The bowstring truss bridge represents one of the most intricate and beautiful bridge types ever built. They are the oldest common type of metal truss bridge, and were most often built in the 1870s, before the pin connected Pratt truss era took off. This spectacular bridge type has been all but eliminated from the roads of today for a number of reasons. First, this bridge type was built for a relatively short period of time, mostly within a single decade, so less examples had a chance to get built in the first place. Second, because they are so old, and were built decades before the motorized car, they were not designed to hold heavy loads, and many were replaced over the decades. Third, despite their rarity, the discriminatory National Historic Covered Bridge Act provided federal funding for preservation of for the more numerous wooden covered bridges while the less populous bowstring truss bridges continued to be demolished.
Although one can hardly call the period of the pin connected Pratt truss "standardization in bridge design" compared to modern bridge design, the era of the bowstring was even less standardized, and represented a period of experimentation, as companies that would later bring about the pin connected Pratt era about experimented with bridge designs. As a result, bowstrings can usually be quickly associated with a builder based on their general appearance. The Massillon Bridge Company's bowstring bridges were noted for highly unusual top chords, which utilized a trussed design that the company developed, which followed the Howe configuration. This design actually has roots in a bridge itself. Read below to learn more.
There are two "Iron Howe Bridges" in Ohio and one is extremely ancient for a metal bridge, having been built in 1859. It is ironically located in Massillon, and built by Joseph Davenport later became the founder of the Massillon Bridge Company. View a page for the bridge here. This 1859 bridge anticipated the later development of Davenport's "Davenport Straight Howe Truss." Note that the design of the trusses are similar to the top chord of the Junction Road Bridge, but there are less poles making up the truss. The only other iron Howe bridge was ironically in Preble County and was the Longman Road Bridge. It is also ancient, but is newer than the 1859 bridge, having a c. 1875 date, which is the same period as Junction Road. Note that the Longman Road Bridge looks like the 1859 bridge in design, yet has more poles, much like the Junction Road Bridge. These early Iron Howe bridges later became the template that Joseph Davenport used in the top chords for his bowstrings. He also used the same principle of using pipes to form a truss web in designing portal bracing and other bridge elements.
This bridge is a through bowstring truss bridge. It sits on concrete abutments, which are not be original. Perhaps concrete was added on top of original stone abutments. The vertical members are made of star-iron rods, which are commonly found on old bridges of the 1870s period, particularly on bowstring bridges. The sway bracing is latticed on the bridge, and represents the only lattice on the bridge. The sway bracing may not be original to the bridge, as it is somewhat heavy and dissimilar to other Massillon bowstrings. The arched top chord is as discussed above a truss in itself, and forms a Howe-like arrangement. Anyone who is curious as to how this 1875 bowstring is supporting modern traffic need only glance under the bridge at the beams running the length of the crossing. In truth this is today a beam bridge, with the trusses simply sitting on top of it all. This is an unfortunate addition, but an understandable compromise given the frailty of the bowstring truss bridge. These additions do not affect the appearance of the bridge to those who simply drive across it without actually getting out and inspecting the bridge. There are u-shape steel railings on the bridge, which may not be original but they are nevertheless old with Jones and Laughlins stamps on the steel. The "s" in Laughlins suggests a pre-1905 origin to the channel, since the steel company dropped the "s" in its name after 1905. There are wooden railings under the steel channels, which are probably not part of the original design either. The deck of the bridge is wooden with an asphalt wearing surface.
Information and Findings From Ohio's Historic Bridge Inventory
The bridge carries a 2 lane road over a stream in a rural area of active farms. Beyond the southeast quadrant is a Greek Revival house and barns (ca. 1850s). A modern house is beyond the northeast quadrant.
The 142'-long bowstring thru truss bridge has trussed arch chords (Howe-truss pattern), rolled X-section verticals, rod diagonals, and bar chords. There is lattice upper lateral bracing in the middle panels. The arch chords are each composed of two plates, bent into an arch shape, with a web between the plates formed by rods and pipes. The connections are made with bolts to the threaded ends of the rods and special iron connecting pieces. The lower chords are bars with bolted splice plates. The mid-span panels have three lines of upper-lateral lattice bracing. The bridge was original single span, but it was converted to 3 spans by the addition of two H-pile bents and a girder-floorbeam underpinning system at unknown date.
Converted to 3 spans by the addition of two piers and girder-floorbeam underpinning, date unknown. The truss lines continue to support themselves and no alterations were made to the truss connections, so integrity of original design was maintained. Vertical clearance has been increased by adding welded plate to raise the upper laterals by about 1'. I-beam vertical bracing has been added along side of four of the verticals.
Summary of Significance
The bridge is a rare and technologically significant example of a bowstring thru truss, attributable to the Massillon Bridge Co. based on the details of the arch chord and connections. The best estimate of the
date of construction is ca. 1875. The county bridge card says 1890, but the source of that date is unknown; 1890 is plausible but much later than would be expected for this design which was patented in 1867. There has been no
significant change in the bridge's status since the prior inventory. The eligible recommendation remains appropriate.
The bridge is one of the 22 extant bowstring truss bridges that survive in the state. Having so many is remarkable, and even though they are "common" based on their numbers, each is an important and irreplaceable record of the development of the metal truss bridge and the ingenuity associated with the Ohio industrial development. The bridge has high significance.
Bridge Considered Historic By Survey: Yes
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