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Mill Street Bridge

Photos 

Fig. 1—General Plan and Elevation of Reinforced Concrete Viaduct at Danville, Ill., and Layout of Construction Plant.

Engineering and Contracting, Volume 45 (1916)

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BH Photo #494645

Map 

Street View 

History of the Mill Street Bridge 

Written by Jacob Bernard, April 2021

When looking to the north from Ellsworth Park and Route 150, one can usually see at least three large concrete arches, the others being obscured by trees and overgrowth. It might not occur to the casual observer that over sixty years ago, this decaying structure once served as a vital link between Danville and Champaign-Urbana.

Having replaced two previous bridges at this location, the Mill Street Bridge (the street being the former name for Logan Ave), was built in 1915 at a cost of $80,000. The bridge was of an open spandrel arch design, 791.8 feet long, and spanned the North Fork River valley. It stood about 70 feet above the river bed, and featured a brick-laid roadway, 30 feet wide, and 5 foot sidewalks hanging over each side of the bridge.

After the bridge was built, several important structural issues were soon to be discovered: These included a lack of drainage in the approaches, inadequate provision for expansion, as well as the arch rib of one span having been built with a 9 inch greater rise than the design called for. Cracks were seen in the east approach span by 1918, and in 1921 the bridge required immediate and extensive repairs to prevent the approach (and possibly the rest of the bridge) from collapsing.

By the 1940s, parts of the steel reinforcement had become exposed by fallen pieces of concrete, and a load limit was imposed in September of 1947. A year later, the state recommended that it be closed to all traffic. However, because of it's importance as a primary route westward, the city of Danville compromised and banned trucks from crossing the bridge. Additionally, signs were posted that set a 10mph speed limit for cars. In 1950, the bridge was effectively bypassed by Route 150.

The Mill Street Bridge was finally closed to car and pedestrian traffic in May of 1960. By that point, large portions of guardrail had fallen, and rehabilitation was practically impossible. In December 1965, the city of Danville authorized action to have the approach spans demolished to keep pedestrians off of the bridge. Besides the occasional rogues who would pull their bikes up on ropes and ride on the deck, the bridge has been abandoned since early 1966. The bridge was considered for demolition several times after its abandonment, but nothing ever came of the proposals.

Today, the remaining seven spans have been claimed by nature, and a notable ecosystem is growing on and around the bridge. An access road which once lead to the bridge on the east side of the river, has since become overgrown and is quickly becoming a heavily wooded floodplain with few navigable paths. Several signs warning of falling debris have been posted in the area, including the warning having been written on the piers of the bridge itself. Many portions of fallen railing and lamp posts lie underneath the bridge to this day.

Despite the troubled history of the structure, the Mill Street Bridge is undoubtably the largest remaining example of a pre-1920 open spandrel arch highway bridge in central Illinois. The bridge and the surrunding area offers a unique opportunity for hikers and casual park-goers to experience and inquire about the large concrete spans—abandoned, overgrown, and beautiful.

A Citizen Gives Advice on Bridge Lighting

Transcribed by Mike Roegner

Danville Commercial-News
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?

"A Citizen"

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.

Facts 

Overview
Abandoned concrete arch bridge over North Fork Vermilion River on Bridge Street in Danville
Location
Danville, Vermilion County, Illinois
Status
Abandoned
History
Built 1915; closed to truck traffic in 1948; bypassed in 1950; closed to all traffic in 1960; approach spans removed in 1965-66
Builders
- Harrington, Howard & Ash of Kansas City, Kansas & New York, New York
- J. J. Jobst (contractor)
- James Barney Marsh of North Lake, Wisconsin (designer)
Design
Main spans: Open-spandrel concrete arch
Approaches: Concrete retaining wall
Dimensions
Length of largest span: 90.0 ft.
Total length: 791.8 ft.
Deck width: 40.0 ft.
Also called
Harrison Street Bridge
Bridge Street Bridge
Approximate latitude, longitude
+40.12779, -87.64161   (decimal degrees)
40°07'40" N, 87°38'30" W   (degrees°minutes'seconds")
Approximate UTM coordinates
16/445334/4442138 (zone/easting/northing)
Quadrangle map:
Danville NW
Inventory numbers
092-9002
BH 43966 (Bridgehunter.com ID)

Update Log 

  • April 5, 2021: New photos from Jacob P. Bernard
  • April 4, 2021: New photo from Jacob P. Bernard
  • September 25, 2015: New photos from Jacob P. Bernard
  • July 5, 2014: New Street View added by Ralph Demars
  • May 13, 2013: New photo from Jacob P. Bernard
  • April 21, 2013: New photos from Jacob P. Bernard
  • April 14, 2013: Updated by Luke Harden: Corrected designer
  • September 1, 2012: Essay added by Jacob P. Bernard
  • August 8, 2012: Essay added by Mike Roegner
  • August 2, 2012: New photos from Jacob P. Bernard
  • July 26, 2012: Updated by Mike Roegner: Added J.B. Marsh as bridge designer
  • July 25, 2012: New photos from Jacob P. Bernard
  • July 24, 2012: New photos from Jacob P. Bernard
  • July 6, 2012: New photos from Jacob P. Bernard
  • July 5, 2012: New photo from Jacob P. Bernard
  • December 1, 2011: New photo from Jacob P. Bernard
  • January 25, 2011: Updated by Mike Roegner: Added JJ Jobst as bridge contractor
  • October 24, 2010: New photo from Jacob P. Bernard
  • August 19, 2010: New photos from Jacob P. Bernard
  • May 15, 2010: New photos from Robert Stephenson
  • May 4, 2010: New photo from Jacob P. Bernard
  • April 10, 2010: New photo from Jacob P. Bernard
  • April 9, 2010: New photo from Jacob P. Bernard
  • March 21, 2010: New photo from Jacob P. Bernard
  • March 8, 2010: New photos from Jacob P. Bernard
  • March 5, 2010: New photo from Jacob P. Bernard
  • March 1, 2010: New photo from Jacob P. Bernard
  • February 28, 2010: New photo from Jacob P. Bernard
  • February 22, 2010: New photo from Jacob P. Bernard
  • February 18, 2010: New photo from Jacob P. Bernard
  • February 14, 2010: New photo from Jacob P. Bernard
  • February 11, 2010: Essay added by Jacob P. Bernard
  • February 10, 2010: New photo from Jacob P. Bernard
  • February 4, 2010: New photo from Jacob P. Bernard
  • January 30, 2010: Added by Jacob P. Bernard

Related Bridges 

Sources 

Comments 

Mill Street Bridge
Posted February 11, 2020, by Jay Harber (jayharber01 [at] gmail [dot] com)

Hi, I did a drawing of it in 1972, if you're interested...

Mill Street Bridge-Jacob B. & Co
Posted October 9, 2019, by Crystal (alluneedislove87 [at] gmail [dot] com)

GREAT pictures!! My goodness! Although, this makes me want to go "exploring" again!

I had no idea that the parking lot of Leon's Diner -(cant remember, I think that is Logan's Appliance in the photo?) is where that bridge ultimately led to!

Thank you ALL for your part in helping keep Danville's beautiful, wholesome, rich history "alive"; at least documented fantastically.

I like to think there are still others (hopefully, of all ages - I'm in my early 30's) out there like me who just "eat" stuff like this UP.

Mill Street Bridge
Posted May 16, 2019, by George Oakley (Georgeoakley49 [at] yahoo [dot] com)

Tim,is this bridge still standing?

Mill Street Bridge
Posted May 13, 2019, by Tim (tim [at] springfieldbridges [dot] com)

facebook photo

Mill Street Bridge
Posted April 25, 2017, by george oakley (georgeoakley49 [at] yahoo [dot] com)

Great video,guys!Showed the bridge without anybody getting on it and walking on or under it and not getting hurt.I did notice from the video if i'm not mistaken that it looks like red bricks were used for the deck.Anybody else see that?

Mill Street Bridge
Posted April 24, 2017, by Christopher Fisher (cfisher [at] mailbag [dot] com)

A couple of young guys from Danville recently posted this extended video on YouTube of the Mill Street Bridge that they took with a drone camera. Really great stuff--lots of views rarely seen or otherwise impossible to show due to inaccessibility and/or danger. The music is a bit annoying (not my taste), but you can always mute the sound. Worth checking out!

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=M7DAZptPjNg

Mill Street Bridge
Posted July 5, 2012, by Spanfan (susorcar [at] yahoo [dot] comn)

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!

Mill Street Bridge
Posted October 24, 2010, by Christopher Fisher (cfisher [at] mailbag [dot] com)

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_hi... (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!

Mill Street Bridge
Posted June 23, 2010, by Christopher Fisher (cfisher [at] mailbag [dot] com)

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).

Mill Street Bridge
Posted April 20, 2010, by Mike Roegner (roegner [at] soltec [dot] net)

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.

Mill Street Bridge
Posted April 1, 2010, by Mike Roegner (roegner [at] soltec [dot] net)

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.

Danville Commercial-News

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.

Mill Street Bridge
Posted March 6, 2010, by Anthony Dillon (spansaver [at] hotmail [dot] com)

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.

Mill Street Bridge
Posted March 5, 2010, by Spanfan (susorcar [at] yahoo [dot] com)

Why don't they tear it down if it's such a hazard, instead of just letting it collapse?

Mill Street bridge
Posted February 10, 2010, by Michael Roegner (roegner [at] soltec [dot] net)

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.