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Secrest Ferry Bridge

Owen County Bridge 9, Monroe County Bridge 164, Gosport Bridge

Secrest Ferry Bridge

Primary Photographer(s): Nathan Holth

Bridge Documented: September 23, 2012

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Key Facts

Facility Carried / Feature Intersected
County Line Road (CR 500 East) Over White River
Rural: Monroe County, Indiana and Owen County, Indiana: United States
Construction Date and Builder / Engineer
1903 By Builder/Contractor: Vincennes Bridge Company of Vincennes, Indiana and Engineer/Design: Lafayette Engineering Company of Lafayette, Indiana

Technical Facts

Rehabilitation Date
Main Span Length
320 Feet (97.5 Meters)
Structure Length
323 Feet (98.5 Meters)
Roadway Width
15.7 Feet (4.79 Meters)
1 Main Span(s)
NBI Number

Historic Significance Rating (HSR)
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Bridge Documentation

View Archived National Bridge Inventory Report - Has Additional Details and Evaluation

This bridge is the longest Pennsylvania truss highway span in Indiana, and it is a very impressive structure. With its complex Pennsylvania truss configuration, the bridge's length contrasts with delicate members that include built-up beams with v-lacing to create a lightweight yet pleasingly complex structure that offers much for the eye to enjoy. The bridge is historically significant as an important inter-county link, while it is also technologically significant for its size, historic integrity, and truss configuration.

This bridge was restored for pedestrian use in 2008. J. A. Barker Engineering did the design work, while CLR Inc. of Vincennes Indiana was the on-site contractor. Painting was done by Bloomfield Painting Inc.

Information and Findings From DHPA Historic Bridge Survey

Statement of Significance

The longest Pennsylvania through span for highway use in Indiana, this bridge has several unusual features: Its design includes an extra section on each side of two panels, unusual lower chord-vertical-floor beam connections, and unique floor beam bracing. The absence of a horizontal member between the chords in the center section is also quite unusual. The truss retains its original members, including decoratively latticed guardrails.

The Secrest Ferry Bridge is eligible for the National Register under Criterion A in the area of transportation and under Criterion C for its engineering. In the area of transportation, the bridge provided an easy and safe link between Gosport and Spencer, the county seat, and Gosport and Bloomington, the county seat of Monroe County. In the area of engineering, it is longest Pennsylvania truss highway bridge in Indiana and one of the longest single-span iron bridges in the state. It includes several other design features that make it an unusual example of its type.

Secrest Ferry Bridge was an important link between Owen and Monroe counties. The bridge was built to provide a safe crossing of the White River for the Gosport and Bloomington public highway (which also passed through the neighboring town of Stinesville) and the Gosport and Spencer public highway, which furnished Gosport with an important link to its county seat. Secrest Ferry Bridge is also important for its role in the continuing evolution of transportation systems. It replaced a ferry crossing that was only passable during low water and was itself bypassed recently by a newer bridge.

The history of Secrest Ferry Bridge began on 4 Sept. 1894, with a petition stating that "public convenience" required a bridge across the White River between Owen and Monroe counties. This first attempt to get the bridge constructed was rescinded on 3 Mar. 1895. A second attempt was presented to both sets of county commissioners in Sept. 1901. This time, the petitioners made a stronger case, stating that a suitable bridge "for wagons and other vehicles" was a necessity because "there being no way to cross the river at said point or near thereto only by fording, which can only be done when the river is low and then such fording is attending with great danger." The river crossing, also known as Secrest Ferry, was at the intersection of two important public highways.

The new bridge was to be constructed about a mile and a half south of Gosport. At this time, there already existed a wooden covered bridge over the White River at Gosport, just east of the town (this bridge was destroyed by arsonists in 1955). Although close to Gosport, the older bridge was not located on the main routes between Gosport and other large cities, and caused travelers to go an extra nine or ten miles to reach the junction of these highways.

As a result of the second petition, the commissioners of both Owen and Monroe counties met in joint session in 1901 and appointed officials to oversee bids and construction of the bridge. The cost was estimated at $11,142 and the board of commissioners agreed to split the cost, with Owen County paying 2/3 and Monroe county paying 1/3 of the total. The commissioners advertised for bids, but received none. They decided to advertise again. When the board met three months later, it discovered that the advertisement had never appeared. Finally, the Lafayette Engineering Company bid on the project, at a cost of $11,140. The board of commissioners inspected and approved the finished bridge on 28 Dec, 1903.

Secrest Ferry Bridge is also an important representative work of engineering because it was one of only eight Pennsylvania (Petit) truss bridges remaining in Indiana in 1987. There are probably still fewer remaining today. Another Pennsylvania truss bridge in Owen County (Freedom Bridge) is scheduled for replacement in 1997.

In his book, Iron Monuments to Distant Posterity, James Cooper refers to the Pennsylvania truss as "the third and final modification of the Pratt truss." Each modification allowed for greater spans. Edward F. White, an engineer and construction superintendent for Secrest Ferry Bridge, solved the problem of constructing a costly pier in the middle of the White River by eliminating the need for it. The advanced engineering and span capabilities of the Pennsylvania truss allowed him to design a 316' single-span bridge stretching from one bank to the other. The bridge also has some other unusual engineering features that are described in the structural description.

Architectural Description

This pin-connected Pennsylvania through spans 316' in sixteen panels. The designers added to the usual twelve a side section of two panels on each side of center to accommodate the extra distance. Laced channels alternate with laced angles as the intermediate verticals. The four center section panels use double-intersecting diagonals with counters; the two sections on each side of center (with two panels apiece) also use double-intersecting diagonals with a sub-tie. Double die-forged eyebars provide the diagonals. Attached inside the verticals above the lower chord, I floor beams support the asphalt-filled deck pan which carries the 16'1" roadway and provides 13'5" of vertical clearance. The floor beams are braced with cylindrical eyebars with turnbuckles used in a lattice-like pattern. The substructure is of cut stone.

The Secrest Ferry Bridge has changed relatively little since the Lafayette Engineering Co. built it in 1903. The company was formed in 1901 at Lafayette, Indiana. The firm designed and erected bridge superstructures and built substructures. However, the company did not have manufacturing capability and had to subcontract its truss fabrication.

The bridge sits on cut stone abutments, which also include subsurface concrete, according to county commissioners' records from the time of construction. The south abutment sits against a steeply-sloped bank while the north abutment is built up from a low-lying flood plain. The road sits on a built-up causeway that gently slopes the road down to the flood plain level. Part of the causeway next to the abutment is protected by a cut stone wing wall.

The single-span bridge still spans an impressive 316' across the White River between Owen and Monroe Counties. The bridge, the longest highway Pennsylvania truss span in Indiana, eliminated the requirement for a pier in the center of the flowing White River. It is also one of the longest single-span iron bridges in Indiana. Its Pennsylvania (Petit) trusses have an arched upper chord rising more than 30' high. According to James Cooper's Iron Monuments to Distant Posterity, the bridge also has an extra two-panel section on each side, making it a 16-panel rather than the usual 12-panel Pennsylvania truss.

The truss is pin-connected at all of its connections. The primary verticals are made from laced channels. The secondary verticals are alternately laced channels and laced angles fom their intermediate connection with the diagonals up to the upper chord. These verticals are metal bars from the same intermediate connection to the floor stringers (they do not connect with the lower chord). The diagonals are die-forged eyebars that run from the upper chord to an intermediate connection with the secondary vertical. In a second piece, they go from this same intermediate connection to the lower chord.

The bridge deck is 18.2' wide and has a 15.8' roadway with 15' of overhead clearance. The bridge currently has a corrugated metal floor with an asphalt overlay. It is posted with a three-ton load limit. The bridge appears to have its original railing with a decorative latticed "X" pattern.

The Secrest Ferry Bridge's Pennsylvania trusses are unusual in that they are not subdivided by a horizontal strut midway in the panels between the upper and lower chords. The bridge is also unusual because only the primary verticals intersect with the lower chord. The secondary verticals connect with and support the floor stringers. This also results in an unusual lower lateral bracing system (the Xs under the floor) with very heavy members forming an X between intersections of the primary verticals and the lower chord. The crossing at the center of each X is accomplished with a very heavy square where all four legs of the X are connected.

The bridge still seems to be in relatively good condition. The steel trusses show a layer of rust and need to be cleaned and painted. In a few places, the top lateral braces (the Xs visible when looking up from the bridge floor) are broken. And, according to county bridge structure inventories, the bridge's stringers (the beams under the floor) are deflected and heavily rusted. The floor's asphalt overlay is slightly buckled and broken in places.

The Secrest Ferry Bridge was bypassed and closed to vehicular traffic in 1990 by a modern bridge built a respectable distance to the west of the current span. If the county commissioners honor their commitment to regularly inspect and maintain the span, Owen and Monroe counties will preserve an area landmark and an impressive piece of engineering.

Bridge Considered Historic By Survey: Yes


Photo Galleries and Videos: Secrest Ferry Bridge

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Structure Overview
Original / Full Size Photos
A collection of overview photos that show the bridge as a whole and general areas of the bridge. This gallery offers photos in the highest available resolution and file size in a touch-friendly popup viewer. Alternatively, Browse Without Using Viewer
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Structure Details
Original / Full Size Photos
A collection of detail photos that document the parts, construction, and condition of the bridge. This gallery offers photos in the highest available resolution and file size in a touch-friendly popup viewer. Alternatively, Browse Without Using Viewer
View Photo Gallery
Structure Overview
Mobile Optimized Photos
A collection of overview photos that show the bridge as a whole and general areas of the bridge. This gallery features data-friendly, fast-loading photos in a touch-friendly popup viewer. Alternatively, Browse Without Using Viewer
View Photo Gallery
Structure Details
Mobile Optimized Photos
A collection of detail photos that document the parts, construction, and condition of the bridge. This gallery features data-friendly, fast-loading photos in a touch-friendly popup viewer. Alternatively, Browse Without Using Viewer
View Video
Pedestrian Loading
Full Motion Video
Engineer Jim Barker gives a simple demonstration on the bridge regarding the excessive AASHTO pedestrian loading he had to design the restoration of the bridge to meet. Streaming video of the bridge. Also includes a higher quality downloadable video for greater clarity or offline viewing.


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