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Quaker Bridge

Williamson's Crossing Bridge

Quaker Bridge

Primary Photographer(s): Nathan Holth and Rick McOmber

Bridge Documented: July 1, 2006 and August 21, 2010

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Key Facts

Location
Rural (Near Greenville): Mercer County, Pennsylvania: United States
Construction Date and Builder / Engineer
By Builder/Contractor: Unknown

Technical Facts

Rehabilitation Date
Not Available or Not Applicable
Main Span Length
124 Feet (37.8 Meters)
Structure Length
126 Feet (38.4 Meters)
Roadway Width
14 Feet (4.27 Meters)
Spans
1 Main Span(s)
NBI Number
43400600601994

Historic Significance Rating (HSR)

Bridge Documentation

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

View The State Level Recordation For This Historic Bridge

About The Bridge

The Quaker Bridge is a pin connected Pratt through truss with pinned connections. The 126 foot structure is composed of eight panels. Original railings do not remain on the bridge, and modern Armco railings are present on the bridge. A unique square-shaped design of decorative finials are mounted on the ends of the top chords. The portal bracing is a lattice design. V-lacing is present on the vertical members. The lacing and lattice, as well as the finials make this a very visually attractive bridge. The stone abutments, although seen frequently in Pennsylvania, are uncommon in other states like Michigan and offer an attractive seat for the bridge over other materials such as concrete. The overhead lateral bracing is tied directly into the pin on the connections via a plate with a hole in it. This is less common than the usual method of mounting the overhead lateral bracing above the top chord or in the sway bracing. The floor beams are the less common riveted girders that a fishbelly shape to them, although the floor beams do not come to a point like many fishbelly floor beams.

The bridge was apparently locally known as the "Friendly Bridge" because people would wave at people crossing the one-lane bridge while waiting to cross themselves.

While at the bridge in 2006, it was observed that one of the stones had an outline labeled "save" on it, and that the stone appeared to have a date on it, which looked like 187-something date to me at the time. Nate Clark provided some details on this "mystery stone" as follows:

That unusual stone in the west abutment of Quaker Bridge MAY contain a time capsule, and that's why the Mercer County Historical Society and I asked PennDOT and the contractor to be gentle in its extraction, had my efforts to save the truss failed.  The ashlar abutment stones, along with the steel deck grating, were to have been salvaged for and retained by PennDOT, after the truss was razed and scrapped.  Because it may be 'chipped', I cannot determine whether the last digit that was carefully cut into that stone may be a '1', a '4' or a '7', but 187X-anything would predate the 1898 construction of Quaker, and therefore suggest that those abutments may have supported an earlier span (a wooden covered bridge, perhaps?) at that location.  The Erie Extension of the Beaver and Lake Erie Canal was where the west approach and abutment for Quaker Bridge now (and still) stand: it ceased operation on this segment in 1871, so that MAY be the date in that bridge abutment stone.

Who Built This Bridge and When?

With the bridge missing its builder plaque, there is some disagreement as to who was involved with building the bridge. The most common name mentioned is the Cleveland Bridge Company of Cleveland, Ohio. If the bridge has any association with this company, it would be one of the only such examples. Little is known about this small company. However, it has also been suggested that a local builder was involved with the bridge's construction, specifically, James R. Gemmill, who ran a company called Sharpsville Steam Boiler Works of Sharpsville, Pennsylvania. This company was also was known to have built bridges. There also are two dates that have been suggested for this bridge. One is 1898, and the other is 1884. The design of the bridge, with decorative finials and fishbelly floor beams is more suggestive of an  1884 bridge, however. The 1898 date may have been the date of some sort of repair project.

Refuting a Harsh Review of the Quaker Bridge

The Quaker Bridge is an excellent example of a classic pin connected through truss. The Mercer County demolition mitigation website, which has since been abandoned, had attempted to describe the bridge saying "The bridge is an example of a common Pratt Through Truss lacking distinctive details. The design reflects the increasing standardization of truss bridge designs in the last part of the nineteenth century." Truss bridges are hardly "common" on today's roadways, particularly pin-connected truss bridges. "Common" is a rather insensitive word to use with metal truss bridges, and is indicative of someone who is unfamiliar with the rare at which these bridges have been and continue to be demolished. The comment that it reflects standardization is a moot point, since this movement toward standardization did not happen just during the time of the Quaker Bridge. Rather, it was a general trend that started in the 1870s or earlier, and continued through the 20th century. While a bridge like the Quaker Bridge might appear more standardized than a bridge built in 1870, a bridge built 20 years after the Quaker Bridge would look equally more standardized. The Quaker Bridge simply falls in a period of that standardization trend. And within that tend, the Quaker Bridge still falls in a period where the visual appearance, and even the construction details, of one bridge to the next varied extensively because in this period the bridge builder usually controlled the design, where as in later decades government agencies played a major roll in further standardizing bridges in the states and even nationwide. Granted, the truss configuration of the Quaker Bridge is the most common form of truss built during the 1880s through the early 1900s. Beyond that, there is great diversity in truss bridges built during this time. Finally, the suggestion that the bridge lacks distinctive details is downright incorrect. The decorative finials mounted on top of each end of the bridge are certainly distinctive! Finials are uncommon, and the particular design seen on the Quaker Bridge is even more unusual.

Saving This Historic Bridge From Demolition

This bridge came very close to being the latest of many historic metal truss bridges in Pennsylvania to be demolished. PennDOT had decided to build a replacement bridge, although it had been determined that the replacement bridge would located on a different alignment. Often a replacement bridge is built in a slightly different location to provide a new alignment that makes the road safer and/or more efficient. This means that the historic bridge is not in the way of its replacement. One preservation option seems obvious as a result: the historic bridge can be left standing either closed off and abandoned or open to non-motorized traffic. As obvious as this might seem, PennDOT has always insisted that the bridge be demolished after the new bridge is completed, representing a waste of both tax dollars and history. Normally the only way PennDOT allows a bridge to be saved is if a third party relocates and reuses the bridge in a new location. If nobody steps forward, the bridge is demolished. The Quaker Bridge came very close to this fate. However, a rare circumstance allowed the demolition part of the project to be averted because a third party stepped forward not only with an interest in taking ownership of the bridge, but in maintaining it in its original location. On June 15, 2006, the Quaker Bridge's demolition was canceled as a result of 33 months of work by a gentleman named Nate Clark, who had a strong passion for preserving the bridge. Work on the new bridge continued as planned, and it opened to traffic. However the truss bridge has continued standing out of the way of its replacement on the old road alignment, where work on its preservation can take place and the eventual creation of a park around it can be realized.

It is clear that the preservation of the Quaker Bridge is a significant achievement.  Nate Clark, a historic bridge enthusiast who lives outside of Greenville, Pennsylvania, almost single-handedly organized and directed the process to keep the Quaker Bridge from being demolished. He however was only able to save the bridge through the help and cooperation of a number of people. Nate mentions that "This landmark bridge preservation was only made possible through the generous cooperation of many people, including PennDOT District and Headquarters staff; PA Department of Environmental Protection staff; contractor Delta Constructors; the adjacent private property owners; the Mercer County Historical Society, and the law offices of Halliday & Halliday.  Additionally, representatives of township, county, state and federal government all played key roles in keeping this piece of Pennsylvania history from being destroyed and melted down."

This bridge came extremely close to being demolished, so close in fact that the story plays out like a movie. It really is amazing that the Quaker Bridge is even standing today, it came so close to being bulldozed. The Quaker Bridge was looking right at the ugly face of cutting torches, but thanks to Nate Clark's efforts to save the bridge, demolition was averted at almost the last minute. Nate Clark relates the experience below with comments from June 15, 2006.

"This was not easy and, worse, I was making it up as I was going along.  And, it very nearly went 'the other way': the contractor told me today the frightening fact that one morning 11 days ago, in compliance with his contract, his people had unloaded the oxygen and acetylene tanks from the gas truck and were stringing hose for the torches to the bridge when PennDOT called him in the field office and put a ten-day 'stay-of-execution' on it to buy us a little more time.  He immediately Nextelled his men and ordered them to reload the burning/cutting equipment and pull out.  He has been extraordinary in his cooperation since I met him in the snow over there at the project's very beginning.  I think he may have actually been relieved when PennDOT called off the first 'execution' date.  Without an understanding contractor, that bridge steel would all be en route, tonight, to a melt shop furnace, probably in China.  In fact, the ten-day 'stay' expired yesterday, and today was to have been the first day in 108 years to end without Quaker Bridge spanning the Little Shenango River."

One of the biggest barriers to preserving historic bridges, aside from money is bureaucracy, legal matters, and red tape issues. Even in 2013, seven years since demolition was canceled, there are still a number of legal and logistical issues being worked out. Effort is still being made to realize the complete preservation and protection of this bridge from demolition.

Additional Bridge Comments From Nate Clark

The Historic Quaker Bridge is a 126-foot-long; Victorian-era Cleveland Bridge Company Pratt through-truss near Greenville; Mercer County, Pennsylvania.

Built in 1898 to carry Williamson Road over the Little Shenango River in Mercer County, between Erie and Pittsburgh, this strong-yet-graceful pin-connected span was listed on The National Register of Historic Places in 1988.
Quaker is believed to be the fourth state-owned historic metal truss bridges yet saved in Pennsylvania, and the FIRST in Western PA. It also is said to be the very first such state-owned bridge in the commonwealth -- vs. wooden covered bridges -- ever to be retired and preserved in-place.  At the moment, while its replacement is being completed 100 feet upstream, the existing structure remains in the bridge inventory of PennDOT until it is formally vacated and conveyed, later this summer.  The good news is that, after a 33-month-long effort to save it, the scheduled truss bridge razing and scrapping was successfully averted. One more structure listed on the National Register of Historic Places gets to survive.

Significantly, the footing for the cut-stone west abutment supporting the truss rests within the canal basin of the 'Erie Extension' of the Beaver and Lake Erie Canal (~1845-1871), between Beaver Falls and Erie, PA.

Now, county residents and tourists, alike, will soon have a truly special place to take time out of their hectic lives to stop, relax and enjoy this graceful bridge and its beautiful natural surroundings.  They'll be able to picnic next to it and then take a leisurely stroll (or wheelchair ride) across this charming span to absorb and appreciate the dramatic geometry of its elegant, Victorian-era architecture silhouetted against the sky.  They'll also have a chance to witness a lone Blue Heron flying just above the river's surface on its morning and evening 'patrols', right under the bridge's open-grate steel deck.  There is a variety of other riparian wildlife along the river's banks to be observed, and massive Silver Maple, Sycamore and Black Walnut trees form a natural backdrop that graces the downstream side of the picturesque bridge.

Here is a 'thumbnail' background on this structure:  

About the Cleveland Bridge Company, From http://www.mercercotrussbridges.com

Discussion of Bridge

The Cleveland Bridge and Iron Company, was formed ca. 1850 as Thatcher, Burt, and Company, with offices in Springfield, Massachusetts and Cleveland, Ohio.  The principals, Peter Thatcher, Jr. and George H. Burt, had experience building railroads and railroad bridges throughout the east coast region.  In 1852, Thatcher's nephew, Henry Martyn Claflen, joined the firm, and the Massachusetts office was apparently closed.  Thatcher, Burt, and Company purchased the regional rights to build Howe trusses, a bridge type with wood compression members and iron tension members.  The company erected Howe truss bridges throughout Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and Kentucky in the 1850s.  During the Civil War, Claflen built railroad bridges for the Union Army, most notably to help relieve the siege of Chattanooga.

 In 1865, Claflen and Albert C. McNairy formed the bridge building firm of McNairy, Claflen & Co.  By 1868, the company's name had been changed to Cleveland Bridge and Car Works.  The company now held the rights in southern and western states to "Post's Diagonal Truss," a hybrid of a Warren truss and a Whipple truss.  Like the Warren truss, the Post truss had compression posts placed at an angle; like the Whipple truss it had diagonals in tension stretching across more than one panel point.  In 1875, McNairy, Claflen & Co. entered receivership, although its fabrication shop continued to operate under a lease to another company.  In either 1877 or 1879 the company reorganized as the Cleveland Bridge and Iron Company, with Henry Claflen as its president.  The last year the Cleveland Bridge and Iron Company appears in the Cleveland city directory is 1894, the year it apparently went out of business.

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