Overheight Truck Sheers Through Truss Bridge in Texas

Photo taken by Brent Tindall, Public Domain

Historic Highway Bridge Closed Indefinitely after Truck Rams into Bridge with the Trailer Set on High.

bhc newsflyer new

DALLAS-FT. WORTH/ GLEN ROSE- Less than one week after a historic bridge in Iowa was lost to an overweight truck, another historic bridge may be destined for scrap heap because of another accident. Yet this time, it involved a truck, whose trailer was far too high for the bridge’s overhead clearance.

The Glen Rose Bridge, located over the Brazos River on US Highway 67 between Glen Rose and Ft. Worth, is currently closed to traffic after a trucker travelled through the cantilever through truss structure with a raised loader, tearing through the portal and sway bracings of the bridge before stopping a third of the way through. The vertical clearance for the 1300-foot cantilever Warren structure is 15 feet! The 1947 structure had been renovated in 2009 to accomodate westbound traffic with the east bound traffic serving the newer structure. It is unknown if the loader, which was in a diagonal position at the time of entering the bridge, was raised intentionally, or if there was either technical or driver error. The driver, who was unhurt in the accident, has been cited for driving with an overheight truck across the bridge, yet more dire consequences may be coming for him and the trucking firm as costs for repairs will need to be calculated.

The 70-year old bridge is currently closed to traffic with all westbound traffic being shifted to the newer, eastbound bridge. It is unknown how much work will be needed on the bridge, but officials at Texas Department of Transportation estimate the westbound bridge being closed for up to a year, be it extensive repairs or a full-blown replacement.

This is the second such accident in less than four years. The Skagit River Interstate 5 Bridge collapsed on 23 May, 2013 after a truck struck its portal bracings, causing one span to collapse. It took less than five months to construct a replacement before reopening the bridge, which still serves I-5 in Mt. Vernon, Washington.

While the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles will keep you posted on latest on the Glen Rose Bridge, have a look at the extent of the damage by clicking here. Be careful, the damage may be graphic to some viewers.

bhc fast facts new

The portal bracings are like the red door of the house of the Burnham family in the film American Beauty. Consisting of lattice or letter-style patterns, they are used to support the end posts of the through truss bridge. They once featured interwoven Town lattice bracings with ornamental features with swirls, iron urns and fancy builder’s plaques. Since 1900, they feature letter-shapes, like the A, M, X, and WV. This one has the WA style, the letters representing the state of Washington.

The sway bracings are horizontal overhead bracings that support the truss frames, keeping it intact. Pending on the through truss bridge’s height and simplistic design, they can be single or multi-layered. The Glen Rose has Lattice-style sways, which increases in layers as the driver approaches one of its two towers.

bhc logo newest1

Mystery Bridge 44: Fink Truss Bridge in San Antonio

Houston Street Bridge in San Antonio Photo courtesy of Texas Transportation Museum

The Fink Truss: one of the most unusual of truss bridge types ever designed and built.  Invented and patented in 1854 by Albert Fink, the truss design features a combination of Warren and Bollmann trusses, and with the diagonal beams criss-crossing the panels, especially the deck trusses resembled a triangle with many subdivided beams. Many trusses built with this design were in the name of the German bridge engineer, who was born in Lauterbach in Hesse and emigrated to New York after completing his engineering degree in Darmstadt. This included the following Fink deck truss bridges: the Appomatox High Bridge in Virginia– built in 1869 and featured 21 Fink deck truss spans, the Verrugas Viaduct in Peru– named after the virus that inflicted the workers who constructed the highest bridge in Peru with three Fink deck truss spans in 1869, the Lynchburg Bridge in Virginia– built in 1870 and is the last of its kind in the US and one of two known bridges left in the world. The other Fink deck truss remaining is the Puenta Bolivar in Arequipa, Peru, built in 1882 by Gustav Eifel.  Fink trusses were found in through truss designs as well, as was seen with the Hamden (New Jersey) Bridge– built in 1857 and was known to be the oldest metal bridge in the US at the time of its collapse by a car accident in 1978, and the Zoarville Station Bridge at Camp Tuscazoar in Ohio- built in 1868 and is still the remaining truss bridge of its standing in the US.

Flemington Fink Bridge in New Jersey before its collapse. Source: HABS/HAER

While it is unknown how popular Fink Trusses were during its heyday of construction between 1860 and 1880, one of the through variants was brought to the author’s attention via one of the pontists. This bridge was located over the river in San Antonio, Texas at Houston Street. Built in 1871, this Fink through truss span, similar to the Zoarville Station Bridge in Ohio in its appearance, replaced a wooden bridge built in the 1850s but was washed away by flooding six years earlier. Sources have indicated that the iron span was imported from as far away as St. Louis. Yet as the first bridge building companies were not established before 1890, according to Darnell Plus, one has to assume that the span originated from places further eastward, perhaps in Ohio or Maryland, were the Zoarville Station Bridge was built by the likes of Smith, Latrop and Company of Baltimore. But there is no current to support claims of the span’s origin. It was from the eastern part of the US, where the iron bridge parts were transported by train to St. Louis and then to Indianola, Texas- most likely by ship as the town was situated on the Gulf of Mexico. From there, it was transported by horse and wagon for more than 150 miles northwest to San Antonio. With fourteen of the largest wagons in the area hauling bridge parts that were forty feet long and weighing tens of tons, this effort of transporting the bridge for over 100 miles to its destination was one of the largest feats ever accomplished in Texas.

Oblique and close-up view of the Lynchburg Bridge. Photo taken by Royce and Bobette Haley in 2017

The mastermind behind this task was freighter and pioneer, August Santleben. Born on 28 February, 1845 in Hannover, Germany, he and his family emigrated to Medina County, Texas when he was four months old and settled at Castro’s Corner, along the Medina River near Castroville. His life began from there, where he became the youngest mailman at the age of 14, running a carrier route between Castroville and Bandera, and became involved in the Civil War on the side of the Union. Yet his biggest success was a freighter and stage coach driver, establishing routes between Texas and Mexico, including the first ever line between San Antonio and Monterrey established in 1867. The service later included destinations of Satillo and Chihuahua, the latter of which was the basis for establishing the Chihuahua Trail several years later. After 10+ years in the business of freighter, Santleben and his family (his wife Mary and his nine children (two were adopted) moved to San Antonio, where he ran a transfer company and later became a politician, serving the city for several year. Before his death on 18 September, 1911, Santleben had written his memoir about his life and successes entitled A Texas Pioneer, published in 1910, and still widely known as one of the best of its genres of that time. The book has been published most recently, according to the Texas Transportation Museum, but can be view online, by clicking here.

In his memoir, Santleben described the hauling  of the Houston Street Bridge from Indianola to San Antonio, citing that the iron bridge was the first of its kind in Texas, when the mayor ordered the truss bridge from an undisclosed bridge company, and one that garnered public attention for quite some time because of its aesthetic appearance. Gustav Schleicher oversaw the construction of the bridge in 1871. He later became a member of the US Congress, representing his district. According to Santleben, the bridge, which was a considered a novelty because of its unique appearance, served traffic for 20 years before it was relocated to the site known as “Passo de los Trejas” at Grand Avenue near the Lonestar Brewery. According to the museum, the bridge continued to serve traffic at Grand Avenue for over 40 years. It is unknown what happened to the iron structure afterwards, for no further information on the bridge has been found to date. Yet, as Santleben had mentioned in his memoir, the bridge was the forerunner to numerous iron structures that populated the streets of San Antonio shortly after its erection at the Houston Street site, replacing the wooden structures that were considered unsafe because of their short life spans.

While the Houston Street Bridge became the first iron bridge crossing to span the river at San Antonio, let alone the first iron bridge to be constructed in Texas, it is unknown whether the bridge was brand new, or if it was a used structure, having been constructed somewhere in the eastern half of the country before it was dismantled and transported out west. What is definitely excluded from the equation is the fact that the span came from the three-span crossing at Camp Dover, Ohio, where the Zoarville Station Bridge originated from. That bridge remained in service until 1905, when it was replaced by a newer structure made of steel, with one of the iron spans being relocated to its present location at Camp Tuscazoar. What could be mentioned though is that the Houston Street Bridge may have been fabricated by Smith and Latrop, which had built the Zoarville Station Bridge two years before. This is because of the portal bracing that is similar to the one at Camp Tuscazoar. It was then transported by train and ship to Indianola, where Santleben led the caravan to haul the bridge parts to San Antonio, where Schleicher oversaw the efforts in building it at Houston Street.  While Santleben stated in his memoir that there was no reason for the iron bridge (which had been relocated from Houston Street to the location at Grand Avenue) to not be there for another hundred years, it is unknown when exactly and whether the iron bridge was relocated, or  if it was scrapped. Therefore it is important to find out how long the iron bridge was in service at both locations in San Antonio before it was dismantled.

To summarize the questions regarding the bridge, we need to know the following:

  1. Was the bridge fabricated before being transported to Texas, or was the truss span a used one, which had originated from somewhere out East?
  2. Was it Smith and Latrop that fabricated the truss bridge?
  3. How was the bridge transported to Texas?
  4. How long was the bridge in service at both Houston Street and Grand Avenue? Who was responsible for the relocation of the bridge from Houston Street to Grand Avenue?
  5. What happened to the bridge after its 40+ year service at Grand Avenue?


Three channels are open for you to help contribute to the information. You can post your comments either on this page or on the Chronicles’ facebook page. There is also the contact information through Hugh Hemphill at the Texas Transportation Museum, using the contact form enclosed here. And lastly there’s Jason Smith at the Chronicles, whose contact information can be found here.

Texas takes pride in its history- in particular, with historic bridges as they tie in with the local history, as seen here with the Houston Street Bridge. Yet each bridge has its missing pieces to fill- some big, some small. It is up to the reader (us) to provide these missing pieces and make the communities, like San Antonio proud of its heritage.

Interesting note to close: Located on Matagorda Bay near the Gulf of Mexico in Calhoun County, Indianola was founded in 1844 by Sam Addison White and William M. Cook. It was once the county seat of Calhoun County and at its peak, had over 5,000 inhabitants. It was the easternmost terminus of the Chihuahua Trail. Yet the town was devastated by two powerful hurricanes- one in 1875 and another in 1886. The latter, combined with a massive fire, obliterated the entire town, resulting in its abandonment. The county seat was moved inland to Port Lavaca. Today a marker is located at the site where it once existed. More information can be found here.


Tracking Down a Bridge’s History Part 2: Examples

Silverdale Bridge at its new location: over Manning Avenue on the Gateway Recreation Trail, east of Mahtomedi in Washington County, Minnesota. Photo taken in August 2011, three months prior to its opening to traffic.

Note: This is part II of the series on tracking down the history of a historic bridge. To view part I, please click here.

After going through some useful tips on info-tracking a historic bridge (similar to that of genealogical research), part II looks at a pair of success stories of how a historic bridge’s life was tracked down through research. Both historic bridges mentioned here were relocated at least once, yet thanks to the research conducted by historians and members of the state agencies, they were able to determine the origin of the bridge’s history, tracing its life from start to present.  One of the bridges is now enjoying its third life in service, even though it was close to becoming a pile of scrap metal, whereas the other no longer exists as attempts to relocate it a third time failed due to a tragedy. In either case, they are both worth mentioning and serving as poster boys for other bridges, whose lifespan remains to be researched.

Hansen’s Ford Bridge at Ellingson Bridge Road prior to its failed relocation attempt. Photo courtesy of Allamakee County Highway Department.

Example 1: Hansen’s Ford Bridge in Allamakee County

Location: Upper Iowa River at Ellingson Bridge Road just east of the Winneshiek/Allamakee County Border

Type: Two-span Whipple through truss bridge with Wrought Iron Bridge Company-style Town lattice portal bracing

Dimension: 278 feet long (Each span was 138 feet); 15.8 feet wide

Status: No longer exists. Destroyed during a relocation attempt in 1994 and later scrapped.

Also known as Ellingson Bridge due to its proximity to the family farmstead, the Hansen’s Ford Bridge was one of only a handful of bridges that featured two spans of a Whipple through truss bridge. The portal bracing is a textbook resemblance of the one used by the Wrought Iron Bridge Company in Canton, Ohio, the one that built the bridge. Research done by the late James Hippen of Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, and later followed up by other pontists (including yours truly) revealed that the bridge was relocated once in its lifetime. It was known as the Pierce Bridge and was originally constructed in 1878 over the Cedar River west of Osage in Mitchell County. It was one of three bridges that served the county seat. When officials wanted to grade the main highway (now known as Iowa Hwy. 9) and with that build a wider bridge, the bridge was dismantled and transported three counties over towards the east, while a new bridge was built in its place. The truss spans were constructed over the Upper Iowa River east of the county border with neighboring Winneshiek County, replacing a wooden trestle bridge. This all happened in 1939. Apart from newspaper articles and post cards, like this one, the key evidence proving its relocation was found in the blue print provided by the Allamakee County Highway Department.

Sadly though attempts to relocate the bridge for the second time failed. The bridge was supposed to be given over to a private group to be erected over the Yellow River in the southern part of the county, yet as the spans were being hoisted from the river, they fell apart and collapsed. The decision was made to scrap the bridge. It is unknown what caused the disaster, but it is assumed that age combined with lack of maintenance may have played a role in the failed attempt to give the bridge a new life off the public road system.

Silverdale Bridge shortly before being hoisted onto the foundations above Manning Avenue. Photo taken in December 2010

Example 2: Silverdale Bridge

Location: Manning Avenue on Gateway Trail east of Mahtomedi in Washington County, Minnesota

Type: Wrought iron pin-connected Camelback Pratt through truss bridge with Town lattice portal bracing

Dimension: 162 feet long and 17 feet wide

Status: In use as a recreational trail

The Silverdale Bridge has a very unique history for not only was it relocated four times- untypical of any truss bridge on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean- but it was a mystery bridge that took many years of research to solve. In particular, the question that was on the minds of personnel at the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) was where it originated from and who built the bridge?

The bridge was built in 1877, using wrought iron instead of steel. The evidence was through a laboratory study conducted in 2002. Yet visual studies concluded that the bridge was first built over Sauk Lake in Sauk Centre, in Stearns County. This was based on collaboration between MnDOT, the Historical Society in Sauk Centre and locals affiliated with the bridge.  While a plaque was located on the top part of the portal bracing, up until now, it has not been identified as to who constructed the bridge, let alone whether the plaque still exists or if it has long since been destroyed. It is unknown whether any information from newspapers as to who built it would have helped.

The bridge’s life almost came to an untimely end, when it was replaced in 1935 with a steel stringer bridge and the truss bridge was relocated to a storage yard. Interestingly enough, the stringer span survived only 65 years before being replaced with a concrete span, which still serves main traffic today. It was salvaged two years later and was relocated over 500 kilometers northeast to Koochiching County in northern Minnesota. After replacing the strut bracings with one consisting of an X-laced strut bracings with 45° heels and trimming the curved heel bracings off the bridge’s portals, the truss bridge was re-erected over the Little Fork River between the villages of Rauch and Silverdale, serving Minnesota Hwy. 65. The portal bracings were replaced in 1964 after a truck damaged the northern entrance. Upon its removal from the highway system in 2008, the bridge remained in tact with the portal bracings that were a sixth of its height. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998 and when it was scheduled to be replaced, MnDOT placed the bridge on the “most valuable historic bridge to preserve” list with hopes that someone will take the bridge and use it for recreational purposes. Fortunately, Washington County stepped up to purchase the bridge to be used as part of the Gateway Trail, connecting Mahtomedi and Stillwater. The bridge was dismantled and transported to the Manning Avenue site, where it was refurbished and reassembled. Portal bracings resemble the ones used at Sauk Centre and at the Little Fork crossing prior to 1964. Before it was erected over Manning Avenue, it was painted black. Governmental shutdown in July 2011 delayed the opening of the bridge by six months. But since November 2011, the bridge has been serving the bike trail, its third life but one that will last another 150+ years if maintained properly and if the story of how the bridge was built, transported and rebuilt, let alone how its history was researched, is passed down to the next generations.


The bridge while serving main traffic in Sauk Centre. This photo was taken ca. 1902. Courtesy of MnDOT
The Sauk Centre Bridge after its opening in 1935. It was in service for 65 years. Photo courtesy of MnDOT
The Silverdale Bridge prior to its relocation. Photo taken by MnDOT in 2003
Damage to the portal bracing in 1964. Photo by MnDOT
The replacement portal bracing. Photo taken by MnDOT in 2003
The duplicate of the original portal bracings installed prior to its re-erection over Manning Avenue. Photo taken in August 2011

Fast Fact:

1. Sauk Centre was the birth place of author Sinclair Lewis, the first American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1930. He is famous for the Fabulous Four, four novels dealing with the flaws of American society: Main Street, Babbitt, Elmer Gantry and Arrowsmith.    He also wrote over 100 short stories and other novels. His birthplace is now a museum and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

2. Minnesota Highway 65 used to be part of US Hwy. 65 from 1926 until the portion was handed over to the state in 1934. The highway starts near International Falls and terminates in Minneapolis with half the highway being an expressway between Cambridge and Minneapolis. US Hwy. 65, which used to run through Minneapolis and St. Paul from its southern terminus of the state of Louisiana, now terminates in Albert Lea, Minnesota. Parts of it was integrated into the Jefferson Highway.

Author’s Note: The author wishes to thank Pete Wilson at MnDOT and Brian Ridenour of the Allamakee County Highway Department as well as the Ellingson family for help with this information.

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

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

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

Close-up of the original portal bracing

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

Make-shift portal bracings

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

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

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

Deck view with the make-shift and some outer fencing

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

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

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

Pin-connections with signs of discoloration on the truss itself

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

North approach with trestle spans and northernmost pony truss span

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Salisbury Bridge (Meeker County, Minnesota)

When I first knew about the Salisbury Bridge, it was mentioned in a book written by Denis Gardner entitled „Stone, Iron and Steel: A Look at Minnesota’s Historic Bridges,“ an overview guide on the history of bridges in the state and how it contributed to its development.  When looking at the bridge from a view of someone who never knew much about its history, it is just a typical vintage truss bridge with common Howe lattice portal bracings and built of steel using pin-connections (beams assembled together with bolts) and using the common Pratt design. Little do people realize that it was one of hundreds of bridges built during the age of the Hewett dynasty. It started with a partnership between Seth Hewett and Commodore P. Jones in 1883-4 and it branched off with both partners forming their own bridge companies, both based in Minneapolis and were responsible for the construction of hundreds of bridges in Minnesota and all points west. Seth Hewett established the Hewett Bridge Company in 1898 and the Salisbury Bridge was constructed 1 year later. The bridge company was in business until shortly after his death in 1916. However, William S. Hewett was also into bridge building and would later carry on the dynasty with his own bridge company.

Yet despite its history and its connections with Meeker County’s heritage, the bridge was a classic example of how careless drivers can be when speeding across the bridge, disregarding the weight limit and the speed limit and lose control of the vehicle and slam into the structure. And this in the winter time! On 27 November, 2010, when the gravel road was snow covered and the icy cold winds turned most of it into an ice skating rink, an SUV came speeding down towards the bridge and when the driver started crossing, he lost control and slammed the vehicle into the northwest end post of the truss structure! While he was lucky he was not injured or killed, the damage was great enough that the county engineer closed the bridge off to all traffic. The future of the Salisbury Bridge was in doubt.

28 December 2010: After staying overnight at a friend’s place in Milroy (located 7 miles east of Marshall) I decided to venture off on a long bridgehunting tour, which began up the Minnesota from Granite Falls to Ortonville before shooting across the state, beating a fast-moving system that would bring snow and high winds in the process. The Salisbury Bridge was one of the stops I had to make before making a sharp turn north into the direction of St. Cloud and my final destination, Little Falls. The weather was sunny and frigid when I left  Milroy, only to find that by the time I reached the Salisbury Bridge by 3:00 in the afternoon, it was overcast and 2°C warmer with a touch of drizzle. But no matter how warm or cold the weather was, everywhere in Minnesota, you had to fight through snow that was at least knee deep, and the Salisbury Bridge was no exception to the rule.  Yet one can never have the best opportunity of photographing the bridge like in the winter time.

Even though the bridge was barricaded on both sides, there was a way to get on the structure to not only take a closer look at the aesthetics of Hewett’s work, but also look at the damage that was done to the bridge. When doing bridge photography, it is very important to get some shots of the bridge from as many angles as possible for the purpose of not only providing the viewers with a detailed description of the bridge from a structural standpoint, but also provide them with some artwork and how they conform with its surroundings. Sometimes one needs a couple hours before the work is done, unless he is shooed and harassed by those who do not want them on their property. This has happened to me a couple times and to others at least a dozen times. But despite the sounds of cannons flying about in the woods along the Crow River, where the bridge spans, I was left in peace to do my work, even though it took about an hour and a half and it started snowing and getting dark by the time I was done.

The bridge provides a very eerie setting in the winter time, where all is quiet  and the fields were all covered in white- at least three feet of white fluffy snow which made walking through it feel like swimming in water, whose waves are strong enough to sweep them away.  Even the Crow River, which the bridge crosses, was covered in a thick blanket of snow, which made fording across the ice rather treacherous, as there were quite a few soft spots to take into account, and it is just a matter of falling through one of them to ruin a good photo opportunity, not to mention to find a way to warm up at any cost to avoid hypothermia. Fortunately it was not the case, or else this pic of the cross-section of the Crow would not have taken place.

The bridge itself appeared to be in good shape. While many would consider its truss type- the Pratt- to be a common and plain type that one can see everywhere, despite the decreasing number of them, one can see that the Hewett family left its legacy with this bridge; not just with the portal bracing and other physical features. The features that one cannot see are the most important, like how the bridge was built and how the bridge builder became famous in Minnesota and all points westward, let alone the local history associated with this structure.  Add the surroundings to go along with that, the bridge would be a prime candidate for its place in a calendar; especially for the winter months, as you will see in the pics below.

After marveling at the beauty of the bridge from both the inside as well as the outside, I took a closer look at the damage done to the bridge, which was at the northwest corner of the structure at the end post. The end post is like a door frame: it supports the portal bracing and contributes to the forming of the upper chord, which is supported by the overhead beams- both horizontal and diagonal. There was something peculiar about the damage done to the end post as it appeared that the railings were fixed right away. The end post was twisted to the left and bent outwards, causing one corner of the bridge to sag about 10 cm downward. While one cannot see it from a distance, it is noticeable when looking at it from the north end.  One could say that there was no accident at all but a case of vandalism, but that would be far -fetched unless a person was a body-builder who loves  to destroy things.  In either case, it appeared that the damage was moderate and the driver tried to stop while crossing but only slowed down to a point where the impact was minimal. If that was the case, then the driver was very lucky for as many as 20 bridges of this type have fallen prey to accidents every year, as drivers disregard the restrictions posted on the bridge for safety reasons, only to pay the price with the loss of insurance, driver’s license and tens of thousands of dollars after dropping the bridge into the river. The latest casualty that happened was the Fryer’s Ford Bridge in Arkansas, which happened earlier this year (see link enclosed:  http://thebridgehunter.areavoices.com/2011/04/14/from-bridges-to-borders/    ).

While some believe that damage like this warrant bridge replacement, for some reason, it would be impractical to do, for new bridges nowadays have a shorter lifespan, are bland and have no aesthetic value, and they need to be maintained as much as the truss bridges. Studies have shown that repairs on bridges like the Salisbury Bridge would prolong their lives by 50 years, and are 1/10 as expensive as replacing it outright.  Yet these facts are overshadowed by the fear that these bridges might collapse, referring to the collapse of the I-35W Bridge that occurred in August 2007. Instead of looking at the causes of the bridge failure, people (mostly those with little or no experience in civil engineering and bridge restoration practice) retorted to bridge types like the truss or cantilever truss to being the most inefficient bridge type to be used on the road, even though some are being constructed today in places like Indiana and Ohio. One can also refer to the Council Bluffs Bridge, a polygonal Warren through truss bridge over the Missouri River that replaced a continuous truss bridge in 2009. If the Salisbury was demonized in a way similar to the I-35W Bridge, the bridge would long since have been replaced and it would have lost its national historic significance because of its design and connection with the Hewett Dynasty.

Keeping the logic in mind and the fact that some of the bridges have fallen into the same boat as the Salisbury Bridge (where sections are bent, realigning the entire structure but yet straightened out thanks to the efforts of dismantling and reworking the parts affected before assembling it), I left the Salisbury Bridge with some ease that something will be done to make the bridge functional again. The structure is conveniently located in a nearby recreational area off the main highway. The natural surroundings make it unique and it conforms nicely to the area; especially in the winter time. The historic significance makes it eligible for grants for repairs and reuse, let alone a good tourist attraction for bridge lovers. And finally it is one of only a few of its type left in Minnesota that is in use. Despite the damage done to the structure, it is not in danger of collapse and there are ways to repair the structure for reuse. And while the bridge may not be able to carry vehicular traffic once the repairs are completed, its new life as a pedestrian bridge will make it a perfect fit for the recreational area nearby, and in the end it will represent a fine example of architectural work for its period, not just American history per se, but for Meeker County, and the townships that own the bridge, namely Kingston and Kimball.


21 November 2011- It appears that there is some hope for funding possibilities for the county and the two townships that own the bridge. There were funding possibilities on the federal level for 2016, yet it would not be until August of 2012 whether the project will qualify. According to the county engineer, the despite the county’s plans for applying for funding, the townships declined the possibility and instead elected to apply for State Legacy Funding for 2012. The decision on whether the county will receive the funding will take place in July 2012. How the bridge will be fixed depends on the options available, as well as the funding possibilities and its requirements. We can only hope that by using examples including one presented here, that the renovation will be worth the cost and efforts. Best of luck to the townships and the county in pursuing this task of preserving the bridge and its history….Link: http://www.independentreview.net/view/full_story/16127058/article-County-Board-supports-grant-application-to-fix-historic-bridge


Example case study: State Street Bridge in Michigan: http://www.historicbridges.org/truss/state/ and http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150355111293324.384690.250666613323&type=1

Photos of the bridge taken by yours truly can be seen here:








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.