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!