When I first knew about the Salisbury Bridge, it was mentioned in a book written by Denis Gardner entitled „Stone, Iron and Steel: A Look at Minnesota’s Historic Bridges,“ an overview guide on the history of bridges in the state and how it contributed to its development. When looking at the bridge from a view of someone who never knew much about its history, it is just a typical vintage truss bridge with common Howe lattice portal bracings and built of steel using pin-connections (beams assembled together with bolts) and using the common Pratt design. Little do people realize that it was one of hundreds of bridges built during the age of the Hewett dynasty. It started with a partnership between Seth Hewett and Commodore P. Jones in 1883-4 and it branched off with both partners forming their own bridge companies, both based in Minneapolis and were responsible for the construction of hundreds of bridges in Minnesota and all points west. Seth Hewett established the Hewett Bridge Company in 1898 and the Salisbury Bridge was constructed 1 year later. The bridge company was in business until shortly after his death in 1916. However, William S. Hewett was also into bridge building and would later carry on the dynasty with his own bridge company.
Yet despite its history and its connections with Meeker County’s heritage, the bridge was a classic example of how careless drivers can be when speeding across the bridge, disregarding the weight limit and the speed limit and lose control of the vehicle and slam into the structure. And this in the winter time! On 27 November, 2010, when the gravel road was snow covered and the icy cold winds turned most of it into an ice skating rink, an SUV came speeding down towards the bridge and when the driver started crossing, he lost control and slammed the vehicle into the northwest end post of the truss structure! While he was lucky he was not injured or killed, the damage was great enough that the county engineer closed the bridge off to all traffic. The future of the Salisbury Bridge was in doubt.
28 December 2010: After staying overnight at a friend’s place in Milroy (located 7 miles east of Marshall) I decided to venture off on a long bridgehunting tour, which began up the Minnesota from Granite Falls to Ortonville before shooting across the state, beating a fast-moving system that would bring snow and high winds in the process. The Salisbury Bridge was one of the stops I had to make before making a sharp turn north into the direction of St. Cloud and my final destination, Little Falls. The weather was sunny and frigid when I left Milroy, only to find that by the time I reached the Salisbury Bridge by 3:00 in the afternoon, it was overcast and 2°C warmer with a touch of drizzle. But no matter how warm or cold the weather was, everywhere in Minnesota, you had to fight through snow that was at least knee deep, and the Salisbury Bridge was no exception to the rule. Yet one can never have the best opportunity of photographing the bridge like in the winter time.
Even though the bridge was barricaded on both sides, there was a way to get on the structure to not only take a closer look at the aesthetics of Hewett’s work, but also look at the damage that was done to the bridge. When doing bridge photography, it is very important to get some shots of the bridge from as many angles as possible for the purpose of not only providing the viewers with a detailed description of the bridge from a structural standpoint, but also provide them with some artwork and how they conform with its surroundings. Sometimes one needs a couple hours before the work is done, unless he is shooed and harassed by those who do not want them on their property. This has happened to me a couple times and to others at least a dozen times. But despite the sounds of cannons flying about in the woods along the Crow River, where the bridge spans, I was left in peace to do my work, even though it took about an hour and a half and it started snowing and getting dark by the time I was done.
The bridge provides a very eerie setting in the winter time, where all is quiet and the fields were all covered in white- at least three feet of white fluffy snow which made walking through it feel like swimming in water, whose waves are strong enough to sweep them away. Even the Crow River, which the bridge crosses, was covered in a thick blanket of snow, which made fording across the ice rather treacherous, as there were quite a few soft spots to take into account, and it is just a matter of falling through one of them to ruin a good photo opportunity, not to mention to find a way to warm up at any cost to avoid hypothermia. Fortunately it was not the case, or else this pic of the cross-section of the Crow would not have taken place.
The bridge itself appeared to be in good shape. While many would consider its truss type- the Pratt- to be a common and plain type that one can see everywhere, despite the decreasing number of them, one can see that the Hewett family left its legacy with this bridge; not just with the portal bracing and other physical features. The features that one cannot see are the most important, like how the bridge was built and how the bridge builder became famous in Minnesota and all points westward, let alone the local history associated with this structure. Add the surroundings to go along with that, the bridge would be a prime candidate for its place in a calendar; especially for the winter months, as you will see in the pics below.
After marveling at the beauty of the bridge from both the inside as well as the outside, I took a closer look at the damage done to the bridge, which was at the northwest corner of the structure at the end post. The end post is like a door frame: it supports the portal bracing and contributes to the forming of the upper chord, which is supported by the overhead beams- both horizontal and diagonal. There was something peculiar about the damage done to the end post as it appeared that the railings were fixed right away. The end post was twisted to the left and bent outwards, causing one corner of the bridge to sag about 10 cm downward. While one cannot see it from a distance, it is noticeable when looking at it from the north end. One could say that there was no accident at all but a case of vandalism, but that would be far -fetched unless a person was a body-builder who loves to destroy things. In either case, it appeared that the damage was moderate and the driver tried to stop while crossing but only slowed down to a point where the impact was minimal. If that was the case, then the driver was very lucky for as many as 20 bridges of this type have fallen prey to accidents every year, as drivers disregard the restrictions posted on the bridge for safety reasons, only to pay the price with the loss of insurance, driver’s license and tens of thousands of dollars after dropping the bridge into the river. The latest casualty that happened was the Fryer’s Ford Bridge in Arkansas, which happened earlier this year (see link enclosed: http://thebridgehunter.areavoices.com/2011/04/14/from-bridges-to-borders/ ).
While some believe that damage like this warrant bridge replacement, for some reason, it would be impractical to do, for new bridges nowadays have a shorter lifespan, are bland and have no aesthetic value, and they need to be maintained as much as the truss bridges. Studies have shown that repairs on bridges like the Salisbury Bridge would prolong their lives by 50 years, and are 1/10 as expensive as replacing it outright. Yet these facts are overshadowed by the fear that these bridges might collapse, referring to the collapse of the I-35W Bridge that occurred in August 2007. Instead of looking at the causes of the bridge failure, people (mostly those with little or no experience in civil engineering and bridge restoration practice) retorted to bridge types like the truss or cantilever truss to being the most inefficient bridge type to be used on the road, even though some are being constructed today in places like Indiana and Ohio. One can also refer to the Council Bluffs Bridge, a polygonal Warren through truss bridge over the Missouri River that replaced a continuous truss bridge in 2009. If the Salisbury was demonized in a way similar to the I-35W Bridge, the bridge would long since have been replaced and it would have lost its national historic significance because of its design and connection with the Hewett Dynasty.
Keeping the logic in mind and the fact that some of the bridges have fallen into the same boat as the Salisbury Bridge (where sections are bent, realigning the entire structure but yet straightened out thanks to the efforts of dismantling and reworking the parts affected before assembling it), I left the Salisbury Bridge with some ease that something will be done to make the bridge functional again. The structure is conveniently located in a nearby recreational area off the main highway. The natural surroundings make it unique and it conforms nicely to the area; especially in the winter time. The historic significance makes it eligible for grants for repairs and reuse, let alone a good tourist attraction for bridge lovers. And finally it is one of only a few of its type left in Minnesota that is in use. Despite the damage done to the structure, it is not in danger of collapse and there are ways to repair the structure for reuse. And while the bridge may not be able to carry vehicular traffic once the repairs are completed, its new life as a pedestrian bridge will make it a perfect fit for the recreational area nearby, and in the end it will represent a fine example of architectural work for its period, not just American history per se, but for Meeker County, and the townships that own the bridge, namely Kingston and Kimball.
21 November 2011- It appears that there is some hope for funding possibilities for the county and the two townships that own the bridge. There were funding possibilities on the federal level for 2016, yet it would not be until August of 2012 whether the project will qualify. According to the county engineer, the despite the county’s plans for applying for funding, the townships declined the possibility and instead elected to apply for State Legacy Funding for 2012. The decision on whether the county will receive the funding will take place in July 2012. How the bridge will be fixed depends on the options available, as well as the funding possibilities and its requirements. We can only hope that by using examples including one presented here, that the renovation will be worth the cost and efforts. Best of luck to the townships and the county in pursuing this task of preserving the bridge and its history….Link: http://www.independentreview.net/view/full_story/16127058/article-County-Board-supports-grant-application-to-fix-historic-bridge
Example case study: State Street Bridge in Michigan: http://www.historicbridges.org/truss/state/ and http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150355111293324.384690.250666613323&type=1
Photos of the bridge taken by yours truly can be seen here: