Choice Award, which is taking place between now and the end of this month.
If you are interested, you can click here, and view the photos for the Viewer’s Choice to determine who should win the award. Winners will be announced on 1 October, some of them will have their bridge photos featured on the 2014 ASCE Calendar. 12 of the bridges are located in the US and five are in Europe. Join in on the voting and the Chronicles will inform you of the winner via Newsflyer as soon as it is announced.
Note: If you missed out on the photo contest, not a problem. The Chronicles will soon open up the Ammann Awards for the third time this year. More information to come in October, as the Awards nomination will start a bit earlier this year.
Each year since 2009, the Historic Bridge Weekend Conference has taken place in August or September, and each year, it has drawn in more people who are experts in historic bridges, preservation or history, as well as those who are either bridge enthusiasts or have a keen interest in how these vintage structures were built and how they played a role in American History.
This year’s Historic Bridge Weekend is coming to America’s heartland, the state of Iowa, where the history of transportation and infrastructure and the development of America as a whole go together like bread and butter. The Lincoln and Jefferson Highways meet in the state. Iowa was the first state to introduce the No Passing Zone signs. Kate Shelley made her heroic deed by stopping a passenger train from falling through a bridge washed away by flood waters.
And the bridges? Iowa takes pride in its bridge building. The first bridge designs, like the Marsh arch, the aluminum girder and the Thacher truss originated from Iowa. Numerous bowstring arches were built throughout the state. Many big-name bridge builders from Ohio, Indiana and Pennsylvania made their mark in Iowa, while the state had its own bridge building companies located in Clinton, Ottumwa and Des Moines, which dominated the American landscape during the first half of the 20th Century.
This year’s Historic Bridge Weekend will take place August 9th through the 12th and will focus on the eastern half of Iowa, where many historic bridges dating as far back as 1870 still exist today. Please refer to the detailed agenda at the end of this message for more information.
For those who are interested in participating in the dinner and presentations, please RSPV Jason D. Smith at the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles at: email@example.com or JDSmith77@gmx.net by no later than 15 July. Information on the bridge tours and the dinner and presentations will be provided through e-mail. Lodging and camping possibilities are available upon request.
Agenda: Day 1 – 9th August, 2013
The journey starts on 9th of August at the Old Barn Resort in Preston, Minnesota beginning at 10:00am, and after touring Fillmore County, we’ll focus on the northeast corner of Iowa, which includes the bridges in Winneshiek, Fayette, Dubuque and Jones Counties and features the bowstring arch bridges in the region as well as the Black Hawk Bridge, the Red Bridge, and the remaining spans of the original Dubuque bridge, built in 1868 over the Mississippi and is one of the last remaining historic bridges made of cast iron in the country.
Dinner and presentations will take place at the Stone City General Store in Stone City (near Anamosa) at 6:30pm. This event will be dedicated to James Hippen, who spearheaded efforts to save historic bridges in Iowa for over 40 years until his unexpected passing in 2010. People who worked with Mr. Hippen will speak at this event in his honor.
Day 2 – 10th August, 2013 August 10th will feature a tour of the historic bridges in the east-central portion of the state. This will include a guided tour of the bridges of Linn and Johnson Counties by Quinn Phelan, which starts at 8:30am at Palisades-Kepler State Park at Mt. Vernon and last throughout the morning. This includes a trip to F.W. Kent Park near Tifflin (west of Iowa City), where one can see nine fully-restored historic bridges, including a roof-top bowstring arch bridge, built using steel trusses from a building that was demolished in the 1980s.
Afternoon tours include visiting bridges along the Lincoln Highway, as well as the Quad Cities and can be done individually or in groups, pending on preferences.
Saturday evening’s dinner and presentations will take place at 7:00pm at Baxa’s Tavern and Grill, located at Sutliff Bridge, south of Mt. Vernon. Sutliff Bridge features two original Parker through truss spans and a replica of the easternmost span that was destroyed in the flooding in 2008. Members of the Sutliff Bridge Authority will talk about the restoration of the bridge and answer any questions the people have about the project. In addition, a pair of presentations by two important figures in historic bridges and preservation will also be provided. Day 3 – 11th August, 2013
Tour of the bridges in the southeastern part of Iowa including the bridges in and around Burlington, Fort Madison and Keokuk, as well as the bridges along the Des Moines River between Keokuk and Des Moines. Afternoon:
Meeting to talk about the Horn’s Ferry Bridge at the Red Rock Informational Center located near the site beginning at 2:30pm, followed a tour of Marion County‘s bridges and finally the last of the presentations and dinner at Bos Landen Golf Course south of Pella at 5:30pm. A silent auction will accompany the evening event. The Weekend will conclude with a night tour of the bridges of Des Moines. Day 4 – 12th August, 2013
For those wanting to see the Kate Shelley Viaduct, there will be a tour of Kate Shelley, her life and the bridge named in her honor beginning at 10:00am at the Boone County Historical Center in Boone. The 2-3 hour tour will include a tour of the Kate Shelley exhibit, a trip to the train depot at Moingona and the remains of the bridge that was washed away by flooding (the same bridge which Kate Shelley crossed before informing the tenant of a nearby bridge being washed out), and a tour of the bridges, including the two viaducts (the 1912 steel viaduct and the 2008 replacement viaduct), the (freshly remodeled) Wagon Wheel Bridge north of the viaducts (which is opened to pedestrians), the Bass Creek Viaduct, and the Madrid Viaduct.
One More Note:
The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles is also accepting donations for the following projects: The restoration of the McIntyre Bowstring Arch Bridge in Poweshiek County The restoration of the Sutliff Bridge in Johnson County.
A donation box will be made available on each of the evening dinner events for you to make a contribution.
Note: We will have a silent auction on Sunday 11 August at Bos Landen Golf Course near Pella at 5:30pm, the same time as the dinner and presentations. All proceeds will go to the two aforementioned projects.
Donations of Info and Photos for Bridge Book also being taken:
In addition, donations in the form of pictures, postcards, information, money for research, etc. are currently being accepted for the book project “The History of Truss Bridges in Iowa” which is being written by the author of the Chronicles. An information box will be available during the Historic Bridge Weekend, but you can also contact Jason Smith in person at the event or via e-mail of you have any information about any of Iowa’s bridges that is worth entering in the book.
A few months ago, I was approached by a musician from Louisiana, who wanted to use one of my photos of a bridge I photographed near St. Louis last summer while at the Historic Bridge Conference. It was located over the Chain of Rocks Canal, one of the alternative parallel routes along the Mississippi, carrying an Interstate highway. It is unclear how he came across the website Historic Bridges of the US, let alone why he wanted this photo:
But I know there was a certain vantage point I took advantage of when I got this shot and the gut feeling that this bridge would get some fame in one way or another. I gave the man the green light and (as you can see in the photo at the beginning), it really paid off. I did receive a pair of copies from the guy and listened to the music. It is definitely contemporary and easy to listen to while traveling- in other words, he will definitely see some of his songs reach the Top 40 at some point before the year was over, let alone receive some awards for the best album cover.
This brought me up to a couple of questions I have for the forum for you to chew on over the weekend (and beyond). Many bridges (and in particular, historic bridges) were used in many musical pieces, movies, and literary genres as a way of attracting the readers. Some people have written stories about them. The most commonly known story and later film was “The Bridges of Madison County”, talking about the story of a photographer taking covered bridges in a small Iowa community, who falls in love with a farmer’s wife, who originated from Italy. However, it is unknown how many pieces are around that have bridges in them, but they seem to be plenty in number.
So the question for the forum on this topic is the following:
1. Do you know of any other musical piece/album, book, literary genre or film that you know where a bridge is used as the centerpiece?
2. Do you think that the usage of bridges in these pieces contribute to their success, and if so, how?
As for the CD I just received, I can only recommend you purchasing it as the lyrics are easy to listen to and the music falls right in line with other contemporary music that we are accustomed to. After all, one cannot be used to only one form of music or another. Alternatives can open new avenues. The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles would like to thank Michael Dean for the use of the pic for the album and wish him the best of luck with the success of his newly released album.
There are many ways to look at a bridge and determine its value, both aesthetically as well as historically. From an engineer’s point of view, the bridge is built to function as a vehicular crossing until it is rendered obsolete and considered for replacement. From a historian’s point of view, each bridge has its own history and identity to the community, going beyond the bridge builder, the dimensions and unique value that make it eligible to be protected by preservation laws. From a photographer’s point of view, each bridge has a beauty that makes it fit into the landscape, whether it is a truss, arch, cable-stayed or suspension bridge. In the case of David Plowden, each bridge not only presents a beauty that warrants a black and white photo worth remembering, but it contributes to the history of the American architecture, infrastructure and transportation.
Born in 1932, Plowden started his photography career at the age of 25, providing the readers with a look at the development of American society, from the steel mills to the farming community, from the slums of the big cities, to Main Street USA, where small talk and hard work are the norms. He has published over 20 books including his latest one on the state of Iowa (which was released earlier this year), where a traveling photography exhibition of the state and its hilly landscape is currently taking place until 2014. In the book Bridges: The Spans of North America, published in 2002, Plowden combined his photographic genius with some history to provide readers with an insight into the development of bridges in North America, beginning with those made of wood in a form of covered bridges, followed by brick and stone bridges, the metal bridges (both in terms of short- and long river crossings) and finishing with the bridges made of concrete. The over 400-page work provides the reader with an in depth look at the types of bridges that were developed, the bridge builders who used them for their crossings and where the bridges were located. While some of the bridge types mentioned in the book are well-known to the bridge community and historians, such as the Bollmann Truss Bridge at Savage, Maryland the concrete arch bridges of Pennsylvania and Oregon, and the common suspension bridges, like John Roebling’s suspension bridges, there are some others that had been mentioned briefly in other documents but were brought to life in this book, like the Whipple-Murphy truss bridges, many of which were constructed along the Missouri River between Sioux City and Kansas City under George S. Morrison in the 1880s, the Poughkeepsie Suspension and Railroad Bridges in upstate New York or even local bridges like the Bellefountain Bridge in Mahaska County, Iowa. Plowden provides a tour into the life of each bridge engineer and his contribution to the American landscape with examples of bridges that bear his name and were meant to serve traffic for many years.
As for the bridges themselves, the photos taken by Plowden were genuine and provide the reader with an inside look at the structure’s appearance from a photographer’s point of view. Some bridges were photographed in areas that were run down and were not part of the urbanization movement in the 1960s, such as the outer suburbs of Pittsburgh, for example. Some bridges in his book were taken in heavily industrialized areas, like New Jersey. And then there are others in the book that had a unique natural background, like the bridges of Oregon and western Canada. In terms of how they were photographed, there were many bridges that were photographed at a portal view- meaning the entrance of the bridge, presenting the reader the bridge’s facial feature before entering the structure. This includes the past bridges, like the Point Bridge in Pittsburgh as well as those in the present, like the railroad bridge at Beaver, Pennsylvania. While some of the bridges are known to the bridge community today, there are many that were rarely recognized but brought to the light by pushing the snapshot button and presenting a black and white picturesque view that definitely belongs to an art gallery somewhere. While many of these bridges, such as the Central Bridge over the Ohio River in Cincinnati and the St. Mary’s Bridge in West Virginia, a sister of the Silver Bridge, which collapsed in 1967 killing 46 people, have long since been demolished, Plowden photographed most of them in the 1960s and 70s, giving the reader an idea what they looked like before they were replaced. Each bridge photographed in the book has some information on its history and the status at the time of its publication.
. It is very difficult to write a book on the history of bridges and how they were developed without having to narrow the focus down to the key aspects. In the case of the books on the bridges of Erfurt, Germany, one was focused on the technical aspects; the other on the historical aspects. One cannot have insight into the bridges without having to read both pieces of literature, even though they are both in German. In the case of Plowden’s book, he divided the subject up into the materials used for bridge construction, followed by the bridge types that were used and the engineers who built the bridges. To a certain degree, when focusing on bridges on a scale as large as North America’s it is a good idea, for it provides an overview into the development of the bridges from the beginning to the present time. This has been used in a couple other literary pieces, the latest of which will be the book of the month for August on Minnesota’s bridges by Denis Gardner (which falls nicely into the five-year anniversary of the I-35W bridge disaster in Minneapolis).
Yet when looking at the content of the book, most of its focus was on the development of bridges in the United States, together with the photos he took, with a small fraction being focused on Canada’s bridges (like the Lethbridge Viaduct in the province of Alberta and the Quebec Bridge). Most of the information and photos of the bridges came from those in the northern half of the US along the major rivers and in the northeastern part of the US, such as the Ohio River Valley, the Hudson River, and the Mississippi. These areas were the breeding ground for bridge development that spanned over 150 years and expanded into the Plains Region and beyond. If a person was to be picky about the content of the book, and focus on the history and development of bridges per se, then perhaps Plowden could have had two different books on the subject- one for the US and one for Canada. After all, despite the fact that this history run parallel in both countries, each one had its own set of bridge builders and bridge types with much of Canada’s bridge designs being imported from Europe as it had close ties with Great Britain and France.
. But there are two main reasons why Plowden chose to incorporate the two countries into one for the book. First of all, the history and development of the bridges were interchangeable. Canadian bridge builders immigrated to America to start their business and prosper. Bridge companies in the US had exceptional influence in Canada. The designs used for bridge construction were mostly similar in both countries, with a few minor exceptions. That means we have cantilever truss bridges in both countries, and we competed with each other to construct the longest and tallest bridges. And through their exchanges in information and designers, both prospered during the Industrial Age of the late 1800s.
. The other reason is the fact that Plowden is a photographer by heart. He not only provides people with a look into the lives of others in black and white, but he also provides them with unique scenery through the photos of antique works of art that still rules the streets (even though the numbers have dwindled rapidly over the years). He does not just showcase the photos for people to see. That would be too easy to do, especially in today’s technological age where anyone can post their pics on facebook, flickr and other websites. But each bridge that is photographed is accompanied by a story of its existence and the bridge builder responsible for erecting the structure and sharing his success to others so that they can either follow the lead or challenge it. The book provides the reader with general knowledge of the development of the bridges and the role of the engineers that contributed their history. And even if the majority of the readers are not engineers, bridge fanatics or historians, and even if one is unable to read the entire book from cover to cover, looking at the bridge photos themselves is enough to tell the story of how it was built and how it became part of North American history.
. So to end this review process, get your cameras ready and set out to go bridgehunting. Find a bridge that means a great deal to you, regardless of its appearance and surroundings, its history and identity to the region and regardless of its age and whether you can cross it or spend time walking to it. As soon as you find it, start shooting. Show the bridge to others and make it known to the public of its value through your camera lens and point of view. After all, there are more people interested in historic bridges than you know. Plowden knew about it and therefore, the book is sitting in my bridge library, waiting for me to open the page and have a look at the work that he did. Pride can help you prosper and people will take note of that.
Here are some good news and some bad news for the bridgehunter community and those who are familiar with local history. We will start out with some bad news. On Monday at 7:15am local time, the Fort Steuben Bridge was dropped into the Ohio River by a series of explosives. As can be seen in a video provided by a local TV station out of Wheeling, the implosion was controlled and started with the roadway and trusses, which was then followed by the cables and finally, the towers, which were decapitated and fell into the far ends of the Ohio River.
The bridge, located approximately 70 kilometers west of Pittsburgh and 35 kilometers north of Wheeling, West Virginia, was one of the last suspension bridges of its kind in the USA. Built in 1923 by the Dravo Contracting Company of Pittsburgh, the bridge features a series of eyebar suspension cables, anchored at the piers located on both sides of the river, whose suspender (secondary vertical) cable supported the roadway that was reinforced with Warren pony trusses. Despite the extra support of the pony trusses, the tension on the cables (caused by the roadway) is far greater than with today’s suspension bridges because of the dead weight of the roadway. There are a handful of these bridges left in the country, a couple of which can be found nearby along the Ohio River with the Market Street Bridge in nearby Steubenville and the Newell Bridge, located 100 kilometers south of Youngstown, Ohio.
The Fort Steuben Bridge was closed in 2008, 18 years after the opening of the New Steubenville Bridge, a cable-stayed suspension bridge which has come under scrutiny recently because of weakening cables and other problems identified in an inspection report conducted by the Departments of Transportation (DOT) in West Virginia and Ohio. Attempts to save the bridge to be reused as a bike trail that would have connected Washington, DC and Indianapolis was quashed by officials of the Ohio DOT, who wanted to keep cyclists and pedestrians off the newly constructed Ohio Hwy. 7 expressway running along the west side of the river. The strive to demolish the suspension bridge persisted despite opposition from locals and preservationists wanting the bridge saved and reused for recreational purposes. Finally on Monday 20 February, 2012, officials from both states got their wish as a piece of history that tied Weirton and Steubenville together came crashing down without any remorse. In one of the videos of the demolition, one of the Ohio DOT officials stated “When ODOT’s not out plowing snow or repairing the roads we also enjoy blowing up old bridges.” Already the remark has drawn fire from critics like Nathan Holth, who compared destroying historic bridges in Ohio and surrounding states to bridges being destroyed by bombs in Europe during World War II. Needless to say, the demolition has left a bitter taste in the mouths of many with fond memories of the bridge which will linger for a long time, even after the next four historic bridges along the Ohio River are destroyed in favor of progress.
The fortunate part about the Fort Steuben Bridge is at least a tiny portion of the bridge has been saved as memorabilia to be used as an education incentive to encourage students to learn how to preserve artifacts made of steel. During the visit with Holth and Luke Gordon in August 2010, I had an opportunity to examine the bridge further to see what (if anything) can be done to preserve the bridge. There were many sections in the truss superstructure that had rusted away to a point where one could punch a hole in the structure without breaking his knuckles and obtain a piece of history. A piece rusted steel shown here in the picture below shows how neglected the bridge was prior to its closure in 2008.
If bridges like the Fort Steuben were maintained and painted regularly, like it is the case with the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, there would have been a chance that the new bridge would not have been built, wasting hundreds of dollars of the taxpayers’ money. Proper maintenance and rehabilitation would have cost a tenth of the amount needed to demolish and replace the bridge. Instead the DOTs decided to neglect that notion and moved in the name of progress, regardless of the opposition. There still would have been ways to save the structure had all parties involved decided to undertake this venture, which would have consisted of sandblasting the trusses and painted them, as it happened with the Market Street Bridge, which is open to traffic.
Still the need to exert power by using dynamite on the part of the DOTs was and is still strong. If statements like the one by the Ohio DOT persist, what would their reactions be like when a modern bridge, like the New Steubenville Bridge is slated for demolition? Would they take the same pleasure of demolishing a modern bridge as they would with a pre-1950 bridge? Perhaps not, but when the public finds out, changes in the way bridges are maintained will come forcing the state agencies to veer away from the ideal bridge- a 100 year old bridge that requires no maintenance- and embrace in bridge maintenance which may be expensive in the short term but cost effective in the long term. This applies to historic bridges, many of which are still in good shape and can last another 100 years if cared for properly.
While the Fort Steuben Bridge may be gone, its legacy will continue as the strive to save what is left of American History will continue with a goal of jumping ahead of progress and bringing it to a halt. This is the only way to force state agencies to look at alternatives to demolition and encourage people to learn about historic bridges and their ties to the development of the US regarding its industrialization, societal issues and the cultural perspective. While it may be interesting to read about them in books, as it will have to be the case with the Fort Steuben Bridge being gone, it is even more interesting to visit and cross the bridges, like the ones at Steubenville and Newell to learn more about the history from a close-up view. It is much better than having to collect pieces of history from a bridge that was demolished to keep in the bridge collection. That is what I’m doing with mine as it is sitting on my desk waiting to be reused for my next class.
Photos of the Ft. Steuben Bridge can be seen here.
1. Another preservationist and columnist, Kaitlin O’shea of Preservation in Pink (based in Vermont), recently wrote a column on how to photograph a historic bridge. This is a small guide for people interested in visiting and photographing these pieces of artwork that are dwindling in numbers. To access the article, please click on this link below:
2. Cable-stayed bridges are becoming more and more scrutinized because of supporting cables that are either wearing out more quickly than expected or in one case some that have snapped. The New Steubenville Bridge recently received bad reviews based on an inspection conducted by the two aforementioned DOTs, while a near disaster was averted on the Martin Olav Sabo Pedestrian Bridge south of Minneapolis, as two pairs of cables snapped, causing the Hiawatha rail line to suspend service and Hiawatha Avenue, a main artery connecting the largest city in Minnesota and Bloomington to be restricted. Reinforcements are being added to the bridge and an inspection is being conducted to determine the cause of the damage.
The Osborne County Hall of Fame Honors celebrates the Osborne County Sesquicentennial Year of 2021, marking the first 150 years of the county's existence. The "Honors" will present, recognize, and appreciate the various aspects of Osborne County, Kansas heritage and culture both past and present in a different manner than its parent organization, the Osborne County Hall of Fame. The series of lists that comprise the "Honors" will be revealed throughout the year on this site and via other social media. All Individuals already enshrined in the Osborne County Hall of Fame are excluded from the "Honors". Happy 150th Birthday, Osborne County!