Dodd Ford to receive a makeover

Dodd Ford Bridge spanning the Blue Earth River near Amboy, Minnesota. Photo taken by the author in September 2010

Truss bridge to be placed onto concrete stringer with the decking encased. Work scheduled to begin in Summer 2014

It is a beautiful piece of artwork when crossing the Blue Earth River, as seen in the video produced five years ago. It was built by a bridge engineer who immigrated to the United States from Germany and later went into politics. Despite being closed to traffic for five years and being threatened with demolition, it is a local landmark that is nationally significant with a unique appearance.

The Dodd Ford Bridge is now getting the rehabilitation it deserves. Residents living in and around Amboy, located south of Mankato in Blue Earth County, Minnesota have found a way to save the bridge by getting the support needed from the county as well as agencies on the state and national levels, with two goals in mind: saving the bridge and reopening it to traffic again. Both of them will be realized later on this year.

Workers will place the truss superstructure onto a modern concrete stringer bridge, encasing the lower chord with new decking, and adding new ornamental railings in the process. New paint and other repairs will be in the mix as well. The cost for the whole project: $1.3 million, $130,000 of which had already been allotted by the county for the project with the rest being provided by grants and other financial resources. Construction on this bridge is set to begin this summer, and while it is unknown how long the project will last, once the bridge is reopen to traffic, farmers and tourists alike will at last have the opportunity to cross the structure again. The 150-foot long bridge had been closed to heavy vehicles for over two decades and to all but pedestrian traffic since 2009. Upon inspection by both official contractors as well as private sources, the truss bridge itself was in pristine condition, leading to the question of “…why it was closed to begin with,” according to one source.

The Dodd Ford Bridge was built as a Camelback through truss bridge in 1901 by Lawrence H. Johnson, a bridge engineer who had once presided over the operations of Hennepin Bridge Company but built this structure as an independent contractor. Born in northern Germany (with sources pointing to Flensburg in Schleswig-Holstein) in 1862, Johnson emigrated to the US in 1875 and eventually to Minnesota in 1884, when he started his bridge-building business. He served in the Minnesota legislature, representing the Republican party and Hennepin County from 1901 to 1910, during which he was also president of the Hennepin Bridge Company in Minneapolis.  He died in 1947 but it is unknown where he was interred.  Johnson built numerous bridges in Minnesota, both as an independent contractor as well as during his days as president at Hennepin, but the Dodd Ford Bridge, as well as the Old Barn Resort Bridge near Preston in Fillmore County are the only two structure left with his name on there (surprisingly enough, the latter has been closed to traffic since 2010 and is also the subject of efforts to reopen it to traffic again).

If the bridge becomes encased with concrete decking, it will not be the first one that will receive this treatment. Several Minnesota truss bridges have received similar treatments and are still in operation. Most notable ones include the Merriam Street and Washington Avenue Bridges both in Minneapolis. The former consists of one of the spans of the original Broadway Avenue Bridge over the Mississippi River that was relocated to its present site east of the Hennepin Avenue Bridge in 1987, spanning the mighty river’s small channel. The latter spans the railroad tracks in downtown and was encased in 2001, with the trusses widened to accommodate traffic. While questions have been raised regarding the historic integrity of the bridge being compromised through this type of rehabilitation, many people have embraced this claiming it’s “…better that than to have no historic truss bridge at all.”

Compromise or not, the Dodd Ford Bridge is about to receive new life again, thanks to the efforts undertaken to save this bridge from becoming scrap metal. With 50% of the number of historic bridges gone across the country and Blue Earth County only having a handful left, including the Kern Bowstring Arch Bridge, people are taking a stand to preserve what is left of infrastructural history in America. The Dodd Ford Bridge not only represents that, but also a bridge that was built by an immigrant from a country that produced many bridge engineers of their time to build great infrastructures. And like Germany, the US and with regards to the Dodd Ford Bridge, the locals are fighting to save the unique few that are left for the next generations to enjoy.

Author’s Note: More information is needed about Lawrence H. Johnson’s life as a bridge builder and politician, as well as a confirmation of where he was born and where his tomb is located. If you have any information, please send it to the Chronicles at: flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com. Information will be added once it’s received.

Click onto the links to learn more about the bridge and Lawrence Johnson, including the photos taken by the author during his visit in 2010 as well as Nathan Holth during his visit last year.

This entry was posted in Bridge Preservation, Bridge Profile USA, FYI Bridge Newsflash, Interesting Bridge Facts, News, Practices and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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