Hidden in the wooded area just north of Ellsworth Park, lie seven crumbling concrete arches that were once part of a busy bridge.
The bridge is considered a "dangerous eyesore" by many Danville residents, but little do they know, although dangerous, the bridge is a historic remnant, rare in it's design, and is barely recognized as such.
The bridge was built in 1915, replacing the Woolen Mill Bridge built in 1890. Construction of the $80,000 bridge started on April 1, and it was opened to traffic by the end of the year. It was 1,030 feet long from end to end and 65 feet above the river.
Although the bridge was of great beauty, it was built very poorly, as you will read about in the mentioned article. Already by 1918, cracks were seen, growing in number and size on the east approach span. This along with several other factors would lead to this bridge's unfortunate demise. By 1947, parts of the steel reinforcement had become exposed by falling chunks of concrete, leading to a load limit being imposed in September of that year.
In 1948, the state recommended that it be closed to all traffic, but because of its importance, the city compromised and banned trucks from using it. Signs were then posted at each end of the bridge that set a 10 mile per hour speed limit for cars. It was later bypassed in 1950 by US150.
The bridge finally closed to all traffic in May of 1960. In December 1965, the city council of Danville authorized action to have the approach spans demolished to keep children off of the bridge and to prevent them from climbing the barricades.
However, as mentioned in a 1990 newspaper, children could still get on the bridge. They would pull their bikes up with ropes and ride on the deck, dodging holes, while others would jump on the deck until pieces broke off. For the few years I lived there, I never saw any children on or around the bridge.
The bridge should be considered a historic landmark, due to the fact that it's historical significance is the same as other Danville landmarks, like the Breese Tower, the WWI memorial statue, or the Fischer Theater.
Let us hope that this bridge will someday be recognized for it's historical significance, rare design, and former beauty.
Letter to the Editor
December 19, 1921
Memorial Bridge is so near completion, I have been wondering if it is to be brilliantly lighted. I trust that it will be and that better care will be taken of it than the handsome Mill Street bridge. The latter is usually kept lighted on only one side, presumably to save current. That is all right, but if the idea is to save, why not turn the current off at daylight? Last week, and in fact most every day lately, the east side has been lighted not only all night but all day.
It seems to me it would be better to light both sides at night and turn off the current during the day. The lights are getting fewer each day. Many are broken and five of these are the large frosted globes. Probably this is the work of boys who realize they make excellent targets.
These are mentioned merely so that those interested should know of them. It looks bad to visitors here, especially to tourists who have heard much of Danville. It might help some if police officers visited that part of the city occasionally. It may be that at times a "blue coat" does get up this way, but the writer has never seen one and he crosses the bridge four or five times a day. These two bridges are something of which the city should be proud and civic pride should not dwindle after the novelty of the thing has worn off.
Let's have the new bridge lighted, but lighted on both sides at night only, instead of just one side each night and day. What say?
The reason the writer wasn't sure about the lighting on the new Victory Memorial bridge is because lights weren't added until after the bridge was done. Some favored boulevard style lighting and others had a different idea. Cost was also a factor-it took a while to get it sorted out. That's the reason the lights were mounted at curbside, rather than on the bridge rails as on the Mill Street Bridge.
Contributed by N. B. Garver Associate in Civil Engineering, University of Illinois.
The Bridge Street viaduct which was recently completed across the North Fork of the Vermillion River at Danville Ill., is a reinforced concrete structure of the arched rib type with spandrel posts and a girder-and-slab floor It has a total length of 791 ft. 8 in. and provides a 30-ft. roadway and two 5-ft. sidewalks The viaduct consists of nine arch spans of the following lengths: three 53-ft. 4-in. spans, two 80-ft. 10-in. spans, and four 90-ft. spans The maximum height from stream bed to roadway is about 70 ft. The abutments are of the U type, with wings 24 ft. long. The design features of the structure are indicated in the general elevation shown in Fig. 1 (a). The viaduct contains about 5,000 cu. yd. of concrete and about 225 tons of reinforcing steel. The method used in handling materials from the car to their final position in the bridge, is particularly worthy of note, and this feature will be described in detail.
Construction Plant-- The layout of the equipment is shown in Fig. 1 (b). The saw mill is equipped with a band saw, a rip saw, a swinging saw and a boring machine. The power is furnished by a 10-hp. gasoline engine. All forms were cut in the mill and assembled in the open space adjacent to it. A stiff leg derrick (see Fig. 2) equipped with bull-wheel and an 85-ft. boom, was used to unload all materials except lumber and steel bars which were unloaded by hand from cars on the spur track near the storage yards. A 20-hp. steam engine furnished power for the derrick. The wet concrete was transferred from the mixer to the forms by means of an Insly spouting system. Tower No. 1, which was 158 ft. high, was utilized for pouring the west five spans while tower No. 2 had a height of 172 ft. and was used to pour the remainder of the concrete. The position of these towers is shown in Fig. 1 (b). A 30-hp. steam engine was used to operate the skip. The towers (see Figs. 2 and 3) were constructed of 6x6-in. posts, braced in 7-ft. bents by 2x10-in. struts and 2x6-in. diagonals. These members were bolted together with 5/8-in. bolts. The spouting systems were supported by 1-in. steel wire cables attached to the towers. Three sets of 3/8-in. cables were used to guy each tower each set consisting of four cables cables. Elevated sand and gravel bins, with capacities of 45 and 60 cu. yd., respectively, were built. Owl cement was used, the cement being stored in a corrugated iron building located near tower No. 1. The concrete was mixed with a 1/2-cu. yd. Smith mixer water being supplied from the city mains. Pumping was required only in the excavations near the stream. This was done with a 4-in. centrifugal pump driven by a 10-hp. electric motor. The motor and pump were mounted on a frame (see Fig. 4) and were swung over the excavation by means of a chain hoist. By this arrangement it was possible to place the pump at any desired elevation. Gin poles; set on the falsework, were used to hoist the reinforcing steel to place in the arch ribs. This reinforcement consists of four angles laced to form a box section.
Methods of Handling Materials.-- The form lumber steel bars were unloaded from the cars by hand and stored in the yards adjacent to the mill. All bending of bars was done on the work by hand. The sand and gravel were unloaded from cars set on spur track adjacent to the bins and storage spaces. The stiff-leg derrick was equipped with a 3/4-cu. yd. grab bucket, and the gravel or sand was placed either in the bin or storage space, as desired. The reinforcing steel for the arch ribs was also unloaded with the aid of the derrick. Those pieces which were to be used on the east end of the structure were loaded directly on wagons and hauled to that side of the river. In mixing the concrete the proper quantities of sand and gravel were drawn from the bins into a hopper by means of spouts, after which the cement was added. The whole was then spouted from the hopper into the mixer which was located under the platforms shown in Fig. 1. With this arrangement the capacity of the mixer was about one batch per minute. With the exception of the cement no materials were handled by hand. The concrete for the railings was mixed by hand, since this work lagged behind the other parts of the construction. Figure 5 shows some of the railing forms and also some sections of the finished railing.
Order of Construction-- All piers and abutments rest on a thick bed of shale, which lies a short distance beneath the surface of the ground. No difficulties were encountered in excavating for and in concreting the foundations. Construction work began at the west end of the structure and proceeded eastward. The west abutment was first built, then piers Nos. 1 and 2. The falsework and forms were then constructed for the arch ribs of the first span and the concrete then poured. From that time forward the general scheme of construction was to have the falsework and forms for the arch ribs in one span, together with the spandrel posts and deck of the preceding the span, under way at the same time. The arch ribs were poured one day and the deck for the preceding span the following day. When span No. 5 was reached, both the arch ribs and deck were poured. The mixer and hoisting engine were then moved from tower No. 1 to tower No. 2. A 2-ft. gage track had been constructed on a trestle as shown in Figs. 1 and 3, with a down grade toward tower No. 2. The materials were dumped in the hopper at tower No. 1, as formerly, but from there they were placed in cars on the track and transported to the mixer at tower No. 2. There were two cars, each with a capacity of one batch of concrete. These cars were fastened to a cable, as it was first thought that the loaded car going down the incline would draw the empty car back. This arrangement did not prove to be satisfactory, however, so a small steam hoisting engine was used to operate the cable with the cars attached. There were no delays in loading and unloading the cars since each car was loaded from a hopper at the upper end and unloaded into a hopper at the lower end.
Personnel-- The contractor was J. J. Jobst, of Peoria, Ill.; the contractor's superintendent was E. C. Miller; and the contractor's engineer, F. C. Thorpe. J. B. Marsh, of Des Moines, Iowa, was the designer, and W. H. Martin is city engineer of Danville. The writer was consulting engineer for the city of Danville.
By Harlan H. Edwards
City Engineer, Danville, Ill.
Deck expansion of a long concrete bridge in Danville, Ill., with inadequate provision for expansion, water trapped behind abutments and poor concrete were the main causes of incipient failure last fall. It is another example of the lightness with which many public officials regard the importance of adequate and competent engineering control of the construction of municipal structures. Investigations made during the progress of the repairs to the structure disclosed conditions which showed that certain engineering features of the structure as originally planned were neglected or changed and that the character of the concrete work was not of the high class that it should have been.
The Mill St. bridge is a nine-span reinforced-concrete arch viaduct, designed for highway use, having the arch rings of the end spans resting on the abutment walls of the approaches. It was built in 1915 at a cost of about $85,000. As early as three years after the completion of the structure, cracks were noticed in the spandrel columns and arch rings of the east end span, which increased in size and number until action this past summer was imperative to prevent failure of the entire span and probably with it the remaining eight spans of the bridge.
The wing walls were of a cellular type, the wells of which had not been filled, thus lightening the wall considerably. No provision for drainage of seepage water from behind the walls had been made, which resulted in a spreading of the walls of about 3 1/2 in. at the ends, since considerable water was found retained. The fact that the abutment walls were 1/2 in. out of plumb, that the crack of the wingwalls at the approach wall was larger at the top than the bottom, would indicate an overturning movement. The character of the foundation seemed to show that apparently there had been no attempt to bed the bottom of the footing evenly in the shale. Instead, the bed was inclined and part of the footing was founded on coal, 3 ft. thick, immediately above the shale, thus permitting a sliding action.
As shown in Fig. 1, the arch rings were cracked in several places while the crown of the arch was built with a 9-in. greater rise than called for in the design.
The roadway at the curb in the center of the span was humped 1 1/2 in., which probably is the measure of the actual rise of the crown of the arch due to the shortening of the span. The failure of the spandrel column, as shown in Fig. 2 and most strikingly in Fig 3, was due to compression, though they were all out of plumb, due to a thrusting of the arch to the west and an expansion movement of the deck to the east. In warm weather all expansion joints were tight, and in the case of the expansion joints of the span in question, there was apparently nothing built but an ordinary construction joint with no attempt at allowing a space for movement as the span elongated in warm weather. The concrete of all but the rings was noticeably weak and faulty and most of it had received a generous wash-coat of grout to cover up its defects. Care was not used in depositing the concrete in the forms to prevent honeycomb, while the columns especially were lacking in mortar, due either to a mix lean in sand and cement, or more probably due to separation while chuting into place.
The details of the repairs were carried out under the direction of W. C. Reynolds and supervision of S. G. Gould, of Harrington, Howard and Ash, consulting engineers of Kansas City. The abutment wall was stabilized by the construction of large concrete buttresses as shown on Fig. 2. The shattered portions of the spandrel columns were replaced, supporting the deck on timbers which rested on the arch rings. The broken portions of the roadway and fascia beams and the sheared upper portion of the wing walls were also completely replaced, while seven steel-and-concrete ties were placed across the wing walls and approach walls to arrest further spreading. Future expansion was provided for by opening new expansion joints at each end of the span. Drainage holes were provided in the abutment wall to insure future drainage of this part of the structure. The empty wells of the cellular wing walls of the abutment were completely filled and a new substantial sidewalk laid over them.
No wonder it began to crumble so soon after it opened. I'm just waiting for it to fall down under it's own weight. Too bad!
It seems as if MSB has been added to the IL official register of Historically Significant Bridges.
http://www.isas.illinois.edu/transportation_research/idot_historic_bridges/counties/vermillion.html (Date of construction is erroniously listed as 1900, though.)
Sadly, that will probably do nothing to save or preserve the decaying structure. It is heartning to see that it's being recognized as more than just an "dangerous eyesore" (as many Danville residents consider it to be), even if they got the date for its construction wrong!
Thanks Jacob and Mike, for covering this Danville "landmark" that was very much a part of my growing up years and beyond, and that for so long has been so very difficult to find information on, especially here on the Internet!
Permit me to explain: I was born in 1961 in Urbana IL, and lived in Champaign until the age of 3 1/2, when my family moved to Stevens Point, WI. Most of my close family at that time lived in the Champaign/Danville area, though, and from the age of 4 until the age of 18, I used to spend summers with my maternal grandparents, who lived near Bismarck (so yes, I remember the old single-slab road between Bismarck and Jamesburg, and the bridge over the North Fork on it too!). I remember well when I would go to visit other family members with my grandparents, we would sometimes go down Logan Ave. to bypass downtown or Gilbert St., and I would see the wooden fence-like barricade with the "Bridge Out" sign on Oakwood Ave., and wonder what sort of bridge used to be there.
From Logan, we would usually head out towards Fairmount or Champagin on W. Main St. (US 150), and being the quite curious little fellow, I would often look out the window as we passed over the North Fork and see Ellsworth Park, and sometimes, despite all the trees blocking the view, would notice a strange, large edifice that looked like it might be a bridge. Of course, in time I figured out that the "Bridge Out" on Oakwood Ave. and this imposing structure were one in the same! As a youngster, my grandparents of course had no desire to indulge my curiousity in seeing an old, broken down, and dangerous bridge, so I had to wait until my late teens when I finally had my drivers license to get a closer look. At that time, three of my life-long interests, old bridges, old roads, and history, came together in one nexus, and I immediately wanted to know more about this "Great Gray-Brown Lady", as I came to think of her.
Well, like so many other things in life, that got put on hold (outside of a few photos I took later on, since even after becoming an adult, I would still come down from Madison, WI, where I moved to after graduating HS, and still live today, to visit my by then widowed grandmother, albeit for much shorter periods of time than when I was a boy!) until about 8 years after I graduated. By then I was married, had a career, but one thing that had not changed about me was my fascination with that old bridge on Oakwood Ave.!
In 1986, I wrote the city engineer of Danville about the bridge, and received a polite, short letter telling me the name of the bridge (which of course piqued my interest as to why a bridge on Oakwood Ave. would be called the Mill St. Bridge?), when it was built, and when it was taken out of service. The following year, visiting my grandmother, I decided to see if I could find out more about the "Great Gray-Brown Lady", so I went to the Carnegie Library over on Vermillion St. to see what I could dig up. To my amazement, they had several clippings on the bridge, dating back to the 1940s, documenting it's slow, premature decline. Already by 1947, some parts of the steel superstructure of the arches had already become exposed by the falling away of the concrete. By 1952, one entire section of sidewalk and railing had fallen into the ravine of the North Fork in the middle of the night (the resulting noise woke neighbors up and cause them to think someone had lit off a stick of dynamite!). And of course, by the time the bridge was closed to traffic in 1960, it was a mess, with whole sections of sidewalk barricaded. A truly sad turn for what must have been a couple of generations earlier a true source of civic pride for Danville (since rarely did a community even then shell out the money for such a bridge, stately yet modern looking if they were not, among other things, attempting to make a statement to visitors about how they perceived themselves and their future).
Here's a transcript of an article that appeared when the bridge was closed. It does indicate that the city had plans to build a replacement bridge. That bridge, and the proposed lake, never happened.
Commercial-News May 1, 1960
City Mapping Plans to Build New Mill St. Bridge
Mayor to Order Span Closed; Called Unsafe
City officials are formulating plans to build a new Mill St. Bridge, which crosses the North Fork River at Oakwood Ave.
Declaring the bridge an "emergency matter", Mayor Girth Hicks announced that the structure would be closed to all traffic sometime this week.
A Chicago engineering firm has ruled the 45-year old bridge is "extremely dangerous for further, even though restricted use and that if should be closed to all vehicular traffic."
Furthermore, The Alfred Benesch & Co, consulting engineering firm, said it would be cheaper to build a new bridge than repair the present one.
Reconstruction of the Mill St. Bridge is included in the four-year platform of the Commercial-News for a better Danville.
Mayor Hicks said the only feasible way to replace the bridge is to borrow the money and repay it through motor fuel tax funds. Six months ago, the state authorized the use of state funds for the engineering survey, completed last week.
Consulting engineers estimated cost of rehabilitation at $593,000.
But the firm said a new bridge can be constructed "considerably shorter than the existing one by modifying the present grades and by the use of longer approach fills." Cost of the new structure, including approaches and the removal of the old bridge, is estimated at $506,000, some $87,000 cheaper than a rehabilitation project.
State of Illinois ordered the bridge closed after a 1948 survey but it has remained open since to pedestrians and passenger cars only. Signs posted at bridge approaches prohibit trucks and sets a 10 mile-per-hour speed limit for cars.
Mayor Hicks said he and council members are determined to build a new bridge. He cited studies by the engineering firm which shows 6,000 cars a day use the Mill St. Bridge leading to Vermilion Heights.
"Throw theses cars into the Gilbert and Main Sts intersection and it will not only inconvenience motorists who normally used the bridge, but everyone else at the intersection," said the mayor.
The 744 foot long Mill St. Bridge, described as a "multi-span arch bridge, is located between two bluffs and ground is extremely steep from bluffs to stream bed.
At each end of the bridge are located long retaining walls which are filled with earth and support the approach pavement. The bridge has nine concrete arch spans of variable length. It was built in 1915,
According to the consulting engineers, the columns and deck of the bridge (all items above the arch ribs) have deteriorated to such a point that rehabilitation is impossible. "This portion of the bridge is a complete loss and would have to be reconstructed in its entirety in case it should be decided to repair the existing bridge," according to their report.
Sidewalk and roadway slabs have disintigrated beyond repair, with chunks falling off in some locations.
A large number of supporting columns are a series of broken up pieces, held in place only by reinforcement.
Concrete piers and arch rings are only in "fair condition" according to the engineering survey.
Plans for a proposed bridge drawn up by the Chicago firm call for a five span structure, stretching 450 feet between approaches, with 90 feet between each span. This is nearly 300 feet shorter than the existing structure.
The proposed bridge would be 41 feet wide, including a 30 foot roadbed, 4 1/2 foot side walks and foot-wide strips for steel handrails.
Mayor Hicks revealed that the vast amount of fill needed for the approaches to the new bridge would be taken from Ellsworth Park, south of the West Entrance to the bridge.
"This will be the first step in creating a lake in the area," said the mayor. A lake south of the central business district was suggested in the Master Plan of 1957, which said it might be feasible to place a dam in the Vermilion River immediately south of the sewage disposal plant to form a second lake south of the central business district.
The mayor revealed that representatives of the consulting engineering firm would visit Danville to explain their written report, received last week by city officials.
Not the best photo, but here is a photo of the Mill Street bridge being constructed. This is from microfilm, and many of you probably know how microfilm can crap-up a good photo. It does show what you would expect to see with an arch bridge being constructed - lots of scaffolding and forms. Here's the article that went along with the photo.
August 13, 1915
Caption: The picture shows the method of constructing a concrete bridge.
The picture shows the fifth arch of the Mill Street Bridge which is 90 feet long and is one of four of that size.
Workmen have finished pouring the rib of the last river arch of the new Mill Street bridge While the derrick, chutes and mixers are being transferred to the east side of the river, workmen are pouring the deck of the fifth arch and others are placing the forms for the sixth arch. The big structure is now considerably more that half completed. Contractor Jobst announces it will be ready for traffic about Oct 1.
The fifth arch, shown in the picture, is ninety feet and is one of four of that size. In addition to these there are two eighty foot and three fifty-three foot arches, making a total length of 791 feet for the structure. (Ed. And unfortunately, that doesn't add up right.) In the fifth arch, just being completed there is 175 yards of concrete used for the deck and 90 yards for the rib. More that 5,000 yards of concrete are used in the complete job.
The new $80,000 reinforced concrete bridge was started April 1, following the razing of the old steel trestle. When ready for service it will, with 300 feet at the west and 150 feet at the east approach, span a gap 1,250 feet over the North Fork river. It is of concrete and steel, sixty-five feet above the water line and will abolish the hills formerly at both ends of the old structure. The fall from east to west is but .17 of one percent, or approximately 3/16 of an inch to the foot or less than a dozen feet in the entire length. There formerly was a hill of eighteen or twenty feet at the west end of the bridge.
A three and one-half foot ornamental rail will add to the appearance of the bridge and over each pier will be an ornamental bunch or boulevard light. Electric wires, gas mains and water mains will be embedded in the concrete, openings being arranged at intervals so that access may be had to them.
Webmaster's note: The photo that was here has been incorporated into the main site.
I get the feeling that this bridge wasn't very well built to begin with, since it was already having structural issues just over 30 years after being built. Of course now it is pushing 100 years (if it makes that), and with no maintenance it is crumbling.
Why don't they tear it down if it's such a hazard, instead of just letting it collapse?
I think you can tell how old photos of this bridge are by comparing how much railing is left on the bridge.
They've had various barricades on the end through the years and I had to squeeze around one to get a photo of the lamp post. I think most of the lamps are bare metal pipes now. I found some ornamentation on the ground that had fallen off a lamp and saved it to use as a paper weight. My little souvenier.
I think there's a whole ecosystem living on this bridge. It was hard to see the deck of the bridge even when the foliage was off the trees. When they put up the fence they trimmed a lot of those trees, and that made a photo of the deck of the bridge possible. I included an older photo of the deck that shows the holes better. The approaches are brick but I can't tell if the deck is brick or just concrete.
Webmaster's note: The photos that were here have been incorporated into the main site.