History, Road trips

Goodbye Middletown Bridge

You can’t save them all.

Stone bridge, one-lane alignment

It wouldn’t win any beauty contests, this four-span stone-arch bridge on a bypassed one-lane alignment of the Michigan Road in southeastern Shelby County. But it was built by hand, stone by stone, in 1903. That made it significant, even eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

MiddletownBridgeCollapse

Indiana Landmarks photo

But in 2013, tragedy struck: one of the arches collapsed. Preservationists swung into action to save the bridge, but it was a long shot, as the wound was deep and serious, and Shelby County lacked the funds to rebuild. But the state considered this bridge not only historic but Select, meaning that it could not be demolished without following burdensome and expensive federal processes.

Shelby County asked the Indiana Department of Transportation to simply remove this bridge from the Select list. INDOT submitted the request for public comment. My organization, the Historic Michigan Road Association, sent a letter opposing the move, as did other organizations and individuals.

But Indiana Landmarks saw an opportunity in this situation. An 1889 iron-truss bridge elsewhere in the county had not made the Select list, which Landmarks regretted. Its last inspection found serious structural problems, but the bridge was still usable and might be within Shelby County’s means to repair. So Landmarks horse traded with INDOT and Shelby County: the iron bridge went on the Select list and the Middletown Bridge, now doomed, went off.

The way clear, Shelby County demolished the Middletown Bridge in January, 2014. The scene went from this…

Stone bridge, one-lane alignment

…to this…

Site of the former Middletown Bridge

…and this. To whoever scratched numbers off the Weight Limit sign so it would say 0 tons: nice comedic touch.

Site of the former Middletown Bridge

One great thing about all of my years of road trips is that I often have photographs of a scene before it changed. So let’s enjoy my 2008 photos of the Middletown Bridge. I’m thrilled that I got to drive over it while it still served.

Stone bridge, one-lane alignment

Here’s a detail of the north railing, low but sturdy.

Stone bridge wall

Because of the terrain surrounding this bridge, it was unusually difficult to photograph. This was the best photo I could manage of its south side.

Stone bridge, one-lane alignment

The one-lane alignment passes by a few farmsteads. The road is open at its other end, where it meets the modern two-lane Michigan Road. I’m sure traffic, which was probably always light, is now entirely limited to people who live on this segment. I’m sure those people don’t mind that a bit.

One-lane alignment

The bridge that carries the Michigan Road over this creek now was built in about 1940, by which time the Michigan Road had been part of the state highway system for 23 years. It seems strange that a one-lane bridge and road segment would serve as part of a state highway for so many years! Was there an interim two-lane bridge where the current bridge now stands?

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3 thoughts on “Goodbye Middletown Bridge

  1. Bill Bussell says:

    I have visited England on many occasions for business. During those visits, I rode in automobiles across bridges built by the Romans way back in history. These one-lane bridges are protected by the UK because of their historical nature. I am not certain this Indiana bridge could have been safely rebuilt, but sad to see it did not happen. Those old Romans knew how to build bridges that have stood up over Centuries. Traffic stalls at times during peak travel waiting on a turn across the bridge. Someone needs to get restoration and painting on the old Indiana Tulip Trestle Railroad bridge. Still used, but rusty.

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    • It all comes down to maintenance. A well-built and -maintained bridge can last for hundreds of years.

      This bridge had the best protection available in Indiana: it was a Select bridge. But that doesn’t make the money appear for its maintenance, as that’s left to the local jurisdiction. It’s not an ideal situation, but I’m betting that if we were taxed at the level necessary to really take care of our infrastructure and preserve historic infrastructure, we’d scream bloody murder.

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