This stunning bridge is a large, impressive, and classic example of a lenticular truss bridge as built extensively by the Berlin Iron Bridge Company. This graceful lenticular truss bridge's location, seated on an outcropping of rocks over a scenic river with a sharp drop-off make for one of the most beautiful and dramatic landscapes around, especially when viewed from the nearby current vehicular bridge. The bridge's beautiful coat of red paint allows this historic bridge to stand out and be appreciated by those who drive by it on the nearby highway bridge, or cross it via non-motorized means. The bridge is a functional historic landmark and centerpiece for Lover's Leap State Park. Several large and very informative interpretive signs are placed near the bridge.
The name Lovers Leap comes from a Native American legend that a chief jumped into the water to his death to try to rescue his daughter who was caught in the rapids.
In the interest of inspiring preservation projects elsewhere of the highest level of quality, HistoricBridges.org is forced to be critical of the rehabilitation of this bridge, for the purpose of ensuring that future preservation projects elsewhere do not make the mistakes made with the Lovers Leap Bridge. The below comments, observations, and opinions are not intended to diminish the significance of the Lovers Leap preservation efforts, and the hard work on the part of the people involved in ensuring this beautiful bridge remains not only as a historic landmark for future generations to enjoy but also as a functional part of the park that surrounds it. Historic bridge preservation is still a relatively new field, with research into the best rehabilitation and restoration methods ongoing. Historic bridge preservation is still a learning process and this discussion is not intended to accuse or blame, but instead to educate others.
This bridge was rehabilitated, not restored. A restoration is designed to not only repair a bridge but also to maintain the original materials and design of the bridge, and any materials too badly damaged to remain in use are replaced with exact replicas of the original. For example, this means that rivets are replaced with rivets, not bolts and built-up beams that are replaced must be replaced with replicated built-up beams, not rolled wide flange beams. In contrast, rehabilitation is very similar, however some changes and alterations are allowable. The extent of any changes and alterations is something worked out between engineers and preservationists. Generally, when a bridge is being preserved for continued vehicular use, rehabilitation is the type of preservation undertaken, which allows changes to be made to the bridge to ensure that it can carry the weight it needs to, and meet any AASHTO specifications that the owner may wish to adhere to. In contrast, bridges being preserved for non-motorized use have the benefit of lighter weight loads and less of the requirements that are imposed on vehicular bridges. As a result, HistoricBridges.org recommends restoration for all preservation projects where the bridge is being used for non-motorized use only. As a second choice, a "soft" rehabilitation may also be acceptable where only a few minor changes and alterations might be made, for example the replacement of a small percentage of rivets with bolts, or welding of plate steel onto small portions of the bridge to strengthen it. What may be surprising to some is that a restoration often costs the same or less than a rehabilitation!
However, in the case of the Lovers Leap Bridge, the bridge received a "hard" rehabilitation, and as a result an extremely excessive amount of unnecessary alterations and changes were made to the design of the bridge, resulting in a significant decrease in the historic integrity of the bridge. So extensive were these alterations, that even vehicular lenticular truss bridges such as the Aiken Street Bridge or the Bardwells Ferry Bridge, have been rehabilitated with less alterations than was made to this bridge which was preserved for non-vehicular use only!
One of the worst things that was done in the rehab of this bridge was that the original ornate railings were completely removed and destroyed as part of this project. Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) documentation shows the original railings in place prior to the rehabilitation project. New railings were placed on the bridge as part of the project, and they attempt to mimic the design of the original railings. If the original railings had been removed from the bridge 30 years ago from some other repair project, then the new railings on the bridge now would have been a fine thing to place on the bridge. They are not bad looking. However, under no circumstances should the original railings have been removed in the name of a historic preservation project. If the original railings did not meet safety and accessibility requirements, then they simply should have been left in place behind the modern railings. This can be and has been done in other preservation projects. In the case of the Lover's Leap Bridge, the original railings were a very important part of the bridge because they were a beautiful design that is significant because the railing design was exclusively used by the Berlin Iron Bridge Company, and as such they were a part of the historical record of this famous and important Connecticut bridge builder.
Other major alterations made to the bridge (bridge-wide, not just in one instance) included the complete replacement of all original floorbeams with modern wide flange beams, all overhead lateral bracing (including the original unique connection detail), and most or all diagonal member eyebar rods along with their historical turnbuckles. All of these elements appeared to remain intact on the bridge prior to rehabilitation, based on Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) documentation for this bridge. As such, there is no reason to assume that these elements could not have been repaired, or if too greatly deteriorated, replicated.
These are significant changes that not only destroy the record of the craftsmen who built the bridge which is a record contained in original bridge material, but these alterations are extensive enough that an incomplete picture of the Berlin Iron Bridge Company's lenticular truss bridge design is seen at this bridge. It remains unclear why such an invasive rehabilitation was undertaken for a bridge that was intended for non-vehicular use only.
If you are planning a preservation project for a bridge in your community, please feel free to contact HistoricBridges.org and we will be glad to advise you, point you to helpful engineers and contractors, and make sure that your historic bridge preservation project is a restoration project of the highest quality.
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