What to do with a Historic Bridge: Red Bridge in Jasper County, Iowa

Photos taken by Chris Johnson, used with permission. Photo gallery available on the Chronicles’ facebook page.

Author’s Note: This is a three-part series on two bridges, spanning the South Branch Skunk River in Jasper and Marion Counties in the state of Iowa, both located within two miles of each other. Unfortunately, they are BOTH in danger of being lost forever unless action is taken to save them. The first part is about the Red Bridge.
Gliding up and down the steep hills along East 24th Street and Red Bridge Street, one would expect to see another relict of the past up ahead going north, as the road turns to the right and then left going down towards the river. Unfortunately, at the top of the hill before the first curve, we were met with a Road Closed and No Trespassing signs in large bold letters in a white background. This was as far as we got to getting to the Red Bridge during our summer visit in 2013, right after the conclusion of the Historic Bridge Weekend in Pella, located 15 miles south of there.
Now the chance to see the Red Bridge would only have to be through one of two options: if the bridge was relocated to a nearby community or if it underwent extensive restoration in place, and a bike trail was constructed along the river connecting the two bridges as well as the communities of Colfax, Monroe and Pella.  Both options are realistic and doable if contributions are plenty, both financially as well as with regards to manpower and expertise.
But what’s so important about the Red Bridge?

The bridge features two truss spans bearing a similar design: the Warren truss with subdivided vertical beams. The main span is a through truss with pinned connections and an A-frame portal bracing. It was the original crossing erected by local contractor H.S. Efnor in 1892. At the cost of $3515, he and his crew constructed the 120-foot long span with stringer approach spans, which extended the total length to over 160 feet long. In 1947, the approach span was washed away by floods and was sub-sequentially replaced by the other Warren span, a riveted pony truss span measuring 80 feet long. The total span after the reconstruction efforts were completed was 212 feet, and the bridge continued to serve traffic until its closure in 2003. Since that time, the bridge has remained in place, but is in really bad shape, due to missing or burned out wooden planks and erosion damage due to flooding. In the last flood in 2013, the pony truss approach span partially collapsed because the abutments were washed away. That span appears to be salvageable, whereas the main span still stands to this day.



Last year, a local group, Friends of the Red Bridge was formed, consisting of locals associated with the Red Bridge as well as pontists with the goal of finding ways to save the structure. At the present time, the project is in its infancy due to the search for ideas on how and what to do with the bridge, as well as fundraising efforts needed to move the project forward. With Jasper County trying to wipe out the remaining bridges that are older than 69 years of age, the group is trying to find ways to get the ball rolling so that the bridge does not become a victim of either a natural disaster, like a flood, or paranoia, where the bridge is removed for “liability” reasons. The second reason was what led to the demise of the Imperial Avenue Bridge over the North Skunk River, west of Kellogg earlier this year. This led to an outcry by many historians because the structure was in stable condition prior to its removal.  It is feared that it could happen to the Red Bridge, as well as its neighbor to the southeast if action is not taken now to preserve the bridges.
At the present time, the Red Bridge still stands tall, despite being battered by years of wear and tear as well as the weather extremities. Yet the question is for how long. If action is taken in due time, the bridge might have a prosperous future for generations to come. If not, then ……
You can join the Friends of the Red Bridge on facebook under the group page. There, you can join the conversation as to what to do with the bridge. Some ideas that are worth noting include:
a. Leaving the bridge in place, restoring it and reusing it for a bike trail connecting Reasoner and Pella, utilizing also the County Border Bridge.
b. Leaving the bridge in place and let nature take its course, but stabilizing the abutments and approach span to prevent further flood damage.
c. Relocate the bridge: There are several places that could use a historic bridge for recreational purposes, whether it is the National Wildlife Refuge near Prairie City,  the wildlife areas around the Red Rock Lake vicinity, a rail-to-trail bike trail project near Pella, or other recreational areas within a 50-mile radius.
An interview with the organization was conducted through facebook last year and will be included in Part 3 of the series. In the meantime, enjoy the pics provided by Chris Johnson, which were taken in 2012. The photo gallery can be seen through the Chronicles’ facebook page, as well as the group page bearing the Red Bridge name.



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Padlocked Bridges: The Incident at Pont des Arts in Paris and the issue of padlocks on bridges

Pont des Arts Bridge in Paris. Photos taken in 1999

Lovelocks. Love locks the two together for eternity to come. And how to provide that but to attach a lock on a historic bridge and throw the key away into the river. The origin of lovelocks was from Serbia, where a school misstress fell in love with a World War I soldier and met often at the Most Liubavi in the Serbian town of Vrnjacka Banja. However, the couple broke up after he went off to war and the woman died a broken heart. In response, locals showed their solidifying love by putting their padlocks on the Most Liubavi and it became part of a work by Serbian poet and writer,  Desanka Maksimovi?. The bridge of love, where lovelocks are attached to bridge railings and other parts, later spread to other bridges in Europe, and today, lovelocks can be found in the hundreds of thousands on popular bridges, such as the  Ha’penny Bridge in Dublin, the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, and even the Hohenzollern Bridge in Cologne.

Love locks on the Hollernzollern Bridge in Cologne, Germany

Yet these lovelocks are starting to pose a major problem, as can be seen with the latest incident with the Pont des Arts Bridge, spanning the Sienne River in Paris. According to reports by the BBC, parts of the parapet of the 1804 iron deck arch bridge collapsed on Sunday because of the weight of these love padlocks. This has raised a debate on whether the padlocks should be removed in its entirety due to concerns of the historic integrity and aesthetics of the bridge being compromised, as well as the hazard that is being imposed on boat traffic passing underneath the bridge. The Pont des Arts is one of three of the dozens of Parisian bridges that are laden with padlocks. The other two are the Passerelle Léopold-Sédar-Senghor and the Pont de l’Archevêché. Consideration is being taken to remove the padlocks in its entirety, as it has been done to several bridges in Europe and North America that have been the magnet for these lovelocks, such as the Humber Bridge in Toronto, as well as the aforementioned bridges in Dublin and Florence. Yet if any action is taken, it will run into stiff opposition by those wishing to keep the tradition alive, as this was seen by action taken with the Kettenbrücke in Bamberg and the Hollernzollern Bridge in Cologne last year. At both places, protests forced the proprietors of the two bridges (the City of Bamberg and the German Railways (Deutsche Bahn)) to retract their decision to remove the locks.

Close-up of the arches, the parapet and the lamppost.

While lovelocks are a symbol of eternal love and the tradition should be alive. The question is why choose certain bridges, such as the Ponts des Arts in Paris. Upon my visit in 1999, before the bridge became a magnet for this sensational ritual, the bridge was clean of all its padlocks, including the parapets and the lampposts dating back to the 1800s, when the bridge was not affected by the years of conflict it would sustain through the French wars with Germany lasting up until the end of World War II. It was restored in 1984 after parts of the span collapsed in the 1970s and was the hub for artwork, mainly from the students of the school of art École des Beaux-Arts. This included a series on cowboys and indians from the American wild west, which was on display during my visit:



And while art exhibits have changed from time to time on the bridge, nobody has expected the lovelocks to decorate the bridge, making it look colorful and more beautiful on the one hand, but ugly and one that can ruin the structural beauty of the bridge. But then again, love does have its good and bad sides as well, and conflicts can be solved through compromise, which will need to be made before too many lovelocks do indeed cause damage to historic bridges, causing damage and costing more money to repair and restore them than necessary.

It does not mean that lovelocks should not be allowed on the bridges and other places of interest. It should be encouraged, however in moderation. This means that only a limited amount of lovelocks should be allowed on a bridge or at or near a place of interest to ensure that the aesthetic and structural integrity are not harmed in anyway. This means that there are more places to show your love with lovelocks than just this one particular place, as long as it is allowed.

After this incident at the Pont des Arts, questions will arise as to what will become of the lovelocks on that bridge as well as the other two in question. Yet as lovers have done when being in love, when there is a will, there is a way to show the love and keep the tradition alive; if not at this bridge, then another one.


Apart from the aforementioned bridges in this article, which other bridges in the US, Europe and other places have this lovelock tradition? And if there is a bridge where you would love to see lovelocks on there, apart from the Lover’s Leap Bridge in Columbus Junction, Iowa and New Milford, Connecticut, which ones would you place your lovelock on and why?  Put your comments here as well as in the Chronicles’ facebook pages.


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What to do with a Historic Bridge: Bridge 2628 in Jackson County, Minnesota

Photo taken by Sam and Anna Smith in 2012

Jackson County is pursuing plans to replace the first concrete through girder bridge in the State of Minnesota. Public discussion on its future to be planned soon.

Jackson County, Minnesota. Apart from my place of childhood, where I grew up and graduated, the county was once a place laden with historic places people like me grew up with. We had the roller skating rink south of Windom, the National Guard Armory in Jackson where we played basketball in high school, the Jackson High School Complex across from the county courthouse, plus many historic farmsteads that were scattered across the landscape.  It was here where my interest in historic bridges took shape, as I grew up having seen and crossed dozens of pre-1920 bridges, six of which crossed the Des Moines River, including the Black Bridge (the Milwaukee Railroad Viaduct), one of three steel bridges that existed in Jackson.
Yet like it has done with the aforementioned artifacts, the historic bridges are disappearing like flies, with the county pursuing a merciless plan to modernize the landscape to beyond recognition and attempts to save what is left are being quashed by political tactics and pressure by those with enough power to have things their way.  Bridge 2628, spanning Okabena Creek at Township Road 183 in Alba Township is one of those bridges standing in the way of progress, and unless attempts are made to halt it, the 60-foot long bridge will be gone by 2017.
When looking at the bridge for the first time, one could perceive it as just an ordinary bridge. Yet the 1917 structure has a history of its own, which justifies its listing on the National Register of Historic Places and the need to preserve it.  The bridge was built during World War I, where steel was scarce for it was being used for the war efforts. Originally a Warren pony truss was supposed to be in its place. Yet with no steel available, the State Road Department (the predecessor to today’s Minnesota Department of Transportation) decided for a bridge variant built using concrete.  While box culverts were used prior to 1917, using art deco railings, the state vied for an experiment, which later justified its expanded usage for both rail and vehicular traffic: the girder bridge. Reason: the girder bridge featured railings that supported the roadway instead of the piers and abutments, as found with beam bridges.  The first concrete through girder bridge was constructed and opened to traffic in the summer of 1917 and has remained in service ever since. This is symbolic for no bridge had been constructed which was 60 feet long or more. It set the stage for the use of concrete bridges for long-span crossings, which commenced after 1920 in Minnesota and after 1940 in Jackson County.
Yet the situation is looking bleak for the structure. The county engineer wants the bridge replaced with a wider and sturdier one, citing age and structural deterioration, weight limit and the structure’s narrowness as the main reasons. The county has already taken a look at alternatives, none of which have circumvented the inevitable plan decided upon to replace it outright. This included constructing a replacement alongside the original one (the argument against that was because of the dangerous curves presented in bypassing the road around the bridge), rehabilitating it (which would be too expensive), leaving it alone and closing it (which would cause a hindrance to the 20+ vehicles crossing the bridge every day.)  Being located in a sparsely populated area, it would make sense to have farmers and passengers go the extra mile to get to their destinations, thus allowing the bridge to be left in place with permanent barriers. Having a park in the vicinity of the bridge would be possible, yet money would be needed for a shelter house, picnic area, playground and especially trees. It would actually go well with a bike trail along Okabena Creek. Yet with the recent opposition by county residents to construct bike trails along the Des Moines River connecting Jackson and Windom due to issues of property easements and increase in costs, the idea of having a bike trail along Okabena Creek connecting Heron Lake and Brewster with many pre-1940 bridges long gone would send many to the barracks to arm themselves.
Yet because the bridge is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, there is hope that a solution can be reached so that the bridge can have another life after serving vehicular traffic for almost 100 years. The county will need to conduct environmental impact and cultural significance studies as required by law concerning all historic places. In addition, public input will be needed to determine what to do with the bridge. This will buy some time for the bridge as well as for the parties willing to do something with the 60-foot structure, including securing funding for rehabilitation and possible relocation.
Relocation. An option for a concrete bridge?
The idea sounds absurd, but it is doable.  As seen in the Ammann Awards entries from last year, the first ever prestressed and pretensioned concrete bridge in the world, constructed in 1938 over a motorway in the German state of North Rhine Westphalia was relocated to a rest area near its original site and now serves as a monument.  Yet a pair of more local examples include the relocation of two arch bridges in Iowa. The first ever reinforced concrete arch bridge, designed by Josef Melan and built by Fritz von Emprenger in 1894, was spared demolition and relocated to its current site, Emma Sater Park in Rock Rapids, 50 years ago. It was one of the first structures listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which occurred in 1970. A Keystone stone arch bridge in Pocahontas County, built in the 1880s, was relocated from a small creek to a park outside Pocahontas in 1980. Both structures are about the same length as the girder bridge in Jackson County.  As the construction of bike trail extensions are underway in and around Jackson, such a historic bridge could be relocated to a site along the way, to serve either as a crossing or a monument.  Even its relocation to one of the parks in Jackson, Lakefield or Heron Lake to serve as a monument would suffice as well. This would perhaps be the best alternative to it being bypassed and/or left alone as is, being a forgotten relict with a fruitful history and its contribution to the development of concrete bridges after 1920 and the state infrastructure as a whole.
Bridge 2628 is one of two remaining historic bridges left in Jackson County, yet its future is in doubt as the county wishes to replace the structure with a longer, wider and even sturdier bridge.  Given the number of pre-1930 bridges that have dwindled in numbers, it would not be surprising if Jackson County joins McLeod, Swift, Waseca and Douglas Counties in a couple years with absolutely no bridges left over, unless action is taken to save the remaining two structures (ironically, a Queenpost pony truss bridge is the other structure left in the same county and in the same township, only seven miles upstream). Given its structural and historical importance, it is essential that something is done for the bridge without destroying it, setting the example of other remaining historic bridges that are in need of the same treatment as given to the county courthouse in Jackson, as well as the historic business districts in Jackson and Lakefield, to name a few.  After suffering a harsh setback with the fall of the Middle School building in 2011, it is now more important than ever to save what is left of the county’s history before it is too late.

Photo courtesy of MnDOT, taken in 1965

For more information about how to save Bridge 2628, please contact the Jackson County Highway Department and the Jackson County Historical Society for more details and pay attention to the upcoming public meetings pertaining to the future of the bridge.

Information can also be obtained by the US Army Corps of Engineers under  Linda Pate, using the following contact details:
Linda Pate Cultural Resource Historian Regulatory Branch U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Paul District 180 Fifth Street East, Suite 700 St. Paul, MN 55101 linda.l.pate@usace.army.mil (651) 290-5970 (o) (651) 245-8276 (c)
Author’s Notes:
Jackson lost the 1928 Armory Building in 1999 (now replaced with a bank), the Jackson Junior and Senior High School Complex in 2011 (the 1909 half was demolished in 1982 and was not replaced, the 1938 half in 2011 despite protests and litigation, and replaced with a modern building), and the 1975 First National Bank Building in 2012 (replaced).

The author would like to thank Sam and Anna Smith as well as Pete Wilson at MnDOT for the use of the photos. Originally, they were used for the book on Jackson County’s historic, whose abbreviated version can be found in the county’s 150th anniversary book, published in 2007. The extended version is being edited and will be made available for purchase once it is finished. An article on the Lost Bridges of that county is in the making for the Chronicles, together with some information on the girder bridge.

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Bridge Photos on Sale

Browns Creek Bridge near Stillwater, Minnesota. Winner of this year’s Best Kept Secret Award for the US. Photo taken and submitted by David Parker of David Parker Photography.

Interested in picking up a good photo? Perhaps one of a historic or modern bridge as a gift or an addition to one of the rooms in the house?  If interested, one of the fellow pontists and professional photographer is selling them this weekend.

David Parker, who owns Parker Photography based in Stillwater, Minnesota, is hosting a garage sale this Saturday, June 7th from 1:00 to 5:00 pm at his studio, located at 1149 Bergmann Drive in Stillwater. There, you will have an opportunity to purchase one of his works, as well as order any unprinted photos that are not in stock. Some of the photos on the selling block include landscapes, historic buildings and  bridges in parts of Minnesota (including the Twin Cities), including this one, the Browns Creek Bridge, which received the 2012 Othmar H. Ammann Award for Best Kept Secret.

Refreshments will be provided. For more information or if you have any questions, please contact Mr. Parker using the following contact details here. Hope to see you there and best of luck finding the best photo. :-)


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Mystery Bridge Nr. 40: A Whipple Truss Bridge in Japan

Photo taken by John Paul Catton, author of the ‘Sword, Mirror, Jewel’ fantasy trilogy’ Used with permission


The next mystery bridge takes us over 20,000 kilometers away from home, to the country of Japan.  With over 127 million inhabitants and despite the tragedies that have affected them for years- namely the atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki which effectively ended World War II,  and the triple disaster at Fukushima three years ago (earthquake, followed by a tsunami that wiped many cities off the map and the worst nuclear disaster since 1986)- Japan maintains an unusually fast-paced but honor-obsessed culture, which makes the country stand out among other industrialized countries in the world. The country is famous for its sushi and rice, and thanks to its decades of developing modern technology, Japan is the third most powerful country in the world with regards to the world economy.

Many people do not really think much about Japanese heritage as the population is always on the move. And it is no wonder why  historic bridges are almost next to never mentioned. Yet John Paul Catton, who is the author of the Sword, Mirror, Jewel Fantasy series and webmaster of Planet 303 (Adventures in a Post-Fictional World), happened to find this jewel, while providing readers with a tour of the Japanese city of Asakusa.  The city is part of the perfecture of neighboring Taito, which is part of the Japanese capital of Tokyo.  As for the bridge itself, it has a history of its own. The truss design is clearly marked: A Whipple pony truss with pinned connections. This design was patented by Squire Whipple in 1841, and set the precedent for the development of the bowstring arch bridge in general, which started populating the American landscape in the late 1860s. The Norman’s Kill Bridge near Albany, New York, built in 1869, is one of the earliest examples of this truss type.

The Whipple truss bridge at Asakusa, according to Catton, used to be located in Fukugawa, which is southeast of Yamaguchi on the extreme southwest end of Japan. It was relocated to this place in Asakusa in recent times, perhaps 10-20 years ago,  given the newness of the abutments, and the roadway that runs underneath the span. While no exact dimensions have been found on this bridge, one can assume that the span is between 20 and 30 meters long. Because welded and riveted connections were introduced in 1910 to replace the pinned connections, one can assume that the bridge was originally constructed in the time period between 1865 and 1880, and whoever designed the span was either a disciple of Squire Whipple himself, or he borrowed the design from him (or his colleagues) to use when building it at Fukugawa. Because Fukugawa is 918 kilometers (570 miles) southwest of Asakusa (in Tokyo), the feat of relocating the span to its current place must have been a Herculean one, because of the exorbitant costs combined with obstacles in transporting it (Think of the mountainous landscape, combined with potential earthquakes, which overshadow the well-knitted infrastructure).  Such a feat is rare to find in the United States, yet attempts are underway to relocate a truss bridge from Pennsylvania to Alabama as part of a major project, supported by Alabama DOT and a private group wanting to save the BB Comer Bridge. If approve, this record distance of transporting a historic bridge from A to B, will surely be broken.

This bridge was first mentioned through bridgehunter.com, though a thorough article about the bridge and the request for information about the bridge’s history has not been written until now. Therefore, the Chronicles needs your help regarding finding the following information:

1. When was this bridge built?

2. Who was the bridge builder? Was he a disciple of Whipple or did he work for a firm in Japan (or elsewhere)?

3. Where exactly was this bridge located in Fukugawa?

4. Because of the fact that the bridge is one of the oldest left in Japan, what was the motive behind relocating the span to Asakusa?

5. When did the relocation take place and how?

Send your information to Jason Smith at the Chronicles at: flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com. As soon as all the questions have been answered, there will be a follow-up to this article in the Chronicles.

Japan does take pride in its culture, and how (and why) this bridge was relocated remains a mystery, except for the fact that they really care about it, considering it one of the important landmarks of Japanese history. The Chronicles is working together to make sure the bridge’s history and its association with the development of the Japanese infrastructure comes to light. More on this Mystery Bridge will follow.

Fast Fact: Fukugawa is located between Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the two cities that were destroyed by two atomic bombs in 1945. President Truman ordered the bombs to be dropped after Germany surrendered to the Allies in May. Hiroshima was destroyed on 6 August, 1945, Nagasaki followed three days later. Japan surrendered on 2 September, 1945, when Emperor Hirohito signed the surrender papers on the USS Missouri, with General Douglas MacArthur overseeing the process. How nuclear radiation affected Fukugawa as a result of the two bombs, remains an unknown factor.

The author of the Chronciles would like to thank John Paul Catton for the use of the photo.



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In School in Germany: The Pocket Guide to Industrial History

Rendsburg High Bridge in Rendsburg, Germany Photo taken by the author in April 2011


Joint article and forum with sister column the Flensburg Files in conjunction with the series on In School in Germany. Except this example focuses on Infrastructure, using Historic Bridges as an Example.

A while back, shortly before my debut teaching about industrialization in the US and Germany between 1870 and 1914, I had put out a question as to how to approach the topic of infrastructure in that era, in particular when it comes to bridge building, and how it ties in with the usage and proliferation of the material of steel- a replacement to iron. For more information on this inquiry, please click here for details.

Here is the follow-up on this particular topic, which has me thinking about a creative way of getting students acquainted with infrastructure and industrialization:

During the block-session, which consists of two 45-minute sessions into a 90-minute one, students had an opportunity to write down their notes in a small pocket brochure, compiled on my part. This is what the pocket brochure looked like:

The notes to be taken by the students (consisting of high school juniors) were in connection with a series of mini-presentations that they were supposed to give, based on the following topics that were given to them to prepare two weeks beforehand:

Iron and Steel

The Great Chicago Fire of 1871

The Chicago School of Architecture




The Automobile

The Roads

Inventions (Electricity, the Telephone, etc.)

Each presentation was 3-5 minutes long, with questions to follow.  The exception to the topic was the one on bridges, presented by yours truly.  The topics were presented in a way that materials go first, for they played hand-to-hand in the development of other forms of infrastructure and transportation.

The results were astounding. Lots of information on American and European inventors making their marks, yet one would need a couple more sessions to digest all the information presented.  Some questions in connection with this topic you can find in the Files’ article here.

The problem with presenting infrastructure and industrialization is that the development of both Germany/Europe and the US was exponential, that it would be difficult to cover everything. It even applies for bridges, as dozens of American and European bridge builders were responsible for hundreds of bridge designs and bridge examples that existed during that time (and still do today). Plus some of the bridge builders of that time period had their own colorful history that is worth mentioning; especially when it comes to those immigrating to the US from what is today Germany, Poland, Austria, France and Hungary (where they were once known as The French Kingdom, Prussia and later the German Empire, Austro-Hungarian (or Habsburg Empire) and the Russian Empire (as Poland became part of the empire in 1795 as part of a partition agreement with Prussia)).

The end result was a compromise presented by the history teacher upon evaluating the session: a pocket guide to certain aspects of infrastructure with a focus on a country and some key examples worth noting. If divided up into the aforementioned topics, it would make the most sense, as for each aspect, one can present some key facts that are relevant to the topic of infrastructure and industrialization, along with some fun exercises . Plus if the booklet is 10-15 pages per topic, it will be sufficient enough for pupils to get a whiff of the aspects of history that have been left at the wayside, while the remaining artefacts become a distant memory,  but at the same time, be encouraged to preserve what is left of history or take measures that matter to them. After all, when we talk about environment and protection, our heritage technically belongs to this fragile umbrella.

For the pontists and historians alike, some ideas of how to construct such a booklet pertaining to bridges is a tricky one, for especially in the United States, the topics and the number of bridge builder and bridge examples have to be narrowed down to only a handful of examples. So if we look at the proposal for such a booklet for Germany, we have the following:

Part I: German emigrants- focusing on John Roebling, Albert Fink, Gustav Lindenthal, Wendell Bollmann, Joseph Strauss und Lawrence H. Johnson

Part II: German bridge engineers (who stayed in Germany)- Friedrich Voss, Hermann Matthäus, Gustav Eifel, Hermann Gerber, Franz Meyer

Part III: Areas of bridge building- Cities (Berlin, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Halle (Saale), Leipzig, etc.- choosing three; Canals (Baltic-North Sea, Dortmund-Ems, Elbe-Lübeck) and a pair of River Examples

Part IV: Notable Works- using two bridge examples, like the Rendsburg High Bridge, for example, and presenting some interesting facts about them.

If you were asked to construct a booklet similar to the one mentioned here, for the US, how would you structure it? What contents would you put in there and what examples would you include?  You can place your comments here, on the facebook pages under the Flensburg Files and/or Bridgehunter’s Chronicles, or in the LinkedIn page under The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles.  Do not be surprised if you have a question coming from either the author or one of the readers pertaining to a booklet on a similar topic but pertaining to Canada or another country.

Those wishing for a copy of the booklet I made for my history class or a power point presentation on bridges in Germany and the US can contact Jason Smith at the Chronicles at flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com. Please be aware that both are in German and that if you want the English version, you will have to wait a couple weeks.

And now to the Files’ Guessing Quiz pertaining to Industrial History, which you can click on here.

Posted in Education in Germany, Food for thought, Forum, Interesting Bridge Facts, News, Pop Quiz | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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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Chambers Ford Bridge for Sale. Any Takers?

1890 Clinton Bridge Company span. Photos taken by Quinn Phelan

Belle Plaine, Iowa-  Tama County: one of many Iowa counties that has more than two dozen pre-1945 bridges left in the state. This includes the steel truss Black Bridge spanning the Iowa River and the Lincoln Highway Bridge near Toledo, whose railings bear the highway’s name and which was replicated in the form of a butter sculpture seen at the Iowa State Fair last year. Yet it is one of many counties with many structurally deficient bridges, many of them being closed to traffic in the past three years.
The Chambers Ford Bridge is one of them. Located over the Iowa River at 380th Avenue, 3 miles west of Belle Plaine, this two-span bridge features steel Pratt through trusses, but each of them are different because of the their portal bracings, as well as the date of construction.

The older and longer of the spans was one of the first ones built by the Clinton Bridge and Iron Company in Clinton. It was constructed in 1890 and had a span of 155 feet with wooden trestle approaches. 13 years later, with the wooden approaches deteriorating beyond repair, the county hired another Iowa bridge builder, George E. King to construct a replacement approach span in a form of a Pratt through truss bridge, totaling 140 feet long and costing $3,987. The total length of the bridge is 345 feet long.

1903 George E. King portion of the bridge

Since 2007 the bridge has been closed to traffic and has been the target of vandalism, as parts of the wooden decking was set ablaze by arsonists, causing damage to the bridge, albeit not as severe as the incident at Bunker Mill Bridge near Kalona, last August.  Missing bolts and other bridge parts have also been reported. Yet times are changing, and the county engineer plans to replace this bridge with a pre-cast concrete bridge. However, as the truss bridge is a national historic landmark- having been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1998- the Tama County Engineer is offering the bridge to any takers willing to relocate it for reuse, regardless of whether it is only one of the two truss spans or both. The reason for this is to garner interest from parties interested in finding a new home for the structure.

At the same time, the bridge’s history will be documented, thanks in part to an agreement made between the county, the cultural resources office of the Iowa Department of Transportation in Ames, and Wapsi Valley Archeology, Inc. in Anamosa, where all stories, photos and postcards are being collected and will be used in a booklet to be published for libraries in Tama County and beyond, as well as IaDOT.

If you are interested in purchasing the bridge, please contact the Tama County Engineer, using the contact details here. If you wish to contribute to the booklet, the contact details for Wapsi Valley Archeology and Kristy Medanic (who is in charge of this project) is found here. The preservation and relocation of the Chambers Ford Bridge will make up for losing a pair of key historic bridges in 2007 at Toledo and Chelsea as well as another last year at Traer, yet it could also serve as a motive to preserving the remaining bridges of their kind in the county, for there are plenty of them- closed to traffic because of age and deficiencies- to go around and enough interest from other groups to take them for reuse. The Chronicles will follow-up on the developments of the bridge project set to begin soon.

Historian Kristy Medanic of Wapsi Valley Archaeology, Inc. at 515-233-1146. – See more at: http://www.tamatoledonews.com/page/content.detail/id/547218/Historic-Chambers-Ford-Bridge-needs-a-new-home.html?nav=5006#sthash.ug7DTyx8.dpuf
Historian Kristy Medanic of Wapsi Valley Archaeology, Inc. at 515-233-1146. – See more at: http://www.tamatoledonews.com/page/content.detail/id/547218/Historic-Chambers-Ford-Bridge-needs-a-new-home.html?nav=5006#sthash.ug7DTyx8.dpuf
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How to teach Infrastructural History in School

Waddell Truss Bridge at Volga State Preserve. Photo taken in August 2011


Joint Article with Sister Column:

 In connection with Files’ series on In School in Germany. More on the series can be found here.

History- a subject that goes beyond borders and looks at things that we never knew about, getting us to think about them, putting them in the context of our own lives and the environment we are living in. It goes beyond the borders of geography and how the countries were developed. It goes beyond arena of sports events and looks at the development of each kind and how the men and women contributed to it. It digs deeper into how the country was mapped out in terms of landscape, networks of infrastructure and the social aspects which led to revolution and redesign by reformists and those who wanted to make their place better than before.  In other words, one has to dig deeper to find the truth and challenge what had been written in the past but was now rebuked because of new evidence.

In school, especially on the secondary level, history is a must, and it is important that students know about the history of their country and the rest of the world for two reasons:

1. To help them become acquainted with their own region and country and discover who they are and where they came from and

2. To encourage them to find out more about themselves and where they live, by looking and exploiting the aspects that are seldom mentioned.

As there are certain requirements written by law and because of certain time constraints, only a peck of the history that exists is even taught in the schools, and when it is taught, it is with the traditional social form of teaching: the book and frontal teaching (German: Frontal Unterricht). It is not surprising that the interest in history among youngsters up to 18 is near the bottom of the food chain, in both countries- more so in the US than in Germany because of the strive of educators to have the students achieve high results in the international tests for math, reading and sciences. But as we see in the PISA studies, and which will be discussed in the Files’ article about Frontal Teaching, sometimes student involvement and allowing them to discover something new can encourage a positive education result, even better than the recent studies.

But even with these constraints, the teacher can make some space for some new things that cannot be found in books themselves- at least not yet, that is. And when students are encouraged to do some work on their own, whether it is analysing a text and writing a review about it or presenting about it, then they will benefit from it in a way that they can add the knowledge to what was taught in the past and have fun doing it. This is where the topic of Industrialization and Infrastructure enters the picture.

During my internship at a Gymnasium in Germany, I had an opportunity to dig deeper into the history of the development of Germany in the 1800s by looking at aspects like the creation of democracy, Otto von Bismarck’s creation of the German state in 1871 and how Germany became a super power and remained so until the end of World War I. At the present time the students are talking about Germany, Europe and the age of industrialization between 1871 and 1914, where several aspects, such as imperialism, socialism, worker’s union and environment are being introduced. Even the expansion of the transportation infrastructure and the landscape made of steel will be mentioned. Believe it or not, this is the topic the author of the Chronicles and Files is about to do.

Talking about the infrastructure and comparing it between Germany and the US does produce their similarities in terms of inventions and the development of materials for the construction of buildings, railroads and bridges, yet how does a teacher present these aspects to the students without boring them.  Let’s look at the topic of bridges, for example. There are two different arguments for and against presenting this topic. The contra part would be the simple fact that a bridge is a bridge, crossing a ravine connecting point A and point B. If it fails or is too old, then it is replaced. The pro part to this topic feature the arguments about unique bridge designs, bridge builders that were common, including those who immigrated to the States from Germany, like Ralph Mojeski, Lawrence Johnson, Albert Fink, and Gustav Lindenthal, to name a few. Then there is the switch from iron to steel mainly because of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, and lastly the consolidation of 28 bridge builders into the American Bridge Company in 1901 and its competition from other bridge builders in the west, as well as outside the country.

Nathan Holth once presented this topic as a whole during his time as a student teacher (his PPT presentation can be seen here). Some of the unique features, include the builder’s plaque, portal bracing of the truss bridge and ornamental features can enable historians to determine how the development of bridges came about in the US between 1871 and 1914. As I will be the second pontist to present this in a couple weeks time, the topic will be on a wider scale as Germany and US have some similarities with regard to bridge construction. The difference is with regards to the fact that the German concentration seems to be more on canals and railways than with highways, like in the US. Also the full establishment of steel companies, like Thuyssen-Krupp before 1871 enabled Germany to expand the steel-building landscape, constructing bridges and high-rise buildings in large cities, like Berlin and Hamburg, in addition to its fleet of ships.

The question is if one wants to present bridge building in connection with the industrialization- be it in the US, Germany, Europe or when comparing between two countries, what aspects are important and should be presented to the students, keeping in mind that the topic is industrialization, and the time frame is betweenthe 1870s and 1914, the time of World War I?  Which aspects should the students research on in their own spare time? And lastly how should it be taught in high school in comparison to college?

Put your comments here or on the Files’ or Chronicles’ facebook pages as to how you would approach an exotic topic like this, while keeping the topic of Industrialization in mind.  The results of the session, which will be in a couple weeks, will be presented in the Files and sister column the Chronicles.



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Otranto Bridge in Iowa Gone!

Otranto Bridge in Mitchell County. Photo taken by Jason D. Smith in August 2011

Whereabouts of Historic Bridge in Mitchell County after Reported Dismantling Unknown.

The Otranto Bridge, spanning the Cedar River at St. Angsar, was unique because of its unusual truss design- the Camelback Pennsylvania Petit, one of two remaining in Iowa, according to a report by the Chronicles two years ago. The 170-foot long bridge was built by the Chicago Bridge and Iron Works Company in 1899 and had been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1998.

That is until news came out of its disappearance from view today.

According to the Mason City Globe Gazette, the steel truss bridge was dismantled last week, and it is unknown where the bridge has gone to next. While it is unknown when or how it was taken down, Mitchell County officials had been working together with other parties to determine the bridge’s future, after flooding last summer undermined the eastern wingwalls, destabilizing the structure and raising questions of how the bridge could be salvaged. Cost for repairs had been estimated at $5000. The bridge had been made obsolete by a new bridge in 1999 and privately owned by the Will Morrow family. Interest in the bridge had increased since the flooding with plans of relocating the bridge for reuse. This includes the possibility of reusing it at Sunny Brae Golf Course, the same facility that is interested in the Giliecie Bridge in Winneshiek County, according to reports by the Mitchell County Press News in November 2013. Even the county historical society was interested in the purchase of the bridge to keep in place.

With the bridge removed, the question is what is the future for the bridge. Could it be that an owner has been found and it was just a question of finding temporary storage until it could be reset on new foundations? Or was the bridge such a liability issue that there was no choice but to tear it down?  If the latter was the case, then it would be a travesty for all involved: the county, state and people associated with the bridge.  The Morrow family was not contacted at the time of the bridge removal, meaning they could be the wild card as to determining what had happened to the bridge. But then again too, others may be interested in the bridge for their purposes.

In either case, the Otranto Bridge is gone and its destination is the unknown. The Chronicles will keep you posted on the latest.


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