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Old Williams Road Bridge


Approaching the bridge from the west

Photo taken by Jodi Christman in June 16, 2013


BH Photo #257151


Two Truss Types & a Mystery 

Written by Jodi Christman

As I headed east towards the Green Ridge State Forest, on Old Williams Road, from Murleys Branch Road, I contemplated if the bridge still accepted traffic. Then the pavement transformed into a dirt road—a sign, from my bridge hunting experience that I’m about to witness an abandoned bridge (or even worse the lack of a bridge). I warily approached the location and was immediately relieved to see the crossing, and what a charming, idyllic setting. Southwest of the closed bridge lies a spacious farm with a farmhouse accompanied by the necessary outbuildings in the far distance. On both sides of the creek, neighbors of the bridge, sit modest hunting properties. Under the bridge the creek almost absently flows north to south with a smooth as glass texture. The bridge setting appears caught in time. The only thing moving about was a chubby groundhog startled by my visit.

Upon closer inspection of the crossing I realized the two spans of the bridge are not the same. The western span is a steel, five-panel, pin-connected Pratt pony truss. The other span, the eastern end, is a five-panel, gusset-plated, rivet-connected Warren pony truss. The next unique features noticed are the tall height of the western span, and that the eastern span does not have any vertical members. What a unique combination and a rare find. I was inspired to do more research once I returned from the hunt.

Maryland Inventory of Historic Bridges states that the bridge was built in 1910. However, it’s not specific if both spans were built in 1910, or just one. Nathan Holt comments about this anomaly on his website (HistoricBridges.org) that typically when two types of spans exist in a bridge, one of the spans was replaced after it failed. Typically, the pin-connected span is the original bridge which gets replaced by the more modern riveted technology. But even Holt seems puzzled as the Pratt truss and Warren truss both fit the 1910 timeframe making it appear that the two types of trusses were constructed simultaneously. This will remain a mystery for now.

In 1977 a sidewalk was added while other modifications were made to the Old Williams Road Bridge. Lattice work encased between two steel angled bars was added to both sides of the Pratt pony truss verticals as a bridge railing. The Warren pony truss span had W-beam guardrails installed on both sides of the bridge and three out of the four interior floor beams were underpinned. Perhaps, underpinning was required since this odd little span didn’t have vertical members to distribute the weight—putting the stress on the floor beams resting on the bottom chord connection gusset plates. These were the last noted improvements to this bridge.

Sadly enough it seems common that unless the bridge boosts some great significance it is likely to be neglected due to low demand or redundancy. Back in the day, bridges were built to live 50 years versus the current expectation of 75-80 years (with decks replaced every 10-15 years). This bridge has existed twice that duration. In my opinion (I live in Pennsylvania so my perspective maybe lenient) Maryland does a great job of maintaining its bridges and preserving the old ones. But Old Willams Road Bridge does not look like a rehab candidate in Maryland’s eyes. Kevin Beachy the Allegany County engineer commented in 2003 that the bridge may never be replaced with a replacement bridge cost of $600k-$700k and an average of 9-10 vehicles crossing it a day as the reasoning. Repair costs are not mentioned at all. The historical significance is unfounded only in lack of research. The manufacturer and builder of the bridge are unknown as well as the history of the two types of trusses. I am hopeful it could be a National Register candidate as the bridge has kept its physical integrity with only minor alterations for safety reasons. Perhaps, funding and investigation are in the works as the bridge has not been removed (yet). Surely, when an early settler by the name of Johnson blazed the trail from Pratt Hollow to Rush in the 1700s, what we now call Old Williams Road, he had no idea this interesting bridge would allow folks to cross Town Creek for close to one hundred years. It would be fantastic to see Old Williams Road Bridge rehabilitated and last another 100 years in its unique glory rather than sink the huge amount of money needed to replace it with a UCEB.

SOURCES: http://msa.maryland.gov/megafile/msa/stagsere/se1/se5/000001...


Pratt pony truss bridge over Town Creek on Old Williams Road
Allegany County, Maryland
Closed to all traffic
Built 1910; rehabilitated 1977
Pratt pony truss
Length of largest span: 73.2 ft.
Total length: 141.1 ft.
Deck width: 14.1 ft.
Eligible for the National Register of Historic Places
Approximate latitude, longitude
+39.66254, -78.56192   (decimal degrees)
39°39'45" N, 78°33'43" W   (degrees°minutes'seconds")
Approximate UTM coordinates
17/709146/4393144 (zone/easting/northing)
Quadrangle map:
Average daily traffic (as of 2000)
Inventory number
BH 19525 (Bridgehunter.com ID)
Inspection report (as of October 2009)
Overall condition: Poor
Substructure condition rating: Poor (4 out of 9)
Deck condition rating: Poor (4 out of 9)
Sufficiency rating: 20.3 (out of 100)
View more at BridgeReports.com

Update Log 

  • July 12, 2013: Essay added by Jodi Christman
  • June 23, 2013: New photos from Jodi Christman
  • July 11, 2011: Updated by Nathan Holth: Added GPS