You can’t save them all.
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.
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…
…and this. To whoever scratched numbers off the Weight Limit sign so it would say 0 tons: nice comedic touch.
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.
Here’s a detail of the north railing, low but sturdy.
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.
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.
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?
I’ve documented Indiana’s historic Michigan Road extensively. To read all about it, click here.
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Last updated on 13 March 2020 by Jim Grey