Preservation, Road Trips

The mystery of the former one-lane bridge over the Tippecanoe River in Fulton County

It was exciting to come upon this abandoned bridge abutment when my old friend Brian and I explored old US 31 in northern Indiana in 2007. (That whole trip is documented here.)

Bridge abutment, Rochester, Indiana

Standing on the old abutment it’s easy to see where the old bridge used to meet the Tippecanoe River’s north bank. It’s just right of where the current bridge, built in 1982, meets it.

Tippecanoe River bridge

My dad remembers driving the old bridge. He said it was just one lane wide, and there was a stoplight at either end. Traffic on US 31 would often back up at either end waiting to cross here. The mother of an old friend, who grew up in Fulton County, remembers a time before they installed the stoplight — and the games of chicken oncoming drivers played with each other.

My research turns up only the photo above, circa 1910, as possibly a bridge at this location. Those stone abutments look right, and the rise of the left approach looks to me to match the abandoned approach and abutment. The river is awfully full, though, fuller than I’ve ever seen it. This photo could have been made during a flood.

Current bridge and old abutment from the air. Imagery © 2019 DigitalGlobe, Indiana Map Framework Data, USDA Farm Service Agency. Map data © 2019 Google.

But this two-span bowstring through truss bridge is not the bridge my friend’s mother remembers. She specifically remembers a single-span bridge with a square truss design.

If that bowstring truss was ever at this location, it had to have been replaced with the one everybody remembers, sometime after the 1910 photograph was made. The Great Flood of 1913 destroyed a lot of bridges; perhaps it did this one in.

By the early 1970s, US 31 was rebuilt as a four-lane expressway about a mile to the west, relieving the traffic burden on the old bridge here.

By the way, this bridge is on the Michigan Road. When US 31 was commissioned in Indiana, it used the Michigan Road from about 3½ miles south of here in Rochester, to about 42 miles north of here in downtown South Bend.

In 2010, an aspiring Eagle Scout stabilized this abutment, mortaring in the stones and laying in concrete pavers where the old road bed had gone missing. I made this photograph of it in late 2011 and wrote about it here.

Old bridge abutment

Here’s the same scene the day after Christmas in 2018. The mortar’s color has neutralized with age, making the abutment look more natural.

Old bridge abutment, north of Rochester

Three historic markers stand on the old abutment. The third, which is the shorter stone, was placed sometime since 2011. I never think to photograph it because I forget it’s newer and that I’ve not already photographed it. I can’t remember what it commemorates. The larger stone commemorates a village of Potawatomi Indians that was once here, and how those Indians were removed to lands out west in a forced migration now known as the Trail of Death. You’ll find a wealth of information about the Trail of Death here. I have a Potawatomi ancestor, I am told, though I can’t confirm it.

Old bridge abutment, north of Rochester

The final marker on this abutment honors the Michigan Road itself. Two other state markers like this one honor the road: one in Ripley County at US 50, and one in Boone County about three miles north of I-465.

Historic marker

Every time I stop here, the Tippecanoe River is tranquil.

Tippecanoe River

Here’s hoping that someday confirmed photographs of the old bridge here emerge.

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