I love the National Road and have explored it across five of its six states. (Ohio: I’ll get to you sooner or later!) In Indiana, my favorite section of the National Road is in Putnam County. It has several great old alignments of the road, including one that’s still gravel with a great restored bridge, and one with a long stretch of concrete laid in the 1920s.

Not long ago I came across this video that tells some of Putnam County’s National Road story. Sorry it’s so splotchy.

I was thrilled to see the image in this video of the open spandrel concrete arch bridge, which is on the concrete alignment. When I explored that bridge, I found the creek bank to be too steep, keeping me from getting a good look. But I was astonished to learn that the previous bridge on that site had been moved around the corner and was still serving! I knew I had to make a trip to see it. And I did. Here is the 1891 Cooper Iron Bridge.

Cooper Iron Bridge

Despite all the rust, it is solid. The deck looks to be pretty fresh – given that it’s wooden, I’m sure it requires a fair amount of maintenance.

Cooper Iron Bridge

119 years of traffic have left a few scars on this bridge, such as the one in the photo at left. Also, I wonder if there was originally a latticed railing along the bridge where the beam railing is now. So many bridges of this style had latticed railings. Perhaps they fell victim to one too many brushes with cars and farm equipment.

This bridge served the National Road for 38 years until that open spandrel concrete arch bridge was built nearby in 1925. I have searched for this bridge’s original stone abutments, which the video says still exist, but I haven’t been able to find them. Maybe I ought to try again in the autumn, when it might be easier to see them because the leaves will be off the trees. The video also said that remnants of the original road remain near those abutments; perhaps they’ll be more obvious then, too. I’m always looking for an excuse to spend time on the National Road in Putnam County.

I’ve driven the National Road from its beginning in Baltimore, MD to its end in Vandaila, IL. To read everything I’ve ever written about it, click here.

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6 responses to “The Cooper Iron Bridge”

  1. Lone Primate Avatar
    Lone Primate

    Oh, wow, Jim, kindred spirits… and knowledgeable ones at that! Have you had a chance to speak with either of those fellows yet?

    I love stuff like this. I wish I could find people who liked the gone-and-forgotten little bits around here. :)

    1. Jim Avatar

      The first guy in the video owns Rising Hall, a grand old home on the road; I suppose I could just write him. But I have no idea how to contact the other guy! I was just happy to have found the video.

      1. Robert Avatar

        There is also a video from the Putnam County Museum on the Big Four Arch Bridges, it also is narrated by Depauw University’s Dr. James Cooper.
        Dr. Cooper wrote a couple of very important books on Indiana Bridges:

        Iron Monuments to Distant Posterity: Indiana’s Metal Bridges, 1870-1930

        Artistry and Ingenuity in Artificial Stone: Indiana’s Concrete Bridges, 1900-1942

        If you don’t have either of these, you can order them here:

        I have them and they have come in very, very handy.

        1. Jim Avatar

          Great stuff, Robert! I’ll definitely order those books.

  2. Scott Palmer Avatar

    Absolutely beautiful! I wonder what happened to the part of the bridge shown in your second photo. Did you get a good enough look to speculate? Did something crash into it or just sideswipe it?

    I suppose that you must make those trips on weekends. Beats the heck out of going to the movies. :-)

    1. Jim Avatar

      It’s actually fairly common for truss bridges to have a little damage from traffic. This looks to me like something passing by caught this beam and mangled it a little. That seems to be the most common damage left behind.

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