Film Photography, Road Trips

The one-lane bridge on State Road 225

It’s rare to encounter a truss bridge on an Indiana state highway. This one, built in 1912 and carrying only one lane of traffic on State Road 225 in Tippecanoe County, Indiana, is the granddaddy of them all.

Bridge on State Road 225

Known locally as the Jewettsport Ford Bridge, this four-span Pratt through truss bridge stretches 641.6 feet across the Wabash River. It was restored in 1989, at which time the stoplights were placed at either end to control traffic. Before that, crossing this bridge often turned into a game of chicken.

Bridge on State Road 225

SR 225 is a minor highway, spanning just four miles to connect SR 43 in Battle Ground to an old alignment of SR 25, and to provide access to Prophetstown State Park. This highway’s low traffic volume has got to be key to this bridge’s survival.

Pentax ME, 35mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-A, Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400 (at EI 200)

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Preservation, Road Trips

Destroyed: 1892 Holliday Road bridge

The tractor driver said he didn’t know that the attachment he was towing was wider than the bridge. And so the bridge on Holliday Road, near Zionsville in Boone County, Indiana, met its end.

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Boone County Sheriff’s Office photo
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Boone County Sheriff’s Office photo

It’s a crying shame, because in 2009 this bridge completed a lovely restoration. I told what I know about it here.

The bridge on Holliday Road

There just aren’t many truss bridges left in and near Indianapolis. I visited this one many times since its restoration. It was a lovely, quiet place to stop.

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This bridge looks to me to be damaged beyond repair. But then, so did the 1880 bridge in Paoli that was destroyed by a semi two years ago (story here) — and it reopened this summer. So maybe there’s hope for the bridge on Holliday Road.

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Preservation, Road Trips

Endangered: 1925 pony truss bridge on southern Indiana’s Dixie Highway

This is one of my favorite old highway bridges. It’s tucked quietly away on a short old alignment of Indiana State Road 37, the old Dixie Highway, just south of Martinsville. Here’s a photo from my first encounter with it, in 2007.

Pony truss bridge

My friend Dawn (standing on the bridge below) and I visited it together one autumn morning in 2012. We saw few cars here, as modern SR 37 bears the traffic burden just 500 feet to the west.

Pony trusses

But on our return visit a few weeks ago, we found that this bridge no longer carried cars at all. I’ve known for a couple years that the bridge had been closed, but nevertheless it saddened me greatly to see it.

Abandoned bridge on Old SR 37

It’s remarkable, isn’t it, how quickly nature begins to reclaim our built environment when it is no longer used and maintained?

Abandoned bridge on Old SR 37

Not that this bridge had received very much maintenance in its later years. At its last inspection, its superstructure was rated in Serious condition and its substructure in Poor condition. That was enough to see it immediately closed to traffic.

Abandoned bridge on Old SR 37

She does look a little battered. But I’ve seen bridges in worse apparent condition still carrying traffic. What do I know? I’m no civil engineer.

Abandoned bridge on Old SR 37

I’ve read that this bridge is slated for replacement, but I’m not sure I believe it. The only properties on this mile-long old alignment are south of the bridge, and all anyone has to do to reach them is enter the alignment at its south end.

Abandoned bridge on Old SR 37

The north end of this old alignment is likely to be dead ended when the current project converting SR 37 into I-69 is complete. At least, that’s how I read the plan maps.

Abandoned bridge on Old SR 37

If so, here’s hoping this old bridge can simply be left in place as a reminder of a highway era long since gone by.

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Preservation, Road Trips

The bridge on Holliday Road

At the bridge on Holliday Road

I pass Holliday Road every time I follow the Michigan Road north out of Indianapolis. For a long time a giant Bridge Out sign blocked the road. When the sign disappeared in 2009, I figured that an old bridge back there had been replaced. So I visited bridgehunter.com, certainly the finest site about US historic bridges, to see what had once stood there. I was delighted to learn that the bridge, a Pratt through truss bridge built in the 1890s and known as the O’Neal Bridge, had been carefully restored.

Even though the bridge was just 20 minutes from my home, I kept not driving up for a visit. But then the Boone County Historical Society invited me to speak about the Michigan Road in the spring of 2011. When I saw that the meeting location was about a mile from the bridge, I knew my time had come. After the meeting I made my way around to Holliday Road, which was of surprisingly rough gravel, and went to see the old girl.

The bridge on Holliday Road

I don’t know the details of the restoration other than what I could observe, which was two new concrete abutments, a fresh wooden deck, and a coat of red-orange paint. I’m sure much more went into bringing this bridge back to life.

The bridge on Holliday Road

The original latticed railing, or a reasonable facsimile thereof, was even restored.

The bridge on Holliday Road

I wanted to show my sons this great old bridge, and on a lazy early-August Saturday we drove up to see it.

At the bridge on Holliday Road

We climbed down the bank to see under the bridge.

At the bridge on Holliday Road

It seems like governments in most Indiana communities want to replace old bridges, believing it’s less expensive than restoring them. The guys over at bridgehunter.com say that’s often not the case, but I’m no civil engineer and can’t say for sure. I do know that a truss bridge adds beauty to the view and can be a local landmark and a point of pride. Yet so many have disappeared in my lifetime. I’m just glad folks in Boone County saw fit to restore this one.

I wrote this article in 2011. Now I live in Boone County, but somehow still 20 minutes away! But now, at least, whenever I’m on the Michigan Road I can cut down Holliday Road on my way home.

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Preservation, Road Trips

Endangered: The 38-span William H. Murray Bridge on Route 66 in Oklahoma

Canadian River Bridge

It is perhaps the most iconic bridge on all of Route 66, this yellow pony-truss bridge of an incredible 38 spans. Known by three names — the William H. Murray Bridge, the Bridgeport Bridge, and the Pony Bridge — it was built in 1933 to span the South Canadian River, 21 miles west of El Reno, Oklahoma. And it’s in trouble.

At its last inspection, this bridge rated 34.9 out of 100, earning it the “Structurally Deficient” label and a recommendation the bridge be replaced. I am sure it doesn’t help at all that this bridge carries US 281 and so needs to stand up to heavy trucks and high volume, and is only 24 feet wide, considerably narrower than the modern standard for highway bridges.

Canadian River Bridge

It’s been in danger of being replaced for some time, actually. According to Bridgehunter.com, it was scheduled for replacement in 2015.

Yet it still stands, and is not entirely without hope. It is part of a segment of Route 66 listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the bridge itself is eligible for nomination to the NRHP. And now the preservationists are involved: Preservation Oklahoma features the bridge in its 2016 Endangered Places list.

Canadian River Bridge

Driving this bridge was a highlight of the Route 66 tour I took with my sons in 2013. At 3,944.3 feet — that’s nearly three quarters of a mile — the spans just kept on coming. They were mesmerizing, almost hypnotizing, as they undulated past.

Here’s hoping that this bridge has a long and happy life ahead of it. The Oklahoma Department of Transportation is studying several proposals for the US 281 crossing of the South Canadian River, and all of them involve either restoring this bridge or building a new one while leaving this one in place. Unfortunately, one alternative not off the table is to do nothing. Given the bridge’s current state, this might be why Preservation Oklahoma considers it endangered.

Every answer but “do nothing” takes money, of course. Here’s hoping Oklahoma can make enough money appear to keep this bridge open for generations to come.

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History, Preservation, Road Trips

Restored and repurposed: The Houck Iron Bridge

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.

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.

The Houck Iron Bridge

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 Houck Iron Bridge

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.

The Houck Iron Bridge

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.

The Houck Iron Bridge

But we were there to see the bridge, which was the sole focus of my photography.

The Houck Iron Bridge

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.

The Houck Iron Bridge

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.

The Houck Iron Bridge

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.

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