And now... the winners

It's time to announce the Top Twelve recipients of the first-ever TRUSS Awards (Top Ranked Unique Savable Structures). These bridges are just the tip of the iceberg for historic bridges worthy of saving. Even though I received a large number of nominations, plenty of bridges weren't nominated at all, but that doesn't mean they aren't important (I'll discuss some of these in a future story).

Enough stalling, I'm opening the envelope now...

In no particular order

McMillin Bridge (Pierce County, Washington)

HAER photo

Featuring a reinforced concrete through truss, the McMillin Bridge was the first of its kind in the U.S. -- and also the last. The book Spanning Washingon: Historic Highway Bridges of the Evergreen State calls it a "unique and striking structure." The concrete truss design was chosen because it would save $826 over the cost of an equivalent steel bridge, a significant sum in 1934 when the bridge was built to replace an older truss bridge destroyed by flooding. Despite the innovative design, including seven feet wide hollow truss members, the design never caught on. A handful of smaller concrete truss bridges have been built in the U.S., but none have the distinctive configuration of the McMillan Bridge.

The bridge is now scheduled for replacement in 2011. The state highway department is asking for public input on how to proceed. Their press release from Nov. 5 states:

Options being considered in lieu of demolition include rerouting the nearby Foothills Trail onto the McMillin Bridge, adding another segment to the Foothills Trail that utilizes the McMillin Bridge, leaving the bridge in place as a historical monument for interpretive purposes, or removing it in its entirety.

The bridge sits right next to a preserved rail-to-trail truss bridge on the Foothills Trail, which complicates efforts to save it. However, if the McMillin Bridge could be left in place as a footbridge, it would serve as an interesting engineering lesson: steel and concrete truss bridges sitting side-by-side.

Mitchell River Bridge (Barnstable County, Massachusetts)

This is another one-of-a-kind bridge in the country. The Mitchell River Bridge at Chatham, Massachusetts, is a wooden bascule drawbridge. While a handful of other movable bridges include wooden parts, this is the only remaining bascule bridge built entirely with timber.

That fact alone should be enough to make listing this bridge on the National Register of Historic Places a no-brainer. However, state officials argued that the bridge (built 1936 but extensively rebuilt in 1980) lacked historic integrity.

Norman Pacum and the Friends of the Mitchell River Wooden Drawbridge filed an appeal directly with the Keeper of the National Register, hoping to have the bridge declared NR eligible because of its uniqueness. In a miraculous turn of events, the Keeper agreed with the appeal. This ruling might be unprecedented for a historic bridge, and opens the door for saving other unique bridges against opposition from indifferent local and state officials.

Nevertheless, the state continues to plow forward with plans to replace the bridge with a cursed cookie-cutter concrete monstrosity. They shouldn't be able to wipe out this unique bridge so easily.

Beatty Road Bridge (Morrow County, Ohio)

Photo by Brian McKee

This may look like an ordinary riveted Pratt through truss, but it generated more nominations than any other bridge thanks to a mini-letter-writing campaign by past and present Morrow County residents. Bonnie Jarvie Howington explained:

There is a lot of family history with this bridge. My grandfather, Raymond S. Foust who's homestead is about a half mile from the bridge was a rivet thrower when the bridge was constructed. His son, Chester Foust still lives in the home down the road. All of his children were born here and as one of his grandchildren I can remember going to this bridge with Grandpa when he went fishing. Please do everything you can to see that this bridge is saved!!!! It is definately a part of the Foust family history!

The bridge was repaired in 1996, but it has since deteriorated to the point that the superstructure is now rated Critical (2 out of 9). While currently open to traffic with a 4-ton weight limit, it's clear that this bridge urgently needs attention before it is condemned. Local support is essential for any successful historic bridge preservation project, so it's good to see that folks in Morrow County are paying attention.

Mead Avenue Bridge (Crawford County, Pennsylvania)

Photo by Jason Smith

Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to as much local support for saving this bridge at Meadville, Pennsylvania. The town is sitting on a truly unique bridge. Or, rather, two truly unique bridges, with an 1871 Whipple truss sitting inside of a 1912 Baltimore truss. Either structure by itself would be historically significant, but the Mead Avenue Bridge takes the cake by combining both designs. The Phoenix columns of the Whipple truss and the decorative portal elements are the icing on the cake.

The bridge has been closed for some time and it appears most local residents just want the darn thing replaced and the street reopened. However, bridge historians would love to save this one-of-a-kind bridge, even if it means disassembling the structure and moving it out of state.

Long Shoals Bridge (Bourbon County, Kansas)

Photo by Robert Elder

This Kansas bridge has received more five-star votes than any other bridge so far (although it's linked from the front page, so maybe it had an unfair advantage). It's a truly spectacular bridge. The vertical endposts, ornate portals, and enormous vines combine to give this bridge an almost surreal quality.

While not imminently threatened with collapse or demolition, this bridge has clearly deteriorating since it was bypassed and it needs help. This would be an excellent opportunity to either restore the bridge in place, or to relocate it to a new location. What town wouldn't love to have their own 175-ft bridge on a walking trail?

Springfield Bridge (Faulkner and Conway counties, Arkansas)

Photo by Wayne Kizziar

Just like Long Shoals, this bridge was bypassed and allowed to remain standing. However, it's not really safe to say that the bridge was "saved", since it was abandoned with no maintenance. This 1874 King bowstring truss, the oldest documented bridge in Arkansas, has started to rapidly deteriorate. I cringe whenever somebody posts updated photos, since it's always bad news.

Independence Bowstring Bridge (Montgomery County, Kansas)

Photo by Robert Elder

Built in 1871 by the Wrought Iron Bridge Co., this two-span bowstring bridge features both Phoenix columns (main span) and Keystone columns (approach span). This configuration is unique to Kansas, and possibly the whole country. It's been condemned for decades with the deck missing, but how much longer can it hold out?

Meramec River US 66 Bridge (St. Louis County, Missouri)

Photo by Jack Schmidt

This seemed like the perfect success story. In 1997, Route 66 State Park was created, including a 1931 deck truss bridge along the original alignment of US 66. It's one of only a handful of deck truss highway bridges in Missouri. The bridge served as the main link between the park's visitor center and the rest of the park, so it seemed like the bridge had a bright future.

Until recently. The bridge was condemned by the state highway department and has been closed even to pedestrians. According to MoDOT, the bridge could collapse under its own weight. Without the bridge, reaching the main portion of the park is quite difficult, so there's a certain urgency to find a solution. To get from the visitor center to the park, one has to enter I-44 westbound, exit, make a U-turn, enter I-44 eastbound, exit, then follow a frontage road into the park.

MoDOT has rejected trying to rehabilitate the bridge and intends to demolish it in 2012 unless another agency is willing to pay for repairs and take over ownership and liability. Quite a few historic bridges are owned by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, including four covered bridges, dozens of truss bridges on the Katy Trail, and a handful of other bridges relocated to state parks for adaptive reuse. So it would make sense for DNR to take over ownership. But with the mediocre economy, DNR has a serious funding shortfall (and MoDOT isn't faring much better). As a result, the bridge was listed as one of Missouri's Most Endangered Historic Places for 2010.

If the bridge is lost, it's unlikely that anybody will be able to afford building a replacement, so it's important for the future of Route 66 State Park that a solution can be found to rehabilitate the bridge. There is plenty of support for saving it, but who will provide the funding?

Nachitoch Bluff Bridge (Clark and Nevada Counties, Arkansas)

Photo by Wayne Kizziar

This is a classic 1908 Camelback through truss that has been abandoned for several years. Recently, the approach on the Nevada County side has started to collapse, giving urgency to the need to rehabilitate this bridge before it is too late. Local support for saving the bridge is strong, with over 800 fans on Facebook.

Panther Creek Bridge (Miami County, Ohio)

Photo by Anthony Dillon

How often do you have the opportunity to buy your own bowstring truss? This ca. 1880 bridge, likely built by the Wrought Iron Bridge Co., was moved to a private driveway. The house, land, and bridge are now reportedly for sale. This is the kind of bridge that would probably have been replaced decades ago if it was still on a public road. Since the bridge needs repairs, it's quite possible that the new owners may decide to scrap it, so it's imperative to find a way to save it now.

Wagon Wheel Bridge (Boone County, Iowa)

Photo by Jason Smith

These days, it's becoming increasingly hard to find multi-span truss bridges on county roads. The Wagon Wheel Bridge is one of the best remaining examples of a "wagon bridge" in Iowa, featuring a Pennsylvania through truss, three Pratt through trusses, and approach spans for a total length of 703 ft. This gem, however, is now closed to traffic thanks to damage from flooding.

Sitting in a scenic location with a great view of the nearby Kate Shelley High Bridge, the Wagon Wheel Bridge is a modest tourist attraction.

The county had proposed a $6 million bond issue to build a replacement bridge and demolish the old structure. During the November election, 70% of voters in Boone County rejected the measure. It's hard to say whether voters were mostly concerned about taxes, or whether they didn't want to see the old bridge demolished. Or both. It's unclear what will happen next, but hopefully the county can find a better solution, either rehabilitating the old bridge for traffic, or building a new bridge without demolishing the old one.

Riverside Bridge (Christian County, Missouri)

In 2003, Christian County demolished a two-span 1906 Pratt through truss, replacing it with an ugly concrete bridge on the same location. This wasn't a particularly popular choice with local residents, who questioned why the bridge had to be scrapped.

Hopefully the county commissioners won't be able to do the same thing again. A similar bridge, the Riverside Bridge, is now threatened. Kris Dyer has spearheaded a campaign to save the bridge, generating plenty of television and newspaper coverage plus over 3,000 supporters on Facebook. Thanks to her efforts, the bridge was declared eligible for the National Register of Historic Places and listed as one of Missouri's Most Endangered Historic Places for 2010.

The bridge was closed to traffic in September. With an average daily traffic count of 1,500, the bridge serves a busy county road. When I visited a few years ago, it was almost impossible to walk across the bridge without getting run over by the heavy traffic. Therefore, rehabilitating the bridge to continue carrying traffic probably isn't very feasible, but that doesn't mean the bridge needs to be scrapped. The replacement bridge could be built on a new alignment while the old bridge is retained as a pedestrian crossing. As an alternative, the trusses could be moved to a walking trail in the nearby city of Ozark. Indeed, the bridge was originally built in Ozark before it was moved to Riverside, so a second move wouldn't hurt the bridge's historic significance.

Even if it isn't possible to save the Riverside Bridge, Kris Dyer is certainly drawn attention to the issue of historic preservation which hopefully will carry over to other projects in Missouri.

Comments  (4)

And now... the winners
Posted December 20, 2010, by Julie Bowers (jbowerz1 [at] gmail [dot] com)

Hi all. Thanks for your great list. I was able to go see the two bowstrings in Yell County, plus another working truss bridge, the Dale Mead Road Bridge as well as the Long Shoals Bridge in Kansas. What an awesome opportunity to see these beautiful structures and to start the process to try to save them.

Your help is appreciated. Don't hestitate to call, write or donate money.

Not only have we started this bridge rehabilitation company, we may be poised for a large voting opportunity on the Pepsi Refresh Grant. That grant is going specifically towards at risk bridges.


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Contact: Julie Bowers Monday, December 20, 2010 641-260-1262

Workin’ Bridges Launched To Help Rehabilitate Historic Bridges

GRINNELL, Iowa & HOLT, Mich Finding and restoring historic iron and steel truss bridges across America is the goal of Workin’ Bridges, a new collaboration launched today between the non-profit N. Skunk River Greenbelt Association (NSRGA) of Grinnell, Iowa and BACH Ornamental and Structural Steel (BACH) of Holt, Mich. “This affiliation with BACH enables us do a bridge analysis, create bids and do the work, essentially turning historic bridge restoration into a construction project,” said Bowers, executive director of NSRGA and Working Bridges design/build manager.

The partnership follows a yearlong research project spearheaded by NSRGA. ”The process made me realize that our group needed “Workin’ Bridges” last year, and it wasn’t available,” said Bowers. “We had to start from scratch to save the McIntyre Bridge, a 120’ bowstring iron bridge manufactured by King Iron Bridge Co., Cleveland, Ohio in 1883. It came by train, was erected over the N. Skunk River in Iowa, stood for 127 years, and was scheduled for demolition by the County after suffering ice damage in 2009. We couldn’t get information in time to act on our “at risk” bridge.” BACH stepped in for the extraction of the bridge from river after flooding in August, 2010 and now we own a bridge and have an estimate for repair and restoration that we can use in future grant writing.

NSRGA brings to the table the plans, the tools and expertise to restore truss bridges by generating expert, detailed estimates and schedules for repair and restoration, while adhering to the Secretary of Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation of Historic Structures. As a non-profit NSRGA is able to offer a variety of methods in working with alternative funding sources.

“Restoring bridges has been one of my passions for the last twelve years and I’ve been looking for a way to save more bridges so this affiliation with Workin’ Bridges is promising. Julie learned a lot over the last year and has proved her tenacity in working through the problem solving,” said Nels Raynor, owner of BACH. With more than 30 years experience as an owner/operator of the steel fabrication company, Raynor is a leading expert in the U.S. in hot riveting, and holds MiDOT certifications in welding. The McIntyre bowstring bridge is currently his 9th historic bridge restoration.

This collaboration is a first where the craftsman is part of the design/build solution. Workin’ Bridges is determined to provide solutions for all steps of the process including rehabilitation, restoration or alternative uses. It is truly a one-stop shop for all groups, including individuals, organizations, counties, states and municipalities committed to saving historic bridges from the scrap heap. We can work with the Adopt-A-Bridge program in any state to help find reuses for historic bridges and then do the heavy lifting.

For more information, visit or

And now... the winners
Posted December 7, 2010, by Michael Goff (michael [dot] goff [at] odot [dot] state [dot] or [dot] us)

I have been to the McMillin Bridge a couple of times and every time the photos come out horrible. It is really a shame that WSDOT can not come up with a better solution to the traffic problem at the site. You would think that such a bridge would be untouchable to demolition, due to its one of a kind nature.

And now... the winners
Posted December 6, 2010, by Craig Philpott (cphilpott [at] puc [dot] edu)

The McMillin bridge, great selection, I have never seen such a bridge. Next the Mitchell River Bridge, someone needs to get some pictures posted on this little gem. Pictures!

And now... the winners
Posted December 6, 2010, by Nathan Holth (form3 [at] historicbridges [dot] org)

Great list of bridges! Glad to hear a lot of people participated and picked their favorite bridges! There are some bridges on here I expected to see (McMillin Bridge) and others that I was not aware of (Beatty Road Bridge).