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.