A friend and I were cruising through southern Indiana one warm early-autumn day, skirting Camp Atterbury’s eastern boundary on an old alignment of US 31, when we came upon a narrow bridge with obvious and unattractive guardrail repair.
This bridge matters because it is on the Madison State Road, completed in 1824 to link the Ohio River town of Madison to the new state capital at Indianapolis. It also matters because it is a kind of bridge the state highway commission built from the late 1910s through the early 1930s, many of which have been removed. The survivors are on minor highways or, like this one, on roads that were once highways but have since been bypassed.
These bridges are entirely unremarkable as you drive over them. It’s what’s below that counts. Modern highway bridges are just slabs supported by piers; they’re nothing to look at. This particular old girl, on the other hand, has three graceful arches (that have seen happier days).
The old guardrail lay in large pieces next to the bridge, making it easy to climb down the riverbank. If I could have lifted any of the chunks, I would have been sorely tempted to haul it home. I’m not sure what I’d have done with it, though!
Under the bridge it was easy to see outlines of the boards used to create the formwork into which which the concrete was poured. This photo shows a similar bridge under construction in the 1920s, its wooden falsework partially in place, creating arches. A formwork is placed on that and concrete poured into it.
The original guardrail remains at the bridge’s south end. It’s hard to believe, in this age of nine-lane freeways, that a bridge this narrow could ever have been part of a US highway.
It’s sad that this old bridge has been so neglected and that its repairs have not been sympathetic to its design.
I took several more photos of this bridge, and they’re all available here on Flickr.
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