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Wabash Cannonball Bridge

Stangle Bridge, Purple Head Bridge

Wabash Cannonball Bridge

Primary Photographer(s): Nathan Holth and Rick McOmber

Bridge Documented: May 9, 2010

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Facility Carried / Feature Intersected
TR-257 (Wabash Cannonball Road) Over Wabash River
St. Francisville: Lawrence County, Illinois and Knox County, Indiana: United States
Structure Type
Metal Rivet-Connected Warren Through Truss, Movable: Swing (Center Pier) and Approach Spans: Metal Pin-Connected Pratt Through Truss, Fixed
Construction Date and Builder / Engineer
1897 By Builder/Contractor: Edge Moor Bridge Works of Wilmington, Delaware and King Bridge Company of Cleveland, Ohio
Rehabilitation Date
Main Span Length
235.0 Feet (71.6 Meters)
Structure Length
1,441.0 Feet (439.2 Meters)
Roadway Width
Not Available
1 Main Span(s) and 16 Approach Span(s)
Inventory Number
Not Applicable

Historic Significance Rating (HSR)
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Bridge Documentation

This bridge is a most unusual historic bridge, both because this large, multi-span structure is composed of spans from three different dates and also because of its conversion for vehicular traffic. Originally a railroad bridge, the railroad company did not engage in wholesale demolition and replacement of the bridge at any given time, but rather replaced individual spans as needed. As such, spans on the bridge date from 1897, 1904, and 1924. Later in the 20th Century, the bridge was abandoned by the railroad. The bridge did then at a later date find new life in an uncommon way: a farmer named Frank Stangle bought the bridge in 1970 and opened it for vehicular traffic as a toll bridge. What is interesting is very minimal changes were made to the bridge by this private owner. The railroad ties were left in place, and running planks for cars were simply put in place. The rails were removed from the deck, but did not leave the bridge, since the guardrail that was added to the bridge uses the railroad rails as guardrail posts. In 1995, the bridge apparently was sold to the city of St. Francisville. In the 21st Century, the bridge was sold to the State of Illinois in 2009 who claims they will maintain the bridge and keep it open. However, given the striking lack of historic bridge preservation in Illinois, especially with IDOT owned bridges, from other Wabash River Bridges such as the Mt. Carmel Bridge (for which IDOT was lead agency), to the Seneca Bridge, some concern and uncertainty for the future of this bridge due to this transfer of ownership seems warranted. It is hoped this bridge will receive a higher level of care and attention than those bridges, given its historic significance.

From east (Indiana) to west (Illinois), the bridge is composed of spans as follows. First, there are five deck plate girder spans built in 1904 by King Bridge Company of Cleveland, Ohio. Each span has a plaque mounted on it. It was noted that not all spans have 1904 on the plaque; one of the spans lists 1903. Perhaps these spans were pre-fabricated standard-size spans by King Bridge Company in 1903 and were something they still had on-hand and sold to the railroad in 1904. Next, the easternmost truss span, a fixed, riveted through truss span of 157 feet and six panels, which likely dates to 1924 when the swing span was also built. Working westward, there is a fixed pin-connected through truss span, dating to 1897 built by Edge Moor Bridge Works of Wilmington, Delaware containing eight panels. Next, is an eight panel 235 foot 1924 swing through truss span with riveted connections. This is followed by another eight panel 1897 Edge More Bridge Works span, and concluded by eight more 1904 King Bridge Company deck plate girder spans.

Driving across this bridge is a rare opportunity in North America to experience crossing a bridge that is in excess of 1000 feet yet is only one lane. Other than having to carefully look to check and make sure that any traffic seen at the other end has begun to cross the bridge, crossing this bridge can be a very fun experience. The bridge should also be assigned a high level of historic significance for being associated with multiple noteworthy bridge builders, as well as for its unique variety of spans. This variety of spans clearly shows the different approach railroad companies took to bridge maintenance and replacement verus the zero sum game that highway agencies more frequently play, where it is either replace the entire bridge or defer even routine maintenance. The difference is because railroad companies seek to make a profit, and prefer to spend the least amount of money on bridges long-term which translates to focusing on maintenance, repairs, and only partial bridge replacement when needed. The model serves as a good example for highway agencies to follow, should they wish to spend their funds... tax dollars... in a more fiscally responsible manner.

Wabash Cannonball Bridge is a common name for the bridge. Stangle Bridge refers to the farmer who bought the bridge and first converted it for vehicular use. Purple Head Bridge relates to local lore that claims this bridge is haunted. The bridge is sometimes also called the St. Francisville Bridge referring to the small Illinois community it connects to.

Information and Findings From DHPA Historic Bridge Survey

Statement of Significance

This structure is an extraordinary collection of design and fabrication from a key thirty-five-year span of railroad building . The design of each kind of span reveals some unusual features. There are, furthermore, few swing spans left in Indiana. Together they also represent many important out-of-state builders. The structure remains intact, including its many differently-decorated portals.

Architectural Description

As they currently stand, the seventeen metal spans of the Stangle Bridge represent several eras of railroad design and construction. Now abandoned, the structure once carried a single track of the Big Four Railroad.

The King Bridge Company of Cleveland, Ohio, fabricated at least some of the five deck plate girder approach spans on the East and the eight on the West in 1904, probably to replace timber beam spans on bents. Each girder's plates are about 6' high, square-ended, and seated upon concrete abutments and piers. Close to a decade earlier (1897), the Edge Moor Bridge Works of Wilmington, Delaware, built the pin-connected, eight-paneled Pratt through spans to which these girders were later joined: one of probably two of the old Pratt spans survive on the East and another on the West. They are seated on concrete-capped sandstone piers. The top chords and endposts of the trusses consisted of crafted channels with a cover plate riveted above and latticing below. The lower-chord members vary in size from a pair of crafted channels latticed together in the two outer panels, to a pair of heavy rectangular eyebars in the next panel, to two pairs of the eyebars in each of the center four panels. A crafted I-beam supplies the hip vertical, while a pair of laced channels provide the intermediate ones. All panels beyond the endpost one use a pair of heavy rectangular eyebars (lighter toward midspan) for diagonals. Another pair of eyebars counter each of the two most central panels. Six foot girder floor beams are riveted to the verticals at and above the lower chord.

In 1924 the Big Four Railroad's engineers decided on a 235' swing span at the center of the structure and a 157' fixed span (probably a replacement for one of the Pratt throughs) at a cost estimated "to exceed $50,000."

An all-riveted, full-hip Warren through span of six panels joins the girder approaches on the East. A pair of crafted channels and battens supply each of the lower-chord members. In turn, the verticals vary considerably: the hip ones are crafted-Is, the next panel's are made from two pairs of laced heavy angles, and the midspan consists of a pair of crafted channels connected with battens. A pair of crafted channels--laced for the two center panels and connected with battens in the second and fifth panels--provide the diagonals.

The all-riveted, full-hip Warren swing span of eight panels sits upon a round, sandstone turning pier. The three outer panels on each end are built as though fixed, except that the bracing between the trusses is unusually heavy. Heavy crafted I-beams supply the verticals, a pair of laced crafted channels make up the lower-chord members. The panels over the turning mechanism are much more substantial in a number of ways. First, the top chord--whose channels are latticed on top and bottom--angle upward to midspan. Here they are joined by a vertical made from a pair of latticed channels equal in size to the top chord's. A substantial cross-brace extends from the center vertical of one truss to the other. The diagonals also consist of a pair of channels equal to those of the top chord in size but stiffened more by the riveting of a cover plate to each side. The span turns by hand on metal wheels housed below the lower chord and floor beams. The wheels ride on a metal track installed on the pier's top.


Engineering News-Record, 22 June 1916, v. 75, Construction News, p. 478, 31 July 1924, v. 93, p. 60.

Bridge Considered Historic By Survey: Yes


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Crossing From Indiana To Illinois

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