Wagon Wheel Bridge Meets Tragic End

Side view of the bridge taken in Aug. 2013. The eastern half- a Pennsylvania petit and a Pratt are all that is left of the bridge. Those are to be taken down soon.
Side view of the bridge taken in Aug. 2013. The eastern half- a Pennsylvania petit and a Pratt are all that is left of the bridge. Those are to be taken down soon.

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1910 Des Moines River crossing coming down after years of neglect, vandalism and natural disasters

 

BOONE, IOWA- Three years ago, the Wagon Wheel Bridge was one of the main attractions of the Historic Bridge Convention, which was attended by over 25 pontists from five states and two countries. It was originally part of the Kate Shelley Tour conducted by the Boone County Historical Society. It was one of the longest multi-span truss bridges ever built by the Iowa Bridge Company, one of many in-state companies that had dominated the scene since the consolidation of 29 bridge companies into the American Bridge Company consortium in 1901. The 1910 bridge had a total length of over 700 feet.

 

Now the steel span is coming down for good- in sections. Workers from the Hulcher Services began pulling down the western half of the bridge yesterday, which included two Pratt through trusses, one of which sustained damaged in an ice jam in February  and subsequentially fell into the river in March.  According to the Boone County engineer Scott Kruse, as soon as the water levels of the Des Moines River recede , the eastern half, featuring the Pennsylvania through truss and another Pratt through truss will be removed. The cost for the bridge removal will be $150,000, some of which will be deducted from the county highway fund, while the taxpayers will contribute to the rest of the expenses.

 

For many who know this bridge, it brings to an end a bridge that had historic character but was highly ignored and neglected. Closed since 2007, the bridge sustained damage to the eastern approach trestle spans in 2008 during the Great Flood. It took four years until new wooden decking was built on the span, but not before residents having voted against the referendum calling for the replacement of the bridge in 2010.  Debates on the future of the bridge came to a head, as talks of converting the bridge to a memorial honoring Kathlyn Shepard came about in 2013. Reports of the leaning pier between the collapsed Pratt through truss and the one closest to the Pennsylvania truss span raised concerns that the structure would collapse, creating warnings even from local officials that one should not cross the bridge. But the last ten months brought the bridge to its untimely end, as vandals set fire to the eastern trestle spans last August, prompting the county to removed them completely. The arsonists have yet to be found and apprehended.  The ice jams and the subsequent collapse of one of the spans, prompting the county engineer to put the bridge out of its misery for good.

 

The removal of the Wagon Wheel Bridge brings closure and relief to the city of Boone and the county, for despite pleas by preservationists to save at least part of the bridge, the county is doing its best to eliminate a liability problem that has been on the minds of many residents for nine years. The county engineer declared that they do not want any more problems with the bridge and therefore entertains no plans for keeping what is left of history. The mentality of “Good riddance to bad rubbish,” is floating around in the community, yet the city and the county will lose a key piece of history that was part of Kate Shelley’s childhood past as well as the history of Iowa’s transportation heritage. A piece of history which, if thinking dollars and sense, could have been saved years earlier, had everyone read their history books in school, and come together to contribute for the cause, that is. One wonders what Kate Shelley would think of this.

 

Facts about the bridge, based on the author’s visit in 2010 can be found here.

 

If you wish to know more about Kate Shelley, a link to her life and how she became famous can be found here.

 

The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles has changed its cover pages on its facebook and twitter sites to honor the bridge and its heritage. If one is interested in relocating the Pennsylvania span, please contact the engineer using the information here. Hurry while the water levels are still high!

 

It is unknown if even a marker at the site of the bridge will be erected once the bridge is gone. Given the sentiment towards seeing the girl leave, chances of happening is highly unlikely unless a book is written about the county’s bridges or the bridges along the Des Moines River and the bridge is mentioned there….

 

 

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Wagon Wheel Bridge Damaged by Fire

West entrance to the bridge. Photo taken during the 2013 Historic Bridge Weekend.

Fire damages east approach span. Investigation ongoing.

BOONE, IOWA- Law enforement authorities are investigating a possible arson, which occurred on the Wagon Wheel Bridge most recently. According to reports from multiple sources, the fire was reported by Union Pacific Railroad on Sunday night at 11:00pm at the eastern end of the bridge. While the fire was brought under control and no damage was done to the multiple span truss bridge, the eastern approach spans were charred, prompting county officials to remove the spans. The bridge has since been closed off to pedestrians and cyclists with its future in limbo. Any information pertaining to possible arson should be directed to law enforcement officials in Boone as soon as possible.

The Wagon Wheel Bridge, built in 1910 by the Iowa Bridge Company in Des Moines, has seen its best and worst times, the latter occurring within the past eight years. Damage was sustained by high water in 2008 when sections of the eastern approach spans were washed away during the worst flooding since 1993.  Attempts were made to pass a referendum in 2010, calling for a new structure to be built in place of the vintage structure, only to fall on deaf ears by a vast majority. Two floods later, the structure had been still been standing in tact with new decking added to the entire 710 foot bridge. Even an idea of having a memorial at the bridge site, dedicated to Kathlynn Shepard was brought up in 2013. This was in addition to having two bills passed to make kidnapping a felony and increase the age of the vicitims of such crimes to 15 years of age (instead of 12). More on the efforts can be seen through Kathlynn’s Hope facebook site.  Homage was paid to the bridge through the Historic Bridge Weekend that same year, where 20 people from all over the US attended the event, with Pam Schwartz of the Boone County Historic Society providing the guided tour of that and other bridges- many in connection with the famous Kate Shelley story (click here for details).

With the eastern approach spans removed, attempts are being made to restore the bridge to its original glory. This includes providing new decking that will not be vulnerable to fires. But also the need for repairing the truss parts and stabilizing the cylinder piers are there. All of this is part of the plan to use the bridge as a centerpiece of a bike trail to connect Boone and Odgen with a possibility to connect with the trails in Des Moines. Already, a facebook page has been launched with over 1440 likes on there. The main goal is to raise enough funds to realize the project. Repairs are estimated to be betwene $700,000 and $1m. But the race against time is underway. While the bridge is fenced off to all traffic with the eastern approach spans are removed, consideration is being taken to remove the entire structure for safety reasons. This is being met with solid opposition from locals, the state and other members favoring the preservation of the bridge becaus of its connection with the city’s history. It has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1998 and any plans to alter, replace, or remove the bridge will require approval and survey, which could take time and money to take. With the love towards the bridge being as high as it was when the referendum failed in 2010, many paths to Rome will be built to ensure that the historic bridge will be saved from becoming scrap metal, even if it means spending more to rehabilitate the structure and make it part of the city’s history and bike trail network. It is more of the question of the availability of resources and effort to undertake this mission. If new decking was added after 2010 with no problems, and looking at the success with Sutliff Bridge, another multiple span truss bridge, people will more likely look at ways to make this project bear fruit.

The Bridgehunter’s Chroncles will keep you posted on the latest on the Wagon Wheel Bridge. Please click on the highlighted links to take a look at the stories written about this bridge and other items. Join the group saving the bridge on facebook and get in touch with them if you are willing to provide some ideas and help to restoring the bridge.

 

Oblique view of the longest span. Photo taken in 2010
View of the east approach. This is where the fire took place recently. The photo had been taken in 2013.

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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. 

Otranto Bridge in Iowa Gone!

Otranto Bridge in Mitchell County. Photo taken by Jason D. Smith in August 2011

Whereabouts of Historic Bridge in Mitchell County after Reported Dismantling Unknown.

The Otranto Bridge, spanning the Cedar River at St. Angsar, was unique because of its unusual truss design- the Camelback Pennsylvania Petit, one of two remaining in Iowa, according to a report by the Chronicles two years ago. The 170-foot long bridge was built by the Chicago Bridge and Iron Works Company in 1899 and had been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1998.

That is until news came out of its disappearance from view today.

According to the Mason City Globe Gazette, the steel truss bridge was dismantled last week, and it is unknown where the bridge has gone to next. While it is unknown when or how it was taken down, Mitchell County officials had been working together with other parties to determine the bridge’s future, after flooding last summer undermined the eastern wingwalls, destabilizing the structure and raising questions of how the bridge could be salvaged. Cost for repairs had been estimated at $5000. The bridge had been made obsolete by a new bridge in 1999 and privately owned by the Will Morrow family. Interest in the bridge had increased since the flooding with plans of relocating the bridge for reuse. This includes the possibility of reusing it at Sunny Brae Golf Course, the same facility that is interested in the Giliecie Bridge in Winneshiek County, according to reports by the Mitchell County Press News in November 2013. Even the county historical society was interested in the purchase of the bridge to keep in place.

With the bridge removed, the question is what is the future for the bridge. Could it be that an owner has been found and it was just a question of finding temporary storage until it could be reset on new foundations? Or was the bridge such a liability issue that there was no choice but to tear it down?  If the latter was the case, then it would be a travesty for all involved: the county, state and people associated with the bridge.  The Morrow family was not contacted at the time of the bridge removal, meaning they could be the wild card as to determining what had happened to the bridge. But then again too, others may be interested in the bridge for their purposes.

In either case, the Otranto Bridge is gone and its destination is the unknown. The Chronicles will keep you posted on the latest.

 

Erie Canal Truss Bridges to be Removed

Peet Rd. Bridge over the Erie Canal. Photo taken by Marc Scotti

The bridges at Wruck Road and Peet Street are scheduled to be removed sometime this year after being abandoned for many years.

600 kilometers of boat traffic between Buffalo and Albany and one of the oldest canals in the country. Those are the characteristics of the Erie Canal. Built in 1821 and modified several times over the past 180 years, the canal still serves as a shortcut from the Great Lakes region at Buffalo and Cleveland to the Atlantic Ocean at New York City, via the Hudson River. Hundreds of bridges, many dating back to the early 1900s can still be seen, let alone crossed by vehicular traffic.

That is all except two of them in Niagara County. And they are now about to be history. The crossings at Peet Street and Wruck Road, located between Locksport and Middlesport are identical in its appearance and history. Both are double-intersecting Warren through truss bridges, measuring exactly 148 feet long, and 14.8 feet wide. Both were built in 1910, at the time of the canal’s widening. Judging by the other bridges built using similar designs, it was most likely the work of the Empire Bridge Company, a locally known bridge builder.

Both these bridges have been closed for over five years now, with signs of extensive deterioration of the piers and approach spans. The Wruck Road crossing has been closed since September 2007. Yet judging by the photos taken of the two bridges, the truss superstructure still remains in excellent shape, which has contributed to a debate on what to do with the two bridges. The New York State DOT wants the bridge removed for liability reasons. There’s no use for it over the canal, esp. as only a couple families live nearby but can use alternative crossings. Opponents to the plan claim that the plan is a waste of taxpayer money and the value of scrap metal far outweighs the benefits of restoring the bridges for pedestrian use, an argument that has been questionable for some time.

Yet with the two trusses being in excellent shape, there are two alternatives for restoring them: 1. Restore them in place but with new piers and decking or 2. Dismantle them and relocate them to places to be reused for recreational purposes. Both these options are cost-effective and would encourage residents to know more about these two bridges and their connections with the Erie Canal. Question is whether tourism will trump the tear-down of the two bridges for the price of a commodity that has been unstable since 2008.

At the present time, the contract was being let out for bridge removal, yet even if the contractor accepted the job, it has not been etched in stone. This means opinions on what to do with the two bridges can still be voiced, let alone interest in purchasing the truss spans before they are eventually cut up and shipped away for scrap (Rumor has it that the spans will be cut into half and transported away by barge.) And while it appears that the bridge removal may not happen before the summer at the earliest, now is the time to save a piece of history that can be reused for the price much less than for demolition.  If interested, please contact Marc Scotti at NYSDOT at this e-mail address:

The Chronicles will keep you informed on the situation with the two bridges as it plans to tour the Erie Canal Region with some bridges in similar situations as the two here being brought to the attention of the readers.

Wruck Road Bridge. Photo taken by James Baughn in 2009

The Bridges of Des Moines Part III: The (lost) Truss Bridges

18th Avenue Bridge over the Des Moines River (now extant). Photo courtesy of IaDOT Archives

There are more bridge types that make Des Moines one of the most populous bridges in the Midwest. As we will see in this part, truss bridges were just as popular of a bridge design as the arch bridges that were built by James Marsh and company. As many as 30 truss bridges were reported to had been built during the time span between 1870 and 1930 along the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers as well as other tributaries, including those mentioned in the first two parts of the series. The majority of them featured two or more spans. And while more than half of them were Pratt designs, there were many exceptions to the rule. Already mentioned in part II there was the Post through truss design that had existed at Court Avenue before its replacement in 1917. But like this bridge, the majority of the structures lack the information regarding its history, including the date of construction and the bridge builder. This was in part because of the fact that they were gone prior to the urban renewal period in the 1960s and after 1993.  This is not good for many of these structures, like the 18th Avenue Bridge featured some decorative designs on the portal bracings, which were common during the period of bridge construction prior to 1920, when bridge builders could afford to leave their marks with ornaments and builders plaques. After 1920, with the standardization of truss bridges and the letter-shaped portal bracings (A, M and X-frames), these were seldomly used and can rarely be found today when travelling on Iowa’s highways.

Today, eight bridges are known to exist in Des Moines that have a truss design, at least two thirds of the number that had existed prior to 1970. This does not include the CGW Railroad Bridge, which was demolished in its entirety last month. While some of the structures have already been mentioned earlier, the tour of Des Moines’ truss bridges will feature the ones not mentioned. Each one will feature a location, when they were built (and replaced), what they looked like and if there is no concrete information on the bridge builder, some assumptions will be made. As they will mentioned in the Iowa Truss Bridge Book project that is being compiled by the author, any information on the bridges will be useful.

Without further ado, here are the bridges worth mentioning on the tour:

UP (Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific) Railroad Bridge at Hartford Avenue. Photo taken by John Marvig in 2012

Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad Bridge at Hartford Avenue:  This bridge can be seen from Hartford Avenue on the southeast end of Des Moines. The three-span subdivided Warren through truss bridge with X-frame portal bracings is the fourth bridge to be located at this crossing, for the earliest crossing was dated 1871. It was rebuilt in 1890 and again in 1915 with a four-span through truss bridge with A-frame portal bracings and pinned connections. While it can be assumed that the reconstruction in 1890 and 1915 may have to do with either flooding that damaged the spans or the increase in rail traffic, the current span was built in 1920 by the American Bridge Company and it most probably had to do with the destruction of the 1915 bridge, albeit more research and information is needed to confirm that claim. The bridge is 469 feet long and is owned by Union Pacific Railroad. However, it was part of the Rock Island Railroad with had a line connecting Indianola and Kansas City to the south, going through Des Moines enroute north to Albert Lea and Minneapolis. When the railroad company was liquidated in 1981, the line was acquired by Chicago and Northwestern, which in turn was bought by Union Pacific in 1995. 20 trains a day use this bridge.

18th Street Bridge: As seen in the picture at the very top of the article, this bridge crossed the Raccoon River at what is now Fleur Drive, southeast of the Central Academy. Before its demolition in 1936, the bridge featured four Camelback truss spans and was one of the most ornate bridges in Des Moines, let alone along the Des Moines River. More information is needed as to when the bridge was built (and by who) and why it was demolished. It is known that today’s Fleur Drive Bridge serves four-lane traffic and serves as a key link to Martin Luther King Drive and all points south of downtown Des Moines.

Inter-Rail Bridge Photo taken by John Marvig in 2012

Inter-Urban Trail Bridge:     Built in 1902, this bridge spans the Des Moines River south of the Euclid Avenue Bridge. The structure features four spans of Pratt with pinned connections, yet three of the spans feature lattice portal bracings with curved heel bracings, while the fourth and easternmost span features V-laced portal bracings with a 45° angle heel bracing- quite possibly a span that was either brought in or built on-site to replace an earlier span destroyed. This bridge used to serve the Inter-Urban Rail Line, one of eight in Iowa accomodated commuters through the 1950s. This route connected Des Moines with Colfax in Poweshiek County, a length of 23 miles. Service continued until 1949, when the freight railroads took over and people resorted to the car or bus. 33 years later, the railroad line and bridge was abandoned, but the City bought both of them to be converted into a bike trail, which was opened in 1998. With the exception of the replacement of the approach spans in 2012, the bridge today retains its integrity and still serves bike traffic, while providing access to the Neal Smith Bike Trail, which combs the Des Moines River.

Commerce Bridge: Spanning the Raccoon River, this bridge featured four truss spans which included three Camelbacks with Howe Lattice portal bracings with subdivided heels and a Pratt through truss with M-frame portal bracings. The latter was built at a later time, whereas the three Camelbacks were reportedly to had been built by the Clinton Bridge and Iron Works Company, one of many Iowa bridge builders that existed during the period between 1890 and 1930. It is unknown when they were built, let alone rebuilt, but records had it that the bridge was destroyed during the Flood of 1965. The bridge was later removed, and Commerce Street was rerouted to run along the Raccoon. All that remains are the abutments and the rapids where the bridge once stood. They can be seen as 105th Street southwest curves to the south.

Iowa Interstate Railroad Bridge. Photo taken in August 2013

Iowa Interstate Railroad Bridge:   Spanning the Des Moines River south of the Red Bridge and once part of the Rock Island Railroad, the Iowa Interstate Railroad Bridge was built in 1901 by the American Bridge Company and featured eight spans of pony girders totalling 625 feet. While it used to be a double-tracked bridge, the eastbound track was abandoned and fenced off in the 1980s and today, only one track is used. It replaced a four-span lattice through truss bridge, which had served one-lane of rail traffic and was built 30 years earlier. The future of this bridge is in doubt due to its sparse use, combined with the city’s plans to raise the dikes. Already the Red Bridge was raised four feet and the CGW Railroad Bridge were removed as part of the city flood planning. It would not be surprising that the bridge’s owner, Iowa Interstate Railroad would abandon the bridge altogether, making it the target for scrap metal. But it is unknown if and when that would happen.

SW 63rd Street Bridge: Located over the Raccoon River between Brown’s Woods and Water Works Parks on 63rd Street in West Des Moines, this three-span truss bridge featured two pin-connected Pratt through truss bridges with portal bracings similar to the 5th Street Pedestrian Bridge, located downstream. It is possible that either George E. King or Clinton Bridge and Iron Works (because of the plaque on the portal bracing) had built the original span. Its northernmost span featured a Pratt through truss bridge with riveted connections and A-frame portal bracing. That bridge was most likely brought in to replace one of the original spans that was destroyed either through flooding or an accident. Little information was gathered about the bridge prior to its demolition and replacement in 1964, due to lack of interest in the history of the structure. Had the historic preservation movement started 10-15 years earlier, it would most likely have been one of the first bridges eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. The National Historic Preservation Law was passed in 1966, one year after the replacement of this bridge was open to traffic.

Waterworks Park Bridge. Photo taken by John Marvig in August 2013

Waterworks Park Bridge:    Built in 1922, this Raccoon River crossing is one of the key attractions of Waterworks Park on the south end of Des Moines, as well as the city’s bike trail network. The crossing is 320 feet long and features two 98 foot riveted Pratt pony trusses that used to carry vehicular traffic until its closure in the 1990s. In 1999, the City converted the crossing into a bike trail bridge and has remained in that fashion ever since.

SW Ninth Street Bridge: This Raccoon River crossing is perhaps one of two bridges on this tour that has the least amount of information on its history, despite the fact that it was replaced with the current bridge in 1967. The structure featured three spans of pin-connected Pratt through trusses with Howe lattice portal bracings. Yet that is about it as far as further information is concerned…..

Old Highway 46 Bridge:    This is the second of the two bridges that is missing information (including dimensions) and even more detailed photos than what is shown in the link. No information was found in the historic bridge survey conducted in the early 1990s.  Located southeast of Des Moines, this multiple-span polygonal through truss bridge was built in 1938 and was removed 60 years later when the Hwy. 65 freeway opened. Other than that, there was no information as to whether a previous structure had existed before that, let alone who the bridge builder was that built the 1938 structure. It is known though that the removal of the bridge came despite protests from farmers, who wanted the bridge open so that they can haul farm equipment across it. Yet because the valley where the bridge was located was flood prone, safety precautions were taken and the bridge was removed. Today, portions of the highway exist on its original path from Avon to the river and from there to Des Moines, terminating at Hwy. 163.  Interestingly enough, a railroad bridge located adjacent to the bridge was removed in 1968 after the railroad decided to reroute the line through Indianola enroute to Knoxville. A section of the railroad line exists but makes a dead-end at the power plant located on the north side of the river.

Two Minneapolis and St. Louis Railroad Bridges: Located south of the Iowa Interstate Railroad Bridge over the Des Moines River, the crossings featured two four-span through truss bridges. The northern crossing was a quadrangular through truss bridge with Howe lattice portal bracings. The southern crossing featured Warren through trusses with A-frame portal bracings. Both of them disappeared before 1970.

Ashworth Park Truss Bridge:  This is one of three bridges that straddle Walnut Creek carrying Iowa Interstate Railroad through Des Moines (the other two are Pratt pony trusses). The 1897 Warren through truss bridge with Howe lattice portal bracings and riveted connections used to serve dual track rail traffic until the 1990s when it was reduced to only one track. The bridge still serves traffic and can be seen up close from the bike trail while passing through Waterworks Park.

This sums up the tour through Des Moines. The truss bridge portion of the tour is rather the most interesting, but the most challenging if one wants to find information and photos of the structure. As some of the structures will be included in the Iowa Truss Bridge Book project, if you have any information that is useful for the project, or for other people who are interested in bridges in general, you can leave a comment here, or you can contact Jason Smith at the Chronicles at flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com. 

Aside from that, it is hoped that people will have an opportunity to visit the bridges while in Des Moines and listen (or read) the stories involved with each of them, for the bridges span a total of 160 years and three periods, both in terms of materials (wood-iron/steel- concrete) as well as the period of bridge building (trusses-arch-modern bridges). Through the interest in history, you are doing more than just collect stories, you are sharing them with others as well, for there is no such thing as no interest in history. Without history, we are ignorant and a group of people with no identity, no pride and no soul. We take pride in history to ensure we know who we are and bridges are an integral part of our history.

Author’s Note: More info can be obtained by clicking on the links marked in the heading and text. Special thanks to John Marvig for photographing the bridges and allowing usage in this article.

Hastings Bridge being dismantled

A couple weeks ago, a question for the forum was asked as to how the main span of the Hastings High Bridge, spanning the Mississippi River north of Hastings, Minnesota, was going to be removed once the approaches are demolished. Two variables were eliminated for reasons that the risk was too high, especially given the fact that the old bridge is next to its successor, known to many now as Big Red: imploding the structure and removing the arch span using a series of cranes. The former was used on the Hastings Spiral Bridge in 1951 but only because Big Blue was more than 300 feet away.

This is how Big Blue is going down:

All photos courtesy of David Youngren, Hastings Bridge Watch, c. 2013 Used with permission

The last photo is the most recent, taken today, showing most of the arch bridge gone. The bridge is being dismantled, piece by piece, with the parts being lowered onto barges to be shipped away for scrap. This type of bridge removal has required the use of at least four cranes plus enough manpower with blow torches to take the structure apart. For many who have grown up with the bridge, it is clearly an emotional way to say good-bye to an old friend. For me, who used the bridge frequently as a key link to southern Minnesota, where I grew up, it was a blessing to have paid homage to the structure, learning about its history and its identity to the community. The city park was the best place to watch the structure and how it caressed over the river like a rainbow, rain, fog or even shine.

This farewell to another piece of history led me to another question: will there be a monument honoring the bridge? According to Dave Youngren, the answer is yes. The city has already hired a sculptor and put some bridge parts aside so that a memorial is made in the bridge’s honor. It had been done by preserving one of the foundations of the Old Spiral Bridge, but it looks like something will be done for this bridge too. At least for the younger generation who will never see Big Blue, it provides us with a chance to tell them what the bridge was like, and how adventurous it was to cross it. But most importantly, they will know how the bridge, like the Old Spiral Bridge became and has remained an icon for the City of Hastings, the State of Minnesota and beyond…

The author would like to thank David Youngren for allowing use of the photos. A photo of Big Red and Big Blue  can be ordered by clicking on the link here.

Hastings High Bridge (Big Blue) Coming Down, But How?

Hastings High Bridge at sunrise. Do you notice anything strange here? Photo taken by Dave Youngren, used with permission.

It has not been that long ago that Big Red, known as the new Hastings Bridge spanning the Mississippi River north of the largest city in Dakota County, Minnesota opened to traffic, ending two decades of concerns towards its predecessor, the 1951 Hastings High Bridge known as Big Blue, which was too narrow for traffic and too rusty to maintain. Once a treat to cross while leaving the Twin Cities for southern Minnesota, one now has the longest tied arch bridge in North America to contend with, but the memories of Big Blue will last forever. As of present, demolition has commenced on the old steel arch bridge with both the approach spans being completely removed and the main span being left over.

It’s now a question of what to do with it. Because it is a navagation hazard, the main span will have to be removed. Imploding it is not an answer without having to severely disrupt traffic going through the city and even damaging the new structure. Dismantling it the way it was built in 1951 would be quite a challenge. And using cranes to lift it, carry it to shore and allow people to dismantle it on land would be physically impossible and the costs for the work would be exorbitant.

This leads to the question of what’s next for the bridge. Dave Youngren, who runs a facebook page called Hastings Bridge Watch, has been eyeing the events and presented this picture of both bridges at sunrise, perhaps the last time the bridges will stand side-by-side in this fashion. This leads to the question of what will happen to the old bridge. Look at the picture and see what’s different than the ones provided via link here, based on the author’s multiple visits.  How will the main span go down and why? Put your comments here or on the Chronicles’ facebook and LinkedIn pages and share your thoughts about the bridge.

More information on the bridge will follow on the Chronicles.

 

Newsflyer 8 July, 2013

 

 

 

 

 

Kansas historic bridge estranged by county officials, Fitch receives new bridge, Viaduct in Indiana demolished, Vertical Bridge on US 1 to come down soon

There is a small informal trend that was started on the Bridgehunter.com website a couple years ago, where a historic bridge that was replaced or torn down would receive the Little Brown Barf Bag because of the senseless excuses for tearing them down to begin with. It is unknown how often the LBBB has been used this year (or who has used them), and most importantly whether the supplier has any left in stock, but the regular customers may have to find an alternative if there’s none left, especially as we have some bridges in this Newsflyer that are target for the wrecking ball. One of them has a new bridge in place, and while bridge fans have been finding the next available restrooms, others are shaking their heads and asking “Why this bridge? It’s really ugly!”  Here are the bridges making the Newsflyer:

Stranger Creek Bridge demolished despite its pristine condition.

Located southeast of Tonganoxie in Leavenworth County, this elegant Pratt through truss bridge with M-frame portal bracings is one of the tallest bridges in the county and one that can be seen along the Kansas Turnpike (I-70). That will no longer be the case by the middle of this week, as crews are working to demolish the bridge as it is rendered useless because of another crossing on Metro Avenue, located north of the bridge. No replacement is being planned for this structure. The bridge was closed to traffic in April even though when looking at the photos here, the structure seems to be in great condition. Why Leavenworth County spent $150,000 to remove this bridge is beyond the logic of many who think that money would best be spent for other projects or at least converting this bridge into a recreational area with the county conservation board owning it. However, given the plan by the county to replace as many as 20 bridges in the next few years, this estranged behavior towards historic bridges makes sense. Word of advice to those travelling through the county, take a half day to visit the remaining bridges, including those along Stranger Creek where this bridge used to be located, for they will be gone soon.

Fitch receives new bridge, much to the dismay of many

“You guys can have your bridge!” as many have said about this bridge near Lowell, Massachusetts. As reported a few months ago, Fitch’s Bridge was removed after being abandoned for over 40 years, leaving the bridge to decay with nature. Without looking at options for rehabilitating the bridge, the city and park district opted to remove and dismantle the bridge with the usage of cranes and welders and replace it with a half-pony/half deck truss bridge that is of Pratt design. Have a look at the photos here and judge it for yourself. The choice is questionable to many who believe a replica of the 1899 bridge would have been the more logical choice, but if the majority favor a mail-order welded truss bridge, then what can a man do but shake his head and ask why…

Viaduct in Indiana removed

Located north of Owasco over Wildcat Creek in Caroll County, the Owasco Viaduct, built in 1893 and served the Chicago-Indianapolis line until its abandonment in 1992, was one of the longest bridges in the state as well as along the line, with a total span of 1278 feet. Yet flooding in 2004 caused one of the piers to shift more than 10 feet over, making the deck plate girder trestle look like the letter ‘S’ instead of being a straight-line bridge. Many people were fearing that the viaduct would not last long afterwards. It stood for nine years until more recently when the demolition crew finally took the bridge down for safety purposes. Says Tony Dillion, who is one of the experts on Indiana’s historic bridges, “Surprised it stood as long as it did.” More on this bridge can be found here.

Three Maine Bridges to be replaced or removed.

This state used to have a large number of historic bridges, just as many as New Hampshire and Vermont, Maine that is. Now the state has joined the race with its western neighbor and Pennsylvania to see how many historic bridges can be demolished to cut costs, for two of its bridges will be replaced and another one, a double decker bridge will have its bottom deck removed. With the Waldo-Hancock and Memorial Bridges gone, the state is on track to being the state with the worst track record regarding historic bridge preservation, with the exception of New Hampshire. Here are the bridges highlighted below:

Sarah Mildred Long Bridge:

Located over the Piscataqua River on US Hwy. 1 in Portsmouth, the vertical lift bridge was one of two located in the region before the Memorial Bridge was torn down, yet it featured a deck truss with a highway span on top and the railroad span at the bottom of the truss. Yet, despite being built in 1940, both Maine and New Hampshire are competing for a grant to proceed with the demolition and replacement of this unique truss bridge. How unique is it? Its lower deck can be slid inwards to allow ships to pass through in addition to the 227 foot long vertical lift span (the bridge has a total length of 2800 feet). Yet as this bridge is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, even if the two states obtain the TIGER Grant, construction would have to wait until the environmental and cultural impact surveys are carried out. A long battle is in the making to save this bridge under the war cry “Remember the Memorial!” More information can be found here.

Cassidy Point Bridge to become a railroad grade

While this bridge is 43 feet long and carries Danforth Street in Portland, it spans a railroad and owners of the line want the bridge removed. Not to worry. MaineDOT can help you, but it will come at the dismay of car drivers who will have to wait for long 3-mile long trains carrying double-decker coaches and wagons for many minutes. That is the general plan at the moment as the railroad plans to increase traffic on its line through Portland and the bridge to them is a burden to their plan. It is unknown when the project will start but word has it that it will begin soon. More information here.

Androscoggin River Railroad Bridge in Brunswick

Spanning the Androscoggin River in Brunswick, this two-span Baltimore through truss bridge, built in 1909, carrys rail traffic through the city on the top deck, but local traffic on the bottom deck, which is supported by a set of Warren trusses with pin-connections. Going by the name Free Black Bridge, the Pennsylvania Bridge Company structure made the news as Maine DOT, in cooperation with the bridge’s owner, Maine Central Railroad, plans to remove the road deck while leaving the rail truss in use. It is not surprising of the action, for despite the road deck seeing 6-7 cars a day, MaineDOT does not want to have another liability in their hands, which justifies this action.

Free Black Bridge in Brunswick, Maine. Photo taken by HABS-HAER

Registration for Historic Bridge Weekend due 15 July

For those wanting to register for the evening dinners and Kate Shelley tour portions of the 2013 Historic Bridge Weekend in eastern Iowa, you have another week until registration comes to a close. You can register for the HB Weekend via facebook or contact Jason Smith at the Chronicles as flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com. You can also contact him if you want to join the bridgehunting tour only or if you have any questions pertaining to the HB Weekend between now and 31st July.

 

 

 

Ghost Bridge to come down but not without a fight.

Ghost Bridge in Lauderdale County, Alabama. Photo taken by Ben Tate

The news of the massive demolition of the historic bridges has raised several eyebrows and are leading to questions as to how to better protect historic bridges from neglect and pointless demolition; especially as there is considerable interest in saving these structures.

The Ghost Bridge, located over Cypress Creek on an abandoned road in Florence in Lauderdale County, Alabama, is one of those bridges that are on the chopping block. Built in 1912 by the Virginia Bridge and Iron Works Company on the eve of the Good Roads Movement, this 140 foot long pin-connected Pratt through truss bridge with Howe Lattice Portal Bracing (with 45° subdivided heel bracing) has a history that dates back to the Civil War period, as this bridge was the second structure at this spot, replacing a covered bridge built  after the war. The covered bridge was built to replace the ford which carried a road connecting Florence and Savannah, Tennessee.  It was the site of conflict near the bridge, as well as several lynchings during the 1920s, resulting in ghosts of Civil War soldiers and people murdered at the bridge site being reported by passers-by. But while the name Ghost Bridge originated from the haunted stories told about the site (which competes with another bridge in Missouri, the Enochs Knob Bridge, now extant), the real name of the bridge was the Jackson Ford Bridge, named after James Jackson, who owned a plantation near the crossing prior to the Civil War.

The bridge has been abandoned since 1996 when the eastern approach was closed to traffic and the western approach was vacated in favor of private property. Now Lauderdale County officials are pursuing the removal of the truss structure due to damage caused by vandalism and liability issues. This has sent alarm bells off among local residents and preservationists who are now fighting to stop the demolition process from commencing. The bridge is the last of its kind in the state that has not been rehabilitated and has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. And while the county commissioners have signed off on the bridge to a contractor, who has been mandated to remove the sturcture within 30 days, there are a lot of legal issues that were not taken into account, including Section 106 of the Historic Preservation Laws, plus other environmental mitigation laws. Furthermore, those opposing the demolition have claimed that they were not properly informed of the situation with the bridge, let alone were allowed to present their proposal to save the bridge. While the guard railings and decking are being removed at the time of this report, the protesters are planning to stop the process both at the site as well as through the legal system in hopes that there is hope to save the bridge, or if removal is a necessity, relocate the bridge to a site where it can serve as a park.

Oblique view. Photo taken by Ben Tate

I took the opportunity to ask members of the Save the Ghost Bridge Committee if they were interested in answering some of my questions I had about the bridge and the situation involved. Evan Tidwell, who is head of the organization to save the bridge, stepped forward and provided some useful information, which is presented as an interview below. Please note that the content was edited for length.

Why save the Ghost Bridge?

Why do we love it, you mean?  Well, I lived just up the road from it when I was a teenager; it’s actually the first place I drove to when I got my driver’s license.  It has always attracted people; history buffs, ghost hunters, or people who just wanted a cool place to hang out.  It was one of the local “parking” spots as well, so that gives people a very personal attachment to it.  But most of all it’s the ghost stories that people told their kids to scare them as they drove across it.  Those times are good memories for a lot of people.  The bridge and the stories that go along with it is a part of our local folklore, part of the fabric that makes us who we are.
Why was the bridge abandoned for such a long time?

The eastern approach road was closed in 1996, and the roadway deeded to the adjacent landowners who no longer wanted a county road through their property.  This according to the local paper “effectively closed the bridge”.  One of the residents on the west side, however, was against the closing and fought to keep the road open.  Some say it sat there for years because the county just didn’t want to spend the money to tear it down.  However, the gentleman who fought to keep the bridge open passed away in August.  Two commissioners and the Chairman were re-elected in November.  And the announcement that they planned to tear the bridge down came at the end of November.  Purely speculation on my part, but I think that gentleman promised a good fight if the commission had moved to demolish the bridge while he was alive.
When was the issue brought to the county’s attention? To your attention?

I have no idea when it was brought to the county’s attention.  I guess it’s been in the back of their minds since they closed it in 1996.  The Chairman of the County Commission and the County Engineer were involved in the closing, and they are still serving.  Our local newspaper published an article about the bridge at the end of November and that’s how I heard about it.

The newspaper article about the bridge can be found here.

 

Tunnel view of the bridge. Photo taken by Ben Tate

How are you bringing the bridge to the attention of the residents?

Oh, it’s already receiving their full attention.  They have refused to attend our meetings or even discuss the matter.  One or two have stated their opinions in a newspaper interview, but they have not even attended any of the commission meetings to say why they want it gone.

Author’s note: four residents are located at the bridge with one of them favoring repairing the bridge. More information can be found here.
Why are the neighbors (and other people) dead set on seeing the bridge removed? What would it take for them to change their mind?

According to what the commission says they have been told, and according to the residents quoted by the paper, they say it’s because of crime at the bridge.  But according to law enforcement officials, the crime is actually taking place on private property adjacent to the bridge.  (The western approach to the bridge is an isolated dead-end road)   I don’t know what it would take to satisfy the residents, because they have refused to talk with any of us.

There has also been a big deal made about the holes in the wood deck.  But the deck was replaced in 1992, only four years before the bridge was closed.  So the wood is nowhere near as old as some people say.  (The holes were burned or knocked out by vandals, it’s not rotten)  The deck would be the least problematic in a full restoration.  In fact, a wood & steel bridge in neighboring Colbert County is actually being re-decked with fresh timber this month, and that bridge is still open to vehicle traffic!
When will the bridge be removed? What’s being done to stop the process? 

I’m assuming sometime in January, because the original proposal said it would be demolished within 30 days.  There seems to be nothing else to do besides file an injunction to stop the demolition, which is something my group did not want to do starting out.  But we have exhausted all our other options.

According to the latest article by the local newspaper, the contract was signed to demolish the bridge on 14 January.
What would you like to see done with the bridge? 

I’d love to see it renovated and turned into a foot bridge/overlook with a small park and canoe launch at the approach to the bridge.  Getting some lights up out there and clearing out the brush would make it less attractive to the people who want to go out there and do illegal things, namely cooking meth.

 
Have you heard of Section 106 of the Historic Preservation Law and is this being carried out on the bridge?

I think Section 106 only applies to Federal Agencies, but I may be incorrect.  I have repeatedly queried the Tennessee Valley Authority and Army Corps of Engineers, but they maintain they have no restrictions placed on the section of Cypress Creek where the Ghost Bridge is located.  The Alabama Department of Environmental Management has also told the county that they need no environmental studies performed prior to demolition, even though Cypress Creek is home to endangered species of fish, and is the source of the City of Florence’s municipal water supply.  (The intake for the treatment plant is downstream of the bridge)  I’m really concerned about the lead paint on the bridge as well as the creosote used to treat the wood.  If I lived in Florence, I don’t think I would want that in my drinking water!

Author’s Tip on Section 106 can be found here, although a simpler and more elaborate version will be produced and posted here in the future.
If there are people interested in helping you save the bridge, how should they help?

If we are able to delay demolition and get ownership of the bridge, we’re going to need a good grant writer for one thing.  But other than that, every dollar donated and every minute of volunteer time would be valuable to the preservation of this bridge.  It’s going to be a long, expensive, difficult task.  But it would be well worth the outcome.  Another group successfully saved the nearby Tennessee River Railroad Bridge, so we hope we can pull off a repeat.

Author’s note: The Save the Ghost Bridge Organization can be found on facebook with contact information as to how to get involved.

Silohuette view of the bridge’s portal entry. Photo taken by Ben Tate

To summarize, the situation with the Ghost Bridge is dire and the county and some residents are deadset about demolishing the bridge at any cost. Yet if the process is completed, there is a potential that other demolition projects involving historic bridges will proceed without consultation from the public and awareness of the laws that exists that protect historic bridges from being demolished without first conducting surveys that could provide alternatives. Yet the abandonment of the Ghost Bridge to allow it to deteriorate to a point of its removal has led to questions involving abandoned bridges and common sense. While abandoned bridges and leaving them to nature and private owners is one way to leave them in tact for years to come, the issue of liability comes when one uses the bridge (most of the time by trespassing) and vandalize it, making it prone to collapse. An article on abandoned bridges will come in the near future, but we need to take care that if a bridge is vacated, it should be in the hands of an owner who is willing to maintain it without having to deal with such misfortunes as was the case with the Ghost Bridge. And while liability is important for historic bridges, common sense, by not trespassing onto a privately owned bridge without asking, causing damage to a point of no repair, and obeying certain regulations and having a sense of self responsibility is just as important, if not even more important. With the Ghost Bridge, such common sense was missing and that may end up in a piece of history to become a pile of scrap metal.

 

The author would like to thank Ben Tate for allowing for his photos to be used for this article.