Sunday, August 18, 2013

Introducing The Historic Hoosier Bridges Website


       After several years of dreaming and planning to develop a site to share and display historic bridges in the state of Indiana, Historic Hoosier Bridges has come to fruition. With the help of my son Andrew, who is the computer wiz of the operation, I have officially taken "the plunge". And while this site will be a work in progress, I do hope that followers will like what they see and will return again and again to view a site that will only get better as time goes by...And I figure out just what the heck I'm doing! Adding these bridges and the pages that go with them is a very labor intensive task to say the least, and I have referred to it as being a second job. But this is a "Labor of Love" that encompasses some 35 years in which these bridges have been a part of my life. I plan to add features such as an interactive state map that will allow visitors to click on any of the state's 92 counties and see any bridges that are a part of this site. I have started alphabetically and am working my way through these counties adding any spans that I currently have photos and information about in my personal files. I am also encouraging fellow pontists and followers to submit pictures and information on other historic bridges that they would like to see included as well. The Contact Us tab at the top of the website gives my email address where submissions can be sent. I also encourage comments and suggestions of any type as I see these as being valuable in making this site better in the future.

       As for the Historic Hoosier Bridges blog... I appreciate those who have followed us for the past couple years. I apologize for the long silence that has occurred while I have been focused on getting the website up and running, and while I have worked an enormous number of hours this year at my real job! I plan on keeping this blog going and hope to even incorporate it into the Historic Hoosier Bridges site. I also have an Historic Hoosier Bridges group on Flickr that I would encourage you to visit as well at this link:

      Again I want to say Thank You to everyone who has visited this blog or the other HHB sites. I do expect that the best is yet to come and I hope that you will continue to be a part of it!


Monday, July 16, 2012

Celebration In Ceylon

Ceylon Covered Bridge as seen in 2010, notice the supports underneath.

When I saw the Ceylon Bridge in late 2010, I realized that the span would need to be rehabilitated in the near future to ensure it's existence for another century and beyond. At first glance the bridge didn't look that bad, but a closer look underneath revealed a different story. Cribbing and other supports had been installed to support a sagging lower chord and floor system. I would learn shortly after that plans were already in the works to restore the bridge, and just over a year later that work would begin. So when I made a return visit Saturday to see a community celebrate the restoration of it's iconic piece of history, I saw a bridge ready to survive for generations to come.

Originally referred to as the Baker Bridge and constructed in 1879, it replaced another smaller pony type span that was built in 1860. The earlier structure was likely not sturdy enough to withstand the floods on the Wabash. Yes, the Ceylon Covered Bridge has the distinction of being the last covered bridge standing to have spanned the iconic state river of Indiana. I say that in past tense only because many years back the river decided to change course and left the bridge spanning an often dry depression. The new bridge sits a few hundred feet to the East and the old one sits in a roadside park. Only when the Wabash floods does this back-channel see a significant amount of water. In this years drought it sits over a mere puddle or two at best. A future endeavor might include finding a way to introduce water under the bridge on a year-round basis.

Despite it's High-and-dry status, It is still a wonderful sight to see the lone survivor of the Wabash standing proud!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Old vs. New... You decide

Just this past Saturday I had the opportunity to visit an historic bridge that had been relocated to a new trail and saved. The Cool Creek I'll call it, was dismantled and saved from demolition in Randolph County in 2005. The little riveted Warren pony truss found favor with a group from Carmel that decided it would fit perfectly into their plans for the new Greyhound Trail. The nearly hundred year old span would have ended up as scrap had it not been for the fortuitous decision made to give it a new life.
Trails are becoming trendy not only in Indiana, but across the nation. Even as the economy has struggled for the past several years, the funding for these pedestrian pathways has seemed to stay rather steady. And "Railbanking" of abandoned railroad corridors means that the future seems bright for even more trails in the coming years. As these trails are planned out and developed, a decision must be made when the obstacle of crossing a stream is reached. The common or what I like to call the "No thought needed" choice has been to order a prefabricated built-to-order span from one of several companies that manufacture them. These Mail Order Bridges...or MOB's as us Bridgehunter's like to call them, all have a rather similar look and lack any real character that make them unique. They are a quick and easy solution that to me ranks right up there with the likes of Instant Mashed Potatoes. They might look real at first, but upon further investigation they are nothing more than an imposter or a "wannabe". Fortunately, there is an alternative that is becoming popular not only in Indiana but across the country. Taking an historic metal bridge that might otherwise find the junkyard and adapting it into the blueprints is becoming as trendy as the trails themselves. A good selection of these bridges are available, and most are unique in one way or another. Often the trail might have to be adapted to accommodate a specific structure, but this only enhances the significance of the bridge and helps to expand the heritage that it brings to the trail. The bridge in Carmel features some unique signage that shows photos of the bridge in it's original location, and the steps taken to get it moved to where it now resides. It also talks about the former interurban route that ran on much of the land that now makes up this trail. So not only do the pedestrians on this trail get exercise for their bodies, but they get a unique history lesson that helps to stimulate their minds... A really neat combination if you ask me!
So, what does it take to make these old spans a common choice for future trails? It takes educating people about about the fragile link to our transportation heritage that can be broken if these bridges are lost. It takes a willingness by organizer's and official's to explore the possibilities of obtaining one or more of these unique structures, rather than just settling for something that looks like it came out of a cookie cutter. The costs are surprisingly similar in most cases, but the outcomes can be drastically different. And the process of obtaining one of them can leave a lasting impression on more than just the community it will serve. More than once I have heard of teary-eyed folks traveling to visit the bridge that formerly spanned the stream of their hometown. A little piece of history can go a long way. Along with Dr. James Cooper, I have helped to create a list of abandoned bridges across the state of Indiana. These spans range from very small pony trusses to some rather impressive multi-span through trusses. Many of these structures might just be available for relocation to a park or trail near you. Pulling these beautiful trusses out of the weeds and bringing them back to life is a dream come true for me. So Old vs. New... I know what my choice would be!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Spanning The Industrial Revolution

This is the last of two posts that talk about the materials used in Indiana's historic bridges. From iron to steel in the last half of the nineteenth century, to concrete in the early twentieth century.

It only seems natural that the two earlier forms of bridges made of stone and wood would someday be emulated with man-made materials that would attempt to capture the benefits of their predecessors while offering improvements in strength and durability.

Truss bridges would be the first to experience this phenomenon, as the labor-intensive hand hewn wooden beams were replaced with components formed from cast and wrought iron, and later of steel. The benefits were numerous indeed...from allowing for larger and longer span that didn't require a roof and siding to protect the trusses from the elements, to components that could be manufactured in a factory and easily assembled at the site. This allowed for mass production of bridges that would help to improve the transportation infrastructure as a whole.

Where wooden trusses were limited to a handful of "trusted and true" types, the introduction of metal allowed for designers to experiment and look for constant improvements to reduce weight and save materials. Wood had definite limitations in form that was easily solved within it's metal counterpart. Although wooden covered spans would continue to be built on occasion into the 1920's, their heyday had pretty much passed by the early 1880's.

Warrick County can likely lay claim to the oldest metal bridge in the state.

The earliest metal spans started appearing in Indiana by the late 1860's, with Warrick County's 1869 Boner Road Bridge the oldest survivor today. This is a rare example of a Bowstring truss that was popular only into the 1880's. Thomas and Caleb Pratt's truss, on the other hand, would enjoy a popularity that would not be exceeded by any other type to come along. The Pratt truss was found in pony and through trusses and would also be transformed into many other variations over the course of it's existence. The Whipple truss was a Pratt that featured verticals that extended across more than one panel to allow for much longer spans with less weight. When designers looked to reduce material even more, the Camelback and Parker versions of the Pratt were introduced that featured polygonal upper chords. And when the railroads were looking for even stronger versions of the Pratt, they found that sub-dividing the panels within the trusses would give them what they needed. The Baltimore and Pennsylvania trusses were the results of their efforts.

A limited number of metal truss bridges remain in Indiana today. Sadly, the last quarter of the twentieth century saw about two-thirds of these remaining spans obliterated. Now we are scrambling to save the best examples of what remain, and fortunately Indiana is now one of the better states at working to accomplish this.

Dearborn County's incomparable Laughery Creek Bridge, the only triple-intersection Pratt truss remaining today. Often referred to as the "Triple Whipple".

The introduction of concrete would have even a bigger impact on the future of bridge building that has continued to this day. Concrete first appeared in the sub-structures of wooden and metal spans at about the turn of the century. Cut stone abutments were expensive and often cost more than the bridge superstructure. Concrete had actually been used by the ancient Romans in many of there structures but the technology was basically "lost" for centuries until the mid-1700's. Just why it's use in bridge building wouldn't surface for almost another 150 years is uncertain. It would quickly become evident that concrete abutments and piers offered great savings over their stone siblings.

It didn't take long for designers to discover that concrete could be used for much more than substructures. Concrete by nature is very strong when in compression but falls short under the stress of tension. Reinforcing bars (better known as rebar) were added to the concrete to give it the tensile strength needed for Indiana's first concrete arches. Although a couple pre-1900 examples may survive, large scale construction would begin in the first decade of the twentieth century. Arches were the first type of concrete span to appear, perhaps an emulation of the stone arches that were built in the previous century. But much like the metal trusses to the wooden ones, concrete spans would evolve past the arch design and take on many shapes and sizes even into modern day.

Many wonderful examples of historic concrete bridges remain in the state today, and like the metal trusses some are enjoying a revival through rehabilitation and continued use. Although moving a concrete span is rather impractical compared to a truss bridge, it is hoped that creativity can help to save the best survivors.
Wayne County's Teetor Bridge dates to 1912. A rehabilitation has been proposed.

I started writing this way back in December and I thank you all for your patience between this and my last one. Sometimes family and work constraints can distract one from the other pleasures of life.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Of Sticks And Stones

This is the first of two posts that talk about the materials used in Indiana's historic bridges. Wood and stone are the natural materials used in the state's oldest spans.

In man's earliest attempts to cross rivers and streams, available materials were limited and so ingenuity had to prevail. And it only seems natural that two of the most prevalent elements, wood and stone, would play a dominant role. Although the earliest wooden structures were found to be of limited longevity, substantial stone structures dating back several centuries remain today. The same holds true in the Hoosier state, where the oldest remaining documented bridges come from these materials. Although earlier simple open wooden spans were built, documents show that they typically only lasted a decade or so, or until the first big flood hit. It wasn't until more organized efforts were made to build these structures stronger and cover them with a roof and siding that any great longevity was realized.

Indiana's earliest stone bridges were built for railroads and canals. The Pike Street underpass of the Madison Railroad might be the oldest remaining, dating to 1837. It is located in the historic community of Vernon in Jennings County. The Camp Creek Bridge at Dupont in Jefferson County likely dates from the same period. Another very unique stone arch spans Burnetts Creek in Carroll County and has an interesting story. The little bridge was built about 1840 and originally carried the Wabash & Erie Canal across the creek. At some time after the canal failed, the bridge was converted for roadway use and now carries Towpath Road across the stream.

Today, with the exception of a bridge scattered here and there, the majority of Indiana's remaining stone arches exist in the Southeastern part of the state. Decatur, Franklin & Ripley Counties yield the highest concentration, with Decatur retaining well over two dozen of these spans. These range from tiny single spans to ones that have as many as 5 arches in them. Some of them look almost as good as the day they were built (late 1800's on most of these), while others have been badly altered to keep them in service. Today, thanks to Indiana's Historic Bridge Inventory, many of the nicer examples will hopefully be preserved for a long time.

Vernon Fork Stone Arch Bridge near Milhousen in Decatur County

Today, Indiana's covered bridges enjoy an almost enigmatic status...thanks largely in part to Parke County and it's rightful claim as the "Covered Bridge Capital of the United States". Around 90 of these quaint structures remain statewide, and most have been well cared for. Several of them are at the center of festivals which attract thousands of tourists to them each year, with the 10 day Parke County festival ranking as one of the largest in the US. Unlike Indiana's other types of historic bridges, it has been over 30 years since a covered bridge was willingly replaced with a newer span. Arson fires and Mother Nature have claimed the only casualties since the Moore Covered Bridge in Gibson County was replaced in 1978.

The Hoosier State's earliest covered bridge is believed to have been the Mooresville Bridge (also known by the peculiar name of Shelf Bracket), built at the community now known as Floyd's Knob in Floyd County about 1822. This bridge, along with a pair of spans in nearby Greenville, was built by the Albany & Paoli Turnpike Company. By the 1830's, many covered spans were being constructed on the National Road (US40) with the first being completed West of Dublin (in Henry County)over Symon's Creek in 1834. In 1838, two bridges were built in Putnam County as part of a turnpike from Greencastle to Crawfordsville. One of these spans was known as the Ramp Creek Bridge and served until 1932, when it was replaced by a new bridge. However, instead of being demolished, this unique 2-laned structure was moved by the state to cross Salt Creek at the North entrance to Brown County State Park. It stands there today as Indiana's oldest remaining covered bridge. Covered spans continued to be built into the 20th century, despite the competition from metal and concrete spans. The last known public built covered bridge was erected in 1922, also in Putnam County. Known as the Edna Collings Bridge, this little span also remains today over Little Walnut Creek in the Western part of the county. Nearly half of Indiana's remaining covered bridges are located in adjoining Parke and Putnam Counties, and many of these can be attributed to 2 of the state's most prominent builders J.J. Daniels and J.A. Britton who both lived in Rockville. Many of the bridges remaining in Southeast Indiana were built by the Kennedy family of Rushville, and feature some very distinctive Victorian embellishments. Most of the other remaining covered spans were built by either local carpenters or by larger bridge building firms.

Photo of the Ramp Creek Covered Bridge taken by Jonathan Parrish

Indiana's wooden and stone bridges are a historic resource that deserve to be maintained for our future generations to enjoy. It will take enough caring people from each of those generations stepping forward to make it happen.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Where Did The Salt Creek Bridge Go?

One of Indiana's oldest wrought iron bridges has seemingly vanished.

The 1876 span over Salt Creek was on an old alignment of State Road 158 just West of Bedford in Lawrence County. The bridge had been abandoned for many years and was slowly being overgrown with foliage, especially on the West side. After much speculation arose about the span's age, documentation was found that dated it to the year of America's centennial. It is now believed to have possibly been the oldest remaining metal truss bridge credited to the Smith Bridge Company. The Toledo, Ohio firm had become one of the largest builders of covered bridges in the Midwest, with many examples of their work still standing in Indiana. They would normally erect their covered spans using the Howe truss or with Robert Smith's own patented truss. In the 1870's, as preferences started to shift from wood to metal, the firm began erecting wrought iron spans normally using either the Pratt or Whipple truss configuration. It wasn't until the early 1880's however that metal spans would surpass their covered counterparts. I have found no other bridges in Indiana or Ohio, past or present, that appear similar to the 1876 structure.

So where did it go? There are several theories out there as to what happened. Did it succumb to flooding in the spring or a tornado that hit the area in May? Or did metal thiefs simply seize the opportunity to make some money? I personally think that the West abutment may have collapsed and caused the bridge to fall into the creek. Pictures have shown the stones in that foundation to be suspect and it has been mentioned that the West foundation is now a pile of rubble. There has been nothing on the internet about the bridge or it's disposition. I would assume now that it has ended up in a scrapyard somewhere...but also hold out some hope that it might have been dismantled and stored to someday be rebuilt.

Whatever the answers might be, as for now Lawrence County and Indiana has apparently lost an irreplaceable 135 year old piece of it's history.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

More On Medora

I had the chance to visit the Medora Covered Bridge in September, and seeing it restored was almost like a dream to me. Having first visited it as a young teenager, I had always longed to see it repaired. It was always an amazing structure, reaching far across the White River. But it was also frail and weary looking...the many years of deferred maintenance taking it's toll. I always kept it in the back of my mind that it could someday the Bell's Ford Bridge had several years before it. I have been amazed at the sturdy resolve it has show, as it waiting patiently for it's revival. For me...a time that has been more than 30 years in the making has finally come.

And so today, the Medora Bridge stands proud. The tired and weary look has been replaced with one of strength and beauty. Barring an act of mother nature or that of a senseless individual, it should be ready to finish another century...and more.