A bridge that will never inspire an artist or a poet

Artists and poets have long employed bridges in their work for their grace and beauty. Monet famously painted bridges, including one in his Japanese garden. Van Gogh painted the same bridge over and over again. Harold Hart Crane wrote probably the most famous bridge poem, about Brooklyn Bridge. Wordsworth’s heart was so stirred by the view from a bridge that he composed a poem while standing on it.

This plain bridge stirs nobody’s heart. Artists and poets look at it and think, “meh.”


Three bridges have spanned the White River on US 50 in Shoals, Indiana. This is the third one. The first, a Whipple through truss, was built in 1880 and served until 1932. The second was a three-span Parker through truss. When it was time for that bridge to go, the era of Interstate-style ugly concrete eyesore bridges (UCEBs) was in full swing, and so this is what Shoals got. This is pretty much the only kind of bridge built anymore.

Fortunately, someone saved this concrete plaque from the 1880 span. It was placed here, marking that bridge’s location, when the 1932 bridge was built. It has style, unlike the modern bridge.

Shoals, Indiana

One day this UCEB will need to be replaced. Nobody will lament it; there will be no commemorative plaque, no paintings or poems.

I happen to think that steel truss bridges are beautiful.

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11 responses to “A bridge that will never inspire an artist or a poet”

  1. Charlie Avatar

    I dunno. It’s got clean, streamlined lines. I’m feeling a fleeting inspiration to go paint it… The bridge Van Gogh painted looks very functional too. I think it only looks quaint now because it’s antiquated…

    1. Jim Avatar

      To each his own, I guess! Shouldn’t you be testing software? :-)

  2. Scott Palmer Avatar

    From a distance at least, that plain bridge strikes me as quite beautiful. It’s simple, symmetrical, and it conforms to the surrounding landscape.

    There are other ways for bridges to be beautiful, of course. It undoubtedly lacks individuality. And I didn’t see it up close.

    1. Jim Avatar

      Clearly, I’m writing to my bias here. I love steel/iron/covered (wooden) truss bridges for the intricate engineering work on display. Many concrete arch bridges were designed for beauty.

      Check out this 1906 truss bridge in Putnam County: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mobilene/4879040232/

      Check out this concrete arch bridge in South Bend: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mobilene/4145126304/

      Perhaps this will help explain why I find modern slab-and-pier bridges to be, at best, uninspiring.

  3. Scott Palmer Avatar

    I wonder if there are any photos of the old bridge that they tore down in 1932?

    1. Jim Avatar

      A photo of the 1880 bridge is here: http://bridgehunter.com/in/martin/shoals/

      A photo of the 1932 bridge is here: http://bridgehunter.com/in/martin/bh45701/

  4. Scott Palmer Avatar

    Thanks, Jim! Of the three bridges, I like the 1890 bridge the best.

  5. Todd Pack Avatar

    You’re right. That’s one ugly, uninspiring bridge. I understand why it was built that way. They needed a bridge, and they didn’t want to spend a lot of money, but still.

    1. Jim Avatar

      Thanks for backing me up, man!

  6. Bob Avatar


    That is one ugly bridge, I’ve seen it and don’t like it!
    There are a dozen other iron bridges in the county worth checking out.
    Also, if you get back there again, check out “Jug Rock”


    1. Jim Avatar

      Bob, I’ll be back in Shoals sometime later this summer to finish my Indiana US 50 journey, so I’ll be sure to look for Jug Rock. Thanks for the tip!

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