Fellow pontist James Baughn of bridgehunter.com found a real diamond in the rough most recently while on tour through Illinois, but one that is really fragile and could splinter if nothing is done to preserve it.
The diamond in the rough is this bridge. The structure is located at Cypress Pond State Natural Area. The bridge spans the old channel of the Cache River along what is left of a road connecting Elvira and Pleasant Grove, approximately five miles west of the nearest town of Buncombe. The road has been abandoned for decades and the only way to access it is by walking about two miles south from where Baldwin Lane ends on the northern side of the crossing. The southern side is not accessible due to corn fields and the impossibility to cross the new channel of the Cache River. Yet when arriving at the bridge, the hike is well worth it as the bridge has features that are atypical for truss bridges.
At 50 feet long, the bridge is a bedstead pony truss bridge with a Warren design. Bedstead trusses are characterized by endposts that are vertical, forming a 90° angle. Because the connections are riveted, the build date has to be somewhere after 1900. The reason for this is because riveted truss bridges made their debut at the turn of the century to replace the pin-connected truss spans because they are able to withstand increasing volumes of traffic. They were standardized by the states through different laws and regulations by 1915, narrowing the different trusses down to half a dozen and phasing out all other truss designs and the use of pinned connections altogether. The railings feature a lattice design that is inside the trusses, bolted together. This is unusual for truss bridges of its design and age, for only simple railings were used after 1900. One has to assume that this bridge was built at this location between 1900 and 1910. It is unknown who built the bridge, let alone when the structure was abandoned. For the latter question, it may have happened at the time when the Cache River was rechanneled, which we don’t know when it happened.
The problem is the bridge is falling apart due to nature’s wrath. In other words, if nothing is done to relocate it and restore it in due time, the bridge will surely collapse into the river. Problems that James Baughn saw during his field visit included the fact that the bridge has no decking left but just the bottom chord that is hanging by a thread over the river. The entire bottom chord has corroded away to a point where it and the trusses themselves could fall into the river. The support is pretty much gone. Furthermore, the northern endposts have sustained damage in a form of twisted and corroded beams. This was caused by a shift in the river current, combined with erosion and other elements. In addition to the damage on the north side, a tree is growing right through the chords, thus causing damage to the stringers. On the south end, it is not much better as erosion was dominant and undermining the abutments to a point where they could fall into the river upon the next flood, along with the trusses themselves.
To make it short, time is of the essence to pull the bridge out and find ways to reuse it. Potential for restoring the bridge is possible but it would require extensive work with sandblasting and replacing the beams. Ideas on how to approach this delicate project should be referred to the county officials in Johnson County as well as some of the bridge companies that are experts in bridge restoration, like Workin Bridges and BACH Steel, as well as Mead and Hunt. Even if the flooring system is not salvageable, which appears is not the case, the trusses could be used as ornamental railings for a new bridge.
But as mentioned before, time is of the essence, as well as the interest. When there is a will to save this bridge, there will be a way, especially as it has a lot of history to be looked at in connection with the Cache River and the county itself.
Check out James Baughn’s page with some more info and photos he took of the bridge here.