World’s Longest Bowstring Arch Bridge Reopens to Traffic

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Blackfriars Street in London, Ontario reopened to traffic after five-year closure and one year extensive restoration work.

LONDON, ONTARIO (CANADA)- At 225 feet (68.6 meters), it is the longest bowstring arch bridge in the world. It was one of the longest ever built by the Wrought Iron Bridge Company in Canton, Ohio At 143 years of age, it is one of the oldest historic bridges of its kind left in Canada and North America. It is one of the rarest bridges to find in the country because of its dwindling numbers. And now, after five years including one year of a complete restoration, the Blackfriars Street Bridge in London, Ontario is back in business.

Thousands convened to the bridge on December 1st to commemorate the reopening of this unique bowstring arch bridge, located at Blackfriars Street, spanning the North Branch of the Thames River connecting Blackfriars Park on the west bank and Harris Park on the east bank. This included a ribbon-cutting ceremony followed by a parade of cars that crossed the newly restored structure.  The cost for the complete restoration was $8.6 million, which was split between local and federal funding. For many residents and bridge enthusiasts, it is a relief to have the structure back in service while at the same time, retain its historic and cultural integrity. Many have had great childhood memories of the bridge and were happy to see the bridge open to traffic. From its build date of 1875 until its closure in 2013, the bridge served vehicular traffic before structural deterioration forced its restriction of the bridge to solely pedestrian cyclists in 2013. In November 2017, the bridge was lifted off its place, cut in half, then dismantled to be transported to an offsite complex where it was sandblasted and welded, with several parts being replaced.

This bridge restoration was met with hefty criticism, especially from bridge preservationists who dubbed the Blackfriars Street Bridge Restoration as a complete replacement. In a statement posted by Nathan Holth in the historicbridges.org homepage, “A 2018 rehabilitation project essentially replaced nearly every surviving piece of original material on this bridge with new material that looks completely different than the original design.” Holth added that “this may be due to a lack of sufficient consultation with experts in bridge restoration, or a lack of open minds on the part of engineers who may have consulted with experts in bridge restoration.” And while the website acknowledged that rehabilitation was needed, this type of work was more of a modernization of the bridge than in-kind restoration, stating “with an in-kind restoration, many parts of the bridge would still have been replaced, but they would have been replaced with replicas of the original design. The bridge’s bowstring trusses today are almost unrecognizable.”

While his claim is that with the complete replacement of bridge parts with new materials is as bad a bridge replacement, one needs to look at the difference between the Blackfriar’s Street Bridge before and the structure after the replacement to see the difference. It is clear that the portal bracings and the upper chord are different; the portals veered away from its three-tiered Lattice and X-frame portal bracings with heel bracings and was replaced with simply the X-frame with heels, whereas the original beams with Phoenix columns have been replaced with rectangular beams, much of the vertical and diagonal beams appear to be the same. One needs to have a look at the bridge for himself to see the difference.

Nevertheless, inspite of the criticism, the restoration of the bridge and its reopening of the crossing will provide drivers, cyclists and pedestrians alike with an opportunity to gain access to the university complex on the western bank of the Thames from the greenery area on the east side, where the two branches form the Thames. But most importantly, the City of London got back their beloved historic bridge, one of only a handful of historic landmarks left for the city, but one of the most important that a person should see when passing through. This is one that is not only in the running for this year’s Ammann Award in the category of Best Example of a Restored Historic Bridge, but one on the places to visit list for many, like myself, who have yet to see the structure and judge for himself how much alteration was actually done.

The Blackfriars Street Bridge has its own Twitter website, where you can follow up on the bridge and read the stories behind the structure and the love affair the people have with the longest bowstring arch bridge in the world. Click here and follow for details.

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BHC Pic of the Week Nr. 28

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Our 28th Pic of the Week takes us back to 2007 and this bridge in Minnesota- the Kern Bridge. Located south of Mankato, this 1873 product of Wrought Iron Bridge Company is the longest bowstring arch bridge in the US, with a span of 190 feet. It is the second longest in the world behind the Blackfriar’s Bridge in London, Ontario (Canada). The bridge has been closed since 1990 and has been sitting abandoned ever since. Unless something can be done to rehabilitate the bridge, the structure is on the verge of collapse with a cracked abutment and missing planks according to the latest visit by James Baughn. Currently, there is some collaboration behind the bridge’s future in terms of restoring it for reuse. Yet lack of funding and the will to restore it is still imminent We’re looking for some ideas as to what to do with this structure. Does anybody have any ideas?

 

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Grain Truck Drops Historic Bridge in Iowa

Gillecie Bridge near Bluffton. Photo taken in 2005

143 year old Gilliece Bridge collapses after truck five-times its size tried crossing. Charges expected.

 

DECORAH, IOWA-  Almost a year and a half after a semi-truck drove across a historic bridge in Indiana, causing it to collapse, another incident, caused by a trucker ignoring a weight limit, has claimed a life of another historic bridge. Yesterday morning, a 15-ton grain truck tried crossing the Gilliece Bowstring Arch Bridge, spanning the Upper Iowa River at Cattle Creek Road, north of Bluffton, causing the bridge to collapse. According to multiple news sources, the driver of the truck ignored the weight restrictions posted on the 143-year old structure and tried to cross, going from east to west, causing the bridge to give way and the trailer to straddle the pier that used to hold the structure in place. The bridge had a weight limit of only three tons!  The driver of the truck, who works for Sinclair Milling Company of Parkersburg, survived the incident without injury, yet charges are pending for wreckless driving and disregarding the weight restrictions. According to Winneshiek County Highway Engineer, Lee Bjerke, in an interview with Decorah News, “When you see a weight limit on a bridge, we mean it. It’s there to keep you alive.”

The future of the bridge is questionable, given the damage to the structure. The curved upper chords are bent but can be straightened out, whereas the vertical and diagonal beams are either bent or broken in many places. Already hit by numerous tractors who had crossed it in the past, the upper bracings will need to be replaced, which will partially compromise the historical integrity of the bridge. Yet more details on the extant of the damage to the bridge will come as Julie Bowers of Workin Bridges, based in Grinnell, as well as other bridge restoration experts will examine the extent of the damage and determine its salvagibility of the bridge.

The Gilliece Bridge, which is also known as the Murtha or Daley, was constructed in 1874 by the Wrought Iron Bridge Company of Canton, Ohio. It was one of over two dozen bridges that were built by the company in the 1870s and 80s, thanks to efforts of bridge agent George Winthrop, who worked with the county to secure deals for bridges to benefit landowners living in the hilly areas along the Upper Iowa and Turkey Rivers. The bridge was 151 feet long with a main span of 129 feet. It was rehabilitated in the 1990s which included reinforcing the stone piers with concrete ones, one of which the truck trailer was sitting on when the bridge collapsed. It was considered historically significant in surveys conducted by the late James Hippen and the State of Iowa and was subsequentially listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998. Workin Bridges bought the structure with the intent to relocate it in the near future, allowing for the county to work on replacing it with a modern bridge.

The Gilliece Bridge was one of ten bridges on the county’s list for replacement. Yet with its collapse, combined with the inconvenience of the homeowners living near the bridge on both sides of the river, attempts will be made to expedite the replacement process. The  Upper Iowa River is currently closed off to canoeists so that the wreckage can be taken out of the river. With over a half dozen bowstring arch bridges that had been built in the county and a dozen built by Wrought Iron Bridge Company, Winneshiek County now has only one exemplar in both left, which is the Freeport Bridge. Yet unlike the Gilliece, this bridge, the second longest of its kind in the US, is serving pedestrians at a park east of Decorah, making it safe from careless drivers. Yet this incident serves as a reminder that compulsory education for math, vehicular driving and in particular, truck driving for those wishing to enter the profession is badly needed, so that people learn that careless driving can indeed cost lives, especially if people don’t pay attention to the laws of the road that exist for a good reason-

which is to respect the lives and property of others. This incident is another example of the disrespect to both, no matter how a person interprets it.

The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles will keep you posted on the latest regarding the Gillecie Bridge and the events that follow the incident.

Update on the Mystery Bridge Nr. 62: The Bridge at Pontiac Lane

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A couple months ago, I posted a Mystery Bridge article about one of the bridges in Harrison County, Iowa, based on a tip provided to me by a local familiar with the bridge. This bridge is located at Pontiac Lane, just off 220nd Street, two miles east of Hwy. 30 in Logan. As mentioned in the article, the bridge was unusual because of its length over a small creek, and it was a through truss bridge, according to the online maps. There were many questions about this structure, including its aesthetic appearance, age, and the date of when it was replaced by a culvert but left in place. There was a sense of hope that someone might take a look at the structure and provide some pics for it, to help solve the case.

This is where Adrian Brisee comes in.

 

A couple weeks before Christmas, he took the opportunity to visit the bridge and provide some pics for others to see. These pics will surprise you:

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From observation, the bridge is a single lane through truss bridge of Whipple type, with pinned connections. The diagonal and vertical beams are connected with a loop. The portal bracings are a three-layer set, where the top and bottom layers are Howe Lattice (with the bottom having heel bracings) and the middle has an X-shape. This puts the date of construction back to between 1870 and 1885, when these portals were used. It also narrowed down to the number of bridge builders who used it, including Wrought Iron Bridge, King and even some of the companies in Ohio and Pennsylvania, many of whom were consolidated into American Bridge Company in 1900. The portals were subsequentially phased out in favor of those with letters, like the A-frame, X-frame, etc.  Additional markings however suggest that this was a Wrought Iron Bridge product, namely the star-engravings at each of the bottom latteral chord, as shown in the picture. This is typical of all WIBCo as 70% of their bridges have this, including the Freeport Bridge in Decorah and the Hungry Hollow Bridge near Mankato (now extant).  Judging by the length of the bridge, it is between 130 and 180 feet long; the width between 15 and 17 feet.

 

Establishing a concrete basis for solving this case, the next questions require some in-depth research and even photographing some of finest points, including inscriptions in the beams, possible connections that are either typical of WIBCo or unusual of any truss bridge built during the given period and even plaque or any additional info- enough to justify its listing on the National Register of Historic Places. This include three very important ones left to be answered:

 

  1. When was the bridge built?
  2. Was this bridge originally built at this location or was it relocated from elsewhere and if so, where?
  3. Was there a previous structure before this bridge?

 

This is in addition to the ones left to be answered. The questions are important for the condition of the bridge has deteriorated over the years, with the western side dropping three feet, thus bending the entrance noticeably. With its nomination to the National Register, funding would be made available on the state and federal levels to restore the structure and convert the area to a park. Given its unique history involving historic bridges, including some imported from out of state, Harrison County would profit greatly from having some sort of historic bridge park or district with tour guide with a list of historic bridges to visit, just like in Madison County.

 

But before we can nominate this bridge, we have some questions to clear up, which can only be done by hopping into the car, driving to the bridge for some pics and lastly, visiting the library, museum and highway department, for starters.  Having international recognition in the category of Mystery Bridge (a fifth place finish) is a start. The next ones are all yours to take.

 

So go for it. 🙂

 

If you haven’t read the results of the Ammann Awards or the Author’s Choice, please click here to take a look to see if your bridge received one of the two or both.

The Author would like to thank Adrian Brisee for visiting this bridge and taking some pics. You were of great help! 🙂

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The Bridges of New Ulm, Minnesota

6th Street Overpass in New Ulm. Photo taken by the author in 2010

Going back to the series on Ulm and New Ulm with sister column The Flensburg Files, we will take a look at the bridges in the American counterpart. Located along the Minnesota River at the junction of the Big Cottonwood River, New Ulm, with a population of 13,400, has some of the characteristics of Main Street USA. Yet as you pass through, everything you see is German, from names to buildings and monuments, as well as the market square and the Oktoberfest.

New Ulm is served by two key highways: Minnesota Hwy. 15 between St. Cloud and Iowa going north to south, and US Hwy. 14 between Mankato and Rochester in the east and Walnut Grove and Brookings to the west. The railroad line owned by Canadian Pacific runs parallel to this highway. These highways and railroad had once made New Ulm a key trading center when it was established in 1854 and rebuilt after the Dakota War of 1862. With that came the crossings along the Minnesota and Cottonwood Rivers, which helped serve this purpose. Today, the highways are modernized and with that, longer and wider bridges to serve traffic- at least for the east-west route as New Ulm and Mankato are located only 15 miles from each other, making commuting easier. Yet many traces of history can also be found mainly to the south of New Ulm, where historic bridges once stood but today only a pair of vintage railroad bridges are still standing. This guide takes you through the city of New Ulm and the historic bridges that had once existed but have been replaced. The purpose is to remind visitors of their existence and the bridge companies that were responsible for turning New Ulm into a city of commerce, a title still held as proudly today as its German heritage. Most of the bridges profiled are located to the south and east, with a pair of outlyers to the north. You can find them on this map, when clicking here.

6th Street Arch Underpass:

The stone arch bridge spans 6th Street North, carrying the Canadian Pacific Railroad. The 38 foot long stone arch bridge was constructed in 1909 and had originally served both the east-west route (owned by CP) and a north-south route which was once owned by the Minneapolis and St. Louis Railroad. That line connected New Ulm with Winthrop (in the north) and Storm Lake, Iowa (in the south) until its abandonment in 1970. The bridge now only serves the CP route, but it serves as a key entrance to German Park, located just to the west of this bridge in the northern part of the business district.

12th Street Overpass in New Ulm. Photo taken by John Marvig in September 2011, shortly afterwards it was replaced.

12th Street Overpass: 

This bridge is located at the far end of New Ulm, spanning 12th Street North, carrying CP Railroad. Built in 1911, the 30-foot bridge featured a plate girder decorated with wooden railties. However, due to structural concerns, the bridge was replaced with a combination steel and concrete structure in 2012. It still serves traffic today.

Redstone Bridge (side view). Photo taken by John Marvig in January 2013

Redstone Railroad Bridge

Located over the Minnesota River opposite the city center, the Redstone Bridge is the longest of the bridges in New Ulm and one of the longest of the railroad bridges spanning the Minnesota River. The 880 foot long bridge, consisting of two quadrangular truss spans with Town Lattice portal bracings and a 207-foot long swing span built of Pratt design and featuring a beam-style with heels portals, was built in 1880 by the Leighton Bridge and Iron Works Company in New York. It originally served the main line of Chicago and Northwestern Railroad, connecting New Ulm and St. Peter. However, the line was detoured in 1971 to have it connected with Mankato, thus rendering the line to St. Peter useless. The bridge still serves rail traffic but only to the quarry near the Courtland Cutoff before it terminates. The piers of the swing span was reinforced with concrete in 2014 to stabilize the structure, but overall, the bridge is still in use and maintains its historic significance. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Portal view of the approach span. Photo taken by John Marvig in May 2015

DM&E Cottonwood River Railroad Bridge west of the Minnesota River in New Ulm. Photo taken by John Marvig in May 2015

D,M&E Cottonwood River Railroad Bridge:

Located only a half mile northwest of Redstone Bridge, the Cottonwood River crossing is the longest bridge over the Cottonwood River (and the last crossing before its confluence with the Minnesota River only 600 feet to the east) at 733 feet total. The bridge features two quadrangular truss main spans with A-frame portal braces, each measured at 157 feet, with the rest being wooden trestle approach spans. These were replaced with concrete and steel trestle spans in 2009. The bridge was built in 1913, using the piers of the 1890 span, which had deteriorated to a point where replacement was necessary. The bridge continues to serve rail traffic to Mankato today, for it is the main line served by Canadian Pacific Railroad. 


Poor Farm Bridge before its replacement. Photo courtesy of HABS HAER
Poor Farm Bridge before its replacement. Photo courtesy of HABS HAER

Poor Farm Bridge:

Located just west of MN Hwy. 15 on Cottonwood Street, Poor Farm Bridge represented a lone example of a bridge built by the Security Bridge Company based in Billings, Montana. The structure was built in 1907 and featured a pin-connected Pratt through truss with Howe lattice portal bracings with heel bracings, with a total measurement of 155 feet. The bridge continued to serve traffic until a cracked eyebar in the bottom chord led to its closure in February 1991. It was replaced with its present structure 3 years later.  Had the advancement of historic bridge preservation been as predominant as it is right now, chances would have been likely that this bridge would have been standing, serving light traffic or at least be used as a pedestrian crossing. But the lack of technology pertaining to fixing broken iron and steel beams contributed to its demise.

Portal view with the builder's plaque. Photo courtesy of HABS HAER
Portal view with the builder’s plaque. Photo courtesy of HABS HAER

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Courtland Cutoff Bridge

Located over the Minnesota River 300 feet north of the present 20th Street Bridge, the Courtland Cutoff Bridge featured two Pratt through truss spans with Town lattice portal bracings supported by 45° heels. The bridge’s end posts and vertical posts were both V-laced, and it appeared to be built of iron. Although there are no records as to who built the 1892 bridge, the portal bracings and the builders plaques are typical of that built by Massilion Bridge Company in Ohio. But more information is needed to confirm this argument. The 335-foot bridge served traffic until 1978, when the present bridge was built on a new alignment. By 1980, the bridge was moved to the history books with the parts being reused for other purposes. Today, like the truss bridge, the Courtland Cutoff serves as a shortcut to Mankato without having to drive through down town New Ulm.

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Metzen Bridge:

Spanning the Cottonwood River east of the present Hwy. 15 crossing, the Metzen Bridge was built in 1880 and named after a nearby farm that had existed since the establishment of New Ulm in 1854. The bridge was built in 1880 and represents an example of a typical Wrought Iron Bridge Company bridge with its ornamental Town Lattice portal bracings and builder’s plaques. The 441-foot bridge featured a pin-connected Whipple through truss span (148 feet) and steel approach spans. Until 1932, the bridge was the primary crossing for Hwy. 15 going south of New Ulm. After a new crossing was built on a new alignment 700 feet to the west, the ownership of the Metzen Bridge was switched over to the city, which owned it until its removal in 1981. The bridge originally was located where Shag Road makes a sharp right going north and east towards the Cottonwood River Railroad Bridge. It originally was called Bridge Street because of the bridge. Yet Bridge Street terminates nears the Jensen Motors site, 250 feet north of the bridge. Had the bridge been standing, it would have been listed on the National Register because of its rare truss design. Ideally, it would have an excellent crossing for a bike trail leaving New Ulm going either south or along the Cottonwood.

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Broadway Avenue Bridge (Hwy. 15)

Built in 1932 replacing the Metzen Bridge, the Broadway Avenue Bridge featured a continuous deck truss design using a combination Howe and Pratt designs. The connections were riveted. At 66o feet, the bridge was the second longest along the Cottonwood River. It was built on a new alignment alongside the Milwaukee Viaduct, a steel viaduct built in 1899 that had served the New Ulm-Madelia-Fairmont line until 1971. The purpose was to eliminate the dangerous curves presented by the Metzen Bridge, making the straightened road safer for travellers entering and leaving New Ulm. This was kept in mind in 1983, when the bridge was replaced with its present structure.

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Flandrau State Park Bridge (CSAH 13)

Together with the Minnesota River Crossing at Hwys. 14 and 15, the Flandrau Bridge represented a classic example of a multiple span steel truss bridge built by the Illinois Steel Bridge Company. This bridge was built in 1921 and featured a two-span Camelback truss bridge with A-frame portal bracing and riveted connections. It provided travellers with a direct access to Flandrau State Park from the south until its replacement in 1962.

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Hwy. 14 Minnesota River Bridge

Together with the Flandrau State Park Bridge, this bridge was built by the Illinois Steel Company in 1922. It featured a Parker through truss main span with two Warren pony truss approach spans (all with riveted connections), totalling a span of 350 feet. The A-frame portal bracings were replaced with Howe lattice portal bracings in 1939 to accomodate the increasing height of trucks crossing the Minnesota River going in and out of New Ulm. In 1963, as part of the plan to widen the highway to four lanes, the bridge was replaced with its present structure. Today, the crossing still serves Hwy. 14 between New Ulm and Mankato as well as Hwy. 15 between New Ulm and St. Cloud, providing New Ulm with commerce from the north and east.

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This article is part of a series on the cities of New Ulm, Minnesota and Ulm/ Neu Ulm, Germany, produced together with sister column, The Flensburg Files. To access the articles in the series, please click on the symbols for access….

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Many thanks to Pete Wilson from Minnesota Department of Transportation for his help in finding some information and photos on the bridges, as well as John Marvig for allowing the author to use some of his photos. 

The Bridges of New Ulm, Minnesota

6th Street Overpass in New Ulm. Photo taken by the author in 2010

Going back to the series on Ulm and New Ulm with sister column The Flensburg Files, we will take a look at the bridges in the American counterpart. Located along the Minnesota River at the junction of the Big Cottonwood River, New Ulm, with a population of 13,400, has some of the characteristics of Main Street USA. Yet as you pass through, everything you see is German, from names to buildings and monuments, as well as the market square and the Oktoberfest.

New Ulm is served by two key highways: Minnesota Hwy. 15 between St. Cloud and Iowa going north to south, and US Hwy. 14 between Mankato and Rochester in the east and Walnut Grove and Brookings to the west. The railroad line owned by Canadian Pacific runs parallel to this highway. These highways and railroad had once made New Ulm a key trading center when it was established in 1854 and rebuilt after the Dakota War of 1862. With that came the crossings along the Minnesota and Cottonwood Rivers, which helped serve this purpose. Today, the highways are modernized and with that, longer and wider bridges to serve traffic- at least for the east-west route as New Ulm and Mankato are located only 15 miles from each other, making commuting easier. Yet many traces of history can also be found mainly to the south of New Ulm, where historic bridges once stood but today only a pair of vintage railroad bridges are still standing. This guide takes you through the city of New Ulm and the historic bridges that had once existed but have been replaced. The purpose is to remind visitors of their existence and the bridge companies that were responsible for turning New Ulm into a city of commerce, a title still held as proudly today as its German heritage. Most of the bridges profiled are located to the south and east, with a pair of outlyers to the north. You can find them on this map, when clicking here.

6th Street Arch Underpass:

The stone arch bridge spans 6th Street North, carrying the Canadian Pacific Railroad. The 38 foot long stone arch bridge was constructed in 1909 and had originally served both the east-west route (owned by CP) and a north-south route which was once owned by the Minneapolis and St. Louis Railroad. That line connected New Ulm with Winthrop (in the north) and Storm Lake, Iowa (in the south) until its abandonment in 1970. The bridge now only serves the CP route, but it serves as a key entrance to German Park, located just to the west of this bridge in the northern part of the business district.

12th Street Overpass in New Ulm. Photo taken by John Marvig in September 2011, shortly afterwards it was replaced.

12th Street Overpass: 

This bridge is located at the far end of New Ulm, spanning 12th Street North, carrying CP Railroad. Built in 1911, the 30-foot bridge featured a plate girder decorated with wooden railties. However, due to structural concerns, the bridge was replaced with a combination steel and concrete structure in 2012. It still serves traffic today.

Redstone Bridge (side view). Photo taken by John Marvig in January 2013

Redstone Railroad Bridge

Located over the Minnesota River opposite the city center, the Redstone Bridge is the longest of the bridges in New Ulm and one of the longest of the railroad bridges spanning the Minnesota River. The 880 foot long bridge, consisting of two quadrangular truss spans with Town Lattice portal bracings and a 207-foot long swing span built of Pratt design and featuring a beam-style with heels portals, was built in 1880 by the Leighton Bridge and Iron Works Company in New York. It originally served the main line of Chicago and Northwestern Railroad, connecting New Ulm and St. Peter. However, the line was detoured in 1971 to have it connected with Mankato, thus rendering the line to St. Peter useless. The bridge still serves rail traffic but only to the quarry near the Courtland Cutoff before it terminates. The piers of the swing span was reinforced with concrete in 2014 to stabilize the structure, but overall, the bridge is still in use and maintains its historic significance. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

 

Portal view of the approach span. Photo taken by John Marvig in May 2015

 


DM&E Cottonwood River Railroad Bridge west of the Minnesota River in New Ulm. Photo taken by John Marvig in May 2015

D,M&E Cottonwood River Railroad Bridge:

Located only a half mile northwest of Redstone Bridge, the Cottonwood River crossing is the longest bridge over the Cottonwood River (and the last crossing before its confluence with the Minnesota River only 600 feet to the east) at 733 feet total. The bridge features two quadrangular truss main spans with A-frame portal braces, each measured at 157 feet, with the rest being wooden trestle approach spans. These were replaced with concrete and steel trestle spans in 2009. The bridge was built in 1913, using the piers of the 1890 span, which had deteriorated to a point where replacement was necessary. The bridge continues to serve rail traffic to Mankato today, for it is the main line served by Canadian Pacific Railroad. 


Poor Farm Bridge before its replacement. Photo courtesy of HABS HAER
Poor Farm Bridge before its replacement. Photo courtesy of HABS HAER

Poor Farm Bridge:

Located just west of MN Hwy. 15 on Cottonwood Street, Poor Farm Bridge represented a lone example of a bridge built by the Security Bridge Company based in Billings, Montana. The structure was built in 1907 and featured a pin-connected Pratt through truss with Howe lattice portal bracings with heel bracings, with a total measurement of 155 feet. The bridge continued to serve traffic until a cracked eyebar in the bottom chord led to its closure in February 1991. It was replaced with its present structure 3 years later.  Had the advancement of historic bridge preservation been as predominant as it is right now, chances would have been likely that this bridge would have been standing, serving light traffic or at least be used as a pedestrian crossing. But the lack of technology pertaining to fixing broken iron and steel beams contributed to its demise.

Portal view with the builder's plaque. Photo courtesy of HABS HAER
Portal view with the builder’s plaque. Photo courtesy of HABS HAER

Courtland Cutoff 1

Courtland Cutoff Bridge

Located over the Minnesota River 300 feet north of the present 20th Street Bridge, the Courtland Cutoff Bridge featured two Pratt through truss spans with Town lattice portal bracings supported by 45° heels. The bridge’s end posts and vertical posts were both V-laced, and it appeared to be built of iron. Although there are no records as to who built the 1892 bridge, the portal bracings and the builders plaques are typical of that built by Massilion Bridge Company in Ohio. But more information is needed to confirm this argument. The 335-foot bridge served traffic until 1978, when the present bridge was built on a new alignment. By 1980, the bridge was moved to the history books with the parts being reused for other purposes. Today, like the truss bridge, the Courtland Cutoff serves as a shortcut to Mankato without having to drive through down town New Ulm.

Courtland Cutoff 2

 


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Metzen Bridge:

Spanning the Cottonwood River east of the present Hwy. 15 crossing, the Metzen Bridge was built in 1880 and named after a nearby farm that had existed since the establishment of New Ulm in 1854. The bridge was built in 1880 and represents an example of a typical Wrought Iron Bridge Company bridge with its ornamental Town Lattice portal bracings and builder’s plaques. The 441-foot bridge featured a pin-connected Whipple through truss span (148 feet) and steel approach spans. Until 1932, the bridge was the primary crossing for Hwy. 15 going south of New Ulm. After a new crossing was built on a new alignment 700 feet to the west, the ownership of the Metzen Bridge was switched over to the city, which owned it until its removal in 1981. The bridge originally was located where Shag Road makes a sharp right going north and east towards the Cottonwood River Railroad Bridge. It originally was called Bridge Street because of the bridge. Yet Bridge Street terminates nears the Jensen Motors site, 250 feet north of the bridge. Had the bridge been standing, it would have been listed on the National Register because of its rare truss design. Ideally, it would have an excellent crossing for a bike trail leaving New Ulm going either south or along the Cottonwood.

 

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Broadway Avenue Bridge (Hwy. 15)

Built in 1932 replacing the Metzen Bridge, the Broadway Avenue Bridge featured a continuous deck truss design using a combination Howe and Pratt designs. The connections were riveted. At 66o feet, the bridge was the second longest along the Cottonwood River. It was built on a new alignment alongside the Milwaukee Viaduct, a steel viaduct built in 1899 that had served the New Ulm-Madelia-Fairmont line until 1971. The purpose was to eliminate the dangerous curves presented by the Metzen Bridge, making the straightened road safer for travellers entering and leaving New Ulm. This was kept in mind in 1983, when the bridge was replaced with its present structure.

 

Hwy 15 B 2

 


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Flandrau State Park Bridge (CSAH 13)

Together with the Minnesota River Crossing at Hwys. 14 and 15, the Flandrau Bridge represented a classic example of a multiple span steel truss bridge built by the Illinois Steel Bridge Company. This bridge was built in 1921 and featured a two-span Camelback truss bridge with A-frame portal bracing and riveted connections. It provided travellers with a direct access to Flandrau State Park from the south until its replacement in 1962.

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Hwy. 14 Minnesota River Bridge

Together with the Flandrau State Park Bridge, this bridge was built by the Illinois Steel Company in 1922. It featured a Parker through truss main span with two Warren pony truss approach spans (all with riveted connections), totalling a span of 350 feet. The A-frame portal bracings were replaced with Howe lattice portal bracings in 1939 to accomodate the increasing height of trucks crossing the Minnesota River going in and out of New Ulm. In 1963, as part of the plan to widen the highway to four lanes, the bridge was replaced with its present structure. Today, the crossing still serves Hwy. 14 between New Ulm and Mankato as well as Hwy. 15 between New Ulm and St. Cloud, providing New Ulm with commerce from the north and east.

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This article is part of a series on the cities of New Ulm, Minnesota and Ulm/ Neu Ulm, Germany, produced together with sister column, The Flensburg Files. To access the articles in the series, please click on the symbols for access….

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Many thanks to Pete Wilson from Minnesota Department of Transportation for his help in finding some information and photos on the bridges, as well as John Marvig for allowing the author to use some of his photos. 

The Bridges of Bertram, Iowa

Rosedale Bridge. Photo taken in September 2010

The collapse of the Ely Street Bridge a few weeks ago was a tragedy for people living in the small village of Bertram. Located east of Cedar Rapids in Linn County, Bertram has over 300 inhabitants and prides itself on it historic bridges located not only directly in the village, but also within a five-mile radius of each other. As many as eight historic bridges are located directly in or in the vicinity of Bertram, many of them are accessible by car.  They include six structures built before 1915 that are made of either iron or steel. Two of them are confirmed to have been built by a local bridge contractor. One of them is a mystery bridge, which can be seen from US Hwy. 151/ IA 13, and will be documented as such in the next article.  These bridges have received their share of visits from photographers, pontists and history junkies alike visiting the area. They were on the Saturday morning tour of the Historic Bridge Weekend last year. This makes it even more important not only to recognize them as important places of interest that contributed to Linn County’s history but also protect them from wear and tear and modernization. Already residents rejected funding from the state and county to replace these bridges last year, a sign that they want to keep their bridges from becoming history. Yet with the Ely Street Bridge down, the challenge will be not only to try and rebuild it, but also strengthen the other bridges so that they do not become the next victims of flooding. With Linn County having one of the strongest track records with regards to historic bridge preservation in the state, many people are taking comfort in the fact that something will be done to ensure these bridges will last for future generations to come.

This tour guide takes you through Bertram and the vicinity, providing you with a glimpse of the bridges you will see when passing through the area. The Ely Street Bridge has already been mentioned in a previous article, yet you can click here if you have any ideas as to how to rebuild the bridge. Blaine’s Crossing will be featured as a Mystery Bridge in the following article, which takes us down to six bridges featured in this guide, starting with:

Rosedale Bridge: Spanning Indian Creek on Rosedale Road, just north of Indian Creek Park, this bridge is one of the shortest through truss bridges in the state, with a span of 89 feet. The markings of the pin-connected Pratt through truss bridge- in particular, the Town Lattice portal bracings with knee braces, “fish tail” style floor beams, and sway bracings with riveted angles- are similar to the ones at Ely Street, resulting in the conclusion that the bridge may have been built by J.E. Jayne and Sons of Iowa City. The contractor was the county’s main bridge builder in the 1890s, although only a couple examples remain in use today. 1890 was the date of construction for this bridge, even though it has not been fully confirmed. The bridge was renovated in the early 2000s, which included a paint job shoring up the rip rap and abutments, as well as the replacement of the wood decking and bridge railings (with the typically modern Armco ones), thus continuing its function as a through traffic crossing, albeit only for light vehicles.

Bertram Road Bridge Photo taken in September 2010

Bertram Road Bridge: This through truss bridge at Bertram Road is the second to last vehicular crossing over Indian Creek before it empties into the Cedar River. Yet although the blue-colored bridge has markings typical of a bridge built by the Wrought Iron Bridge Company of Canton, Ohio- namely the Town Lattice portal bracings with ornamental features and builder’s plaque in the middle and a plaque with the date of construction found at each end of the portal bracing where the end posts and top chords meet, the 1876 bridge, whose main span is 115 feet long out of the total length of 192 feet, features a rather unique truss design. According to records from the Iowa DOT, the bridge is a double-intersecting Pratt truss bridge, yet one can look at it closer and argue that it is a Whipple truss with features resembling a Pratt truss bridge. The reasons are that the diagonal beams that cross two panels, going directly through the vertical posts, yet there are some that only cover one bridge panel but in a format similar to a Pratt truss.  The design can be discussed similar to the question of a beverage being half-full or half empty.  In either case, the bridge is listed on the National Register, like the Ely Street and Rosedale Bridges, because of its affiliation with one of the largest bridge builders that existed between 1870 and its integration into the American Bridge Company consortium with 27 other bridge builders in 1901, in addition to its unique but debatable design that is perhaps the last of its kind left in Iowa.

Big Creek Bridge: Spanning Big Creek, the 100-foot long, red-colored Pratt through truss bridge can be seen either from Bertram Street or Holmann’s Road, providing a picturesque view of the structure and its wooden surroundings, year round. The bridge features pinned connections, V-laced bracings supported by riveted-connected angle supports, Town Lattice portal bracings with angle heel supports, and “fish tail” floor beams. Assumptions indicate a work of J.E. Jayne and Sons built in 1890, yet there is no real confirmation of the exact date. Yet records indicate that it was built in 1929, the date that is considered impossible because of the introduction of standardized truss bridges with riveted connections and letter-style portal bracings (such as the A, WV and M-frame style). Henceforth it must be the date of its relocation. Question is where was it originally built?  Like the Rosedale Bridge, the Big Creek Bridge was renovated recently with new paint, new flooring and new Armco railings, yet it functions as a key crossing within the city limits of Bertram.

UP Big Creek Bridge: Northeast of the Ely Street Bridge is the two-span pony truss bridge with riveted connections. Although it can be seen from Bertram Street enroute to the Big Creek Bridge to the north, it is almost impossible to photograph it from a distance, and given the private property surrounding it, one cannot get close to it to find out the building date and detailed features. One can assume that it was built around 1901-2 to accommodate the increase in rail traffic. The two-tracked Union Pacific line, connects Cedar Rapids with Chicago to the east and Omaha to the west. It is the same line that has the Kate Shelley High Bridge, located 150 miles west of this crossing near Boone.

UP Stone Arch Bridge: This bridge is the shortest of the crossings in and around Bertram. Built in 1901 as part of the double-tracking project along the now Union Pacific rail line between Cedar Rapids and Chicago, the stone arch bridge is no more than 45 feet long and 15 feet deep, spanning an unknown tributary that empties into Indian Creek. The bridge can be seen from Bertram Road, two miles west of Highways 151 and 13.

Squaw Creek Bridge: The last bridge on this tour may not be the most spectacular-looking crossing, yet it is one that warrants some more research. The bridge is a concrete slab, measuring between 90 and 120 feet long, 15 feet wide and up to 20 feet deep. Yet given its derelict state, it appears that the structure was built between 1900 and 1920, serving the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad line between Cedar Rapids and Central City, 20 miles to the north. It is unknown when the line was abandoned, yet given the amount of overgrowth and the concrete deck deteriorating, it has been out of use for at least 30 years. As there are no plans for a possible rail-to-trail project, it seems most likely that the bridge will give into nature and sit abandoned until it collapses on its own, but not before some research is done on the crossing.

The last bridge on the tour is the Blaine’s Crossing Bridge. Yet this mystery bridge has a story of its own, as you will see in the next article.