Mystery Bridge 39: The fallen Burwell (Nebraska) Bridge

Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Burwell,_Nebraska_fallen_bridge_2.JPG

A few weeks back, we received a photo with some information pertaining to this bridge. Located over the North Loup River on what remained of 7th Avenue at present-day Riverside Park, the Bridge at Burwell (coined as Old Burwell Bridge in the bridgehunter.com website) has some mysteries of its own to be solved- in particular, what the bridge looked like and when it was built. What is clear, according to records from the Nebraska Historical Society, floodwaters washed out this bridge- deemed as the lone crossing going in and out of Burwell- on 25 June, 1939. The Nebraska Department of Roads and Irrigation responded by constructing a new crossing a year later, featuring a steel plate girder crossing located 3/4 mile east of the original crossing, where Highways 11 and 91 cross today.

The fallen north portion of the original bridge is all that remains of the Old Burwell Bridge today. Judging by its Art Deco design, the crossing must have been built between 1912 and 1920, when concrete girders, using similar designs, were used either as a substitute to steel or even as a complement to the material that had been used almost exclusively for bridge building up until then. Already, the standardization of bridges had started, where state road departments introduced strict standards in bridge building, including new bridge designs made of concrete, like the girder as seen in the photo above.

Bolson Bridge in Winneshiek County, Iowa. The 1924 bridge represents an example of standardized truss bridges used during this time. Photo taken in 2007

The question is whether this crossing had been a full-blown concrete girder bridge with more than one span, or whether the fallen span had once been an approach span for another bigger bridge type, like a riveted truss bridge, for example. For the second argument one needs to add the fact that truss bridges were built using riveted connections instead of pinned ones, but despite its sturdiness, they are sometimes prone to flooding, where the span is washed away. Many truss bridges had girder approach spans as they were sturdier than wooden ones, and they enabled passengers to cross the bridge safely.

Keeping these arguments in mind, we have a couple questions to answer with regard to the Old Burwell Bridge:

1. Was the crossing a full fledged concrete beam or girder bridge or was it an approach span to another bigger bridge type, like a truss bridge?

2. When was this bridge built and who was the bridge builder?

3. What were the dimensions of the bridge before flooding washed it away?

Answers to this question can be posted here or on the Chronicles’ facebook page. You can also contact Jason Smith at the Chronicles at flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com. Inquiring minds would like to know about the bridge’s history, and the Chronicles is there to help solve the mystery.

 

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