This bridge was built and paid for by the City of Detroit's Department of Parks and Boulevards in 1895. I believe it replaced an earlier (and uglier) bridge that was probably built by Michigan Central Railroad.
The first photo was distributed as part of a 1918 pamphlet on railroad grade-separation by a division of Detroit’s Department of Public Works. It looks northward along West Grand Boulevard, and shows Michigan Central’s Bay City Junction Tower (left), just west of the 1895 arch bridge. Most describe this as a stone-arch bridge, but I concede that a masonry veneer may cover a concrete-arch sub-structure.
In 1918, a clearance of 13 feet under the bridge was claimed. This figure probably resulted from measuring at the center of the arch. Today, yellow warning signs show a minimum clearance of only eight feet, ten inches, measuring at the curb line, making this the shortest clearance on a public street in Detroit.
The bridge was built with four stairwells, one at each corner. Two are visible in the 1918 photo. All four are still extant, but overgrown and unusable. The original railing was replaced by a concrete barrier topped by a tall chain-link fence. The bridge deck is wide enough for seven or eight parallel tracks, but currently there are only four.
The 1918 pamphlet states that arch bridges should not be used in future grade-separation work in Detroit. They tend to reduce natural light, and do not provide an even clearance across all lanes. Reinforced-concrete would be used for grade-separation bridges in Detroit during the 1920s and 1930s, with a few exceptions. The West Grand Boulevard Bridge would remain as the one-and-only railroad arch bridge in Detroit.
The second photo, from Detroit Public Library’s Burton Collection (EB02d025), appears to be a southward view of a previous Michigan Central Railroad bridge over West Grand Boulevard.
The angle and appearance of the tower make me believe that this is the same Bay City Junction Tower seen in the first photo. Bay City Junction, which got its name from the Detroit & Bay City Railroad, did not exist before 1872. The tower was demolished years ago, but railroad workers still refer to this point as Bay City Junction – although the tracks end less than two miles north of Utica, only 22 miles north of downtown Detroit.
The five-span open-deck-girder bridge appears to be wide enough for only one or two tracks – it might pre-date the Junction. The eastern roadway (left) provided a higher clearance than the fenced-off western side (or the current arch bridge) – perhaps the eastern part of the bridge was newer, built specifically for the new boulevard. Massive stone abutments stood at both ends of the structure – I wonder if they are still buried there?
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