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.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Tioga Bridge Revival

After years in the making, the restoration of the stunning Tioga Bridge in Northwest Indiana is complete.

Erected in 1890 by the iconic Wrought Iron Bridge Company,this majestic 2-span Whipple Truss stretches over 450 feet across the Tippecanoe River near Monticello. Also known as the Paper Mill Bridge, the bridge was designed by engineer Craven Smith. It sports some very impressive portal decorations including cresting and finials that have been painstakingly replicated in the reconstruction. It also features unique ribbon lacing of the eyebars that make up the lower chords, a trait that is only found in a handful of bridges remaining today. I was surprised by the lack of sway bracing between the trusses of such a tall bridge, but apparently Mr. Smith felt that the massive portal bracing would be adequate to keep everything aligned properly. Over 120 years have passed since it was erected and so far he seems to have been right.

The bridge has been a local landmark of the area for a long time, having been featured on post cards as early as the 1920's. The bridge is also noted for sitting very low to the water, an attribute that likely comes from the building of the Oakdale Dam in 1925 which led to the creation of Lake Freeman and Lake Shafer. There was talk of raising the bridge up several feet, but at this point I'm not sure if that was included in the restoration or not. Having been this height for some 85 years doesn't seem to have caused any problems.

Hopefully this restoration will promote more visits from tourists in this very popular region of the state. The bridge no longer carries motorized traffic, but should see plenty of pedestrian use in the coming years.

Photo taken by Tom Hall. This and many other can be seen on Bridgehunter

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Options For Reusing Abandoned Spans

In my many years of traveling Indiana's highways and byways, I have documented bridges in all kinds of places. Some reside in major cities like Indianapolis and Fort Wayne. Others are nestled in scenic rural settings that beckon to be seen. And, unfortunately, there is a sizable list of historic spans that have been all but forgotten in the overgrowth. These unique structures are a hidden resource that deserve to be explored for possible reuse.

Dr. Jim Cooper and myself have been compiling a list of these bridges with the hope that many will eventually find new life in one way or another. Each has it's own unique character, and likely a very interesting story to go with it. When I research one of these spans, I try to encompass the possibilities that may exist within them. Many pony trusses and some of the smaller through trusses are candidates to be moved to parks and trails. While I always like to see a bridge retained in it's original setting, I acknowledge that this isn't always possible. A park or other public place offers the bridge a chance to be rehabilitated and made accessible for people to see and enjoy. In some cases, like the Portersville and Rothrock Mill Bridges, even a much larger structure can be dismantled and moved to a new location. This is a great way to promote a piece of history, but the cost involved keeps it limited to a small number of cases. Recent efforts to reuse iron bridges in Cass and Jefferson Counties have been cancelled due to budget constraints.

A few weeks ago I had the chance to visit the Hendricks Ford Bridge in Bartholomew County. This impressively large iron bridge dates from about 1880 and is credited to the renowned King Bridge Company. It's two spans gracefully cross the Driftwood River in a very scenic spot. I'm not sure when this landmark last saw any traffic, but considering the road leading to it from the East has been reduced to a mere dirt path... I would simply say it was long ago. But this is the only way to currently access the bridge because it is still considered government property as a part of Camp Atterbury. Two other iron through trusses reside in the public accessible Atterbury Fish & Wildlife area to the North of here. One of these, the Furnas Mill Bridge, has even been recently restored by the state and is open once again for traffic. But the Hendrickson span sits idle and waits for it's turn. The structure is still very solid on it's massive stone substructure, but is slowly being overgrown on the West side with a dead tree leaning precariously on it's frame.

What are the options in a situation like this? Moving a bridge of this size is doable, but only as a last resort. It doesn't appear that the National Guard base has any use for it, or desire to use it for that matter. So why couldn't it, along with a small piece of land on the West side, be deeded over to local government or a private organization that could develop it into something special? The trail back to it could be widened and improved to allow for pedestrian traffic. There is also an equestrian camp nearby which would probably enjoy having the bridge accessible. The view from the bridge is likely an impressive one, although I didn't cross the "No Tresspassing" sign to find out... But boy would I sure like to!

Public awareness is the key to making this happen. And although funds for this type of project have dwindled the past few years, they are still available. It just takes people with the interest and desire to make it happen. 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Portersville Bridge Starts A Second Life

After gracefully spanning the East Fork of the White River for 95 years, The Portersville Bridge has recently been renovated and turned into a pedestrian bridge over Fourteen Mile Creek in Clark County.

Originally built in 1912 by the Vincennes Bridge Company of Vincennes, Indiana, the 360 foot long structure towered over the mighty White on the Dubois & Daviess County line until the two counties decided a new bridge was needed. The two spans were carefully dismantled in 2008 by CLR Construction and moved to Charlestown State Park for reuse.

At it's new home the bridge sports a shiny new black paint job and has had it's truss members carefully restored. The bridge now also carries the name Rose Island Bridge as it will be used to connect the park to the long abandoned isle. Rose Island once featured a resort as well as a rollercoaster and was a prominent area attraction until a flood destroyed much of it in the 1930's.

Hopefully the Portersville/Rose Island Bridge is now ready for another 95 or more years of life.

Photo taken by Jonathan Parrish

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Dunbar Covered Bridge Damaged

It would seem there is an epidemic this year of over-sized trucks attempting to cross historic covered bridges.

For the second time in the past few weeks, a West-central Indiana covered bridge has been damaged by a tractor-trailer that had no business even attempting to cross it. This time it was Putnam County's Dunbar Bridge that was involved in the mishap. Fortunately, it appears that damage was limited to the portals and should be easily repaired. In this case, the driver actually called to inform authorities as to what had happened. The firm that he drives for has already alerted it's insurance company and that damages should be covered. The bridge remains open at this time.

This comes on the heels of not one, but two overweight trucks attempting to cross Parke County's Jackson Covered Bridge. The first truck became stuck inside and damaged most of the overhead lateral braces. A couple weeks after that another semi crossed the bridge and broke the remaining braces that had escaped damage the first time. This driver didn't stop but was later arrested in Rockville. Here again, hopefully insurance will be available to cover the repairs. And hopefully all 3 drivers will be disciplined for their lack of judgement.

Here is the story with a photo from the Greencastle Banner Graphic:

Amazingly, a comment posted in response to this article states that the same thing happened a few weeks back at the Dick Huffman Covered Bridge in Southern Putnam County!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Cedar Grove Bridge Safe........For Now

A decision this week by the Indiana Department of Historic Preservation and Archaeology gave a glimmer of hope to the abandoned Cedar Grove steel truss bridge in Franklin County. INDOT owns this span and has requested a certification from the DHPA to demolish it. The bridge has been closed since 1999 and officials are concerned about rusted beams falling on people canoeing on the Whitewater River below. The 2-span Camelback truss bridge was built in 1914 and is an impressive site as it towers over the river valley. The review board has tabled any decisions on the matter for at least 6 months.

So while this "Stay of execution" is a good comes the daunting task of finding a group to assume ownership of the bridge from the state. There has been some talk of a Whitewater Valley Trail in the county, so extending the trail to (and through) the bridge could be one possibility. Liability issues seem to be the biggest obstacle  for any takers. Although it wouldn't cost as much to prepare the bridge for pedestrian use, it would need a new floor system and a new paint job. Some lower bracing rods that have broken and are hanging down give the bridge a much worse appearance than it deserves, as it is still a very steady structure. With some repairs and lighting this bridge could be a real centerpiece for the town of Cedar Grove.

Hopefully, better days will be ahead for this majestic span!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

New Home Needed

Of the many historic truss bridges that are sitting abandoned in Indiana, few are as impressive as the Vera Cruz Bridge in Wells County. Standing proudly on a bypassed segment of State Road 301, this 1887 Whipple truss iron bridge deserves a better fate. Although still very solid to walk across, the trees are taking over the bridge and I'm afraid without intervention they will be the demise of this landmark. The bridge is listed on the INDOT Historic Bridge Marketing site as available, but I'm not sure if it's still owned by the state or is now county property.

There are several covered and metal bridges owned and maintained by the state on DNR properties. Currently, the finishing touches are being placed on the relocated Portersville Bridge that is now a part of Charlestown State Park in Southeastern Indiana. That being said, the nearby Quabache State Park would be a perfect home for the Vera Cruz Bridge. There it could stay over the iconic Wabash River just upstream from it's current location, and be enjoyed by the many visitors to the park.

Let's just hope the right people see this Blog!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Wells Street Bridge The Center of Community Activities

I visited Fort Wayne this past Sunday and was delighted to see the beautiful Wells Street Bridge hosting activities for the Three Rivers Festival. The Victorian embellished 1884 Whipple Truss span was abuzz with people enjoying the nice weather. The city is fortunate to have retained this rare example of a cast and wrought iron span that once used to exist in many cities across the state. The bridge will play host to another event in August.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Rothrock Mill Bridge Being Readied For A New Home

A newly painted and restored Rothrock Mill Bridge will soon be the feature attraction on a trail near Corydon. The 1915 Parker Truss span had sat patiently near it's replacement since 2005 before being dismantled and moved to the Hayswood Nature Preserve. At it's new home it will span Indian Creek on the Indian Creek Nature Trail. The bridge appears to be ready except for a deck which will likely be installed after the span is placed on it's new abutments.

Thanks to Jonathan Parrish for supplying this photo of the bridge awaiting placement on a new foundation being built in the background.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Jackson Covered Bridge damaged

Parke County's 1861 Jackson Covered Bridge was damaged on Monday, June 27 by a careless truck driver that attempted to cross it with a 23 ton semi. The driver entered the bridge and proceeded to break no less than 7 of the upper lateral bracing cross members before a falling beam severed a hose between his cab and trailer, and mercifully halted his progress. The 207 ft long Burr Arch bridge is the longest single span covered bridge still serving traffic in the U.S., and was restored in 2007 at a cost of about 2 million dollars. Fortunately, this restoration that brought the signed load limit up from 3 to 13 tons may have saved the venerable landmark from collapsing. The truck sat entirely on the bridge for upwards of 4 hours before it could be extracted. The bridge is currently closed pending an engineering inspection and repairs. Hopefully the driver will be held responsible and insurance will be available to cover the cost of fixing the damage.

Medora Covered Bridge restoration now complete

The long awaited restoration of the 1875 Medora Covered Bridge in Jackson County has been completed this past week and a ribbon cutting is to be held on July, 12 @ 1:30 at the bridge. The 462 foot (total length) J.J. Daniels built span is the longest historic covered bridge in the U.S., and has been in need of repair since it was closed to traffic in 1972.