Mystery Bridge Nr. 79: How to Reconvert a Truss Bridge- Going From Deck to Through Truss in Oklahoma

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Photos courtesy of Mark W. Brown

Our 79th Mystery Bridge takes us to Oklahoma; specifically to Whitesboro in LeFlore County and this bridge. Spanning the Kiamichi River at Township Rd. 4044C south of Whitesboro, this bridge is one of the most unusual through truss bridges a person will ever see in the United States. According to the data from Bridgehunter.com, the total length of the bridge was 270 feet with the largest span being 127 feet, the width of the bridge is around 13-14 feet and the vertical clearance is 13.3 feet. Yet despite the date of construction being ca. 1940, this bridge is unusual as it is a pinned connected through truss, thus bucking the standards of truss bridge construction. As many resources have indicated, most truss bridges built at this time had riveted or welded connections, making the structure sturdier and able to carry heavier loads. Pinned connections had a tendency of dislocating or even having the bolts connecting the beams to break off, causing bridge failure. This resulted in many of the structures being taken off the state highway system and relocated onto less-used township roads beginning in the 1920s and extending well into the 1950s, especially as the US was lacking materials and engineers as a result of World War II. Judging by the appearance of the bridge, it appears to have been built between 1910 and 1915 as this was the cut-off period for constructing truss bridges with pinned connections. It was congruent to the time standardized bridges were approved by the state governments, which included not just focusing on truss bridges with riveted connections and either Howe lattice or lettered portal bracings (namely, A, X, M and West Virginia framed), but also the key truss designs, which were the Pratt, Parker, K-truss, Warren, Polygonal Warren and in some cases, Pennsylvania petit.

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The Whitesboro Bridge features a Warren through truss, but looking at the structure further, it appeared that in its former life, it was a deck truss bridge that had many spans, totaling at least 500-600 feet. One can see how the overhead bracings were added, which consisted of thin cylindrical steel beams. Furthermore, there is no portal bracing, like other truss bridges, and lastly, when looking at the joint where the upper beam and the diagonal end posts meet, the upper beam appears to have been sawed off.  According to observation by fellow pontist, Mark W. Brown, the piers are 2-3 feet wider on each side and 1-2 feet higher, thus creating a slight slope when entering and crossing the structure. Two theories go along with the piers: either they were installed when the bridge was built or they were reinforced after the bridge sustained structural damage because of flooding.

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It is possible that this crossing was the first to have been built as the town expanded because of the baby boomer population. But the expansion did not last as many people moved to bigger cities for job opportunities. As of the 2008 Census, the population of the town incorporated in 1908 and named after one of the founders is only 1298. The hunch is that the highest population of Whitesboro was about 3,400 by 1960.

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The Whitesboro Bridge has a design that is not like any unusual designs developed by the engineers at all. It is neither a Pegram nor a Kellogg, now is it a Schaper truss, which you can see in many truss bridges built in Germany and other parts of Europe. This bridge is definitely a repurposed truss bridge, having gone from its previous life as a deck truss spanning one of the state’s greatest rivers, like the Red and the Canadian, to one spanning a smaller river but on whose width justified a through truss span.

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This leads us to the following questions:

  1. When exactly was this bridge built and was there a previous structure?
  2. Who was the mastermind behind this repurposing project and why did the engineer choose this?
  3. Where did the bridge originate from?
  4. When was this built and who was the bridge builder?
  5. Are there other remnants of that bridge left besides the one at Whitesboro?
  6. What do we know about Whitesboro aside the facts and figures presented in wikipedia?

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Got any leads, please share in the comment sections here as well as in the Chronicles’ facebook pages. You can also contact Jason Smith at the Chronicles, using the link here. As this bridge is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, any information you have or can find will help build a solid case for its nomination, let alone preserving it for future generations. As Oklahoma is losing historic bridges in large quantities in the past 8 years, the time is ripe to preserve what’s left of its culture, especially when it comes to unusual designs like this bridge in Whitesboro.

Special thanks to Mark W. Brown for bringing this to the author’s attention and for providing some interesting pics of this bridge.

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Valley View Trail Bridge to be Relocated

Portal view of the bridge. Photo taken by Mitch Nicholson of Abandoned Iowa
Portal view of the bridge. Photo taken by Mitch Nicholson of Abandoned Iowa

Bridge to become part of a city bike trail. Potential for other steel truss bridges to follow suit?

WINTERSET, IOWA- The Bridges of Madison County: Home of its covered bridges, one of a handful counties in the United States that has at least a half dozen of them. Built between 1867 and 1885, there were once 19 of these wooden housed structures spanning the North, Middle and South Rivers as well as numerous streams. Today only six of them remain, all of which are considered nationally significant, and each one has its own park and rest area to allow people to enjoy the bridge and the natural surroundings.

Madison County also has numerous truss bridges made of steel, and one of them is about to become part of a bike trail. The Valley View Trail Bridge, located four miles west of I-35 and two miles southwest of Bevington,has been closed since 2008 and has sustained significant damage to the approaches thanks to flooding that occurred in 2008, 2011 and 2013. The banks of one of the approach spans was washed away to a point where it resembled a diving board. Yet the 120-foot long bridge, constructed in 1911 by the Iowa Bridge Company and features a pinned connected Pratt through truss span with M-frame portal bracings and V-laced overhead strut bracings is seen by many locals as a rarity nowadays. Therefore the county is expanding its historic bridge heritage by including this bridge as part of a recreational complex. The plan is to place the bridge over a spillway being constructed at Cedar Lake in Winterset, which it will serve as a bike trail surrounding the lake. While costs are being calculated even as this gets posted, the county has already received funding from Iowa Dept. of Transportation (DOT) which will cover the cost for relocating the bridge.

Close-up of the approach span resembling a diving board. Photo by Mitch Nicholson
Close-up of the approach span resembling a diving board. Photo by Mitch Nicholson

The reuse of the Valley View Trail Bridge for recreational purposes has started a question about the possible use of other steel truss bridges in the county. There are as many steel truss bridges in the county as they are the covered bridges when their numbers reached its peak with 19 in 1920. Some of them have already been decommissioned and taken off the road system, yet there are some others that are approaching the end of their service, despite most of them being built during the Depression era.  The relocation and reuse of the Valley View Bridge may serve as an incentive for the county to consider reusing these bridges and bring their histories to the forefront, making the county not only the place of covered bridges, but also the place of bridges built of steel with the help of bridge builders, steel welders and railroaders responsible for molding the bridge parts in the mills, transporting them by rail and erecting them on site. With the number of truss bridges becoming a rarity, the county might have to consider this option once the Valley View Bridge is relocated and reopened for cyclists and pedestrians.

There are seven bridges worth considering for reuse apart from the successful plan involving the Valley View Bridge. These bridges are as follows:

Hatley Bridge:

Located over North Fork Clanton Creek a mile south of Limestone Rd. between US Hwy. 169 and Clark-Tower Road, this bridge is one of the shortest of the through truss bridges in Madison County, as well as Iowa. The 80-foot long Pratt through truss bridge with A-frame portal bracings was built in 1909 by local bridge builder SG Hunter Iron Works Company of Atlantic, Iowa, the bridge is perhaps the last example of its kind. Yet since its abandonment in the late 1980s, the bridge has become derelict. Relocation is possible, yet it would require dismantling the structure and doing some major sandblasting before reerecting it at its new home.

Huston Bridge over Clancy Creek. Photo taken by Mitch Nicholson
Huston Bridge over Clancy Creek. Photo taken by Mitch Nicholson

Huston Bridge:

Located over Clanton Creek at 282nd Trail, this bridge is a classic example of a series of truss bridges built by the King Bridge Company because of its portal bracings, as well as the inscriptions on the diagonal and vertical beams and the builder’s plaque. The bridge was relocated to this spot in 1952 and has been here ever since. The bridge has seen its better days as the decking has been removed to keep everyone off the bridge. Yet the bridge appears stable enough to be relocated without disassembly.

Fox Trail Bridge. Photo taken by James Baughn in 2013

Fox Trail Bridge

Located over Middle River at Fox Trail (CSAH G-47), five miles southwest of Winterset, this 157-foot long riveted Camelback through truss with West Virginia portal bracings represents a great example of a truss bridge built using Iowa state highway standards introduced in 1914. The bridge was built by another Iowa firm, the A. Olson Construction Company based in Waterloo. Two dates of construction make this bridge a controversial topic: 1935 according to the National Transportation Records and 1951 according to records by Iowa DOT. The hunch is that this bridge was built in 1935 somewhere else and was relocated here in 1951. Still in use, this bridge has potential to become a National Register landmark in the next 15 years because of its unique design that is becoming rare to find.

St. Charles Bridge. Photo taken by the author in 2007

St. Charles/ North River Trail Bridge

Located three miles north of Winterset and one mile east of US Hwy. 169 over the North River at North River Trail, this 122-foot long riveted Pratt through truss bridge features an M-frame portal bracing similar to many structures built by a bridge company Wickes Engineering from Des Moines. Yet this structure was built in 1932 by Ben Cole and Son, located in Ames, just 25 miles north of the state capital along Interstate 35. The question is whether Ben Cole did business with Wickes prior to 1932. This will require some research to find out. Yet the Wickes style of bridge is becoming rare today, for despite having an average of three of these bridges in each county, the numbers have dwindled down to just above 10% remaining in Iowa. The bridge is still in use but has some potential of being reused once its time as a full-service bridge runs out. The bridge is located six miles west of another covered bridge, the McBride Bridge, which was destroyed by arson in 1983. The instigator, who confessed to the act as response to losing his true love, eventually did social work to make up for the incident- working as a bridge inspector at a county highway department!

Clanton Creek Bridge at Bevington Park Rd. Photo taken by the author in 2007

Bevington Park Road Bridges

Located along Bevington Park Road between Bevington and St. Charles, this stretch of highway features two nearly identical trusses, located only three miles apart. Both feature riveted Pratt through trusses with M-frame portals. Both were built in 1932 by Ben Cole. Both have similar lengths of the main spans- ca. 125 feet. And both have the same color of a rustic brown. The only difference: One is located over the Middle River just outside Bevington and south of Iowa Hwy. 92;  the other is over Clanton Creek, two miles north of St. Charles. They’re still open to traffic but once their service ends, they are potential candidates for reuse as they exemplify as early modern truss bridges built during the Depression era, using Iowa State Highway standards, which were later used in bridge building, especially during this difficult era.

 

Mystery Bridge next to Holliwell Covered Bridge. Photo taken by James Baughn in 2013

Mystery Bridge at Holliwell Covered Bridge

There are as many pony truss bridges in Madison County as they are through truss bridges. This bridge is located just east of the Holliwell Covered Bridge, southeast of Winterset. Given the eyebar connections as seen in the photos taken by James Baughn, this bridge may be one of the oldest in Madison County, let alone in western Iowa. Yet as written as a mystery bridge in the Chronicles in 2011, there is a lot to learn about this bridge (see article here).  As there are three pony truss bridges already preserved as bike trails in Madison County, like the Cunningham, Miller and Morgan Bridges, this bridge would be a perfect candidate for trail use, regardless of whether it is in place at the Holliwell Covered Bridge (which would make much sense given the bridge’s value and location from Winterset), or if it was relocated to Winterset, as was the case with the Morgan and Miller Bridges. In either case, the bridge serves as a historical compliment to an even more popular Holliwell Bridge.

If these examples are not enough for people to take action and make the county an even bigger and more popular tourist attraction, then they should visit the county. After visiting historic Winterset, the John Wayne Birth Place and Museum and the six covered bridges, plus the site of the former McBride Covered Bridge, they should click on the links to the above-mentioned bridges, plan a trip to these structures, armed with a camera and some paper and have a look at them. Then start a movement to save the remaining truss bridges and repurpose them for recreational purposes. While covered bridges are one of the key symbols of American heritage, bridges like the ones mentioned here are just as valuable because of their contribution to the development of the US as a whole, and in this case, Madison County on the local level. The Valley View Trail Bridge project is just the beginning of a potentially bigger project to preserve what is left of these truss bridges. And if the county and state work together with private groups and those interested in these artefacts, then there will be another reason to visit Madison County in the coming summer months. Furthermore, Iowa just might have another completed preservation project on its long and storied resumé of preserved bridges, whose movement started with James Hippen in the 1970s and has been very successful since then.

The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles will keep you posted on the latest on the Valley View Bridge project as well as any other developments involving the historic truss bridges in Madison County. The author would like to thank Mitch Nicholson of Abandoned Iowa and James Baughn of bridgehunter.com for allowing use of the photos. All information are courtesy of IowaDOT, whose director, Matt Donovan is to thank for his help.

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Mystery Bridge Nr. 49: Silent Shade Swing Bridge in Mississippi

Photo taken by Craig Hanchey in 2009

The next Mystery Bridge takes us down to Mississippi and to this bridge: the Silent Shade Swing Bridge. The bridge is difficult to find for it is located over the Yazoo River, 25 migratory miles north of Yazoo City between US Highways 49W and 49E at the Humphreys and LeFlore County border. The bridge is visible from Silent Shade Road, located to the east of the river. The reason for its lack of visibility is because of the fact that the bridge has been abandoned for at least two decades. Yet the bridge has a lot of history that needs to be excavated, especially as it has been a subject of debate among historians and pontists. According to the data provided from the state of Mississippi, the bridge has a total length of 394 feet, 274 feet of which features a swing through truss span with a Warren design. The roadway width is 14.4 feet. The NBI data indicated that the bridge was built here in 1927, and this is where the debate starts.

If one looks at the picture more closely, there are two main factors that one has to look at. The first is the connecting trusses. While the bottom connections are riveted-meaning that the beams are slid together and welded shut like one wearing a pair of gloves- much of the truss is pin-connected, meaning the beams are bolted together like the elbow connecting the upper and lower arm of the human body. Pin-connected trusses were phased out in favor of riveted trusses as part of the standardized bridge plans introduced between 1915 and 1920. This brings up the next factor, which is the bridge’s portal and strut bracings. The Silent Shade Bridge has Howe lattice portal bracings with curved heel bracings, while the strut bracings also have heel bracings. This is not typical of truss bridges built in the 1920s, for through truss bridges featured portal bracings resembling the alphabet, like the A, WV, W and even X frame portal bracings, as shown in the examples below:

Winnebago River Bridge located between Mason City and Charles City. Build date: 1925. Photo taken in July 1999
Oakland Mills Bridge over the Skunk River at Mount Pleasant, Iowa. Built in 1876. Photo taken in August 2011

With these two flaws in mind, one has to ask himself whether the Silent Shade Swing Bridge was relocated to this spot from its place of origin and if so, where. It is clear that unless the bridge builder was so stubborn that he bucked the standardized bridge plans provided by the state, that the Silent Shade Swing Bridge was built before 1900. The author’s guess is between 1880 and 1895 with the bridge builder being one of the 28 that eventually became part of the American Bridge Company Conglomerate, which was established in 1901. The question is how far from the truth is he off and therefore, your help is needed.

The bridge community would like to know the following:

1. Whether the bridge was originally built here or relocated and if the latter, where was its place of origin?

2. If the bridge was relocated, when was it originally built?

3. Who was the bridge builder who built the structure and/or relocated it to its present site?

4. When was the bridge discontinued and left abandoned?

Because the bridge is so unique because of its truss design and the use of a rare bridge type over a less-travelled river in comparison to the Mississippi, the bridge will most likely receive some accolades in the future, such as a National Register listing, and eventually be used as a bike trail crossing, assuming it can be swung back into place from its open position. But you can help by solving the mystery of this bridge. Send your comments and data to the Chronicles or post them on the Chronicles’ facebook page or the comment page of bridgehunter.com, which has some info of the bridge’s location and photos here.

Nathan Holth commented that if the bridge was built in 1927, then he was president of the US. If it actually was built in 1927, then perhaps he should be sworn in as US president. After all, the history of a bridge like the Silent Shade is full of surprises, much of which will help rewrite the history of American architecture and transportation.

Author’s Note: Special thanks to Craig Hanchey for allowing his photo to be used for this article.

Also: The bridge is located approx. 70 miles east of the Mississippi River and Greenville as well as 120 miles north of the state capital of Jackson. 

Mystery Bridge 46: The Disappearing Bridge in Nicollet County, Minnesota

Photo courtesy of MnDOT

Just recently, as I was looking for some information on some historic bridges for a book on one of the rivers in Minnesota, I happened to stumble across this bridge by chance. Located over the Minnesota River south of Fort Ridgely State Park, the only information gathered from an inventory of all bridges constructed in Minnesota revealed that the bridge was built in 1905, carried a township road, and was 259 feet long.  I bundled that bridge (known to locals as the Hinderman Bridge) in with my other bridge inquiries to MnDOT, only to receive this black and white picture from 1941. As you can see in the picture, the bridge was a two-span Pratt pony truss with pinned and eyebar connections.  According to information from MnDOT, with the construction of the MN Hwy. 4 Bridge to the northwest and a new bridgeat County Highway 13 in 1987, it was determined that the truss structure was rendered useless and was therefore abandoned, taken off the road system and most likely ended up in the back yard of a private farmstead.  Using Googlemap, it is revealed that the bridge no longer exists, as it was removed at a certain date, even though it is unknown when that took place, let alone why it happened to begin with.

The Minnesota River is laden with lots of information on bridges, both past and present, much of which have been documented for public availability at local museums, the state historical society and even online. Yet there are many questions that have yet to be answered with regards to this bridge. First and foremost, we have the issue of location. Many historic maps in the early 1900s had revealed that the bridge no longer existed with the exception of the canoe map provided by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, leading to the question of what type of service the road served before it was closed along with the bridge.  This was one of the findings that fellow pontist John Weeks III thought was odd, during his visit to the bridge in 2008. Yet the Hinderman Bridge does have some history behind it as Weeks discovered while researching about this bridge:

The bridge was named after Captain Hinderman and was once a popular ferry, connecting Ridgely Township in Nicollet County and the village of Home in Brown County. In 1905 the state appropriated $1,800 for a new crossing to replace the ferry, and the bridge was later built under the direction of Captain Hinderman and William LaFlamboy on the Nicollet side and Hans Moe from Sleepy Eye on the Brown side.  It is unknown where the steel was fabricated and who the bridge builder was, but it is likely that Hinderman and local residents may have ordered the structure from the bridge builder and it was shipped to the location to be assembled.  Information from a source with relation to the Hinderman family revealed that the bridge was washed out by flooding in 1951 but was later rebuilt at the exact location. But more concrete information came from the great-granddaughter of Captain Hinderman in 2012, who revealed that the bridge had been in service for 82 years before it became a liability for Brown County (which had own the bridge) because of a weight limit of three tons and was later closed to traffic in the fall of 1987.  More information about the bridge can be found through John Weeks’ website here.

This was all the information that was found about the Hinderman Bridge. All that is left of the bridge is wood pilings and the road approaching what is left of the bridge from both sides. A center pier in the middle of the Minnesota River, which revealed a two-span structure was knocked into the river by flooding in the 2000s. Yet it still does not answer the following questions:

1. Who provided the steel and was contracted to build the bridge?

2. When was the bridge removed and why?

3. When was Hinderman’s Ferry in service, and how long did the village of Home exist?

Any information about the bridge would be much appreciated, so that we can close the book on the story of this bridge that had once been an important crossing but became an unknown memory after 1987. The article and information about the bridge are available through bridgehunter.com, where you can place your comments in the section by clicking here. Yet, you can contact the Chronicles and John Weeks III using the contact details provided both in the Chronicles page here as well as here.

The author wishes to thank Peter Wilson at Minnesota DOT for providing some important information and photos of this bridge. 

Ely Street Bridge in Bertram Washed Away

Ely Street Brdg. Bertram
Ely Stret Bridge in Bertram

1891 Bridge near Cedar Rapids knocked into flooded Big Creek.

June of this year saw unprecedented flooding in the Midwest, as heavy rainfall saturated the ground and turned quiet creeks into violent rivers flowing out of control. This includes the areas of Linn, Jones and Johnson Counties in east central Iowa, where floodwaters and erosion caused damage to two major highway bridges northeast of Cedar Rapids, and sadly the destruction of a prized historic bridge in the small town of Bertram.

Located east of Cedar Rapids and accessible from highways 151 and 13, the town of 300 inhabitants is located on a key railroad line between Clinton and Cedar Rapids. The quiet community prides itself in having four historic bridges located within a six-mile radius, all of them located along Big Creek, one of the tributaries that eventually empties into the Cedar River.  The Ely Street Bridge, located on East Bertram Road just south of the railroad crossing is one of them.

Ely Street Bridge in Bertram
Ely Street Bridge in Bertram in Linn County. Photo taken in August 2013

Built in 1891, the two-span Pratt through truss bridge, with Town lattice portal bracings and pinned connections, is a key example of a bridge built by J.E. Jayne and Son Bridge Company in Iowa City, located 30 miles south of Cedar Rapids. Born in 1838,  John E. Jayne moved to Johnson County at the age of two where he settled down with his family on a plot of land in Graham Twp., according to county records. He started his bridge building business in Iowa City in the 1870s, with his company located on Gilbert Street. Many bridges built in Linn County were credited to his name, including three in and around Bertram. The red-colored Ely Street Bridge is the best known product built by Jayne, as the structure consists of two truss spans totalling 224 feet long and 14 feet wide. Plaques are found at the top center part of the portal bracings. The bridge is well-hidden but one will cross it right after crossing the railroad tracks.

That is, it used to…

Heavy rainfall caused Big Creek to flood its banks, resulting in trees and other debris falling into the rushing waters. One of the larger trees knocked the two-span structure into the water on June 30th, cutting the truss bridges into pieces and the street off from its main access to US 151 and IA 13.  Once standing while underwater, the truss structure is now in many pieces, and there is no word on whether the bridge will be rebuilt or scrapped in favor of a more modern structure.

Already last year, attempts were made by Iowa DOT and Linn County to encourage residents of Bertram to “upgrade” the bridges, including the Ely Street Bridge. The offer of covering a wider portion of the cost to replace them was rejected by residents for they did not want to have an increase in traffic going through the community. The decision was sensible given the quiet setting Bertram has to offer, with its narrow streets and houses that are more than 70 years old. With the Ely Street Bridge washed away, the issue of the future of the crossing will indeed be brought back onto the table of the Bertram town council, Linn County and eventually Iowa DOT.

There are three options facing the parties involved:

1. The bridge could be scrapped and replaced with a modern bridge, with the plaques being saved and showcased at either the museum or on the railings of the new bridge. There, the issue of the increase in traffic and the opposition to building a new bridge because of cost and historic significance will be discussed vehemently.

2. The second option is removing what is left of the bridge and not replacing the bridge at all. This would be a definitely inconvenience for it would cut the community in half with a crossing disappearing forever.

3. Then there is the third option, which is rebuilding the truss bridge, piece by piece, making it resemble the original crossing. While that may be expensive to undertake, judging by the state of the truss spans, most of the pieces are salvageable, with the exception of the diaginal beams and portal bracings, which can be done by a local bridge builder. This option would keep the bridge listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the honor it had received in 1998.

Even if only one of the truss spans is salvageable, one can either construct a replica of the lost span, as was done with the Motor Mill Bridge in Clayton County and the easternmost span of the Sutliff Crossing near Lisbon, both done in 2012. Both bridges had been washed away by flooding years before, and residents associated with both bridges raised funding and received help from state and federal authorities to rebuild them.  That financial support is also available if one would import a historic bridge from elsewhere to replace one of the lost spans, whether that span originates from somewhere in either Linn, Jones or Johnson Counties or a couple river miles west of the bridge. There, the Blaine’s Crossing Bridge, seen from the Hwy. 151/13 Bridge, has been out of use for many years but still has some use left, judging by the appearance after the bridge was visited by two pontists within two years of each other.

Given the many opportunities available, combined with the technical know-how available for rebuilding and restoring historic bridges, and the residents’ interest in a (preferrably restored) crossing at East Bertram Road, it will be most likely that the Ely Street Bridge will be rebuilt and the crossing will be reopen in the near future. The questions will remain though as to how to approach this problem. Will the bridge be rebuilt to its original form or (partially) replaced? How much money is needed to rebuild the crossing and where will the money come from? Will there be any campaigning for restoring the crossing, like on facebook, etc., and if so, how? And lastly, what will the rebuilt bridge look like: in its original form, in a replicated form, in an altered form, or in a completely new form?  All these questions will need to be answered in the coming weeks and months before construction of the crossing can commence. This time, those affected will have their say as to how (new) crossing should be built.

Author’s Note: Check out Bridgehunter.com for more pictures of the Ely Street Bridge, taken by the author and two other pontists. This includes a couple shots of the bridge after being knocked into Big Creek. 

A tour of Bertram’s bridges can be seen here.

What to do with a Historic Bridge: The Monroe Bridge at the Jasper/Marion County Border in Iowa

Photos taken in August 2013

text Author’s Note: This is Part II of the series on the two Skunk River Bridges in Jasper County, Iowa that are threatened with their own demise after being abandoned for some time. Part I dealt with the Red Bridge and can be seen here. This parts looks at the bridge’s southern neighbor, the Monroe Bridge at the county border.

After being turned away at the Red Bridge, our next stop was the Monroe Bridge, located downstream at 126th Avenue at the county borders of Jasper and Marion Counties. Here, we got lucky and not so lucky with this bridge, built in 1899 by the local contractors, Burchinal and Hertzog.  Lucky because the bridge was noticeable in view and we could park near the structure. Unlucky because we could not cross it. After being closed to traffic in 2012, workers made sure that no one crossed the bridge by digging a hole 30 feet long and 15 feet deep behind the abutments, exposing the wooden wingwalls to the extremities. Unless you are an experienced pontist, like Nathan Holth, you don’t want to attempt to jump from the ledge to the bridge in order to photograph it.

Side view of the exposed wingwall after the abutment was dug out to prevent drivers and pedestrians from entering the bridge.

That it unless you have a reliable camera, like the Pentax 300, where you can get some long-distance photos, like I took during our stop there.  The bridge features a 150-foot long steel through truss bridge with Howe Lattice portal bracings, I-beam strut bracings with 45° heel supports, and pinned connections. With the wooden approach spans the total length is 230 feet and the width, 17 feet.  Yet looking at the portal bracings more closely, there are ornamental designs in the center of the bracings, where the two diagonal portions meet forming an X.

This is common among bridges built by George E. King, son of Zenas King who ran the King Bridge Company in Cleveland, Ohio.  King established his bridge building business in Des Moines in the 1890s and was responsible for bridges throughout Iowa, Minnesota and the Dakotas, built between 1890 and 1910. This includes the Green Bridge in Des Moines and the Straight River crossing at Clinton Falls, north of Owatonna in Minnesota.  It is possible that the Monroe Bridge consisted of a bridge previously located somewhere else, but the local contractors brought it here to be erected at its current site.  Yet judging by the design pattern on the portal bracing of the Monroe Bridge, it is possible that the local contractors may have ordered the bridge fabricated by the steel companies in the Rust Belt region, and the ornament was at their discretion.  More information would be needed to support one claim or another.

Close-up of the ornamental feature on the portal bracing.

The situation looks grim for the Monroe Bridge. Already a replacement bridge located 300 feet south of the structure is in the works, and it is unknown whether the bridge will be torn down after the new bridge is opened or left in its place.  As mentioned in the previous article on the Red Bridge, ideally would be to restore the bridge as a bike trail crossing connecting that with neighboring Red Bridge as well as the communities of Colfax, Monroe and Pella.  The other option would be to relocate it to a park in one of the nearby communities within 100 miles of the crossing. This includes the Red Rock Lake area, where some historic bridges are residing, including the Wabash, Harvey and Horn’s Ferry Bridges.  The third option is to give it to the nearby landowners, where they could use it as a private path. As this concept is well received in Iowa, this could be an option to take to compensate for the land lost to the new bridge and road alignment.  In either case, as aesthetically beautiful and historically significant as the Monroe Bridge is, it would be a shame to watch the bridge be reduced to a pile of rubble, when there is a chance to find out more about its history, let alone save it. Since last year, The Friends of the Red Bridge group has been looking at some ideas as to what to do with the neighbor to the north. Perhaps they have some space for the Monroe Bridge as well. Saving both may take hard work and lots of resources, yet in the end, it will save money and a piece of history for others to enjoy. And that is something Jasper County could take pride in.

The author has some more photos taken of the Monroe Bridge, to be seen in the Historic Bridges of the US website, available by clicking here.

Name that bridge type: A mystery bridge made of salt.

Photos taken in October 2011

Our next mystery bridge is also one whose bridge type is to be identified. But before mentioning anymore about it, let us clarify what this bridge is all about. First of all, it is not made of salt, nor was there salt used in building the structure.  After all, salt and steel do not mix as the former eats away at the latter when used for any purpose, which includes deicing the roads to ensure that no cars slide around and cause accidents. Second of all, the bridge is located over a river whose Sorbian name means “salt”, and it is in a (former East) German city that prides itself on the commodity that was once treated like gold during the Medieval era. The city still mines salt along the river today and markets products made from salt, but not as much as about 300 years ago at the latest.

Going back to the bridge itself, this was found by chance while touring this river in 2011 and 12 respectively. It is one of the oldest bridges over the river in this salt city, whose construction dates back to the 1880s. It used to serve a railroad leading to an industrial district on an island that was in service until shortly after German Reunification in 1990. While the rail line and the bridge were both abandoned when the manufacturing company went out of business, the city bought the line and later converted it into a bike trail, while at the same time, the bridge was rehabilitated and received a color of green for its color, which can still be seen while biking along the river today.  The design of the bridge however reveals one of the truss designs that eventually made its way to the United States even before the time of its construction, where one can see many examples today in the New England states, Pennsylvania  and Texas. This despite the fact that: 1. The truss bridge type was developed and patented before 1860 with the earliest example known to be built in Mainz and 2. The truss bridge type was developed by two different engineers, one of which led the efforts to build one of the key landmarks in Pittsburgh in 1883, which still exists today. The design resembles a parabolical, lens-like shape, resembling a combination of a suspension and an arch bridge, supported by diagonal truss beams. It resembles that of the Prince Albert Bridge in England, which was built by I.K. Brunel in 1859.   The design was later modified by another American engineer in the 1890s even though that design never bore fruit.

The bridge was one of the first to introduce welded and riveted connections, instead of pinned connections. Pin connections meant that truss beams are connected with a series of eyebars, nuts and bolts. They’re easy to assemble and reassemble. Yet the riveted connections imply that the beams are joined by gusset plates, where they slide into place and bolted shut by bolts. Welded connections do not require gusset plates but the beams are welded together, either with or without the use of bolts. With the exception of the riveted connections between the end posts and the upper chords, much of the bridge’s connections were welded, supported by bolts. Surviving World War II, the bridge represents one of the earliest surviving examples of bridges built with these connections.

Keeping this in mind, here are some questions for you to consider and answer:

  1. What is the name of the bridge, and where is it located?  To help you, please refer to sister column The Flensburg Files and the Christmas market series to help you. You can access the Files by clicking here.
  2. What truss bridge type is mentioned here?
  3. What do you know about the bridge’s history?  A murder of a well-known politician occurred on this bridge but he was dignified as a prominent figure by the East German Socialist Party (SED) during the Cold War. A plaque can be found on the trusses, which can be seen while crossing the bridge today.

Put your thoughts and guesses in the comment section both here as well as on the facebook page.  The answers will be revealed when a bridge tour of this salt city is given, which will be later in the summer, after the tour of the bridges in Schleswig-Holstein is completed.  Speaking of that state, the next article takes us back to the Grand Canal, where one will have a look at 10 finest bridges with over 130 years of history with it.

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Ambridge-Woodlawn Bridge to be rehabbed. A step in the right direction for preserving Pennsylvania’s (remaining) historic bridges?

There is an old saying that was mentioned many years ago by British author Kazuo Ishiguro which stated that in order to be successful, one has to work within his own boundaries and with the resources that he has at his disposal. Some of the themes used in his novels- the most popular was of course “The Remains of the Day” (published in 1989)- have something to do with trying to go beyond one’s own limits only to meet failure and later regret some years later and eventually, these self-made tragedies are usually served as a lesson for future generations and those who have yet to experience life and know that there are limits to what one is doing.

I wish I can say the same for the governmental agencies and their dealings with historic bridges, for up to now, whenever a historic bridge that has a unique appearance which people can relate to is considered obsolete, they would successfully find ways to destroy them in favor of modernized structures with a very bland feature. We have already seen the demise of the Bridgeport and Fort Steuben Bridges in the Wheeling (West Virginia) area within the last nine months. The Minneapolis and St. Louis Railroad Bridge over the Minnesota River in the village of Carver, located southwest of Chaska, was removed upon orders of the Union Pacific Railroad in October 2011 despite pleas from the villagers and those interested in preserving a bridge. And perhaps the latest act of stupidity among the agency is replacing the Dolles Mill Bridge in Bollinger County (Missouri) with a concrete slab bridge that is narrower than the Parker through truss bridge built in 1913.

So it definitely came to a surprise that the Ambridge-Woodlawn Bridge, located over the Ohio River near Ambridge would actually be spared demolition despite being 85 years old and quite a narrow bridge fitting today’s standards. Built in 1927 by the American Bridge Company, the bridge is located in Beaver County, approximately 80 kilometers south-southwest of Pittsburgh, but still deep in the territory of western Pennsylvania.  Up to now, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation played a role of the wrecking ball in influencing decisions to demolish these bridges, destroying as much as 60% of its bridges within the past decade. This included the Foxburg, West Hickory, Venango and East Brady Bridges. Yet despite its bad track record, plus further plans to replace more historic bridges in and around the Pittsburgh area this year, there seems to be a change of heart, or so it seems, with this bridge.

I had a chance to visit this bridge during my tour of the region in 2010 and was quite impressed with its history and appearance. The bridge is a cantilever truss bridge using a Pratt design, and it was built using pinned connections, meaning the parts are put together via bolts and eyelets. The bridge features Howe lattice portal and strut bracings and finials on each of the four cantilever towers of the bridge, all shaped in a form of a curved pyramid.  The bridge’s east approach spans the Ohio River Boulevard and a couple abandoned rail lines before making its was across the Ohio River. After reaching the bank, the two Warren pony truss spans crosses the Norfolk Southern Railway before the road terminates at Constitution Boulevard on the west end of the river.  Its aqua green color gives the bridge an impressive look, and the people of Ambridge have used the bridge as part of their marketing strategy to bring more people and business to the community of 7,800 inhabitants. Interesting enough, Ambridge was incorporated by the American Bridge Company in 1905, by converging neighboring Legionville with the remnants of the village of Economy, which was founded in 1824 by the Harmony Society. The bridge building company was located here and was the main anchor of business in the city as steel mills drew in thousands of residents, looking for work and a place to start their lives. By 1940, the population had reached 18,968 before the steel mills shut down and many people left the community.  While the steel mills no longer exist, the city has preserved much of its business district and is now a main source of tourism. There is hope that the bridge will become part of that heritage once the rehabilitation work is completed.

I spent over an hour at the bridge and saw some bridge inspectors there, looking at the state of the bridge and making some notes and perhaps some recommendations. Judging by the appearance of the bridge, it was on the borderline between saving it and scrapping it. As draconian as PennDOT has been to the historic bridges, I would not have been surprised had the decision for the latter choice been taken. But much to my surprise after talking with the inspectors, my assumptions were wrong. From their point of view, it would be possible if the bridge would last another 25-30 years if some repairs are made.  It was a rather optimistic prediction given the sorry state of the bridges in the US in general.  As a whole, America’s bridges were graded C on a scale from A (excellent) to F (fail) by the American Society of Civil Engineers in 2009. That means that despite progress in repairing/ rehabilitating as well as replacing bridges deemed structurally obsolete to today’s standards, there is still more work to be done. Yet in terms of preserving historic bridges in general, my grade would be in the D range, and in the case of Pennsylvania, a walloping F.  That means that historic bridges most of the time are minimally maintained, causing them to deteriorate to a point where replacement is warranted. And that could be expensive, as a new bridge is four times as expensive as updating the bridge to meet current traffic standards. There were many examples of historic bridges I visited in western Pennsylvania that fell victim to neglect because of incremental ways to save money for maintenance- even for a good coat of paint if it is needed. As of this entry, a couple have since been removed and replaced and a few more are slated to come out soon.

Despite its top three ranking for the worst infrastructure in the country, Pennsylvania has been trying to catch up on bridge work through its massive bridge replacement program, regardless of where the funding comes from- from the state, federal government or even the private sector. Yet given the dire straits of the US economy and the political stalemate that has been going on in Washington- especially in light of this year’s presidential elections, it seems that the funding is being dried up faster than there are plans for replacing bridges in the next five years. Henceforth, the only viable option for PennDOT is to heed to the demands of the experts in bridge rehabilitation and preservation, listen to the public and rehabilitate the bridge from top to bottom so that the structure can continue serving traffic for more than 30 years and still be part of the legacy that Ambridge still prides itself in.

The plan calls for a complete closure of the bridge between now and the end of November of this year and will include the repair and partial replacement of the bridge deck, replacement of the sidewalk and railings, repairs on the steel superstructure, new roadway, and a new paint job, just to name a few features of the project. What will produce a mixture of reactions from the public and those interested in the bridge is the change in paint color from aqua green to grey. While grey is commonly used on many truss bridges, it is highly questionable on this bridge, given its conformity to the surroundings. Yet there are some bright sides to the use of grey on the bridge, which includes it being brighter for cars at night and more noticeable for navigation on the Ohio River. What the bridge will look like once the rehabilitation is completed remains to be seen, but it appears that if the rehabilitation project is successful, it could spell a chance for PennDOT to look for ways to rehabilitate other historic bridges in the area. It does not necessarily have to be the main links, like the Ambridge-Woodlawn Bridge. It could also be some historic bridges, like the Carlton Bridge in Mercer County, which only takes an average of 10 vehicles a day. Rehabilitation can be a win-win situation for all parties involved. It saves money, prolongs the bridge’s life and maximizes its usage and especially, it preserves the historic significance of the bridge and its affiliation with the community and the people connected with it. The Ambridge-Woodlawn Bridge may help PennDOT to finally turn the curve in terms of its stance on historic bridges.

Links:

http://www.bridgehunter.com/pa/beaver/ambridge/

http://www.historicbridges.org/bridges/browser/?bridgebrowser=pennsylvania/ambridge/

http://www.wpxi.com/news/news/local/ambridge-aliquippa-bridge-closed-through-november-/nLKm5/

 

 

Bridgehunter Fast Fact:

Minus the greater Pittsburgh and Wheeling areas, Beaver County ranks in the top five of the highest number of truss bridges in western Pennsylvania, as many simple and cantilever truss bridges can be found within a 5-6 kilometer radius of each other on average. One of the reasons for this is the policy of rehabilitating and preserving pre-1965 spans with a potential of being reused again, despite the historic significance. A couple noteworthy examples include the Fallston Bridge (below). Built by the Penn Bridge Company in 1884, this two-span Whipple truss bridge was rehabilitated in 2005 and still serves traffic to this day. The bridge is located over the Beaver River near the Beaver Valley Golf Course in Fallston.

Photo taken by James Baughn in 2009

The other example is the rehabilitation going on at the Beaver Expressway Bridge (middle bridge in the photo below). Built in 1963, the bridge serves freeway traffic and was undergoing extensive rehabilitation of the deck truss span during the visit. The cities of Rochester and Beaver had already renovated a neighboring bridge to the north of the structure.

Photo taken by James Baughn in 2009

 

Author’s note: Unless noted, photos were taken during a tour in western Pennsylvania, West Virginia and along the Ohio River in August 2010

Waterford Iron Bridge (Minnesota):

Overview of the bridge (Note all photos taken in August 2011)

Heading southwest in the direction of my childhood place of Jackson on a heavily used state rural highway through Dakota County, there is an old iron bridge located just off to the left of the road that one would easily forget unless he was told that it was there and was worth visiting if he ever was interested in historic bridges or even the history of the region, like Dakota County.  Located just a mile northeast of Waterford and four from Northfield, the first fact that one has to know about the bridge is that it is on Canada Avenue and when turning left and crossing the single-lane railroad track, one will meet the Cannon River in an instant. While there is a concrete bridge that is open to traffic as the Dudley Bridge, the second factor one should know about is the fact that the Camelback through truss bridge can be seen on the left side. Yet getting to the 1909 structure after crossing the 2010 piece of modern concrete slab (sorry but it does look bland to the naked eye) does create an interesting challenge, as I encountered it when I parked my white Aveo off to the side and went to the bridge for some photo opportunities.

South entrance

There are two ways of getting to the bridge- one following a path underneath the new bridge, which is nothing more but a pile of dirt turned into thick oozing mud when wet, and one through the weeds, whose bright yellow and dark brown Maximilian sunflowers mask the thistles and deer ticks lurking in the ground. In either way, the paths converge onto what was left of the gravel road that would follow the 30s style telephone poles and pat the south shores of the Cannon before making it sharp 45° turn towards the river and meeting the A-frame portal bracing and the plaque with the names of the people who helped build this unique structure.

Oblique view

The Waterford Iron Bridge was built by the Hennepin Bridge Company in Minneapolis, which has a history of its own. The company was founded by Lawrence H. Johnson in 1905. His career as a bridge builder dates back to his days with Commodore Jones and the Minneapolis Bridge Company. He also had a small bridge building business prior to that, where a rare Camelback through truss bridge near Mankato was built in 1901.  Not only did he build bridges, he was into politics, as he was a state representative from 1901 to 1909, a position which included his post as speaker of the house in 1907.  Apart from its sleaky silver color, the bridge is unique as it is the only structure left, whose connections are bolted. At the time of its construction in 1909, many bridge companies were experimenting with ways of making the truss bridges sturdier, more capable of carrying heavier traffic. Truss bridges were originally assembled together using pinned connections, meaning the parts would be assembled using metal pins that were screwed together with bolts. But as traffic became heavier and more numerous, tensions on these pins combined with the weather extremities caused them to weaken and corrode, forcing engineers to replace them before the structure collapsed.  Already calls for standardized bridges with riveted connections- meaning the parts would slide together like a glove and screwed together- were becoming louder, namely for the fact that railroad companies were using truss bridges with these riveted connections to accomodate heavier rail traffic without incident. When the bridge was built, the parts were put together similar to that of the riveted connections, but were bolted shut to ensure that the truss bridge would remain stable. Examples of bolted connections can be found on the diagonal beams as well as along the upper and lower chords of the structure. Furthermore, the Waterford Iron Bridge was one of the very last bridges in the US that was built using iron. Iron had become obsolete when steel took over as the main material for bridge construction in 1890, and the construction of the Waterford signalled the end to iron-made bridges in Minnesota for bridges of this type were being built using steel, which was light-weight and flexible in comparison with iron, which can be brittle, corrode easily and has a lower melting temperature in comparison with steel.

Example of bolted connections at the upper chord

The bridge remained in exceptionally good condition throughout all of its life with the exception of the fact that there were cracks in the southeast wingwall and damage to the abutments caused by flooding in 1983. Not even the floods of 2010 and spring 2011 caused havoc to the structure, which is a good sign that the bridge has been cared for by the county and the township, which will continue that process even if the bridge is now obsolete because of the neighboring Dudley Bridge.

Currently, the group responsible for saving the bridge is planning on replacing the above-mentioned sections together with the concrete and steel decking with new steel decking with treated timber, with long-term plans of incorporating it into the 26-mile Town Trail system connecting Faribault and Cannon Falls. While they applied for grants to undertake this task of prepping it up for bike trail use, they found out that their bridge is in the top 25 of the Partners for Preservation competition, where 25 of the best candidates would receive the top prize of $1 million dollars. While the Waterford bridge is the only historic bridge in the running, other candidates include the Minnesota Transportation Museum in St. Paul, Pilot Knob where the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers meet, the Minnesota State Fair Grandstand and Ramp in Falcon Heights, and the Basilica of St. Mary Church in Minneapolis.  While 2% of the population have so far voted for the Waterford Bridge, there is still time to vote before the deadline of 12 October by clicking on the link at the end of the article.

North entrance with portal view. Note that the boulders prevent drivers from entering the bridge

Regardless of what the outcome of the vote is, it is certain that the bridge will be cared for for generations to come because of its uniqueness and history. Furthermore, the bridge definitely provides cyclists and pedestrians alike with natural surroundings that one can rarely find in a historic bridge like this in Minnesota. Currently, only 40 or so truss bridges are left in Minnesota and the numbers are dropping by the year. Only a handful like this bridge provide some conformity with the natural surroundings and history to those who want to know more about its construction and its connection with American history. The opportunity to save the Waterford Bridge is grand and will set the precedent for other bridges of its kind, whose function of serving traffic is nearing its end, but whose beauty and history deserves its place as a recreational structure for generations to enjoy.

The big tree divides the Waterford (right) with the Dudley (left)

The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles wishes the group the best of luck in the contest and with their endeavors in saving the bridge. One advice: the bike trail from the bridge going south is better off going under the Dudley Bridge to provide some excitement for the cyclist at heart. 🙂

South portal view with concrete flooring. Note the builder’s plaque on the portal bracing

You can view the photos of the bridge via flickr, which you can click here.