Snow is on the ground as I write this and my next road trip is months away. To slake my road-trip thirst during these cold months, I’ve slowly been writing a full trip report of last spring’s tour of Ohio’s National Road. (You can see my other long-form trip reports here). In the process, I’ve found photos from a few great places that I overlooked when I blogged about the trip last summer. Two of those sites are well-preserved S bridges, a few miles apart from each other on either side of the Guernsey and Muskingum county line in eastern Ohio.

These bridges were built in S shapes because it allowed the bridges to cross their respective creeks at right angles, which made them less expensive to build and maintain. In those days, traffic moved along the road at essentially a walk. But traffic speed increased considerably in the automobile age, and cars had to slow way down to negotiate these bridges. They were both bypassed by the early 1930s in the interest of speed and safety.

The first of these bridges stands almost exactly between Cambridge and New Concord and is known as the Cassell S Bridge. You can see its lithe S shape on the left in the aerial image below. I would not be surprised to find that Township Highway 4174, in the upper right, is part of the road’s original alignment leading up to the bridge.

Here’s the bridge on the ground. It is original to the road, built in about 1828 when the National Road was extended through Ohio. It was restored in 2006.

Cassell S Bridge

The brick deck was probably originally laid in the 1910s.

Cassell S Bridge

Someone needs to come out here with some Roundup and a weed whacker.

Cassell S Bridge

The Fox Creek S Bridge, which stands on the west end of New Concord, was also built in about 1828. It’s easy to miss. I was looking for it, and I only caught it out of the corner of my eye as I sped past. I had to turn around and come back to it.

Isn’t it a beauty? I think I like this one a little bit more than the Cassell bridge.

Fox Creek S Bridge

This photo from the Historic American Engineering Record shows the bridge in the early 1930s. Notice how US 40 already bypasses it on the left.

Here’s the deck. A short segment of the brick road extends west beyond the bridge, and you can drive on it to access a small parking area.

Fox Creek S Bridge

This bridge’s restoration added a narrow path that lets you get close and even walk under the bridge.

Fox Creek S Bridge

It’s not very often you can get personal with the underside of an old bridge!

Fox Creek S Bridge

This milestone, probably a reproduction, stands nearby.

Cumberland 190

I encountered two other S bridges on my Ohio National Road trip – a fabulous three-span S bridge at Blaine, and a crumbling S bridge near Old Washington that still carries traffic.

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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15 responses to “Crooked little bridges, well preserved”

  1. Todd Pack Avatar

    Those are neat old bridges, Jim. I think it’s great that a bridge built in 1828 is still standing and that somebody recognized the need to preserve it.

    1. Jim Avatar

      Ohio’s done a pretty good job of preserving its National Road bridges. There are a surprising number of them still standing in eastern Ohio.

  2. ryoko861 Avatar

    It’s nice that they’ve kept them around and are keeping them restored. They’re quaint. To imagine them way back them when they were in use. Even that one image with Rt. 40 already in full swing is pretty cool. Notice the lack of traffic! I always try to imagine what Rt. 22 in my area was like back in the 60’s when this place was basically known as the boonies. Now, the poor highway can’t handle the amount of traffic that drives upon it.

    With all this knowledge and documentation, you should write a book.

    1. Jim Avatar

      I’ve written books — blogging is a lot more fun!

      I like imagining what the roads were like in the old days, too. That’s one of the things that draws me out onto the old roads.

  3. Lone Primate Avatar
    Lone Primate

    Wow, you guys are so lucky. It’s hard to find stuff like that around here… mostly because hardly anyone was building anything in 1828. :) “The ford was good enough to drown my daddy and his oxen, and by gum it’s good enough to drown me!”

    Those are some gorgeous bridges alright. Any idea what’s up with the sudden kinky turn in them? Does that promote structural integrity somehow?

    1. Jim Avatar

      Hahaha! You Canadians are stoic stock.

      These bridges were built so they’d cross the streams directly rather than at an angle. It is still cheaper to build and maintain a bridge that crosses squarely. The road didn’t always cooperate, however, arriving and leaving at whatever angle. So the bridge was curved at its ends to meet the road.

  4. Scott Palmer Avatar

    I had never even heard of S bridges before I read this article. Wow. Those are beautiful old structures. Thanks!

    1. Jim Avatar

      Five S bridges still stand on the National Road — four in Ohio and one in Pennsylvania. All but one are closed to traffic. I’m not aware of other S bridges anywhere.

  5. Ted Kappes Avatar

    I too never heard of this kind of bridge. Looks like they could last a long time with just a little maintenance. Have you ever seen the Chain of Rocks bridge over the Mississippi?. It is notable for having a 22-degree bend in its middle. I remember being scared of this bridge when I was a child.

    1. Jim Avatar

      I have heard of the Chain of Rocks bridge — it’s a Route 66 attraction. I’d love to do 66 one day.

  6. zorgor Avatar

    I’d never heard of an S shaped bridge. It makes sense though — the most efficient design, until speed became an issue. Thanks for posting this — I had never heard of such interesting things!

    1. Jim Avatar

      And now you know! And if you’re ever in eastern Ohio, you can stop and see them for yourself.

  7. […] like the National Road’s remaining “S-bridges,” which Jim Grey writes about here and […]

  8. […] bridges in eastern Ohio. Jim Grey, who has been a frequent resource for this blog, has chronicled those structures. So until I get to Ohio (and even after), check out his blog. Pennsylvania’s ‘S’ […]

  9. […] For those that want a direct link to sources, check these links out:Crooked little bridges, well preserved (Jim Grey)Wikipedia entry: S bridge“S” Bridge, West of Cambridge, Guernsey County, […]

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