After having the first two historic bridge conferences in Pittsburgh in 2009 and 2010, the third annual conference took place in Missouri during the weekend of 12-14 August. Missouri, like its East Coast counterpart is dealing with a dwindling number of historic bridges, as the number of these artifacts have dropped by as many as 60% within the past 10 years with more scheduled to come down in the coming two years, especially those spanning the Missouri River between St. Louis and Kansas City. However, unlike Pennsylvania, there is a glimmer of hope for some of the structures that are slated for replacement as the private and public sectors (the latter in particular with the Missouri Department of Transportation) are working together to find new ways of using them for recreational purposes as they cannot handle the increasing number, size and weight of today’s traffic anymore. The question is since the involvement of the public sector in these efforts is very recent, whether the help will come too little too late….
As many as 60 people attended the three-day event, hosted by James Baughn of the Historic Bridges of the US website based in Cape Girardeau (MO) with assistance from Todd Wilson of Bridgemapper.com out of Pittsburgh (PA), Kris Dyer of the Save the Riverside Bridge Initiative located in Ozark (MO) and Jason D. Smith of the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles based in Erfurt, Germany (part of areavoices.com), as the event went across the state starting with Friday’s events in St. Louis. A highlight of the weekend events are below:
12 August: The event started with a gathering of bridge enthusiasts and many guests at the Gateway Arch, located next to the Eads Bridge. Named after the engineer who designed it James Eads, the structure is unique because the metal deck arch bridge, built in 1874, was the first all steel bridge to be constructed in the United States . The bridge was recently renovated in 2003 in a way that the upper deck now serves local traffic and the lower deck carries metro lines.
Using the bridge as the starting point, the tour continued with the visit to all of the bridges along the Mississippi River in downtown St. Louis, which included the Merchant’s, McKinley, and Chain of Rocks Bridges. The third bridge, together with the one spanning the Canal west of the mighty river were once part of the old US Hwy. 66 (a.k.a. the Mother Road or Main Street USA), which ran from Chicago through St. Louis enroute to Los Angeles. Rain and thunderstorms shortened the bridgehunting tour with many bridge enthusiasts taking cover underneath the Chain of Rocks Canal Bridge. While it dampened the tour, the rain was much-needed for much of the region was extremely dry for two months straight after a extremely wet spring which saw the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers flood its banks in the region, wreaking havoc in the low lying areas, much of which is still under water at the time of this entry.
The event ended with a dinner at the Veritas Cafe and Wine Bar in Chesterfield, located in the western part of St.Louis, which featured various goodies, a assortment of wine, a raffle drawing for bridge-related prizes, and a little show and tell by the presenters of the evening. Among those presenting were Ed Darringer of Rush Co., Indiana, who talked about the Moscow Covered Bridge and its successful reconstruction efforts, which he photographed and documented in a book published this year. The 345 foot long covered bridge was destroyed by a tornado on 3 June, 2008, and it took two years to salvage parts of the structure and rebuild it to exactly match it to the one originally built in 1886. The efforts received some much-needed support by Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, who vowed not to use taxpayer’s dollars on this project which had personally affected him.
The second presenter was Julie Bowers of Workin’ Bridges, an organization based out of Grinnell, Iowa that focuses on saving and relocating historic bridges. It was established as the Skunk River Greenbelt Association and was in connection with the collapse of the McIntyre Bridge, an 1883 bowstring arch bridge built by the King Bridge Company in Cleveland, OH that fell into the water during the flood of 2010. A section of the bridge was presented by Ms. Bowers prior to the presentation, and the main goal is to salvage and rebuild that bridge at its original location while at the same time, relocate another bridge, the Upper Bluffton Bridge in Winneshiek County to a wildlife refuge area for reuse. An article about the Upper Bluffton Bridge can be found here:
The third and final presenter was Jason D. Smith of the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles, whose topic was on the Public Perception of Preserving Places of Historic Interest between Germany and the US, using the preservation laws in Thuringia and Schleswig-Holstein and historic bridges as case studies. A detailed version of this topic will be posted in a later article.
13 August: The second day of the conference started off with a grand tour of the historic bridges along the Mother Road, first stopping off at the Meramec Crossing and the state park which uses the riveted Warren deck truss structure as the centerpiece. The bridge was completed in 1931, five years after the US Highway System was introduced and Route 66 was designated. It served traffic until 1951 when the highway’s successor, I-44 was built and the bridge was used to serve westbound traffic until the new eastbound bridge was built in 1968 and the structure was reverted to local traffic. It was completely closed to traffic in 2009 due to structural concerns. Efforts are now being made to market the bridge to a private owner, who will have the responsibility of rehabilitating it for recreational purposes, with MoDOT being the lead agent. This is the first time the governmental agency has been involved in this process, since it had been known for closing and condemning historic bridges, according to various sources closest to the historic bridge community. After the presentation, the tour was directed at bridges like the Devil’s Elbow Bridges in Pulaski County, Bird’s Nest (Crawford Co.) and Boeuf Creek (Frankin Co.) Bridges (just to name a few of the dozen bridges that were visited by the bridge enthusiasts). Optional trips included the one to Enochs Knob Bridge in Franklin County, a 1908 pin-connected steel Parker through truss bridge with a history of ghost stories and tragedies and one which is a target for replacement with a concrete slab bridge even though the road is rarely used. Molly Hill is leading the effort to preserve the structure in its place, even though it has been barricaded recently and it now takes 10 minutes (or 1/4 mile) to walk to the bridge.
The other side trip was to the bridges in Christian County south of the city of Springfield, where a tour took place beginning at the Riverside Bridge in Ozark. That bridge is the focal point of efforts being undertaken to reuse the bridge as a bike trail. Despite damage to the flooring and lots of debris caused by the flooding this past spring, the structure remains in fairly good condition. Other bridges included on the tour were the McCracken/Ozark Mill and Bridge, Green/Symra Road Bridge and the Red Bridge. The tour attracted many people from the region and reunited two friends who hadn’t seen each other since their days in college, a span of 13 years. That evening, a benefit for the Riverside Bridge took place at the Ozark Community Center, which included a silent auction and four presentations. Jason D. Smith of the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles emceed the event. As many as 40 people attended the event, including Ozark’s mayor and Christian County commissioner Lou Lapaglia, who donated money to the coordinator of the event, Kris Dyer, who also is director of the Save the Riverside Bridge organization. She was the first to present the plans of how to incorporate the bridge into the city’s bike trail system. It was then followed by Bill Hart of the Missouri Preservation organization, who talked about the objective and successes of this important actor in preserving historic bridges in the state. James Baughn followed with his presentation on his website and the state of historic bridges in Missouri, with Todd Wilson closing out the evening with providing hope to the preservation of truss bridges in the US, using the Riverside Bridge as a case study. The benefit itself was a smashing success as it raised over $1600 (without the costs relating to the benefit, it totaled over $2000) for the project. There’s still time to help support the project, as you can see in the link below.
14 August: The third and final day of the conference took the enthusiasts to Kansas City and places to the north and west, although a pair of stops at the Papinville (Bates Co.), Young’s Ford (Vernon Co.) and Caplinger Mill (Cedar Co.) Bridges were included in the itinerary. Some of the bridges that were seen in Kansas City included the Intercity Viaduct, a double decker Warren deck truss bridge, whose lower deck is now a bike trail while the upper deck still serves traffic today. There is also the Christopher Bond Bridge, which carries I-29 and 35 as well as US Hwy. 71. Both span the Missouri River. The Twelfth Street Viaduct, which spans the railroad year is the only concrete viaduct, whose main span features a concrete arch. Then there is the ASB Bridge, the only bridge in the world whose lower deck can be raised to accommodate boat traffic. That deck is still being used by the BNSF Railways today, while the upper deck, which used to serve local traffic has long since been removed thanks to the opening of the Heart of America Bridge in 1985. This unique contraption was the work of J.A.L. Waddell, a world renowned civil engineer from Ontario, Canada, who was a harsh critic of other truss designs during his day but invented his own truss style with the Waddell A-frame truss bridge. There is only two Waddell through truss bridges left in the US, one of which can be seen at the English Landing Park in Parkville. Unfortunately, due to recent flooding along the Missouri River, the park is still completely closed off to all tourists as parts of the area are still under water at the time of this entry.
The flooding, which was caused by excessive rains and a late spring thaw in the Rocky Mountains (where the Missouri River starts its journey) delayed construction of many bridge replacements along and in the vicinity of the Missouri River. This included the Amelia Earhart Bridge in Atchinson, Kansas, a continuous through truss bridge built in 1937 and was scheduled to be taken down once the new structure was completed this fall. This seems to be unlikely as many roads are still under water. It also includes the Rulo Bridge in Rulo, Nebraska, which was completed in 1936 and has a design similar to its counterpart downstream. While much of the town is high and dry, parts of the low lying area are underwater, and the Missouri side represents the Red Sea, which not even Moses can divide up. Much of the flooding has affected the areas east of the Missouri in parts of Missouri and Iowa cutting small towns off from the outside world and shutting down I-29 between Omaha and Kansas City, rerouting the whole stretch starting at I-80 east to Des Moines and then south on I-35, which also leads to Kansas City. While flooding will result in billions of dollars worth of lost revenue, it did delay the inevitable for the two aforementioned bridges as they will most likely remain up until at least the middle part of next year.
Overall, the historic bridge conference was indeed a success, even more so than last year’s event in Pittsburgh in a way that for the first time, it drew interest from the public sector for they are interested in ways historic bridges can be preserved. While most of the presentations given at the 2010 conference consisted of proposals in joint cooperation between the public and private sectors, ways of converting a saved bridge into recreational use and ways of detecting and fixing problems on bridges per se, this year’s conference presented some practical experiences that have been made or are being made. Given the fact that there are many ways to initiate projects through cooperation plus there are examples of historic bridges that have been saved for reuse for recreation, this year’s conference has increased the interest from the public in general in preserving these artifacts for future use in a way that the resources, the contact people with experience in preserving bridges and the interest in historic bridges and ways to preserve them are there. It is more of a question of putting aside the differences and excuses and moving forward and saving the relicts of the past so that the next generation can take advantage of what is there and learn a bit about historic bridges, how they are associated with the community and how they are connected with American history not only with regard to the Industrial Revolution but also the social aspect and how the people constructed them to accomodate traffic and transport people and goods from A to B. While Kris Dyer is making waves throughout the county with the efforts to save the Riverside Bridge in her community and Molly Hill is starting her campaign to save the Enochs Knob Bridge ignoring her own opposition from those who want the structure and its ghosts buried, others who may not have heard about historic bridges until this year’s conference will most likely jump on the bandwagon with their own bridges that are targeted for demolition and replacement, for as Todd Wilson mentioned in his presentation: “Any bridge that is not saved will disappear in a short time.” To add to his comment, the public will regret this action in the long term as they will only read about it in the history books at the local library, which is becoming less common in the face of the internet.
Note: The 2012 Historic Bridge Conference has not been planned yet, but speculation is that either Iowa or Indiana will be the next venue. Indiana has had a history of successful preservation of historic bridges, including the Tripple Whipple Bridge over Laughery Creek in Dearbown County, the only truss bridge in the country that has such a unique design. It also has the Wabash and Erie Canal bike trail where historic bridges can be found on this route, including one of only two Stearns Truss Bridge in the country (the Gilmore Bridge). However in Iowa, there is the historic bridge park at Tiffin near Iowa City (an article will precede this one), bowstring arch bridges throughout the state including Crawford and Winneshiek Counties, and the Kate Shelley Viaduct near Boone, which will turn 100 years old next year. Furthermore, barring any unforeseen circumstances, the Sutliff Bridge in Johnson County may be rebuilt in time for its reopening next summer. The three span Parker through truss bridge lost one of its spans during the 2008 Flood and is currently being rebuilt thanks to support from the county and the Sutliff Bridge Authority. The plan is to have one of the states host the event in 2012 and the other in 2013. If you have a preference for where the 2012 Historic Bridge Conference should be hosted, please contact Jason Smith of the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles at JDSmith77@gmx.net.
Enjoy the following links and photos below:
Platte Purchase and Firfax Bridges in Kansas City: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=52G6MCWokRw
US 66 Meramec River Bridge near Wildwood: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cnge9BHOoaM
Enochs Knob Bridge in Franklin Co.: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lHk9Y7-c-qI
Red Bridge in Christian Co: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M-6QPgWq8yo
Chain of Rocks Bridge in St. Louis: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Tfp2GKSK8U
McKinley Bridge in St. Louis: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UKoorKAmyvw
Eads Bridge in St. Louis: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t8UJ7KvIJM0