September 2020 Update: A post on BridgeHunter suggests this bridge should instead be known as the Graveyard Ford Bridge: https://bridgehunter.com/mo/shelby/gillis/ also the bridge has reportedly been replaced, with the truss placed on the ground near the replacement bridge.
According to the Historic Bridge Inventory, the Gillis Bridge is distinguished as the longest bedstead truss span in Missouri, at 80 feet and five panels. Given the rarity of bedstead truss bridges nationally, and the recent rendering of bedstead truss bridges in Missouri as rare due to demolition, the Gillis Bridge should be highlighted today as one of the most important bridges in the state of Missouri. With excellent historic integrity and no major alterations, and with minimal section loss and pack rust, this is a bridge which should receive a high level of preservation priority. Restoration of this bridge would not be difficult. The worst pack rust is limited to minor lifting of top chord cover plate. The connections on the bridge, including the bottom chord are immaculate with no dirt or rust or section loss. The Gillis Bridge is located in a rural setting and could likely be restored for continued light vehicular use. Otherwise, it should be relocate and preserved elsewhere. The Gillis Bridge contains compression members in the first panel of the bottom chord from the end post, which is an attempt to counteract the unusual forces acting in a truss with vertical endposts. The bridge retains original two channel railing. Up-set eyebars are present on the bridge. A traditional wooden deck remains on the bridge.
The bedstead truss is a rare form of truss bridge that was mostly built between 1890 and 1915, usually using pinned connections and a Pratt configuration. In Missouri however, they continued to be built after that date for a while, with riveted connections and a Warren truss configuration. The bedstead truss (also known as a truss leg bedstead) was a design in which the end post was vertical and this end post extended down below the bottom chord to act as a substructure (bridge-supporting structure). The design was an economical one, since it reduced abutment costs, since the legs of the bedstead did most of the job of the abutments. Bedstead truss bridges were marketed to local governments as a less expensive alternative to more traditional truss bridge forms. Bedstead truss bridge construction did not last long however, since it was found that the design had some functional problems. The truss legs made the bridge susceptible to flooding, since flood debris could collide with the truss legs and damage them, drastically reducing their support strength. Worse, the bridge might be picked up completely and pushed away into the river. Another problem was with the way the forces act on a bridge with vertical endposts, which is a reason why truss bridges of any kind with vertical end posts is rare. One feature that bedstead truss bridges sometimes have to try to counteract these problems is a compression member for the first panel of the bottom chord.
To label a truss bridge as a bedstead, the vertical endpost must extend below the bottom chord to be considered a bedstead. A vertical endpost along is insufficient for a bridge to be called a bedstead. In some cases, a bedstead truss's legs may be encased in a concrete abutment or pier. Close examination of such bridges in the field is often needed to confirm whether or not such bridges are bedsteads or simply truss bridges with vertical end posts.
The bedstead truss is one of the rarest type of truss bridges today. Many states today do not have a single example within their borders, and others might have less than a handful. Neighboring Arkansas has only one example listed. In contrast, Missouri has perhaps the largest number of bedstead truss bridges in the entire country. When the first Historic Bridge Inventory was completed, there were in fact over one hundred examples! The problem with this is that at that time the inventory found most of them non-historic because there were so many. However many years have passed since that initial inventory, and while Missouri may still have the largest number of bedsteads in the country, the current number is nowhere near where it was initially since many of these bridges have been demolished. It is unclear if the Historic Bridge Inventory has been updated to reflect the rarity of the bedstead truss bridge: on a relative scale within the state and on an absolute scale on a national level. If the surviving examples in Missouri are not determined Eligible For the National Register of Historic Places like they should be, this will increase the difficulty of preservation. The high level of integrity, rarity of the design on the national level, and increasing rarity on the state level make the preservation of each surviving bedstead something that should take a high level of priority. In addition, the small size of the bedstead truss makes it conducive to relocation and preservation in a park or on a non-motorized trail if it is considered insufficient for its current use. In addition, the smaller size makes a preservation project less costly and easier to tackle. Sadly however, the CR-214 Bridge demonstrates that these bridges are still being demolished in Missouri. This must end before it is too late.
Information and Findings From Missouri's Historic Bridge Inventory
Superstructure: steel, 5-panel, pin-connected Pratt
Discussion of Bridge
The Gillis Bridge carries a secondary county road over the Black River some four miles southeast of Shelbyville, in southeastern Shelby County. A pin-connected Pratt truss-leg bedstead, the structure is supported by its original bedstead legs. Its 80-foot span rates among the state's longest on a bedstead design. Efforts to bridge the crossing began in late 1907. At a meeting of the Shelby County Court, held on December 3, 1907, county highway engineer W.W. Mitchel reported on the necessity of two bridges. One of these was a short- span, steel stringer, while the other was this 80-foot bedstead, known as the Gillis Bridge. Plans to build the Gillis Bridge were put on hold until the following spring. On June 2, 1908, the Michelmann Steel Construction Company of Quincy, Illinois, submitted a low bid of $615.00 for the structure's erection. The county court initially tabled the offer, but at a later meeting decided to accept it. On January 4, 1909, Shelby County issued a $615.00 warrant to Michelmann for completion of the Gillis Bridge. Having served to carry local traffic in a rural location, the structure has suffered virtually no loss of physical integrity over the years. In a bedstead truss, a single "leg" functioned as both end post and support at each corner of the structure. This combined super- and substructure reduced erection costs somewhat, but bedsteads were prey to flood and collision damage and suffered from inherent structural weaknesses relating to compression stress in the lower chords. Despite these weaknesses, numerous truss leg bedsteads were erected throughout Missouri in the later 1890s and early 1900s. Hundreds remain in place today [when the inventory was completed] - in fact, Missouri has probably more bedsteads than any other state. The Gillis Bridge is distinguished as a well-preserved, long span example of this statewide bridge construction trend. In fact, its 80-foot length is unexcelled by any other bedstead in the state.
Bridge Considered Historic By Survey: Yes
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