Apocalyptic Floods Destroy Bridges in Midwest

Sargent Bridge in Custer County, Nebraska- Destroyed by Ice Jam. Photo: wikiCommons

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OMAHA/SIOUX FALLS/DES MOINES-

After record-setting snowfall and cold in the Midwest of the US, residents and farmers are bracing for what could be flooding of biblical proportions. Already in Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota and Wisconsin, one can see fields converted into lakes and piles of broken ice from rivers and lakes littering streets and Highways. Billions of Dollars in property lost are expected as floodwaters and ice have destroyed farms and killed livestock, while many houses are underwater with thousands of residents displaced. Highways and especially bridges have been washed away, while other forms of infrastructure have caved in under the pressure of high water caused by snowfall, ice on the ground and massive amounts of precipitation.  For residents in Minnesota, North Dakota, Illinois and regions along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, where people are sandbagging their homes and communities, while others are evacuating, the scenes out west are a preview of what is yet to come.

The same applies for many historic bridges and other key crossings, for reports of bridges being washed away by flooding or crushed by ice jams are cluttering up the newsfeeds, social media and through word of mouth. While dozens of bridges have been affected, here’s a list of casualities involving all bridges regardless of age and type that have come in so far. They also include videos and pictures. Keep in mind that we are not out of the woods just yet, and the list will get much longer before the floodwaters finally recede and the snow finally melts away. For now, here are the first casualties:

 

Bridge Casualty List:

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Trolley Bridge with its two missing spans. Photo taken by Chris CJ Johnson

Trolley Bridge in Des Moines, Iowa: Spanning Beaver Creek north of I-35 between Iowa’s State Capital and nearby Johnston, this railroad trestle with two deck plate girder spans used to serve a trolley line going along the creek to the northwest. The line and the bridge were converted into a bike trail in 2000. On Wednesday the 13th, an ice jam caused by high water knocked over the center pier, causing the two deck plate girders to collapse. Two days later, the spans floated down the river with no word on where they ended up. No injuries reported. It is unknown whether the bridge will be rebuilt.

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Highway 281 Bridge in Spencer, Nebraska: The Sandhills Bridge, spanning the Niobrara River was built in 2003. The multiple-span concrete beam bridge is located south of Spencer Dam. It should now be reiterated as a „was“ as the entire bridge was washed away completely on Monday the 11th.  A video shows the bridge being washed away right after the dam failure:

 

 

 

 

 

The main culprit was the failure of the Spencer Dam, caused by pressure from high water and ice. It is unknown when and how both the failed will be rebuilt, even though sources believe the bridge will be rebuilt and open by September.

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Carns State Aid Bridge in Rock County, Nebraska: This Niobrara River crossing consists of five arch spans, a Parker through truss and a Pratt through truss- both of them were brought in in 1962 to replace a sixth arch span and several feet of approach that were washed away. The bridge ist he last surviving structure that was built under Nebraska’s state aid bridge program and is listed on the National Register. It may be likely that a couple additional spans will be needed as the south approach going to the truss span was completely washed away in the floods. Fortunately, the rest of the bridge is still standing.

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Photo taken by an unknown photographer

Sargent Bridge: Residents in Custer County, Nebraska are mourning the loss of one of its iconic historic bridges. The Sargent Bridge was a two-span, pin-connected Pratt through truss bridge with Howe lattice portal bracings supported by 45° heels; its overhead strut bracings are V-laced with 45° heels as well. Built in 1908 by the Standard Bridge Company of Omaha, using steel from Illinois Steel, this 250-foot long span was no match for large chunks of ice, floating down the Middle Loup River, turned the entire structure into piles of twisted metal. This happened on the 14th. While a photo showed only one of the spans, it is unknown what happened to the other span. One variable is certain: The loss of this historic bridge is immense.

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Photo taken by J.R. Manning

Green Mill Bridge near Waverly, Iowa: Time and wear took a toll on this two-span bowstring through arch bridge, which spanned the Cedar River between Janesville and Waverly. A product of the King Bridge Company, the bridge was part of a three-span consortium in Waverly when it was built in 1872. 30 years later, two of the spans were relocated to a rural road northeast of Janesville, where it survived multiple floods, including those in 1993 and 2008. Sadly, it couldn’t survive the ice jams and flooding that took the entire structure off its foundations on the 16th. Currently, no one knows how far the spans were carried and whether they can be salvaged like it did with the McIntyre Bridge in Poweshiek County. The Green Mill Bridge was one of only two multiple-span bowstring arch bridges left in the state. The other is the Hale Bridge in Anamosa.

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Photo taken by John Marvig

Jefferson Viaduct in Greene County, Iowa: The Raccoon River trestle features a through truss span built by Lassig Bridge and Iron Works and trestle approach spans built by the both Wisconsin Bridge and Iron Works and the Chicago Bridge and Iron Works Company. The 580-foot long bridge used to serve a bike trail until Friday the 15th when ice took out several feet of trestle approach. Fortunately, the through truss span is still in tact. Given its location though, it may take months until the trestle spans are replaced.

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DM&E Fall Colors

Photo taken by Jerry Huddelson

Turkey River Railroad Bridge at Millville, Iowa: This railroad span, located near 360th Street in Clayton County, has not had the best of luck when dealing with flooding. The two-span through truss span was destroyed in flooding in 1991 and subsequentially replaced by three steel girder spans. Two of them were washed away in flooding in 2008 and were replaced. Now all three spans are gone as of the 15th as flooding washed them all out. The rail line, owned by Canadian Pacific, has been shut down until a replacement span is erected with the freight trains being rerouted. It does raise a question of whether having a span in a flood-prone area makes sense without raising the railroad line.

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Dunham Park Bridges in Sioux Falls, South Dakota: One of the first cities hit by ice jams and flooding, Sioux Falls was almost literally underwater with floodwaters at every intersection and street as well as the Falls being converted into an apocalyptic disaster, resembling a dam failing and the waters of the Big Sioux River wiping out everything in its path. One of the hardest hit was seen with Dunham Park as floodwaters washed away two mail-order truss bridges almost simultaneously. A video posted in social media on the 14th showed how powerful the floodwaters really were. The bridges were installed only a few years ago. It is unknown if other bridges were affected as crews are still battling floods and assessing the damage. It is however safe to say that the park complex will need to be rebuilt, taking a whole summer or two to complete.

There will be many more to come, as the weather gets warmer, accelerating the snowmelt and making the situation even more precarious. We will keep you informed on the latest developments. But to close this Newsflyer special, here’s a clip showing the raging Big Sioux River going down the Falls in Sioux Falls, giving you an idea of how bad the situation is right now:

 

 

That in addition to a reminder to stay away from floodwaters. Signs and barricades are there for one reason- to save your life. Think about it.

 

Our thoughts and prayers to families, friends and farmers affected severely by Mother Nature’s wrath- many of them have lost their homes and livelihoods and are in need of help. If you can help them, they will be more than grateful…… ❤

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Mystery Bridge Nr. 75: Beloit Bridge in Iowa

Beloit Bridge1

The 75th mystery bridge in the Chronicles takes us to a small but empty town of Beloit, in northwestern Iowa. Located on the Big Sioux River just east of Canton, Beloit was founded in the 1880s and was once a bustling community of almost 2,000 inhabitants. It used to be famous for its state children’s orphanage. Founded in 1890, the orphanage owned over 400 acres of farm land and had cared for over 1000 boys and girls ages 12 and under before closing down in 1944 and relocating to Ames in 1949. Augustana College was also located in Beloit for awhile before moving first to Canton and eventually to its current location in Sioux Falls, 30 miles up the river. Beloit was also a railroad hub, having served passengers coming in from Sioux Falls, Sioux City and even Rock Rapids. With all of them now gone, the community that used to have over 2,500 inhabitants (counting the orphans and college students) has now become a ghost town with not more than 20 residents living there and a lot of empty and dilapidated buildings and places that used to hold fond memories of what Beloit used to be like back in days of horse and buggy as well as the railroad.

Many people connected with Beloit in one way or another may be familiar with the Beloit Bridge, our mystery bridge. Located over the Big Sioux River, this bridge was the lone crossing serving Beloit for almost 80 years, yet little is known of who built it, how long it was and whether there was a predecessor- either a wooden/iron bridge or a ferry. We do know that the bridge was a Pennsylvania through truss with M-frame portals thickened with V-laced bracings, and pinned connections. It was built in 1897 and for 74 years, served traffic in the community. It is unknown how long the bridge was but estimates point to somewhere between 200 and 300 feet for the main span plus the approach spans. Records show that anyone going across the bridge faster than a walk was fined $10, which is equivalent to $300 in today’s standards. A plaque used to exist on the portal bracings, as seen in the picture below, and its design matches that of a handful of bridge builders that had once populated the state with through truss bridges. This includes A.H. Austin, Clinton Bridge and Iron Works, and King Bridge Company. Given the high number of Pennsylvania truss bridges built in the state, all money is being bet on Clinton, but research and a lot of luck is needed to confirm this. The plaques were removed in the 1940s and have not been seen ever since. Perhaps with the closure of the orphanage, they were simply taken off the portals and given to someone as a keepsake ornament.

But what else do we know about the bridge? The dates of its existence and its connection with Beloit is clear. But who built the structure and was there one before that? If you have pictures and information that will be of some help, please contact Jason Smith at the Chronicles and share some stories. The Beloit Bridge has a key role in the existence of a once thriving farm community and one that brought children, college students and even visitors together during its rather short existence. While we know a lot about Augustana College and the children’s home, plus many historic buildings that served customers, this bridge is definitely part of the community’s heritage and through your help, we can solve the mystery of the bridge that connected Beloit with the outside.

Thank you for your help.

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One bridge spared, two on the way out?

Wheeling Suspension Bridge over the Ohio River in Wheeling, West Virginia. Photo taken by author during visit in August 2010

Sioux Falls’ local bridge receives a new life; Wheeling Suspension Bridge failing; Sewell Falls Bridge to be razed and replaced

With Sequestration (the process of initializing automatic budget cuts across the border) taking hold on the American way of life with the potential of putting the recovery process in reverse, for many pontists and bridge enthusiasts alike, the last bit of news one could receive are some more bridges either failing or coming down with the wrecking ball. Unfortunately for two key bridges in the eastern part of the US, that may be the case, as the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles presents its newsflyer with the details:

Wheeling Suspension Bridge

Spanning the Ohio River in Wheeling, West Virginia, this wire suspension bridge, built in 1849 with the total length of 1307 feet (main span 920 feet), used to carry the National Road, which connected Cumberland, Maryland with Vandalia, Illinois and was the first road to use macadam for surfacing. It took 26 years to construct 620 miles of highway, the first in the country, but the suspension bridge at Wheeling did not come into being until 1849, with Charles Ellet Jr. designing the bridge. After its collapse in 1854, it was rebuilt by Ellet again and was later reinforced with additional wire cables, including stayed cables designed by Washington Roebling (in 1872), the same person who oversaw the completion of the Brooklyn Bridge in New York after the death of his father, John Roebling.  While the bridge was restored in the 1980s to provide local traffic to the city, trouble is now looming for this National Historic Landmark, as inspectors found a snapped cable on the eastern tower of the bridge, prompting officials to close the bridge to all traffic, including pedestrians. The cable was designed to keep the bridge from swaying. How long the bridge will be closed off depends on how the repairs will be made to the bridge, let alone the length of time it will take to get the bridge back into service. It will without a doubt leave people with the tune of “London Bridge is Falling Down” in their heads, replacing London with Wheeling. Yet it would create a tragedy similar to the first Tacoma Narrows Bridge crossing in 1940, when “Galloping Gertie” succumbed to 40 mph winds thanks to poor engineering. More news on the Wheeling Suspension Bridge will follow. A link to the bridge closure can be found here.

Note: Wheeling had already lost another historic landmark with the demolition of the Bridgeport Bridge in 2011 after over 20 years’ abandonment.

 

Sewell Falls Bridge coming down

The process of decimating New Hampshire’s historic bridges continues as another bridge is slated for demolition, with no chance to protest the decision. The city of Concord voted on Thursday to proceed with the demolition process as inspection reports revealed that the bridge deteriorated to a point where a complete rehabilitation of the structure would be futile. The original plan had been to construct a new bridge alongside the two-span through truss bridge with riveted connections that was built by a prominent bridge builder, John Storrs, who was influential in the city of Concord, and later became mayor of the state capital. While residents are hesitant regarding the potential to convert the residential street into a major highway, city officials believe that a new bridge is a necessity due to safety and liability concerns. The bridge will remain in its place for another year or so as funding is being collected for the project, meaning it will be in service for people to see until 2015, when the entire city landmark becomes a pile of scrap metal. More on the city’s decision can be found here.

Photo taken by the author while on a bike tour in 1999. Note, this was taken underneath the McKennan Hospital Car Park Complex

McKennan Railroad Bridge receives new life

Of the dozens of bridges that were targeted for demolition, as mentioned in an earlier article in the Chronicles, it appears that this Big Sioux Crossing, located at the former McKennan Hospital Car Park in Sioux Falls, South Dakota will be spared after all. Built in the early 1900s, this two-span Howe pony truss bridge used to serve the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad before the company went into administration and the bridge was given to the City of Sioux Falls in the 1970s to be converted into a pedestrian bridge. Despite one of the spans falling into the river during the 1946 Flood, the bridge has remained in service since then. Despite talks to demolish the sturcture, sources closest to the Chronicles revealed that the bridge will be saved thanks to the plans from a local hotel to integrate it into its plans. It will serve as the entrance to the hotel’s terrace, while at the same time, provide access to the city’s bike trails. This is a win-win situation for the city and the developers, especially as the city already has a grand track record for reusing its historic bridges for recreational purposes. Over a dozen historic bridges are still being used as bike trails and other recreational purposes, half of them coming from former railroad lines that had existed prior to 1970. It accounts for a third of Minnehaha County’s number of historic bridges including those along the Big Sioux River. The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles will provide you with a tour of the region, which will be posted later on the in the spring.

 

Massacre of Historic Bridges in the USA Underway?

Nine-span Bridge in Hammond, Indiana- one of over a dozen historic bridges that are coming down. Photo taken by Nathan Holth

At the beginning of this year, fellow pontist James Baughn predicted in his website, the Historic and Notable Bridges of the US, that there would be fewer demolitions for 2013, providing hope for many people wanting to save their historic bridges that are threatened with demolition and replacement.

Perhaps this prediction should be retracted.

While some well known bridges, like the Fort Keogh Bridge were removed last year and a few others have been slated for replacement for this year, the most recent reports by many pontists believe that 2013 may be a record-setting year for replacement of bridges built in 1945 and earlier. Many of them are being taken off the map with little or no input from the public, let alone regard to the policies protecting the ones listed or eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. The claim: liability, safety and the end of its useful life as many officials and engineers have claimed with these bridges.

The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles has compiled a list of historic bridges that are scheduled to come down within the next 2-3 months or are threatened with demolition.  A couple of bridges are being reported on by the Chronicles and will be presented in separate articles. It is hoped that this list of bridges will serve as a wake-up call for change in terms of policies protecting historic bridges in the US while finding more constructive ways to better inform the public about the future of these structures, and to encourage them to take action to save what is left of American history for generations to come. Links to the bridges are provided when clicking onto the underlines titles and phrases.  Without further ado, here are the list of bridges that one should see before they are gone forever- falling victims of the wrecking ball:

Portal view of the Harvey Dowell Bridge in Arkansas. Photo taken by David Backlin in 2005.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harvey Dowell Bridge in Washington County, Arkansas:

Built in 1926, this bridge is one of the rarest in the state whose top chord of the riveted Pratt through truss bridge has an H-beam shape. The bridge has taken a beating by overhead trucks and tractors and is one of the reasons why county crews are going to remove it in favor of a wider bridge. Demolition will commence at the end of January, and the replacement bridge should be finished by this summer.

Mill Street Bridge in New Castle, PA. Photo taken by Nathan Holth

Mill Street Bridge in New Castle, Pennsylvania

Spanning the Neshannock Creek carrying Mill Street, this Parker through truss bridge, built in 1917 by Thomas Gilkey, features a rather unique skewed portal bracing, where at each entrance one end post is vertical and the other is slanted at 50°. While this bridge is the last of its kind in Pennsylvania and one of the rarest to find in the US, Lawrence County officials signed it off to be converted into scrap metal in favor of a steel beam bridge with a goal of making it conform with the town’s business district. Demolition will begin in the spring and should be finished by the end of this year.

Tunnel view of the Nine-Span Bridge in Hammond, Indiana. Photo taken by Nathan Holth
Close-up of the skewed portal bracings on the Nine-Span Bridge in Hammond, Indiana. Photo taken by Nathan Holth

Hamond (Nine-Span) Bridge in Hammond (Lake County), Indiana

This story will surely be in the running for Worst Example to Preserve a Historic Bridge for 2013. This 1935 bridge, featuring ten Parker through truss spans with skews and unusual portal bracings, spans a railroad year and with a total length of 2,137 feet, it is the longest bridge of its kind in Indiana. Although this bridge has been on the state’s historic bridge market page for five years, the IndianaDOT has decided to demolish the entire structure in favor of a longer and wider beam bridge. One of the spans however will be dismantled, put in storage and made available for purchase between now and 2023! Any takers for the lone span? Demolition has begun with the removal of light posts, utility poles and roadbed, which will be followed by a series of implosion taking place in the spring. The new bridge should be completed by the end of this year, perhaps into next year.

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

Ghost Bridge in Lauderdale County, Alabama

This story will be followed up here at the Chronicles, as the struggle to stop the bulldozers and wrecking balls by a bunch of bridge lovers and local residents has heated up. The Ghost Bridge, a pin-connected Pratt through truss bridge with Howe lattice portal bracing, was built in 1912 by the Virginia Bridge and Iron Works Company, replacing a wooden covered bridge built during the Civil War. The bridge has a lot of history and ghost stories. Yet since its abandonment in 1996, it fell into disarray with the deck being partially removed or damaged and people using drugs and falling through the deck into Cypress Creek. Most recently, county officials let out the contract to remove the bridge within 30 days, despite it being listed on the National Register. Yet the preservation group and other residents are currently pursuing an injunction to stop the process, claiming that there was no formal hearing and there is a potential that some regulations involving protecting this bridge may be illegally circumvented. Already, crews are beginning to remove the roadway and railings and plans are in the making to remove the structure before the end of this month. However, protests to stop the process will begin this week both at the county courthouse as well as at the bridge itself. The Chronicles has a separate article on the developments and will be posted after the release of this article.

Hammond Pennsylvania Truss Bridge in Humboldt County, CA

Humboldt County, located in northwestern California, has a wide array of bridges built using many bridge types and dating as far back as the late 1800s. However, the county cannot seem to maintain this bridge, a Pennsylvania petit through truss bridge over the Mad River connecting McKinleyville to the north and Pacific to the south. Brought in from Washington state in 1941, the 1905 bridge used to serve rail traffic until it was converted to a pedestrian trail in the 1960s. Yet thanks to no maintenance work since that time, the bridge has fallen into disarray to a point where the decision was made to demolish the structure in favor of a concrete beam bridge for safety reasons. A classic example of a bridge that could have been rehabilitated for a fraction of the cost of a new bridge. Demolition will commence sometime this year.

Goose Creek Bridge in Leesburg, Virginia

Located at Keep Londoun Beautiful Park south of Leesburg, this two-span steel Warren pony truss was built in 1932 replacing an iron through truss bridge that was relocated to Featherbed Lane over Caoctin Creek south of Lovettsville. While the bridge served as a look-out point at the park since it was made obsolete by a beam bridge in the 1980s, it fell into disarray to a point where the county decided that instead of providing funding to rehabilitate the structure, it would be removed. While the contract was let out recently, the cost for the project will be more than expected, raising questions of whether the decision not to take on funding by the state to restore the bridge in 2006/7 was a mistake that could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars more for its removal than for its restoration. The removal of the bridge will commence in the spring.

Side view of the abandoned Boscawen Bridge in New Hampshire. Photo taken by Nathan Holth

Two Merrimack County (New Hampshire) Bridges:

New Hampshire, as mentioned on a pair of occasions in October, has a reputation of treating and demolishing historic bridges to a point where even state representatives have recommended people visiting neighboring Vermont if they want to visit any historic bridges made of concrete and metal. Add two more reasons to avoid the state with a pair of through truss bridges in Merrimack County scheduled to be demolished before the Spring thaw. The Depot Street Bridge in Boscawen, a two-span Parker through truss bridge built in 1907, has been abandoned since 1965 and residents are looking forward to seeing the safety hazard removed as a contract was let out to have the bridge dismantled. It will be lowered onto the icy Merrimack River, dismantled and hauled away as scrap metal. The Sewell Falls Bridge over the same river at Concord was written off as unsalvageable through an engineering survey and county officials are inquiring about its removal. Fortunately, while the demolition will not commence before 2014, the public will still have  a chance to voice their opinion about the bridge and the options available between preservation and demolition and replacement. The Chronicles will keep you posted on the latest.

Photo taken by the author while on a bike tour in 1999. Note, this was taken underneath the McKennan Hospital Car Park Complex

McKennan Pedestrian Bridge in Sioux Falls, South Dakota

The City of Sioux Falls has been undertaking a beautification of its downtown area, along the Big Sioux River, which includes establishing parks and recreation areas and expanding the bike trail. However, it will come at the cost of this two-span Howe pony truss bridge, located between the 8th Street and 10th Street crossings. It was converted to a bike trail in the 1970s when the railroad abandoned it and can be seen together with the McKennan Hospital Car Park from the 10th Street Bridge. Together with the parking garage (which occurred last year), the bridge will be demolished in favor of a newer truss bridge, the second one built in two years, which will raise questions about its conformity to the rest of the cityscape. Unless the bridge is saved in the last minute, demolition will most likely begin in the spring.

Washington Street Bridge in Sedalia, Missouri

Spanning the railroad in Sedalia’s business district, this pin-connected Pratt through truss bridge with Howe lattice portal bracing, built in 1911 by the Midland Bridge Company in Kansas City, is one of the landmarks serving the county seat of Pettis County and is one of two bridges of its type left in the county. Sadly, this bridge has been closed to traffic and is scheduled to be replaced this year, even though it is unknown when the demolition will commence….

Fitch’s Bridge in Groton, Massachusetts

Located west of Lowell in the town of Groton, little has been known about the double-intersecting Warren through truss spanning the Nashua River, except that it was built in the late 19th century by the Berlin Iron Bridge Company of Berlin, Conn., and has been abandoned since the 1960s, with the bridge being used as a diving board into the river. Plans are in the making to either remove or remove and replace the bridge. According to an organization wanting to save and rehabilitate the bridge, there is an option three which has yet to be presented with persuasion. More on the developments to come here at the Chronicles.