Mystery Bridge Nr. 40: A Whipple Truss Bridge in Japan

Photo taken by John Paul Catton, author of the ‘Sword, Mirror, Jewel’ fantasy trilogy’ Used with permission

 

The next mystery bridge takes us over 20,000 kilometers away from home, to the country of Japan.  With over 127 million inhabitants and despite the tragedies that have affected them for years- namely the atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki which effectively ended World War II,  and the triple disaster at Fukushima three years ago (earthquake, followed by a tsunami that wiped many cities off the map and the worst nuclear disaster since 1986)- Japan maintains an unusually fast-paced but honor-obsessed culture, which makes the country stand out among other industrialized countries in the world. The country is famous for its sushi and rice, and thanks to its decades of developing modern technology, Japan is the third most powerful country in the world with regards to the world economy.

Many people do not really think much about Japanese heritage as the population is always on the move. And it is no wonder why  historic bridges are almost next to never mentioned. Yet John Paul Catton, who is the author of the Sword, Mirror, Jewel Fantasy series and webmaster of Planet 303 (Adventures in a Post-Fictional World), happened to find this jewel, while providing readers with a tour of the Japanese city of Asakusa.  The city is part of the perfecture of neighboring Taito, which is part of the Japanese capital of Tokyo.  As for the bridge itself, it has a history of its own. The truss design is clearly marked: A Whipple pony truss with pinned connections. This design was patented by Squire Whipple in 1841, and set the precedent for the development of the bowstring arch bridge in general, which started populating the American landscape in the late 1860s. The Norman’s Kill Bridge near Albany, New York, built in 1869, is one of the earliest examples of this truss type.

The Whipple truss bridge at Asakusa, according to Catton, used to be located in Fukugawa, which is southeast of Yamaguchi on the extreme southwest end of Japan. It was relocated to this place in Asakusa in recent times, perhaps 10-20 years ago,  given the newness of the abutments, and the roadway that runs underneath the span. While no exact dimensions have been found on this bridge, one can assume that the span is between 20 and 30 meters long. Because welded and riveted connections were introduced in 1910 to replace the pinned connections, one can assume that the bridge was originally constructed in the time period between 1865 and 1880, and whoever designed the span was either a disciple of Squire Whipple himself, or he borrowed the design from him (or his colleagues) to use when building it at Fukugawa. Because Fukugawa is 918 kilometers (570 miles) southwest of Asakusa (in Tokyo), the feat of relocating the span to its current place must have been a Herculean one, because of the exorbitant costs combined with obstacles in transporting it (Think of the mountainous landscape, combined with potential earthquakes, which overshadow the well-knitted infrastructure).  Such a feat is rare to find in the United States, yet attempts are underway to relocate a truss bridge from Pennsylvania to Alabama as part of a major project, supported by Alabama DOT and a private group wanting to save the BB Comer Bridge. If approve, this record distance of transporting a historic bridge from A to B, will surely be broken.

This bridge was first mentioned through bridgehunter.com, though a thorough article about the bridge and the request for information about the bridge’s history has not been written until now. Therefore, the Chronicles needs your help regarding finding the following information:

1. When was this bridge built?

2. Who was the bridge builder? Was he a disciple of Whipple or did he work for a firm in Japan (or elsewhere)?

3. Where exactly was this bridge located in Fukugawa?

4. Because of the fact that the bridge is one of the oldest left in Japan, what was the motive behind relocating the span to Asakusa?

5. When did the relocation take place and how?

Send your information to Jason Smith at the Chronicles at: flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com. As soon as all the questions have been answered, there will be a follow-up to this article in the Chronicles.

Japan does take pride in its culture, and how (and why) this bridge was relocated remains a mystery, except for the fact that they really care about it, considering it one of the important landmarks of Japanese history. The Chronicles is working together to make sure the bridge’s history and its association with the development of the Japanese infrastructure comes to light. More on this Mystery Bridge will follow.

Fast Fact: Fukugawa is located between Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the two cities that were destroyed by two atomic bombs in 1945. President Truman ordered the bombs to be dropped after Germany surrendered to the Allies in May. Hiroshima was destroyed on 6 August, 1945, Nagasaki followed three days later. Japan surrendered on 2 September, 1945, when Emperor Hirohito signed the surrender papers on the USS Missouri, with General Douglas MacArthur overseeing the process. How nuclear radiation affected Fukugawa as a result of the two bombs, remains an unknown factor.

The author of the Chronciles would like to thank John Paul Catton for the use of the photo.

 

 

The Bridges of Booneville, New York

Boonville Bowstring (Whipple) Arch Bridge at Canal Museum. Photo taken by Marc Scotti

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Located in Oneida County in north central New York State, the Town(ship) of Boonville is one of the forgotten relicts of the bygone era. With a population of over 4,500 inhabitants, the township was founded by Gerrit Boon, who explored and bought land for his company in 1795. It is located on the Black River Canal, which connects the Black River and the Erie Canal. There are a lot of historic points of interest that makes the town special, including those in the village of Boonville, which accounts for half of the township’s population.

For bridge lovers, Boonville town(ship) is loaded with unique bridges of every size, type and history, whether it is the bowstring arch bridge, which serves as a showcase for the local museum, a Whipple truss bridge that used to serve a railroad, but now serves a snowmobile trail, or even an arch bridge. There are over 25 historic bridges within the area of Boonville, some of which are concentrated within the village of Boonville.  Because of the high number, the Chronicles will profile six of the ones that should be visited, thanks to information and photos provided by Marc Scotti of the New York State Department of Transportation. One of the bridges was entered in the Best Photo Contest for this year’s Ammann Awards.

Willett Bridge. Photo taken by Marc Scotti

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Willett Bridge: This bridge spans the Mohawk River in the village of Rome, 30 minutes away from Boonville. The design features a Luten arch, characterized by its elliptical arches, as seen in the photo. The bridge is one of the more ornamental ones serving the village, as it has a unique builder’s plaque and many 20s style ornamental lighting, which makes this 1929 structure unique.

Sugar River Bridge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sugar River Bridge:  There are many reasons why this bridge is a must-see. It was built in the 1800s by Phoenix Bridge and Iron Company, consisting of a Whipple through truss bridge with Phoenix columns. It also had double-floor beams, which is one of a kind according to today’s standards. It was converted to snowmobile traffic in the 1980s. It placed third in last year’s Ammann Awards for best bridge photo.

Bailey Truss Bridge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Boonville Museum Bridges: The Boonville Canal Museum has many features that are in connection with the Black River Canal and the town’s history. Three genuine bridges, including the Whipple arch bridge (shown at the beginning of the article) serve this area, provding tourists with a sense of nostalgia, when walking through the area about 3 square miles. The Whipple Arch Bridge was one of many bowstring arch bridges that were built by Squire Whipple in the 1870s. This one was built in 1872. Interesting fact is the fact that it was Whipple himself who patented the bridge in 1848 and most of the bridges built during his lifetime were in New York state, many of which were along the Erie Canal.  The second bridge is the Bailey Truss bridge, a riveted Howe lattice bridge that was used solely for temporary crossings during the 1940s and 50s, but this span was preserved and is used as primary access to the Whipple bridge. The youngest of the bridges happens to be the youngest bridge of its type built in New York state- the Town Lattice covered bridge. Built in 2005, the 70 foot long and 24 foot wide bridge is the most ornamental of covered bridges in the state and one of the main features of the park. A photo of the bridge, provided by Scotti is one of the candidates for this year’s Ammann Awards for Best Photo.

Boonville Covered Bridge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other bridges worth noting but will be mentioned in later articles include those built by the Havana Bridge, Vermont Bridge and Iron and Elmira Bridge Companies, where one of two of each of the bridges are left in the state (and perhaps the country). Two thirds of them consist of a standardized truss design, but the history of each one is unique for the Boonville area because of local stories that are associated with them, in addition to the bridge builders. Unfortunately, half of these bridges will be replaced over the next couple of years. However, the Chronicles will profile the bridges in the next year in hopes that someone will pay attention to the unique value of the bridge and claim it before the bulldozer does. In addition, a Lane pony truss bridge is also located in the township, although it is unclear where it is located. Built in 1903, the truss bridge type is one of the rarest to find in the US. The Chronicles will provide a tour through the rare bridge types next year and will present the history of the bridge type and the examples that still exist.

While the number of bridges in the township is huge and cannot all be profiled, the author hopes that a few examples will provide tourists with another reason to visit the Boonville area (town(ship) and village), in addition to knowing about its history and visiting the historic places that make the are very special.  There is special bridge for everyone in the area, which justifies its place as one of the candidates for Best Kept Secret for 2012. And even if one does not visit Boonville for the bridges, there is a lot of history and heritage that makes the area worth seeing.

The author would like to thank Marc Scotti for mentioning this area and for providing the photos and information on the bridges.