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Chestnut Street Bridge

Chestnut Street Bridge

Primary Photographer(s): Nathan Holth and Rick McOmber

Bridge Documented: April 10, 2010 and January 10, 2012

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Detroit: Wayne County, Michigan: United States
Construction Date and Builder / Engineer
1929 By Builder/Contractor: Unknown
Rehabilitation Date
Not Available or Not Applicable
Main Span Length
30.8 Feet (9.4 Meters)
Structure Length
66.0 Feet (20.1 Meters)
Roadway Width
30 Feet (9.14 Meters)
2 Main Span(s)
Inventory Number

Historic Significance Rating (HSR)
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Bridge Documentation

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

Sidewalk Railing on Dequindre Cut Bridges

About The Dequindre Cut Bridges

This bridge is one of several remaining historic bridges that cross an old abandoned Grand Trunk Western line called the Dequindre Cut, which was built as a depressed rail line so that not only could grade separation bridges could be built to maintain the flow of vehicular traffic, these grade separations could be built without an approach, reducing land acquisition. This was the same concept executed with many of the interstate highways in Detroit, which are depressed freeways. The Dequindre Cut was created to deal with the rapid growth that Detroit experienced in the early 20th Century. The rail line runs from roughly Mack Avenue to Jefferson Avenue along St. Aubin Street.

The Antietam Avenue Bridge and the Chestnut Street Bridge were highlighted as specific bridges which were individually eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. Visit those pages for historical narratives from the Historic Bridge Inventory. Although only these two bridges were highlighted as individually eligible, it was noted that the entire Dequindre Cut formed a potential  historic district, and if such a historic district were created, all these surviving bridges would become eligible for the National Register as contributing structures to the historic district. Further, the demolition of the Antietam Avenue Bridge means that perhaps one of the other surviving examples found not individually eligible should be re-evaluated for eligibility in light of the increased rarity of surviving examples of these bridges.

There were once many more bridges along the Dequindre Cut than were present when HistoricBridges.org documented the bridges in 2007 and 2010. In 1930, there were a total of 16 bridges. A number of these bridges have been demolished with no replacement built. Today, the abutments of many of these demolished bridges remain as evidence of heritage lost. In addition, some of the original bridges have been replaced with new bridges. Worse, those bridges which remain are in very poor condition with extensive spalling, cracking, and efflorescence observed and as such these bridges are likely at risk for demolition. The only redeeming consideration for these bridges is that this area of Detroit experiences far less traffic, particularly truck traffic, than it would have decades ago. The extensive industry that was once around this railroad line is largely demolished or abandoned, with only a few properties appearing to be active.

The design of the bridges are all very similar, with most bridges having two or three spans. The bridges include concrete railings with inset rectangles cast into the railing panels and the railing posts. The bridges have arched concrete piers. The superstructure of the bridge has the appearance of a concrete slab, although an unusual detail observed on some of the bridges was under the sidewalks, where the bridge had an appearance of a t-beam with individual beams rather than a solid slab. Despite these appearances, the bridges are listed as steel stringers in the National Bridge Inventory. This could imply that the bridges are concrete encased steel stringer bridges, which  are rare for highway bridges in Michigan, or it could imply that the bridges are listed incorrectly in the National Bridge Inventory.

There are some differences from the above description in a few bridges. The Wilkins Street Bridge has only one sidewalk and the railings for the side without a sidewalk have a different design. The Thornhill Place Bridge has a single span instead of two or three and unlike the other bridges its sidewalks are cantilevered. The Antietam Avenue Bridge has steel bents instead of the usual concrete piers.

Recently, the Dequindre Cut has been finding new life as the Dequindre Cut Greenway, which is currently a non-motorized trail that runs in the section south of Gratiot Avenue. Future plans include extending the trail north of Gratiot to Mack Avenue, and also adding a light rail transit system which would also run in it. Unfortunately, the preservation of the historic bridges does not appear to have been included as part of this project. The preservation of the historic bridges should be considered an essential part of the project since they contribute to the aesthetic and historical qualities of the Dequindre Cut Greenway.

About the Chestnut Street Bridge

This bridge has two spans. The structural evaluation for this bridge was slightly better than some of the other bridges, and it is also  on a local residential street. This bridge is one of the strongest preservation candidates among the surviving  bridges. The bridge also has a very old light post on the bridge which may be original to the bridge.

Information and Findings From Michigan Historic Sites Online

Narrative Description

main span number: 2 main span length: 31.0 structure length: 66.0 roadway width: 50.3 structure width: 30.0 The Dequindre line of the Grand Trunk Railroad, which is depressed below grade, runs perpendicular to the Detroit River. It is just northeast of downtown Detroit, between orleans and St. Aubin. The route is served by a number of grade separations, including the Chestnut Street Bridge and the Antietam Street Bridge, located just to the northwest. Each solid concrete parapet railing of the Chestnut Street Bridge has eight recessed panels, which are arranged in pairs between five concrete posts. Four luminaires are situated at each end of the sidewalk, on the roadway side. Each fixture features a cylindrical wood pole supported by a metal base. The original metal arms of the Luminaires carry newer globes. A metal manhole cover just beyond the northwest end of the bridge is stamped "Public Light Commission 1929."

Statement of Significance

In the first decades of the twentieth century, Detroit experienced substantial industrial growth. By the 1920s, there were over 400 industrial firms operating between Woodward Avenue, which bisects downtown Detroit, and the city's north (Belt Line) and east (Detroit River) boundaries. The city's rather haphazard street plan, the result of incremental platting, impeded traffic flow, particularly on east-west routes. Traffic jams were compounded by the expansion of factories, which sometimes required street closures, and by the network of railroad tracks essential for transporting raw materials and finished goods. In January 1923, in an attempt to improve the situation, the city and the Grand Trunk Railroad launched a ten-year program to build 22 grade separations. Each party paid part of the construction cost. By 1926, Detroit's grade separation program was "fulfilling the expectations of its sponsors," according to John W. Reid of the city's Department of Public Works, "a pioneer in advocating early separations of grades to meet the pressing demands of rapidly a growing population" (Detroit News). Plans for the Chestnut Street structure were drawn by the Grand Trunk Railroad in June 1929, with the city engineer's office developing plans for adjacent road construction. It was one of sixteen crossings finished by March 1930, a group which included three other bridges surveyed in 1995 as part of the historic bridge inventory: Adelaide, Division, and Gratiot. Another at Antietam was completed soon thereafter. The Chestnut Street Bridge was closed to traffic at some point, but was reopened as a one-way street paired with Antietam Street in 1964, when St. Aubin Boulevard was reconstructed. The Grand Trunk Railroad tracks that once ran beneath this bridge extended northwest to connect with a network of other lines. To the southeast, near the shore of the Detroit River, the tracks turned to parallel the river and serve the substantial factories that developed in this area in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, including the Detroit-Michigan Stove Plant, the United States Rubber Company Plant, and the Parke-Davis Laboratories. The railroad tracks also continues along the river to the southwest, terminating at the Grand Trunk's Brush Street Depot in downtown Detroit. The depot and most of the industrial plants have been demolished. One of the pair of tracks that ran in the corridor below the Chestnut Street Bridge has been removed. The corridor and grade separation structures, however, remain noteworthy products of a significant grade separation effort initiated in response to Detroit's explosive industrial and population growth in the first decades of the twentieth century. The Chestnut and Antietam bridges are eligible for the National Register under Criterion A as well-preserved representations of this effort. The structures and corridor should also be considered for an historic district.


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Maps and Links: Chestnut Street Bridge

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Bridgehunter.com: View listed bridges within 0.5 miles (0.8 kilometers) of this bridge.

Bridgehunter.com: View listed bridges within 10 miles (16 kilometers) of this bridge.

HistoricBridges.org Bridge Browser: View listed bridges within 0.5 miles (0.8 kilometers) of this bridge.

HistoricBridges.org Bridge Browser: View listed bridges within 10 miles (16 kilometers) of this bridge.

2021 National Bridge Inventory: View listed bridges within 0.5 miles (0.8 kilometers) of this bridge.

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