Places That Get It
|&||Places That Don't|
I have been amazed at some communities that tear down bridges like they are on America's Most Wanted, while other communities preserve more bridges than you can imagine, even moving bridges from other communities into their own. In Michigan and elsewhere, these contrasting places are everywhere, and there is little pattern as to what defines it. I have felt that places that preserve bridges need some recognition, while others need to be recognized for their failures. As a result, I have created the below table that shows both sides of the picture at once. I encourage fellow bridge enthusiasts to bring your tourist dollars to the places appearing on the left column and think twice about the right column!
The Hall of Fame
The Hall of Shame
This city is the third largest city in the United States, and as you might imagine it is a rather important city, and a busy one as well. Despite this, it is impossible to travel a fair distance in the downtown area without crossing a historic truss bascule bridge. They all have been maintained and are in great shape. No other city in the world has more movable historic truss bridges than Chicago! Despite all these old bridges, there are no weight limits to be found, as these bridges are for the most part in great shape and are a valued part of the Chicago landscape. Chicago stands today as proof that historic truss bridges can indeed serve the needs of 21st century traffic, if maintained properly. This giant city truly relies on historic truss bridges to run a successful day.
This city barely makes it into the Hall of Fame, because in the past decades it is noted that many historic bridges were senselessly demolished. Most notably, the Manchester Bridge in the 1970s. However today, the remaining historic bridges are taken care of, and they present a strong contrast to the surrounding rural counties of Western Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh and Allegheny County set records for number of bridges, and a fair number of these are historic. The downtown Pittsburgh area is like a historic bridge museum, featuring a wide variety of stationary bridge designs, all in good maintained condition.
Grand Rapids, Michigan
Grand Rapids is an all-around nice town, and is like Michigan's little Pittsburgh. Like Pittsburgh, they demolished some awesome bridges in the past, yet today they still have many historic bridges in a preserved condition. They even preserved in a park one span of of a bridge they demolished in the past. Michigan's longest pin connected truss bridge, the 6th Street Bridge is preserved and remains open to vehicular traffic in the city. They did an awesome job preserving a four-span railroad bridge for pedestrian traffic in the downtown as well. South of the main downtown area, the railroad companies add further interest to the city with two truss swing bridges. One remains in use by trains, the other is being used as a rail-trail. In addition, many of the downtown bridges are multi-span concrete arch bridges, which may not be as attractive as truss bridges, but still stand as examples of how old bridges can remain useful into the 21st century.
Portland is a town in Michigan that really understands the value of historic metal truss bridges. There are four truss bridges in town, and three are two span structures! One is a rail bridge that is being used as a rail-trail. Two others also serve their trail system, although they were relocated from other roads. One of these bridges is the Kent Street Bridge, a beautiful Parker truss, and the other is a two-span pony truss they rescued from neighboring Kent County. The final bridge is the spectacular Bridge Street Bridge, which continues to serve one-way vehicular traffic in a restored condition downtown. This is one amazing town when it comes to historic bridges!
I really should put William "Tiny" Zehnder as the name for the Hall of Fame. Zehnder is the man credited for turning Frankenmuth from a "regular" small rural farm town into one of Michigan's top tourist destinations as a unique German-themed town. In addition, Zehnder had a love for historic bridges. Through his efforts, there are two beautiful pin connected through truss bridges preserved in the town. Frankenmuth is like the exact opposite of Holland, Michigan. Zehnder did not discriminate on what sorts of heritage to preserve and which to ignore. This is a town that offers all variety of history and culture.
Although they only have one preserved bridge, and the methods used to preserve it really ruined the historic integrity of the bridge, this is still a happy story. The bridge remains a beautiful bridge, especially if you don't look to closely. The neat thing about the bridge is that Allegan has made the bridge the central attraction for the city. The banners and street signs all have bridge logos on them, and there is even a business in town named after the bridge. Allegan has shown what an asset and attraction a preserved historic bridge can be.
McKeowen Road Bridge of Barry County, Michigan
Although I can't list Barry County itself in the Hall of Fame, since it used to have more truss bridges and they demolished them, what they did with their remaining bridge was an excellent compromise that allows both highway efficiency and historic bridges to exist together. They built a modern bridge on a new alignment, and preserved the bridge for pedestrian traffic. Not only that, but they created a whole park around the bridge, in its original location! The area is now a very nice place to hang out and visit a historic bridge.
Historic Bridge Park of Calhoun County, Michigan
The bridge park shoots down every excuse that Pennsylvania gives for demolishing historic bridges. There is no reason why every state in the Union should not have a park like this that offers a place to preserve truss bridges if preservation in their original location (the preferred option by historians) is not possible. The bridges in this park are beautifully restored, and while seeing so many truss bridges in one spot might feel a bit goofy, it allows people an easy way to see a wide variety of historic truss bridges all at one time, and to learn more about them. There are currently a handful of bridges in the park; there eventually will be fifteen bridges restored there.
Western Pennsylvania (Excluding Pittsburgh)
When I visited Pennsylvania for the first time, a war had begun against historic truss bridges. At one time Pennsylvania was unparalleled in how well they maintained their massive numbers of historic metal truss bridges. While Michigan's truss bridges continued to rust away, Pennsylvania would be painting their bridges. However as the 21st century rolled around, and as the bridges aged and got to the point where more than simple routine repair was needed, Pennsylvania chose demolition where preservation was the more sensible choice. Now Pennsylvania has become the truss bridge slaughterhouse, as tons of beautiful, historic, and one-of-a-kind truss bridges are demolished. There is no greater atrocity against history in our country than what Pennsylvania is doing to its historic truss bridges today.
Holland may be the biggest sham in all of Michigan! Although they claim to be a town that values history and works to be a cultural destination for tourists, they elected to demolish their only historic bridge in January 2006, a beautifully intact 1930s beam bridge along the lines of U.S. Turnpike Bridge, despite the fact that the road could have easily been realigned and the existing bridge be left to serve pedestrians. Shown below, is the only photo I could find of the bridge, which I did not get to in time. Note the intact plaque and lack of deterioration on the original railings.
Instead, the bridge has been reduced to rubble and a new slab bridge with no heritage is being built. A separate bridge is being built to serve pedestrians... which the historic bridge could have done! What a waste! Visit their page about their new "bridge." http://www.cityofholland.com/Brix?pageID=612 If you are a tourist in Michigan, you can help make a statement by supporting cities that care about their heritage and boycotting those that don't. Please consider visiting perhaps a different town that offers similar attractions. If it is Holland's tulips you are interested in, I encourage you to instead visit your nearest Home Depot, Lowes, or Menards!
Kalamazoo County, Michigan
Kalamazoo County is noted for the demolition of two of Michigan's finest curved chord through girder bridges, both tied for the position of second-longest example of the structure type.
Detroit is a city that does not do anything to solve its many problems and does not seek to explore its potential. A city that hosted Superbowl XL, thinking it would change the city for the better, and then two weeks later threatened to close its beloved Detroit Zoo. It is a city that does not clean up the abandoned homes and other trash that litters the city. In the bridge world, a similar lack of care is noted. Although it has three movable bridges similar to those found in Chicago, Detroit can't seem to maintain theirs, and is even going to demolish Fort Street Bridge. On Belle Isle, there is a beautiful late 1800s King Bridge Company beam bridge, and demolition for it is planned as well. This is absurd, as the bridge is part of the beauty of the park. Well, actually most of the attractions in the park are closed and so the bridge is really all that is left to see in the park.
Hamilton County, Ohio
While Cincinnati is certainly a place to visit because of a number of historic bridges in town, they have a startling number of non-historic bridges in the town crossing the Ohio River. This is a sharp contrast to cities like Chicago or Pittsburgh that are nearly all historic bridges. In Cincinnati, it is about 50% of Ohio River Bridges. If other cities can survive with historic bridges, there is no reason why Cincinnati couldn't have. Worse than Cincinnati is Hamilton County, which manages roads outside of the city. Notably, the planned demolition of the mighty Blue Rock Road Bridge marks the third and final gargantuan trio of dissimilar truss bridges over the Great Miami River that is being demolished. The demolition of the Blue Rock Road Bridge is absurd, as the bridge is not in the way of its replacement structure.
The Thumb Area of Michigan
The entire thumb area today is either dead or dying as far as extant historic bridges are concerned. Below is a discussion of the worst offending counties.
St. Clair County is like rural western Pennsylvania. When I began photographing historic bridges, they had an unparalleled number of historic bridges. Indeed, with three truss bridges in the county roads, two of which are unique in the state, they are a special county. They also have one of the largest number of concrete camelback bridges for any single county in Michigan. Despite this, demolition is either planned or underway for a large number of the bridges. The truss bridges in the county are being saved from the dumpster only because of caring third parties who offer to relocate the bridges, like the St. Clair Regional Educational Service Agency and the Historic Bridge Park of Calhoun County. The concrete bridges on the other hand are not so lucky...
Sanilac County's situation is easy to explain. In 2003, they had three historic truss bridges, one whose superstructure was in unusually excellent condition, and all of which were on roads with very low traffic counts. By 2006, all were replaced, and now the county is a waste of space in my opinion.
Macomb County has been a failure for decades, much longer than most counties, which have screwed up only in recent years. They have three truss bridges in the county, and all have been closed to traffic for decades and have rotted away to the point where nothing really can be done for them. Now they are going to demolish and replace them and re-open the roads. Macomb County is a failure, because if their truss bridges had been properly maintained in the past, they would never have had to been closed in the first place. The least they could do today is mount the trusses on modern bridges for decoration and a memorial, but they won't even do that.
Wood County, Ohio
Discussing Wood County's entry in this is easy. A few years back they had over 30(!) truss bridges, and by the time I got to visit them they had only a handful, and some are still doomed. Whoever runs the road system in that county must be a real jerk.