Charles S. Whitney

of Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Charles S. Whitney was a well known bridge designer in the early to mid 20th Century. Originally from Pennsylvania, he was educated as a civil engineer at Cornell, then came to Milwaukee in 1919 to be the engineer for an architect named A. C. Eschwheiler. (For a landmark example of Eschwheiler’s work, see the Wisconsin Gas Company Building on Nicolas Janberg’s Structurae website.) Whitney later went to New York to join with Othmar Ammann, the bridge engineer to the New York Port Authority, to form the engineering firm of Ammann and Whitney. The firm went on to earn an international reputation for monumental projects, a reputation that it still enjoys today.

In 1929, Whitney published his treatise Bridges: A Study In Their Art, Science and Evolution. The book, which was republished in 2002 under the title Bridges of the World, reveals his extensive knowledge of bridge history, which influenced his rather eclectic designs for bridges.

In Racine, Wisconsin, Whitney designed the West Sixth Street Bridge that was derided by some as a waste of taxpayer money for its Art Deco styling and whimsical decor, but was hailed by others, one newspaper review calling it “the prettiest bridge ever built.”

Another striking bridge that demonstates Whitney’s unique design concepts is the Range Line Road Bridge that crosses the Milwaukee River in the village of River Hills. In 1933, the village board decided it wanted to replace a decaying bridge at this location and desired a bridge of disctinctive design. A challenge was placed for bridge designers to submit plans and Whitney headed the jury. A plan by Architect Harry Bonger was chosen. On the final plans, Whitney is listed as the consulting engineer while Bonger is listed as the associate architect.

The plans called for a concrete arch bridge of a Renaissance revival design. A concrete arch was built and clad with dolomite stone facing to pay homage to medieval bridge materials. The design was influenced by the Greystone Bridge, built in 1439 between Cornwall and Devon over the River Tamar, and the Essex, or Shugborough Bridge, built for Queen Elizabeth in 1530 in Staffordshire.

The project came in over budget, but the village board was so keen to have a bridge of distinctive design that they cut in other places to reduce costs. The bridge was initally paved with gravel instead of asphalt and curbing was eliminated.

The triangular shaped piers serve not only as cutwaters, but continue up to the deck surface. The resulting areas on the deck are referred to as “refuge bays” and serve to give pedestrians a place to safely stand as vehicles pass.

Today, the Range Line Road bridge is rated at 67.5% sufficiency with the substructure rated as poor, while the deck and superstructure are rated as good. It would be sad to see a distinctive bridge, modeled after English bridges that are more than 500 years old and still in use, be replaced by a modern, and far less appealing, structure.

There are three other Whitney bridges extant in Wisconsin, the Mound Cemetery Bridge, also in Racine, the Highland Avenue Bridge in Cedarburg, Ozaukee County and the Lakeside Park Bridge (also known as the Promen Drive Bridge) in Fond du Lac, Fond du Lac County.

The status of the other bridges that Whitney listed in Wisconsin is unknown. In his book, he listed the Reinforced Concrete Bridge in Gays Mills, Crawford County, the Otter Creek Bridge in Eau Claire, Eau Claire County and the Girder Bridge in Neenah, Outagamie County. He may, or may not, have been involved in the design of those bridges, but they are listed in his book.

None the less, these five extant bridges in Wisconsin clearly demonstrate the vision of Charles S. Whitney.

Highland Drive Bridge (Ozaukee County, Wisconsin)
Built 1939
Concrete arch bridge with stone facing over Milwaukee River on Highland Drive in Cedarburg
Open to traffic

Mound Cemetery Bridge (Racine County, Wisconsin)
Designer, 1928
Closed-spandrel arch bridge over a reflecting pool on the cemetery's drive in Racine
Open to traffic

Promen Drive Bridge (Fond du Lac County, Wisconsin)
Designer, 1927
Concrete arch bridge over Lakeside Creek on Promen Drive in Fond du Lac
Open to traffic

Range Line Road Bridge (Milwaukee County, Wisconsin)
Built 1935
Charles S. Whitney Renaissance Revival Design arch bridge over Milwaukee River on Range Line Road in River Hills
Open to traffic

West Sixth Street Arch Bridge (Racine County, Wisconsin)
Built 1928
Concrete arch bridge over Root River and Horlick Drive on W. 6th Street in Racine
Open to traffic