Putnam County, Indiana, is so rich in old bridges that when my friend Dawn and I set out to tour them four years ago, we couldn’t fit them all into a single day. Most of Putnam County’s old bridges were well used and needed a little maintenance. A few of them had fallen into such disrepair that they were closed to traffic. One of those was the Houck Iron Bridge.
This bridge may look like it was in the middle of nowhere. There’s a lot of middle-of-nowhere in Putnam County, which is mostly rural. But this bridge stood just three miles north of downtown Greencastle, the county’s largest town and home to DePauw University.
Built in 1913, the Houck Iron Bridge stood here for 99 years and carried traffic for most of them. But in 2012, it was dismantled. A new concrete slab bridge was built slightly downstream.
The pieces were trucked north to Delphi in Carroll County, where volunteers worked for two years to restore and reassemble this bridge over the Wabash and Erie Canal on Delphi’s extensive trail system. It opened in July, and so Dawn and I spent some of our annual road trip this year driving up there to visit it.
I can’t imagine all the straightening and sandblasting the job must have required. But the volunteers in Delphi are tenacious. They’ve built a very nice park along the canal, which is a few blocks north of downtown. You can rent a paddle boat and take a lazy trip along the canal, or rent a bicycle and ride the trail system, or bring a picnic and eat among a number of log cabins built nearby, or tour the museum and interpretive center.
But we were there to see the bridge, which was the sole focus of my photography.
Now that this bridge has found a new home, it has been renamed the Gray Bridge. Two other restored old truss spans have been placed along the trails surrounding Delphi, too: the Red Bridge and the Blue Bridge. You get one guess per bridge what color they are painted.
Walking across the new deck, I was surprised by how many boards were a little loose and how some of the boards weren’t flush. The decks on bridges I’ve seen restored for vehicular use are tight as a drum. Perhaps a pedestrian bridge has lesser requirements.
But otherwise the volunteers did a great job giving this bridge new life. Everything that used to be bent or twisted is now straight.
Normally I prefer historic structures to be restored in place. But I think in this case that this great old bridge will get much more use and enjoyment in its new home. Kudos to the volunteers in Delphi for making it happen.
I love truss bridges. They’re art in steel.