Author’s Note: This is part III of the series on Indiana’s historic bridges and the Historic Bridge Conference that took place on 21-23 September.
When you see or hear the word historic bridges, what are the first words that come to mind? Do you know of a historic bridge(s) that you grew up with? What were some fond memories? Were there attempts to preserve or destroy that particular structure and why? And if the structure was destroyed, was it because of lack of information on how to preserve it or was it because of lack of interest?
Each of us grew up knowing a rickety old vintage structure that was nearby, where we crossed on our way to our grandma’s house, or went on family walks or gone fishing. We also saw our favorite bridge succumbing to progress without any knowledge of ways to preserve it for uses other than being a road bridge. But there are some people who are of the opinion that times change, concrete is better than metal bridges that rust and corrode and they are not worth saving….
Not in the eyes of the Hoosiers living in Indiana. The state has one of the highest number of historic bridges in the United States, and one of the highest ratio of those preserved. It was not long ago (15-20 years to be exact) that the number of historic bridges were plummeting, prompting calls from the public and private sectors to take action and preserve what is left of the bridges. Unlike in some states, like North Dakota, Nevada and Pennsylvania where the numbers are either very low or are dropping like a falling meteor, the calls were heeded and today, one can see at least three or four through truss bridges and at least two stone or concrete arch bridges in each county- on average. How was this done?
The success story of Indiana’s historic bridges became the focal point for this year’s historic bridge conference, which took place in southern and central Indiana. A large turnout gathered in Indianapolis on the evening of the 21st of September to listen to Julie Bowers, Nathan Holth, Marsh Davis, and Dr. James Cooper speak about historic bridges. Ms. Bowers provided the public with a presentation and documentary on historic bridge preservation (the summary on the DVD can be found here), using the Piano Bridge in Texas and the McIntyre Bridge in Iowa as examples. It was followed by Nathan Holth, who recently released a book on the moving bridges in Chicago (vertical lift, swing and bascule), providing some details on the movement to make the City by Wind not only modern in its time (with skyscrapers made of steel) but also movable, with bridges opening to shipping traffic. While Marsh Davis talked about historic bridges and the role of Indiana Landmark, the keynote speaker for the event was Dr. James Cooper, professor emeritus of history at DePauw University at Greencastle (located southwest of Indianapolis). Mr. Cooper spent 40 years writing about historic bridges and presenting to thousands of historians and interested citizens about this unique topic, the history and connection with the development of the state’s infrastructure over the past 150 years, and ways to preserve them through policies and practice. And for over an hour, he spoke about the successes of historic bridge preservation on the Hoosier state. A Q&A session with Mr. Cooper is found in the next article in the Chronicles.
The number of bridges visited is very high; some dealt with bridges that were on the itinerary, like the Cedar Grove, the Madison-Milton and Triple Whipple Bridges, but there were some that were not on the itinerary, but were beautiful enough to stop for a few minutes of photo opportunities, as many pontists and those interested traveled from west to east to see them. Nathan Holth of Historic Bridges.org provided me with some classic examples of historic bridges that were visited while on tour and a gallery is provided below, with links to the historic bridge pages that were profiled. Have fun viewing them. More to come….
Author’s Note: The interview with James Cooper can be found in the next article. Special thanks to Nathan Holth for the use of the photos for this and other articles pertaining to this topic. Very special thanks to Tony Dillon who coordinated the three-day event and brought in a huge crowd to the event.
The next Historic Bridge Conference (2013) will take place in Iowa. More details will come as the planning progresses.