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Walden-Bluff's Edge Bridge

Walden-Bluff's Edge Bridge

Primary Photographer(s): Nathan Holth

Bridge Documented: December 13, 2012

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Facility Carried / Feature Intersected
Bluffs Edge Drive Over McCormick Ravine
Lake Forest: Lake County, Illinois: United States
Construction Date and Builder / Engineer
1901 By Builder/Contractor: Unknown and Engineer/Design: J. H. Gray
Rehabilitation Date
Main Span Length
140.0 Feet (42.7 Meters)
Structure Length
Not Available
Roadway Width
16.4 Feet (5 Meters)
1 Main Span(s)
Inventory Number
Not Applicable

Historic Significance Rating (HSR)
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Bridge Documentation

View An Archived Article By Arthur Miller Describing The Walden-Bluff's Edge Bridge and Estate

About The Walden Bridges

This bridge is the largest of three similar historic steel arch bridges in the area. These bridges are noted for their beauty and unusual design. The three bridges are the Walden-Bluff's Edge Bridge, the Walden Lane Bridge West, and the Walden Lane Bridge East. A fourth bridge is similar design was demolished back in the 1950s. These bridges were all part of Walden, which was the estate of Cyrus H. McCormick, Jr. who was the oldest son of Cyrus Hall McCormick. Cyrus Hall McCormick, Sr. is famous in history for his contributions to the industrialization of agriculture including his promotion of a mechanical reaper. Cyrus Hall McCormick, Jr. was president of the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company, and later the merged International Harvester Company.

Structurally, the three bridges are noted for their extremely unusual columns. Most steel deck arch bridges have vertical columns that rise up from the arch rib to support the deck of the bridge. Each of the columns of the bridges are positioned at right angles to the arch ribs, and as such they fan out from the arches and meet the decks at an angle. This design is extremely unusual and it makes these bridges extremely rare variants of steel arch design. All three bridges also display unusual abutments that have a curved design, apparently to complement the angled skewbacks for the bridge. While abutments for steel arch bridges must always accommodate the angle of the skewbacks, the design of these abutments with an overall curve beyond the area of the skewbacks is highly unusual and appears to have done for aesthetic reasons. It likely made the stonework much more complicated to complete.

About This Bridge

The Walden Bluff's Edge Bridge was built 1901 as the entrance to Walden. It is the oldest and largest of the three bridges, and undoubtedly served as a model for the later design of the two smaller bridges on Walden Lane. The general appearance of the bridge was conceived by Cyrus Hall McCormick, Jr. himself. He produced an initial sketch of the bridge, which included the distinct arrangement of the columns at 90 degree angles to the arch rib. He explained this design by describing the arch as similar to that of a "great wheel" and the columns have the appearance of originating from the center of a "great circle." Cyrus was not an engineer however, so he hired J. H. Gray to do the actual design work. Gray apparently had experience in designing skyscrapers, and while he had no heard of steel arch bridges with the unusual column design found the design to be feasible and so he proceeded to complete the design work. The on-site contractor for the bridge is currently unknown.

This bridge was saved from demolition and replacement plans in 1995-6 and instead restored and converted for non-motorized use. The bridge was saved through a combination of $100,000 of private donations and assistance from the city. The bridge is today a treasured part of the community and it is a favorite of joggers.

The bridge's historic integrity is fairly good today. The riveted arch ribs and stone abutments appear to be largely unaltered. There are some alterations that should be noted however to better understand the original design of the bridge. It appears that the original columns were replaced, as was much of the bracing in between the arches. The current columns are rolled wide flange beams. Based on the design of the Walden Lane Bridge East it is assumed that the Walden Bluff's Edge Bridge originally had riveted built-up beams for columns, and as such, the modern columns do diminish the historic integrity of the bridge slightly. Finally, it is worth noting that the original railings do not remain on the bridge. Despite these alterations, the bridge retains its original distinctive positioning of its columns, and that allows the bridge to retain a high level of historic significance as a creative approach to steel arch bridge design undertaken largely for aesthetic reasons. Aside from these three bridges, no similar bridges appear to exist in Illinois.



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Public vehicular access up to this bridge is from the south. The bridge is open to pedestrian traffic only.

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