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Ulster Bridge

Ulster - Sheshequin Bridge

Ulster Bridge

Primary Photographer(s): Nathan Holth

Bridge Documented: May 26, 2007

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Key Facts

Facility Carried / Feature Intersected
Bridge Street (PA-1022) Over Susquehanna River (North Branch)
Ulster: Bradford County, Pennsylvania: United States
Structure Type
Metal 13 Panel Pin-Connected Parker Through Truss, Fixed and Approach Spans: Metal 10 Panel Rivet-Connected Warren Pony Truss, Fixed
Construction Date and Builder / Engineer
1904 By Builder/Contractor: Pennsylvania Steel Company of Steelton, Pennsylvania

Technical Facts

Rehabilitation Date
Main Span Length
237 Feet (72.2 Meters)
Structure Length
2,011 Feet (613 Meters)
Roadway Width
19.3 Feet (5.88 Meters)
4 Main Span(s) and 11 Approach Span(s)
NBI Number

Historic Significance Rating (HSR)
View Information About HSR Ratings

Bridge Documentation

This bridge no longer exists!

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

View Original Plans For This Historic Bridge

This unique and nationally significant historic bridge was demolished by PennDOT September 25, 2007

Ulster Bridge

About The Ulster Bridge

The Ulster Bridge was an extremely large metal truss bridge. Consulting Engineers Skelly and Loy found that the Ulster Bridge was "One of the longest highway bridges in Pennsylvania, each of its 14 spans has 28 pin connections. It is the longest pin-connected truss bridge known to continue to carry traffic." This alone made the Ulster Bridge very significant. Skelly and Loy's statement requires some clarification however. There were four large pin-connected Parker truss bridges with thirteen panels each, which formed the main span of the structure. These spans would be considered large even if each was an individual bridge. The remaining 10 spans were approach spans on the eastern end of the bridge. These alone were significant in their own right as well. They were all long span Warren pony trusses with riveted connections and they featured unusual vertical end posts. Vertical end posts are highly rare, and indeed multi-span pony trusses are uncommon also. If considered its own structure, these pony truss spans may have combined to be one of the longest remaining pony truss bridges of any kind. When pony and through truss spans together were combined, it was clear that Ulster Bridge was one of the most important historic bridges in the country, as one of the most unusual, impressive, and comprehensive examples of metal truss bridge technology in existence. The fact that the bridge had no major alterations and had good historic integrity helped support this assessment.

Ulster Bridge

The presence of both pinned connections on the main spans and riveted connections on the approach spans made this an important structure that clearly documented the transition from pinned to riveted connections. Apparently, at the time this bridge was built, rigid connections were a realistic option for smaller bridges, like the pony truss approach spans on the Ulster Bridge, but were unrealistic for larger spans. Concerns about skilled labor, availability and practicality of field riveting tools, and also concerns about accuracy and flexibility in design with larger bridges, were all things that were initial problems to building truss bridges with riveted connections.

Pennsylvania Steel Company

The historic integrity of the structure was also without compare. Although it was rehabilitated in 1960, these repairs do not seem to have damaged the historic integrity of the structure. The only notable alteration was the presence of a steel grating deck, a minor alteration since deck surface is not normally considered when evaluating the historic integrity of a bridge, since decks were historically replaced multiple times over the life of a bridge. The floor beams and railings were both original; these are elements often lost on bridges. There were no signs of massive alterations like many replaced diagonal members or rivets.

The bridge was considered eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

HistoricBridges.org awarded the Ulster Bridge with a high Historic Significance Rating (HSR) that only a handful of bridges earn, a 10-10 rating. This was due to the fact that both the entire approach system of the bridge as well as the individual main spans of the bridge were all highly significant in their own right, when combined, formed a bridge that was likely unique.

Information From Bradford County Truss Bridges Demolition Mitigation Website

The Ulster Bridge was built in 1904 by the Pennsylvania Steel Company. It is a pin-connected Parker through truss, set on stone piers. One of the longest highway bridges in Pennsylvania, each of its 14 spans has 28 pin connections. It is the longest pin-connected truss bridge known to continue to carry traffic. This bridge has been determined eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.  There are plans to replace this bridge in the fall of 2005.

The construction of the 1904 Ulster Bridge is attributed to the Pennsylvania Steel Company. The Pennsylvania Steel Company was organized in June 1865. The following year it purchased land for its main production facility in Steelton, near Harrisburg. Operations commenced at the plant in May 1867. Closely associated with the Pennsylvania Railroad, the Pennsylvania Steel Company's first contract was to roll steel rails for the railroad, utilizing the then-revolutionary Bessemer steel process. In 1916, the Pennsylvania Steel Company was one of the operations merged to form Bethlehem Steel (Maley 2002).

Fate of the Ulster Bridge

A replacement bridge was built directly next to the historic bridge. Following the completion of the replacement bridge, the historic bridge was demolished. Since the bridge was not in the way of its replacement, nor was it at risk for collapse (it carried traffic right up until its demolition), the demolition of this historic bridge was pointless and served no purpose, and the only result of the demolition was the wasting of tax dollars on demolition and the destruction of a nationally significant historic bridge.

As mitigation for the demolition of the historic bridge, erecting interpretive signage to inform visitors about the former historic bridge is something PennDOT often does. The "interpretive" signage as shown below was apparently placed at the bridge site, as outlined in the bridge contract. This signage is a disgrace. Interpretive signage that is placed as mitigation for adverse effect should not devote half of the text to praising the replacement bridge and commending the owner agency on said demolition and replacement project. The signage should focus exclusively on relating the history and significance of the historic
bridge. And if it does discuss the replacement bridge, and why the owner agency demolished the historic bridge it should relate the truth. That this historic bridge demolition represents a failure. PennDOT was charged by the federal government to seek and explore every and any possible feasible and prudent alternative to harming this historic bridge. PennDOT failed to identify a feasible and prudent alternative. Whether their truly was no way to save this bridge, or whether PennDOT simply did not try hard enough, it is a great loss either way, and the interpretive signage fails to convey this fact. The sign's statement that "The Ulster Bridge reflects PennDOT's commitment to providing the traveling public with the best value and highest quality highways" is a statement of opinion, and even an attempt to find facts to substantiate that opinion would be difficult. The best value and quality solution would have been to save the demolition money while also maintaining the heritage and beauty of the Commonwealth and leave the historic bridge standing next to its replacement.

Ulster Bridge

An Overview of Pennsylvania

The story of Pennsylvania's historic bridges is a strange and twisted one. Three points deserve to be made explicit. First, it is worth noting that Pennsylvania has a large number of historic wooden covered bridges, and nearly all are preserved and appear frequently in tourism-related literature. Second, it is also worth noting that one of the most noteworthy and important parts of Pennsylvania's development and history revolves around the iron and steel industries that developed within the state, including Carnegie Steel and Bethlehem Steel and many others. Third, Pennsylvania has an unusually large number of rare and historic iron and steel truss bridges, scoring high marks in both truss bridge quantity and quality. Many of these bridges are just as rare and noteworthy as the wooden covered bridges in the state, and thus just as deserving of preservation.

Pennsylvania, in the past decades, has treated their metal truss bridges quite well. They have kept paint on them, and for unknown reasons, did not engage in alterations of these bridges that might damage their historic integrity. In contrast, states like Michigan are filled with rusted truss bridges that have not seen paint in decades, and/or have been abandoned due to lack of maintenance. West Virginia has many metal truss bridges that remain open with traffic, perhaps with paint on them, but many are scarred by alterations that damage the historic integrity of the structures. Compared with other states, Pennsylvania has done a good job in the past, even if this was done out of economy rather than historic preservation.

Despite these facts, Pennsylvania is demolishing their historic truss bridges at an alarming rate, despite the broad range of opportunities for preservation available. In many cases, the historic bridge in question is not even in the way of the modern bridge replacing it, which is often built on a slightly different alignment. Pennsylvania has mastered the system, and getting around the few historic preservation laws has become second nature. First they offer the bridge to a third party, as required by law. This is generally unsuccessful because the size of the bridge, originally a public resource, often makes relocation and restoration far too costly for a private party to do. Second, they may mitigate the demolition by taking a few photos of the bridge, making a temporary website about the bridge, or as in the case of the Ulster Bridge, erecting some sort of signage at the site of the bridge. Finally, they often will add stone-shaped patterns on the piers of the new bridge (formliners), apparently under the false assumption that the only thing historic on the old bridge is the substructure, and also that these impressions in the concrete will replicate the appearance of the historic bridge.

Ulster Bridge

It is unfortunate both for the public and Pennsylvania itself that this is the fate of the historic bridges. An effective historic bridge preservation program should not restrict itself to a single bridge type like wooden covered bridges and stone arch bridges, but rather should focus on restoring a variety of bridge types, including metal truss bridges, concrete arch bridges, and where appropriate, stringer and plate girder bridges. If Pennsylvania would restore a number of its metal truss bridges, as it has done with its wooden covered bridges, then these truss bridges could be used in tourism literature, and act as a further draw for travel-related income. They would also enhance the beauty and thus the quality of life of Pennsylvania for residents as well. Although it is often possible and important to retain the original function of truss bridges to serve vehicular traffic in their original location, there is a wide variety of alternatives to demolition. For historic bridge preservationists, any of these options is preferred over demolition. There are so many options fitting such a wide variety of situations, that it seems like a demolition solution should only occur once in a long while. As is often the case in Pennsylvania, federal funding or federal agency involvement in a bridge project requires PennDOT to consider "feasible and prudent" alternatives to demolishing a historic bridge through the Section 106 process. However, in many cases the list of alternatives considered is incomplete and the few that are considered are not as thoroughly explored as they might be. Worse, when PennDOT fails to identify a feasible and prudent alternative and thus seeks to mitigate the unavoidable adverse effect of demolition, mitigation selected falls short of the true spirit of Section 106.

Alternatives To Demolition

1. Full Restoration:
Rehabilitate the bridge for vehicular use, in accordance with the treatment approaches recommended by the Secretary of Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation.

2. Full Restoration Through Retrofit:
Rehabilitate the bridge and retrofit the structure to carry legally loaded vehicles.

3. Partial Restoration/Maintenance:
Either the owner or another party rehabilitates the bridge for vehicular use, with size/weight limitations, or rehabilitate the bridge for non-vehicular use.

4. Add A Bridge For More Lanes:
Build a bridge next to the existing bridge, forming a one-way couplet, using both bridges for vehicular use.

5. Build A New Vehicle Bridge, But Also Maintain Historic Bridge:
Either the owner or another party bypasses the historic bridge and maintains the historic bridge for either light vehicular use or non-vehicular use.

6. Build A New Vehicle Bridge, And Close Historic Bridge:
Either the owner or another party bypasses the historic bridge and closes the historic bridge to all traffic, erecting a barricade and posting warning signage at the entrances to the bridge.

7. Relocate to Bridge Park:
The bridge is relocated and rehabilitated, by either the owner or another party, for the purpose of serving vehicular or non-vehicular traffic, at a public location.

8. Give the Bridge to A Private Individual:
Another party relocates and rehabilitates the bridge at a location not available to the public.

9. Do Nothing:
The original owner does nothing to the existing bridge and it remains in its existing condition. If the bridge is currently closed to traffic, or it has a posted weight restriction, document the detour route around the bridge.

How Could The Ulster Bridge Have Been Preserved?

The Ulster Bridge was extremely important for having a great deal of historic significance and an extremely high level of aesthetic value. Given the alternatives to demolition above, the fact of the size of the Ulster Bridge, and even allowing the replacement bridge to be constructed as seen today, a couple options still stand out. Option one is that the bridge could be restored in place for pedestrian use. Option two is that the bridge could be left standing with no further repairs, and perhaps closed to all traffic including pedestrians. The first option will result in the greatest benefit, making the bridge welcoming to tourists and also making the bridge look the best it possibly can, but at the current time might require a lot more effort to get Pennsylvania to agree to due to the likely increase in cost. The second option will retain a beautiful structure for people to enjoy looking at from the new bridge. It will also leave the door open for preservation in the future. It is likely that future years will see a dramatic increase in the awareness of metal truss bridges. Rapidly decreasing numbers of surviving metal truss bridges, particularly large ones like the Ulster Bridge, will lead to this. Plus, websites like this one will also help increase awareness! Future years may also see better funding programs for historic bridge preservation projects.

In its condition at the time of demolition, the Ulster Bridge would likely have stood for decades with no additional serious structural problems or risk of collapse under its own weight. Demolition was not needed.

 Is A Closed Historic Truss Bridge A Problem?

One reason for demolishing a historic bridge in Pennsylvania is often the fear of being sued if someone gets injured on the old bridge. However, statistics show that there is not a history of people suing DOTs and road commissions over a historic bridge injury. HistoricBridges.org drew that information from a report at www.srifoundation.com. None of the participating Departments of Transportation could report a single incidence of a lawsuit. This is noteworthy, especially considering that states like Michigan have a lot of truss bridges abandoned, many in much worse condition than bridges that might be abandoned in Pennsylvania.

Leaving the structure standing with no repair would have cost nothing more than any costs spent by perhaps posting closed signs and possibly blocking off the bridge. They would also save the cost of demolition. Pennsylvania need not fear leaving a bridge standing, even if no work is done on the structure, for it will be in good company. Below is a list of bridges that have been left standing, either abandoned completely or bypassed by a modern structure.

Example Truss Bridges Bypassed That Were Left Standing

Triple Whipple Bridge, Ohio County, Indiana and Dearborn County, Indiana. This is a perfect example of inspiration for leaving the Ulster Bridge standing. Many years ago, this bridge was bypassed with construction of new state trunk line alignment a distance east of the bridge. The bridge was not demolished and was left standing closed to traffic for years. Today, awareness that this is the last remaining example of its unusual truss configuration has increased. Now, the two counties are going to restore this structure and enjoy the increase in tourism and desirability it will bring.

Stonelick Williams Corner Road Bridge - Clermont County, Ohio. This bridge sits next to its replacement with no further work done on the structure, and simple Armco railings fencing it off.

CR-3 Bridge - Pleasants County, West Virginia. This bridge sits next to its replacement with no further work done on the structure. West Virginia erected "No Trespassing" signs in front of the bridge. Such measures would likely provide additional protection for the state in the unlikely event of a liability issue.

Gearhart Road Bridge - Shelby County, Ohio. Located on the edge of the city of Sidney, this bridge has been closed to traffic with no further work done on the structure, and a new bridge constructed a short distance south of the structure.

Example Truss Bridges Abandoned

Marantette Bridge - St. Joseph County, Michigan. This bridge and crossing has been abandoned with no work done on the structure. The bridge sits in a public DNR boat launch setting on the outskirts of a small village, similar to Ulster.

Upton Road Bridge - Clinton County, Michigan. This bridge and crossing has been abandoned with no work done on the structure. A sign telling people to stay off the bridge is present. The bridge is located in a public park on the edge of a small village.

Turner Road Bridge - Ionia County, Michigan. This bridge and crossing has been abandoned with no work done on the structure. It is located in State Game Lands.

Messerall Road Bridge - Crawford County, Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania has actually left a couple bridges stand, the lack of incident surrounding bridges like this is only further support for leaving Ulster Bridge standing.

Georgia Street Bridge - Belmont County, Ohio and Ohio County, West Virginia. This bridge has been abandoned.

6 Mile Creek Road Bridge - Shiawassee County, Michigan. This bridge and crossing has been abandoned with no work done on the structure.

Martin Road Bridge - Shiawassee County, Michigan. This bridge and crossing has been abandoned with no work done on the structure.

Finally, a couple examples of abandoned truss bridges within none other than Bradford County, Pennsylvania were found, but these have yet to be added to the website.

It is clear that any unfounded fears of leaving a historic bridge standing are simply excuses to help proceed quickly to a demolition solution.


Photo Galleries and Videos: Ulster Bridge

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Structure Overview
Original / Full Size Photos
A collection of overview photos that show the bridge as a whole and general areas of the bridge. This gallery offers photos in the highest available resolution and file size in a touch-friendly popup viewer. Alternatively, Browse Without Using Viewer
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Structure Details
Original / Full Size Photos
A collection of detail photos that document the parts, construction, and condition of the bridge. This gallery offers photos in the highest available resolution and file size in a touch-friendly popup viewer. Alternatively, Browse Without Using Viewer
View Photo Gallery
Structure Overview
Mobile Optimized Photos
A collection of overview photos that show the bridge as a whole and general areas of the bridge. This gallery features data-friendly, fast-loading photos in a touch-friendly popup viewer. Alternatively, Browse Without Using Viewer
View Photo Gallery
Structure Details
Mobile Optimized Photos
A collection of detail photos that document the parts, construction, and condition of the bridge. This gallery features data-friendly, fast-loading photos in a touch-friendly popup viewer. Alternatively, Browse Without Using Viewer


Maps and Links: Ulster Bridge

This historic bridge has been demolished. This map is shown for reference purposes only.

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