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Old Oberlin Elyria Road Bridge

Old Oberlin Elyria Road Bridge

Primary Photographer(s): Nathan Holth and Rick McOmber

Bridge Documented: July 15, 2011

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Facility Carried / Feature Intersected
Oberlin Elyria Road (Old Alignment) Over West Branch Black River
Elyria: Lorain County, Ohio: United States
Structure Type
Concrete Rainbow Through Arch, Fixed
Construction Date and Builder / Engineer
1923 By Builder/Contractor: Unknown and Engineer/Design: Ohio State Highway Department
Rehabilitation Date
Main Span Length
120.0 Feet (36.6 Meters)
Structure Length
125.0 Feet (38.1 Meters)
Roadway Width
24 Feet (7.32 Meters)
1 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

This is an exceedingly rare surviving example of a concrete rainbow arch bridge in Ohio. The bridge was bypassed by replacement bridge but was wisely left standing for its historic value. Although the bridge is has serious deterioration, the bridge could and should be restored for non-motorized use. Rainbow arch bridges are among the most beautiful types of concrete bridge and they greatly enhance the beauty of any location where they exist. They are rare, not only in Ohio but throughout North America. Even in the places where they are most populous (State of Kansas and Province of Ontario) they are still very uncommon.

Information and Findings From Ohio's Historic Bridge Inventory


The bridge carries a pedestrian walkway over a stream in suburban setting of early to mid-20th-century residences. The bridge is closed to traffic and bypassed by a modern steel stringer bridge that carries Oberlin-Elyria Road over the same feature. Historically the bypassed road segment was SR 20.

Physical Description

The 1 span, 125'-long, reinforced-concrete thru (rainbow) arch bridge has paneled arch ribs, vertical hangers, and articulated floorbeams with slab deck. The U-shaped wingwalls are finished with paneled concrete parapets. Original railings have been replaced with beam guide rails on the span itself.


Loss of original fabric from spalling/deterioration. It is in sore need of some attention.

Summary of Significance

The 1923 reinforced-concrete rainbow arch bridge is a technologically significant example of an increasingly rare type/design. It has loss of original fabric, but retains sufficient integrity of design/materials to convey its significance. The inventory has identified seven surviving examples dating from 1909 to 1930 (Phase 1A Update, 2008). This one, like several others, appears to be the state bridge bureau's design that was in use during the 1920s to early 1930s based on the details.

The rainbow arch in the U.S. developed in the late 1900s and early 1910s, with its best known variation the 1912 patented design of James B. Marsh of Iowa, (which is debatably a steel arch encased in concrete). In the basic design the deck is supported by vertical hangers between the arch ribs and the floorbeams. The arch ribs, like Marsh's can have patented steel systems within them, or they can be un-patented systems of conventional reinforced concrete. The bridge type/design is known to be aesthetically pleasing and came to be popularly known as "rainbow" arches in some parts of the country, including Ohio, although technically they are perhaps best described as thru arches. The bridge type was always more numerous in the Midwest than other parts of the U.S., probably because of the influence of Marsh. The 1909 and 1911 thru arches designed by E. A. Gast in Hamilton County (3137600 & 3130622) are Ohio's oldest examples and very technologically significant as they predate the Marsh patent and are believed to have been developed independently. Later examples in Ohio are most often the design of the state bridge bureau, which developed its own standard rainbow arch by 1923.


The bridge is one of 5 remaining examples of the type that was once not uncommon in Ohio. It offered an aesthetic treatment preferred in urban and picturesque settings. The 6 examples date from 1909 to 1930, and each is of high significance given their limited numbers and importance within the context as the aesthetic alternative to the thru truss bridge.

Additional Comments

One-span, 125'-long, reinforced concrete, tied "rainbow" arch bridge with articulated floorbeams. Concrete paneled parapets at east approaches. 24'-wide deck. Modern guide rail attached to inside of floorbeam hangers. Asphalt wearing surface. Deterioration causing loss of original fabric. Extensive deterioration, especially at bridge ends and ends of floorbeams. Super is critical condition, sub is serious condition. In need of routine maintenance.

Bridge Management Plan Comments

The bridge has already been bypassed and has been closed to vehicular traffic for many years. Even though it carries an active SFN and is included in the NBI database, there is limited information as to its current condition and functionality. The approach roadway width is for the new road; there are no approaches to this bypassed bridge, which sits in isolation north (upstream) of the new road and between two houses. The bridge is deficient in condition, and it apparently is not maintained by the county, which is listed as its owner. The superstructure, with its deteriorating reinforced concrete and exposed reinforcing steel, is in critical (2) condition, the substructure is serious (3), and the general condition appraisal is critical (2). The reinforced concrete parapet at one approach has failed. Because this is a pedestrian bridge, geometric adequacy is not an issue.

The preservation potential of the rainbow arch bridge is dependent on several factors, including identifying a party to accept responsibility for the long-term maintenance of the bridge. It is not known if there is an agreement dating to the abandonment and specifying maintenance responsibilities. Without a responsible custodian, the bridge will continue to receive no maintenance, and the active deterioration will continue unchecked until the bridge fails to support itself, and it will have no preservation potential.

The long-term preservation potential is also related to the condition of the reinforced concrete. The concrete should be tested to determine its compressive strength as well as to determine the extent of chlorides in the concrete and the composition of the concrete. Deterioration of the flooring system is greatest at the ends of the floorbeams and the bridge itself, indicating that the waterproofing at the curb lines has failed and that moisture penetration is significant. The test results will serve as a basis to inform the level of effort needed to arrest the deterioration. It is anticipated that the moisture penetration and degradation of the materials is extensive and that deterioration will accelerate with each freeze-thaw cycle.

Preservation potential for pedestrian use is dependent on the using reinforced concrete testing results to define the level of effort needed to return the bridge to an adequate condition. If the maintenance issues and deterioration remain unaddressed, conservation and preservation will become increasingly expensive and less prudent alternative.

The bridge is already bypassed. Access to the bridge is limited, and there is no off-road parking that encourages visitation. The old approach exists on the west side, and there are modern houses beyond the north side of each end of the bridge, and the new road on a new alignment are immediately to the south. There appears to be no opportunity for constructing a path or trail to encourage enjoyment of the bridge. A private golf course is to the south of the new highway, but there is no physical way to link this bridge to the club grounds.

Pending the results from the concrete testing and load analysis, it is feasible and prudent to address the deterioration of the reinforced concrete. Conventional methods are available to make and finish the repairs without adversely affecting it. These techniques include pneumatically applied concrete. Load-carrying capacity is not a significant factor as the bridge serves for limited pedestrian use only. It has no potential to be anything but an isolated and infrequently visited bypassed bridge.

Preservation Recomendations

-- County forces should immediately and seasonally thereafter clean debris and growth from the bearings area, the deck, and the area around the abutments. This will lessen the advancing deterioration and make the historic bridge more appealing to inspection by passersby.

-- As soon as possible, maintenance forces should install hot-poured rubber joint sealant at cracks along the curb lines where water intrusion is occurring.

-- Develop and install features that encourage visitation. This could include interpretive panels that describe the historic bridge, off-road parking, and a picnic table and trash can. The bridge is not that far from the county engineers office, so maintenance of a "pocket park" should not be onerous to the county.

-- Make needed repairs to stop active deterioration of concrete and reinforcing steel. This could include using a shotcrete method once deteriorated material has been removed and proper surface preparation has been done, including replacing reinforcing as needed.

Bridge is abandoned and not maintained. Consequently it is overgrown at the abutments and debris has accumulated on the deck; both are trapping moisture that affects deterioration. Approaches should be cleaned by county forces to prevent debris and growth from accelerating deterioration. An entity needs to step forward and advocate for preservation of the rare bridge type (only 5 complete examples remain in state). It should be determined if there is an easement or agreement of responsibility to maintain/preserve the bypassed bridge. If there is, it should be enforced. If there is not, an agreement should be established, and county engineer or their designee should solicit a group to be responsible for the bridge on its behalf. A means to fund the needed in kind repairs to bridge and cyclical maintenance should be identified or developed.

Bridge Considered Historic By Survey: Yes, High Significance


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

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