Chambers Ford Bridge for Sale. Any Takers?

1890 Clinton Bridge Company span. Photos taken by Quinn Phelan

Belle Plaine, Iowa-  Tama County: one of many Iowa counties that has more than two dozen pre-1945 bridges left in the state. This includes the steel truss Black Bridge spanning the Iowa River and the Lincoln Highway Bridge near Toledo, whose railings bear the highway’s name and which was replicated in the form of a butter sculpture seen at the Iowa State Fair last year. Yet it is one of many counties with many structurally deficient bridges, many of them being closed to traffic in the past three years.
The Chambers Ford Bridge is one of them. Located over the Iowa River at 380th Avenue, 3 miles west of Belle Plaine, this two-span bridge features steel Pratt through trusses, but each of them are different because of the their portal bracings, as well as the date of construction.

The older and longer of the spans was one of the first ones built by the Clinton Bridge and Iron Company in Clinton. It was constructed in 1890 and had a span of 155 feet with wooden trestle approaches. 13 years later, with the wooden approaches deteriorating beyond repair, the county hired another Iowa bridge builder, George E. King to construct a replacement approach span in a form of a Pratt through truss bridge, totaling 140 feet long and costing $3,987. The total length of the bridge is 345 feet long.

1903 George E. King portion of the bridge

Since 2007 the bridge has been closed to traffic and has been the target of vandalism, as parts of the wooden decking was set ablaze by arsonists, causing damage to the bridge, albeit not as severe as the incident at Bunker Mill Bridge near Kalona, last August.  Missing bolts and other bridge parts have also been reported. Yet times are changing, and the county engineer plans to replace this bridge with a pre-cast concrete bridge. However, as the truss bridge is a national historic landmark- having been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1998- the Tama County Engineer is offering the bridge to any takers willing to relocate it for reuse, regardless of whether it is only one of the two truss spans or both. The reason for this is to garner interest from parties interested in finding a new home for the structure.

At the same time, the bridge’s history will be documented, thanks in part to an agreement made between the county, the cultural resources office of the Iowa Department of Transportation in Ames, and Wapsi Valley Archeology, Inc. in Anamosa, where all stories, photos and postcards are being collected and will be used in a booklet to be published for libraries in Tama County and beyond, as well as IaDOT.

If you are interested in purchasing the bridge, please contact the Tama County Engineer, using the contact details here. If you wish to contribute to the booklet, the contact details for Wapsi Valley Archeology and Kristy Medanic (who is in charge of this project) is found here. The preservation and relocation of the Chambers Ford Bridge will make up for losing a pair of key historic bridges in 2007 at Toledo and Chelsea as well as another last year at Traer, yet it could also serve as a motive to preserving the remaining bridges of their kind in the county, for there are plenty of them- closed to traffic because of age and deficiencies- to go around and enough interest from other groups to take them for reuse. The Chronicles will follow-up on the developments of the bridge project set to begin soon.

Historian Kristy Medanic of Wapsi Valley Archaeology, Inc. at 515-233-1146. – See more at:
Historian Kristy Medanic of Wapsi Valley Archaeology, Inc. at 515-233-1146. – See more at:
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How to teach Infrastructural History in School

Waddell Truss Bridge at Volga State Preserve. Photo taken in August 2011


Joint Article with Sister Column:

 In connection with Files’ series on In School in Germany. More on the series can be found here.

History- a subject that goes beyond borders and looks at things that we never knew about, getting us to think about them, putting them in the context of our own lives and the environment we are living in. It goes beyond the borders of geography and how the countries were developed. It goes beyond arena of sports events and looks at the development of each kind and how the men and women contributed to it. It digs deeper into how the country was mapped out in terms of landscape, networks of infrastructure and the social aspects which led to revolution and redesign by reformists and those who wanted to make their place better than before.  In other words, one has to dig deeper to find the truth and challenge what had been written in the past but was now rebuked because of new evidence.

In school, especially on the secondary level, history is a must, and it is important that students know about the history of their country and the rest of the world for two reasons:

1. To help them become acquainted with their own region and country and discover who they are and where they came from and

2. To encourage them to find out more about themselves and where they live, by looking and exploiting the aspects that are seldom mentioned.

As there are certain requirements written by law and because of certain time constraints, only a peck of the history that exists is even taught in the schools, and when it is taught, it is with the traditional social form of teaching: the book and frontal teaching (German: Frontal Unterricht). It is not surprising that the interest in history among youngsters up to 18 is near the bottom of the food chain, in both countries- more so in the US than in Germany because of the strive of educators to have the students achieve high results in the international tests for math, reading and sciences. But as we see in the PISA studies, and which will be discussed in the Files’ article about Frontal Teaching, sometimes student involvement and allowing them to discover something new can encourage a positive education result, even better than the recent studies.

But even with these constraints, the teacher can make some space for some new things that cannot be found in books themselves- at least not yet, that is. And when students are encouraged to do some work on their own, whether it is analysing a text and writing a review about it or presenting about it, then they will benefit from it in a way that they can add the knowledge to what was taught in the past and have fun doing it. This is where the topic of Industrialization and Infrastructure enters the picture.

During my internship at a Gymnasium in Germany, I had an opportunity to dig deeper into the history of the development of Germany in the 1800s by looking at aspects like the creation of democracy, Otto von Bismarck’s creation of the German state in 1871 and how Germany became a super power and remained so until the end of World War I. At the present time the students are talking about Germany, Europe and the age of industrialization between 1871 and 1914, where several aspects, such as imperialism, socialism, worker’s union and environment are being introduced. Even the expansion of the transportation infrastructure and the landscape made of steel will be mentioned. Believe it or not, this is the topic the author of the Chronicles and Files is about to do.

Talking about the infrastructure and comparing it between Germany and the US does produce their similarities in terms of inventions and the development of materials for the construction of buildings, railroads and bridges, yet how does a teacher present these aspects to the students without boring them.  Let’s look at the topic of bridges, for example. There are two different arguments for and against presenting this topic. The contra part would be the simple fact that a bridge is a bridge, crossing a ravine connecting point A and point B. If it fails or is too old, then it is replaced. The pro part to this topic feature the arguments about unique bridge designs, bridge builders that were common, including those who immigrated to the States from Germany, like Ralph Mojeski, Lawrence Johnson, Albert Fink, and Gustav Lindenthal, to name a few. Then there is the switch from iron to steel mainly because of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, and lastly the consolidation of 28 bridge builders into the American Bridge Company in 1901 and its competition from other bridge builders in the west, as well as outside the country.

Nathan Holth once presented this topic as a whole during his time as a student teacher (his PPT presentation can be seen here). Some of the unique features, include the builder’s plaque, portal bracing of the truss bridge and ornamental features can enable historians to determine how the development of bridges came about in the US between 1871 and 1914. As I will be the second pontist to present this in a couple weeks time, the topic will be on a wider scale as Germany and US have some similarities with regard to bridge construction. The difference is with regards to the fact that the German concentration seems to be more on canals and railways than with highways, like in the US. Also the full establishment of steel companies, like Thuyssen-Krupp before 1871 enabled Germany to expand the steel-building landscape, constructing bridges and high-rise buildings in large cities, like Berlin and Hamburg, in addition to its fleet of ships.

The question is if one wants to present bridge building in connection with the industrialization- be it in the US, Germany, Europe or when comparing between two countries, what aspects are important and should be presented to the students, keeping in mind that the topic is industrialization, and the time frame is betweenthe 1870s and 1914, the time of World War I?  Which aspects should the students research on in their own spare time? And lastly how should it be taught in high school in comparison to college?

Put your comments here or on the Files’ or Chronicles’ facebook pages as to how you would approach an exotic topic like this, while keeping the topic of Industrialization in mind.  The results of the session, which will be in a couple weeks, will be presented in the Files and sister column the Chronicles.



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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.


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Update on the BB Comer Bridge in Alabama: Collaboration underway with CBF and NSRGA

Overview of the slue, approach and main spans of the BB Comer Bridge. Photo taken by David Kennamer

Author’s note:  Here is an update on the pursuit to purchase the BB Comer Bridge, spanning the Tennessee River at Scottsboro, Alabama. At the moment, collaboration is in progress to purchase the 1930 structure, featuring a cantilever truss span and steel approaches. More information about the bridge can be found here.  This is the press release provided by the Comer Bridge Foundation:

SCOTTSBORO, AL, March 11, 2014 — Attorneys for the Comer Bridge Foundation (CBF) and The N. Skunk River Greenbelt Association (NSRGA) are drafting an agreement that will authorize the two bridge-preservation groups to work collaboratively to save, preserve and repurpose the B.B. Comer Bridge, which crosses the Tennessee River near Scottsboro, Alabama. Local attorneys Bill Tally and Justin Lackey are representing CBF and NSRGA, respectively.
“NSRGA/CBF wants to provide jobs, training and education in areas from hospitality, event management, security and maintenance,” shared Julie Bowers, executive director of Workin’ Bridges, the consulting arm of NSRGA. “We want the bridge to become a habit for wellness and serenity, and a place where wildlife and human life are celebrated. Food, fun, music and historic preservation go hand-in-hand, and it is up to us to decide what importance preservation of our past makes in the threads of life for our future.”
Once the agreement is approved by the board of directors for each of the nonprofit organizations, the collaboration will submit a formal purchase plan to the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT), which currently owns the bridge.
Comer Bridge, completed in 1930, is the last of the 15 memorial toll bridges enacted by legislation in 1927 that were built by the Kansas City Bridge Company but contracted through the Alabama State Bridge Corporation. Selected for the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage in October 2013, the historic bridge will now be submitted for national recognition by the Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP).
Workin’ Bridges prepared a preliminary concept plan and elevation for the area around and on the bridge that Bowers shared with local and state officials in February. Bowers’ efforts to bring the City of Scottsboro and Jackson County into the collaboration were unsuccessful despite positive response from Alabama’s Department of Commerce, Made in Alabama and the Alabama Film Office during February meetings in Montgomery.
The NSRGA/CBF collaboration addressed a list of criteria provided by ALDOT Division Engineer Johnny L. Harris that defines the next steps required to change the intent of ALDOT’s contract with HRI Bridge Construction from demolition to repurposing. These criteria are based on ownership, construction and restoration practices, permitting, inspections, and a maintenance plan. Harris noted that the demolition funds can be used to preserve and repurpose the bridge if all criteria are met and approved by the Federal Highway Administration.
For more information about the CBF and efforts to save the bridge, visit the CBF website at and consider liking CBF’s Friends of B.B. Comer Bridge at


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Mystery Bridge Nr. 38: The Aqueducts of Rome

Aqua Alexandrina in Rome. Source:

If one ties this article in with the Mystery Bridge article about the aqueduct in Ravenna, Italy, then one should consider this part II in the search for information and answers to the role of Theoderich the Great in restoring the architecture and infrastructure during his regime. As mentioned briefly in the article about the Ravenna Aqueduct, the Ostrogoth leader defeated and later murdered Odoacre in 493 to become the second king of Italy. His predecessor had established the Italian kingdom after dethroning the last emperor of the Western Roman Empire, Romulus Augustus, son of Orestes, in 476 and held power until his death, but not before having a tumultuous last four years through war with the Ostrogoth. Theoderich ruled until his death in 526, and left a legacy that is disputable in the books. Architecturally, he spearheaded the construction of basilicas and other monuments- mostly in Ravenna, but also in other cities, like Rome and Verona.

Yet, as we saw in the article about Ravenna, he also led efforts to restoring the infrastructure- in particular, aqueducts. The question is: apart from the Ravenna aqueduct, what other aqueducts did he build?

Let’s look at the ones in Rome, for instance. Situated on the Tiber River, the present-day Italian capital once had a central network of aqueducts, which channeled water into and around the walled city from the Mediterranean Sea. 11 of them totaling over 320 kilometers were constructed between 312 BC with the Aqua Appia and 226 AD  with the Aqua Alexandrina (as shown in the picture above). Restoration of the viaducts started in the third century AD to improve the flow of water into Rome, but was interrupted with the invasion of the Germanic Tribes beginning in the 4th Century, at the time of the partition of the Roman Empire into East and West in 395. As they did throughout the region, the invaders destroyed the aqueducts and other forms of infrastructure until the Western Empire ceased to exist in 476.

Restoration did not start again until Theoderich the Great took power. Like in the times before 476, the infrastructure was the responsibility of the local governments and private residents, for the Italian kingdom was in a transition phase and did not have enough money available to reestablish itself and its institutions. Theoderich was very conservative in his plans to rebuild the infrastructure and chose the most important areas first for development: namely, Ravenna and Rome, but also in Verona and other smaller cities. While Ravenna was very important for him, and it was important to supply clean water to a city surrounded by marshland, his focus was also on restoring the aqueducts in Rome. While he had provided support to the local government to rebuild the aqueducts, he hastened the process in ca. 509 due to political corruption and other delays.

Many sources, written between 1980 and 1995 have not mentioned much about which aqueducts were restored during Theoderich’s era, and some even credited Belisarius for restoring key aqueducts after he captured Rome in 538, 12 years after Theoderich’s death. This was part of the plan of East Roman emperor Justinian to drive the Ostrogoths away from Italy and recapture parts of the lost land of the Roman Empire. Yet more information has come to light as to how the Ostrogoth restored the aqueducts during his 33-year reign over Italy, and therefore, as part of the project on the restoration of the infrastructure in Italy during Theoderich’s regime, the question is:

Which aqueducts in Rome were restored during Theoderich’s regime and who engineered these restoration efforts?

What other forms of infrastructure (not just aqueducts but also roads, bridges and canals) did Theoderich oversee in restoring for reuse for the population living in Italy?

Place your comments here or send the info via e-mail to the Chronicles at Other contact info can be found in the article on Ravenna’s aqueduct, where some information  is being sough about this one as well. You can click here to view the article. Any articles and leads on the infrastructure in Rome and Italy during Theoderich’s regime will be most helpful in completing this project.



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The Oldest Bridge Book

Question for the Forum:

Here is an interesting question for you readers to start off with:

What was the oldest known bridge book you have ever read? When was it written and what was the title?

Do you know about a bridge book that is the oldest ever written?

There is an explanation that warrants this question for discussion:

I’ve been quite busy with my latest bridge project I’m doing for a history professor at the University in Jena, Germany on Roman Aqueducts, focusing on the reconstruction of the ones in Italy after Theoderich the Great took power in 493 AD. Going through the sources to find enough information can be a chore, as a there are a few books about this topic, not to mention some of the inscriptions in Latin that had to be deciphered into English to determine when the aqueducts were built, let alone rebuilt upon orders of the Goth. As I was going through the work, I happened to find a book on Roman Aqueducts, located right in the library at the University!

The author of the book is Esther van Deman and the title: “The Building of Roman Aqueducts” It featured nine examples of aqueducts that were built between 20 BC and 250 AD, with four of them being rebuilt after 476 AD, when the Western Roman Empire ceased to exist with Odoacre taking power in Italy. It also featured the art of constructing them, using various materials ordered by the emperors, beginning with Augustus, and designing them using the stone or brick arches that were engineered by the Roman builders with the goal of bringing water to the region. After all, the Romans needed water for all sorts of purposes, including the public baths in many cities, irrigation, plumbing, and even drinking.

But when was this book published?  1984?  1977?   1966?


The Carnegie Institute of Washington, DC published this work, which contained information and photos eighty years ago! This meant that with the exception of bridge examples presented by the bridge companies, like King, Wrought Iron Bridge, Clinton, or even the ones in Canton, Ohio or Pittsburgh, bridge books were being produced at least eighty years ago, with photos and all. But was this book the oldest ever published?

Doubtful!   My assumption was the book on the Great American Bridges by Donald Jackson was the oldest one ever written about (historic) bridges, being published in 1984- fifty years later. Yet I also discovered a couple more books written a year later about bridges in Pennsylvania and Australia. Yet if my assumptions are wrong by sixty years, then this means that there were many books- ancient ones- that had existed before that.

So let’s start with the forum by answering the questions I brought forward at the beginning: the oldest book you have written and the oldest known book that exists about bridges. Place your comments here or through the social network pages bearing the Chronicles’ name, with hopes that other stories will come to light.

As I’m on the same page regarding Roman Aqueducts……


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Question for the Forum: Parker or Not?

Side view of the bridge. Photos courtesy of Nathan Holth.

In connection with the series on the dire state of Massachusetts’ historic bridges and plans to demolish and replace them, here is a unique bridge that is worth mentioning. Located over the Powwow River in Amesbury, the Main Street Bridge is known as one of the smallest swing bridges that still exists in the country, albeit no longer functional. Built in 1891 by the Boston Bridge Works, the green-colored bridge is 110 feet long with a vertical clearance of between 10 and 11 feet. The roadway width is 23 feet. The bridge was rehabilitated in 1998 by replacing the original flooring with steel stringers with a concrete decking, thus rendering the truss structure as non-functional but more of a decoration. Yet, the bridge is considered historical to state standards and is still being used today by residents.

Transversal view


The unique part of the bridge is the truss design, for despite its riveted connections, the truss has a polygonal top chord with the center (swing) panel having an A-frame in the middle. Even weirder is the fact that the outer panels have the characteristics of a Parker design, whereas everything else seems to be a hybrid of a Warren and Thacher design. This creates a problem as to determine what truss type this bridge really is. Was there a Parker variant of the Thacher truss that was patented after 1884 (the year the actual Thacher truss was introduced), or was there a totally different truss type that was experimented by a bridge engineer wanting to leave a mark in his legacy? It is unclear how to determine the bridge type with this bridge, for it is not necessarily an outright Parker, nor a Thacher, nor a Warren. What do you think this bridge is?

More about this bridge via, where more pictures and information on its history can be found here.

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Four Massachusetts Historic Bridges Coming Down in 2014

Tunnel view of the Schell Bridge. All photos courtesy of Nathan Holth

University Avenue Bridge in Lowell already gone. Schell Memorial in Northfield, Salem Street Overpass and South Canal Bridges in Lawrence to follow.

Massachusetts- not officially the first state in the union, but the first to make history. The Pilgrims landed in Plymouth in 1620 and together with the Wampanoag Indians, celebrated their first Thanksgiving a year later. The first shots of the Revolutionary War went off at Concord, sparking an eight-year struggle that ultimately resulted in the Colonist’s winning the war for independence and the British being expelled. The state became one of the first 13 states to create the United States thanks to the ratification of the Constitution, four years later.

Massachusetts was also one of the key laboratories for experimenting with truss bridges, as various structures were built, resembling a stark contrast to the bridge types we still see today in the US and Europe. One of the first Parker truss bridges was built in 1871 at Fitchburg, despite not being patented until 1882. An unusual truss bridge built using a combination Parker and Thacher designs can be found over the Powwow River at Amesbury. Lenticular trusses are more plentiful in the state than in Connecticut, despite the design originating from there and the fact that almost all of them were built by Berlin Iron Bridge Company. And an unusual combination cantilever and Pennsylvania petit truss bridge, known as the Schell Memorial Bridge, was built in Northfield in 1903.

Sadly that bridge will soon become history- as with numerous other bridges- unless MassDOT widens its horizons and looks at other ways to preserve its historic bridges. While other bridges, like the Big Four Railroad Bridge in Louisville, Kentucky, were revitalized for recreational use, despite being abandoned for over 40 years, the state has considered many abandoned historic bridges as eyesores and have used tactics to draw enough support to demolish them, despite the potential to restore them at a fraction of the cost. This tactic worked wonders with Fitch’s Bridge in Groton last year, as the group working to reopen the 1885 double-intersecting Warren through truss bridge, backed a proposal by the city to replace the structure- one of the oldest riveted truss bridges in North America- with a welded pony truss bridge. While the group took pride in this achievement, the plan sparked outrage throughout the country by many who claimed that despite its abandonment since 1965, the bridge would have served many more years with restoration and a new roadway. But this bridge is not alone as the Chronicles’ has a preview of four historic bridges that are about to meet the cutting torches and cranes and one that has already been torn down to the dismay of many locals. Without further ado, here are four bridges that represent the reasons to overturn the decisions to tear these structures down before it is too late and one reason to cuss and swear at politicians for letting one go already.

Schell Memorial Bridge in Northfield

History is about to repeat itself with the Schell Memorial Bridge, scheduled to come down this year. Built in 1903 by the New England Structural Company of East Everett using the design by Edward S. Shaw, the bridge was originally built to connect the chateau of prominent resident and patron Francis Schell and the train station. It spanned the Connecticut River with a length of 515 feet and its portal bracings resemble similar Corinthian arches. The 22-panel Pennsylvania through truss bridge has two Wichert trusses supporting the concrete piers in the river, and all connections are riveted. Masonry approach spans are on the southeast end of the truss bridge. The bridge was in service until its closure in 1985 for structural concerns. Despite plankings being placed on each portal entry to keep everyone off the bridge, the people of Northfield still wanted the bridge saved and a group was formed to push for rehabilitating and restoring the bridge for pedestrian use. Things were working out well until late last year, when MassDOT presented the cost difference between restoring the bridge (which was $20 million) and complete bridge replacement ($5 million). The group responded by supporting replacing the bridge, using elements from the 1903, and replicating the span. This has caused some confusion for there is questions about the origin of the mathematics behind the costs. More so is why the group was so swift in deciding in favor of replacing the bridge at the cost of several thousands of dollars in taxpayers’ money. And lastly, despite having its website on the bridge and its fundraising efforts for preserving the bridge, no current information as to the plans of building the new bridge were presented. An act of bribery with a spice of cowardice on the part of the Schell Bridge group? Perhaps, but more will most likely be revealed once the bridge is dropped into the river with dynamite this spring. More so is when we find out how much of the old bridge parts will be reused for the new bridge, or whether the bridge will really look alike or totally like an ordinary mail-order welded truss bridge, as was seen with Fitch’s Bridge. More will come when the information is revealed, but this bridge is early in the lead for Nathan Holth’s Wall of Shame Awards for 2014, let alone the Chronicle’s Author’s Choice Award for the Worst Example to Restore a Historic Bridge- if one can say “restoration” for this unique artwork that has been sitting abandoned for almost 30 years but will now be sentenced to the dumpster….

South Canal Bridge in Lawrence

Sometimes, an abandoned bridge needs minimal maintenance so that it does not serve as a hazard for pedestrians and people passing underneath the structure. The South Canal Bridge, spanning the South Canal at Access Road represents a bridge that has not received any sort of treatment and therefore, been put out of sight, out of mind. End result, the riveted Pratt pony truss structure, a product of the Boston Bridge Works Company, has partially collapsed for the bottom chord has corroded away to a point where it no longer holds the decking. The outermost panel of the decking has sagged with the rest of the planks set to collapse at the next flood, unless the thick layers of snow from this past winter season has done the trick already. Good news: The bridge will be replaced this year as part of the City’s plan to reopen Access Road. A sad ending for a bridge with potential to be reused again, even if it was integrated into the new bridge as an ornament instead of a functional truss.

Salem Street Overpass in Lawrence

The logic behind the demolition of the double-barrel quadrangular through truss bridge, spanning the railroad tracks is questionable. The 1928 structure, another example of a bridge built by the Boston Bridge Works Company appear to be in pristine condition, with some minor rusts that can be fixed, according to on-field research done a couple years ago. Even the lower truss chords would warrant rehabilitation and the decking to be replaced. But instead, the Salem Street Bridge will be removed beginning in 2015 and replaced with a concrete bridge, despite the fact that concrete bridges cannot withstand massive traffic crossing it and trains passing underneath it as well as steel bridges, like this one. An illogical decision that needs to be clarified before the work begins.


Close-up of the 1913 truss span and the 1952 girder bascule span (foreground)

Bates Memorial Bridge in Groveland

Construction has been in the works for this bridge, spanning the Merrimack River in Groveland. Originally a six-span iron swing bridge with a double-intersecting Warren through truss design and A-frame portal bracings, the bridge was replaced one-by-one over the span of 132 years. Fire destroyed three of the eastern spans in 1913, and they were replaced by fixed Pratt through truss spans with riveted connections. Boston Bridge Works, which had originally built the bridge in 1882, replaced those spans. In 1952, the American Bridge Company replaced the remaining spans with two riveted Pratt truss spans and a pony girder span that functions as a bascule bridge. By the end of June 2014, that bridge will become a memory as a fixed span, constructed alongside the old span, will open to traffic rendering the old bridge as useless. Whether there is a chance to save at least one of the spans for reuse or not is doubtful.

University Avenue Bridge in Lowell

Jack Kerouac is rolling around in his grave. Many people are scratching their heads in bewilderment. A piece of history, built in 1896 is now gone. The University Avenue /Textile Memorial Bridge, spanning the Merrimack River and featuring three spans of pin-connected Pratt deck trusses, was demolished a couple weeks ago with crews removing the trusses from the piers and placing them on barges, to be dismantled. Currently, the old stone abutments are being removed. This all in the name of progress, as a new crossing opened to traffic in December. Despite the doom and gloom, the bright side to the bridge replacement is that the new structure features a blue-colored cantilever deck truss design. A rarity considering the fact that these bridge types are disappearing in vast numbers. The project to remove the Textile Memorial Bridge and improve the area for university students is scheduled to be completed by September.

How many more bridges in Massachusetts will fall prey to progress, depends on the narrow-mindedness of politicians in Boston and the MassDOT. Perhaps these examples will serve as a reminder of how important these relicts of history are to the state. If not, there are some examples of bridges that still exist and are not threatened with demolition but deserve to be restored or at least recognized for their importance. Two of them will be mentioned in the coming articles. Only when the state recognizes these bridges will they then do something about them in the name of preservation. This includes looking for more concrete facts that will justify the actions, working together with preservation groups to save their bridges, and setting examples for other states to follow.

Author’s Note: Click on the links in the paragraph to learn more about the history of these structures. Special thanks to Nathan Holth for use of his photos and Steve Lindsey for keeping the Chronicles up to date on the developments involving some of the mentioned bridges.

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Red Bridge as a Romantic Pedestrian Crossing

Photo taken in August 2011

There is something very special about this particular crossing, especially when I visited it in 2011. We can start with the design features of the Red Bridge, located over the Blue River at Minor Park in the southern part of Kansas City. While it is rare to have bedstead trusses- truss spans with vertical endposts- this 1932 bridge features a curved version of a bedstead endpost, as you can see in the picture above. This is a common bridge type found in Europe, yet this bridge, whose name is because of its color, is most likely the only surviving structure of its kind in the US.  According to historical accounts, this bridge is located at the site where Daniel Boone and Jim Bridger used to settle in the 1820s. The Santa Fe Trail once ran at this location. And the original crossing used to be a covered bridge, built in 1859 by a Scotsman named George Todd, on masonry piers. It was replaced 33 years later.

When the present Red Bridge was built as the third crossing in 1932, Harry S. Truman, oversaw the design, bid and construction of the structure- as Presiding Judge of the Jackson County Court (akin to today’s County Legislature)! This was the same Truman who later became US President, taking over after the death of Franklin Roosevelt in 1945 and serving eight years. Sources indicated that the Red Bridge was his favorite of all the bridges in Jackson County, Missouri, where he spent most of his life.

Now, after 80 years, the bridge has a new purpose in life- to serve as a lover’s crossing. Since 2012, the bridge has been integrated into the bike trail network serving Kansas City, as it still crosses Blue River and goes through Minor Park and Golf Course. And given the fact that the bridge is almost 300 feet long, which includes the Art Deco-style approach spans and main piers, lovers are making use of the 93-foot curved Bedstead Parker through truss main span by doing something that was adopted by the people in Cologne, Germany with their beloved Hollernzollern Bridge: putting locks on the bridge’s railings, as a sign of permanent love and affection toward each other, and throwing the key into the river. This tradition was first used after the bridge was converted to a pedestrian crossing in 2012 and, according to latest reports, hundreds of locks have been placed on the railings.

An interesting concept that had existed for many decades with the famous Rhine River crossing, yet it is making its way to the US. It leads to the question of whether and where such practice exists on other (historic) bridges in the USA and Europe. Furthermore, are there other “Lover’s Bridges” where people don’t use locks and keys to show their love but other traditions. If you know of some stories about such bridges, place them in the comment section at the end of this article, or in the Chronicles’ facebook page. Readers would be happy to hear about such bridges that exist and the stories that go along with them.

In the nearest future, another Red Bridge article will be featured in the Chronicles. My question to you is as there are many Red Bridges in the US, where are they located? Apart from the one in Kansas City, there are two in Iowa, one in…… Any ideas?


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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

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