1828 stone-arch “S bridge” and 1932 concrete-arch bridge, Blaine, Ohio
(first posted 10/6/2015) Rivers, streams, lakes, and valleys have always hindered our ability to get from here to there. That’s why bridge building has been a fundamental human engineering activity since the dawn of civilization. We humans have always been a resourceful species that doesn’t let obstacles stand in our way! But thanks to the automobile, modern times have brought bridge building to a stupefying scope and scale. Unfortunately, it’s often been at the cost of aesthetics.
This is the first of two articles outlining the history of road bridges in the United States. Today, Part 1 details the kinds of bridges built before the automobile era. Tomorrow, Part 2 will show the rapid evolution of the bridge during the automobile era, as well as how the automobile has played a role in so many older bridges being lost to history – and how there are efforts to save some of those that remain.
Modern steel-and-concrete bridge, Shoals, Indiana
Most bridges built today are some variation on this, generally built of steel beams and supported by T-shaped piers. They’re cost effective to build and maintain — critical components of any engineering effort. Unfortunately, they also utterly lack character. From the side, they look as utilitarian as a kitchen appliance. Driving over them, except for the concrete barriers on either edge, you might not even know you are on a bridge.
That hasn’t always been the case. In times gone by, beautiful bridges have been made of wood, stone, and exposed iron and steel.
1913 stone-arch bridge, Ripley County, Indiana
Stone has been used since ancient times. Arches are naturally strong, and stones can obviously be arranged to create them. This little one-lane stone bridge on a rural road north of Madison, Indiana, is a latecomer, having been built in about 1913.
1828 stone-arch “S” bridge, Guernsey County, Ohio
Even in the stone-bridge age, engineers were constrained by cost. It is more complicated and expensive to build and maintain a bridge that crosses a stream at an angle, but roads don’t always reach the stream perfectly perpendicularly. So sometimes bridges were constructed to cross a stream squarely, with approaches built at angles to connect with the road. This created an S shape, which is why these are called S bridges. Most of those that remain are in Ohio, like this one on a former alignment of US 40 east of Old Washington. It carried traffic from its completion in 1828 until 2013, when structural worries forced its closing. The stone bridge pictured at the top of this post is another S bridge that once carried US 40, near Blaine, Ohio.
1819 stone-arch bridge, Washington County, Maryland
The oldest remaining bridges in the United States are pretty much all made of stone. This bridge west of Hagerstown, Maryland was built in 1819. It carried US 40 until 1937. If you’re wondering why I’m showing you all of these stone bridges along US 40, it’s because from Maryland to Illinois, US 40 laid out (with a few exceptions) over the old National Road, the nation’s first federally funded road, built in the early 1800s. Those were prime stone-bridge years in the United States.
1813 stone-arch bridge, Garrett County, Maryland
An even older stone bridge carried the National Road over the Casselman River in western Maryland. It was completed in 1813. Its unusually high arch was meant to allow boats to pass under. It became part of US 40 in 1926, and even though a newer US 40 bridge was built just downriver in 1933, this bridge carried traffic until 1956. It is open only to pedestrians today.
1849-60 suspension bridge, Wheeling, West Virginia
Stone bridges can span gaps only so long, however. The Ohio River is more than 1,000 feet wide where the National Road meets it in Wheeling, West Virginia. Bigger engineering guns were required to span that a gap. And so the famous Wheeling Suspension Bridge was built, the state of the engineering art upon its 1849 completion. The challenge with the state of the art is that the kinks might not be worked out yet: the deck collapsed in 1854. It was rebuilt by 1860. This isn’t a particularly great photo of the bridge, but I’m including it because I happened to get a genuine Curbside Classic in the shot.
1860 suspension bridge, Wheeling, West Virginia
I walked out onto the deck for this shot. Cars can still drive over this bridge, but at a top speed of 50 miles per hour, and separated by a good 100 feet.
1875 Medora Covered Bridge, Jackson County, Indiana
Other types of bridges were built through the 19th century, most of them of wood or iron. Probably the best-known kind of wood bridge is the covered bridge. The cover is largely to protect the wooden trusses from the weather. You don’t want load-bearing wooden members to rot! This is the Medora Covered Bridge, near the little town of Medora in southeastern Indiana, and it sports a fresh cover. The covers, being subjected to the deteriorating effects of rain and sun, needed to be replaced from time to time.
1875 Medora Covered Bridge, Jackson County, Indiana
It’s not very often you get to see a covered bridge undressed! This is what the Medora bridge looked like after its old cover was stripped away. This bridge hasn’t carried traffic in decades; the state highway that it once carried now bypasses this old bridge on a modern steel-beam bridge.
2006 Bridgeton Covered Bridge, Parke County, Indiana
It’s also not too often you get to see brand-new wooden bridge trusses. The 1868 covered bridge in Bridgeton, Indiana, was destroyed by arson in 2005. It had been a centerpiece of the many, many covered bridges in Parke County and a feature of the annual Covered Bridge Festival, so locals immediately rebuilt it to original specifications. I’m sure this bridge could support traffic, but like the Medora bridge, it is only a popular tourist attraction today. After it opened, I went right out and got this photograph. The curved members are Burr arch trusses, a truss type common among Indiana covered bridges but unusual elsewhere.
Ca 1920 wooden bridge, Jennings County, Indiana
Some wooden bridges were not covered, like this bridge in Jennings County, Indiana. It was built about 1920 to elevate a road over a railroad track, known in the biz as a “grade separation.” 1920 was mighty late for a new wooden bridge, but railroads still sometimes built them even that late. Sadly, this bridge was demolished a few years ago when nearby US 50 was realigned.
Believe it or not, this bridge actually carried US 50 for a while after the US highway system was created in 1926. It carried Indiana State Road 4 for nine years before that. Cars created demand for highways, and states had little choice but to route highways over existing roads. Frequently, the best roads available were unpaved and featured narrow bridges.
1903 Washington Road bridge, Knox and Daviess Counties, Indiana
All of these bridges were built for the light, slow traffic of horse riders, animal-drawn wagons, and pedestrians. As cars became increasingly popular, they overwhelmed the inherited infrastructure. This 420-foot-long one-lane bridge, built in 1903, carried the first alignment of US 50 between the Indiana towns of Washington and Vincennes a quarter century later. Can you imagine encountering an oncoming car here? Nationwide, state highway departments were formed to improve roads and bridges to suit the new kinds and volumes of traffic they were getting.
But meanwhile, wood truss bridges had given way to iron and steel trusses, and were the dominant bridge type by the early 1900s. Virtually all of them featured wooden decks, however. When you see a steel deck like the one on this bridge, you can be certain that it was a later replacement. This steel deck was probably installed with a renovation of this bridge in 2006.
1891 Cooper Iron Bridge, Putnam County, Indiana
Interestingly, bridges like these can sometimes be moved to new locations. This 1891 iron bridge was built to carry the National Road near Putnamville, Indiana. (It still wears a wooden deck, but it’s certainly just the latest of several replacements.) When a wider concrete bridge was built in about 1923 to carry this road, this bridge was moved, I believe intact, about a quarter mile up the creek to span this county road.
1887 Whipple through truss bridge, Aurora, Indiana
Truss bridges come in many types. Through trusses – the kind with connecting members over your head – are the most common, and there are dozens of types of through trusses. Pony trusses (no overhead members) are probably the next most common type. There are even bridges with trusses under the deck. The many truss variants have names: Pratt, Parker, Howe, Camelback, Warren, Fink, Bowstring, Baltimore, King, Waddell, K, Pettit, Pennsylvania, and others. This 1887 bridge in the Ohio River town of Aurora in Indiana is a Whipple truss.
Part 2: the kinds of bridges built as the automobile became popular – and how that doomed so many of the bridges described in Part 1.
When we moved to the Middle West in 2001, there was a riveted iron beam bridge (wooden deck) a couple miles South of us across the Spoon River (and yes, there is an East Fork and a West Fork in the Spoon River – badum! I’ll be here all week!)
It was very rickety and not wide enough for modern farm equipment, and was torn down and rebuilt as a modern concrete beam and deck bridge maybe 6-7 years ago. The new bridge is certainly more functional and safe, but completely lacks in charm.
Where is the Middle West? Serbia??? Romania???
Thanx for this informative article .
+1. I’m waiting for the next installment(s).
I love this topic! Also love iron truss bridges, I feel way safer crossing them than the modern steel/concrete blah bridges.
I too feel safer going over a truss bridge. The new ones feel you are hanging out there. I especially hate the I-205 bridge between Portland and Vancouver. It is high(140 ft at its highest), changes elevation, is curved and sloped at the same time. I feel much better on the older I-5 bridge.
I take the 205 bridge (the Glenn L. Jackson, if you’re interested in trivia) almost every day for work, and prefer it over the Interstate Bridge, which is one of the few drawbridges, if not the only one, on an Interstate highway. The 205 bridge is almost a causeway, with the large island in the middle. The old bridge is nice to look at but aging, the new one is boring but safer, and both are insufficient for the traffic they need to carry–what Portland and Vancouver need is a third bridge, ideally with light rail as an option, but now we’re getting political…
I live in Vancouver and despite this being a car-centric site, I would enthusiastically support extending the Max (Portland’s light rail system) to our side of the river. Portland traffic is pretty bad. It’s much faster (27 minutes to Pioneer Square from Delta Vanport for example) for me to park at one of the transit centers and ride downtown and back. Don’t even get me started on the hassle of finding a parking spot. If it is a time limited slot (like 60 minutes) you can also be ticketed for parking longer than that even if the meter still has time left.
Perhaps a third bridge from Fisher’s Landing area to Gresham with an extension of the Blue line would work. But don’t hold your breath.
I’ve come to realize, I’ll probably retire before anything gets done about trans-Columbia transit and/or traffic. With two city governments and state legislatures involved, along with the Federal authorities, no one wants to stick their necks out to spend the money and do the work. To me (and you), Max to/from Vancouver sounds like a brilliant idea, but we’re not running for office.
But there are some nice bridges in the area! The Bridge of the Gods at Cascade Locks is beautiful.
The Bridge of the Gods has no sidewalks, but you can walk across it for a 50¢ toll which is awesome in this day and age of sue happy peoples.
I LOVE the Max rails in Portland. Extending them into the Couve is a great idea.
Never thought of that before, extending the Blue Line of the Max (light rail line which is part of Trimet) over the Columbia to Washington on a 3rd Bridge since I always figured it would just be the Yellow Line that gets extended some day.
I do not like the Interstate Bridges (I-5) because they are not structurally sound in an Earthquake, there are no breakdown lanes, and I have to wear earplugs when biking across on their too narrow sidewalks because of the noise. The Northbound span was built in 1917 and looking at the old photos is quite neat. The Southbound span was built in 1957 and weighs less because I guess they did not use as good quality steel or as much. I also think it is that span’s liftdeck which acts up more.
The Marquam Bridge is not so great either for a variety of reasons and I am glad the Tillikum Crossing is open since the Ross Island is stressful to bike across on the sidewalk.
We should have a Washington/Oregon/PNW Meet & Greet! I didn’t know there were so many members here.
Great article Jim,
Here in Calhoun county of Michigan we have what is known
as “Bridge Park” where several iron truss bridges are restored or resurrected and
remain to be enjoyed . The park near Battle Creek was home to a single lane
iron truss bridge across the Kalamazoo River until it was replaced and saved. Other
bridges have come from area locations when being replaced.
There’s a neat little self-guided tour of covered wooden bridges in the Allentown, PA area. I recommend it for an afternoon’s drive when you are in the NE Pennsylvania area. Quite a few styles.
Late to this article, but there is one covered bridge in South Whitehall (Allentown Area) that i use often as a shortcut around congestion… In other words, i’m using for it’s original intention.
This past weekend i rediscovered another covered bridge outside Bloomsburg, PA (the only Town in PA!) that i wasn’t sure would be still there after 25 years of multiple floods..
Can’t wait for part 2!
Good start Jim, I like looking at old bridges and finding cool details like where the structural channels were rolled.
The dividing line is that back then labor was cheap and materials expensive, now materials are cheap and labor is expensive. Or as Peter Egan put it, “Back then we cared, now we don’t”
Looking forward to part 2.
Nice piece of writing. As we are talking about bridges and of what once was called the National Road, there is a historic stone train bridge that has a single lane car tunnel and a tunnel for the Patapsco River.
The bridge is called the Twin Arch Bridge and it is near the Howard County-Carroll County line near Mt. Airy Maryland. It gets its name from the two tunnels that are carved into it. One is a single lane road and the other is to allow the Patapsco River to pass. This bridge was built in 1901 as a road to allow horses and buggies to pass under the bridge but now it is for car traffic. It was a main line for the B&O Railroad but is now owned by CSX. It is a single lane road so one car must stop to allow a car on the other side to go through. It is near the pick it pull it junk yard I go to all the time.
There are a few overpasses like this left in some rural areas here in Indiana, too. In the late 1800s and very early 1900s, nobody could see well enough into the future to see how inadequate these would soon be.
Same here. Our last one (one lane, one car at a time) was torn out and replaced with a steel I-beam trestle about 8-10 years ago.
INteresting piece on something I know little about 0 the US road system and its history. Looking forward to tomorrow.
My favourite old bridge – the Pont du Gard in Provence in south-east France. Actually, a Roman aqueduct with a 18th century bridge build alongside at the lowest level.
The Pont du Gard is quite the masterpiece, isn’t it? It’s one of several things I wish to check off my list when I eventually meander my way thru Europe.
Highly recommended – I saw the Pont Du Gard on a tour of Southern France years ago, and I still remember it as the highlight of that trip.
The Pont du Garde is terrific, and very much part of the landscape – I have kayaked under it a couple of times, which is quite an experience.
Tried to persuade the family that a day trip to the Milau viaduct was just what was needed from our Uzes base, but to no avail… Another time, perhaps.
Great stuff Jim!
I used to walk across the Wheeling Suspension Bridge every day when I worked at WWVA/WOVK in the adjacent Capitol Music Hall. I could park on Wheeling Island and avoid having to pay to park downtown.
Oh those grates sure got slippery in the rain…
When the Capitol was built in 1928, they actually built the foundation around the cables for the Suspension Bridge. I went down there once, far below the theater and radio studios, fascinating to see the cables actually end inside the building.
Oh now that’s cool. I didn’t know that about the cables. I got quite an interesting tour of Wheeling from a follower of my personal blog who is also a bit of a Wheeling historian, and learned a lot of other interesting things about the city.
Great to see original pix from Ohio and Indiana. Most bridge features tend to focus on 66.
Some of the pics in Part 2 are from 66. I did travel it in IL, MO, KS, and OK a couple years ago.
Thanks for a fascinating article – just wish it was longer and had more of those cool pictures! Where’s a good place to find more of this sort of thing?
Since the terrible bushfires we had in Victoria some years back, there has been a move to replace timber bridges with steel ones – too much danger with fire crews getting isolated and killed if the bridge burns. Settlement only began here in the late 1830s, so you could argue we don’t have historic bridges in my part of Australia, but it’s sad to lose what we do have anyway. There were a few nice timber bridges on some of the more lightly-trafficked roads around here; you’ve made me want to go out with my camera and check what’s still there. Stone bridges? Everywhere, and usually bypassed for today’s traffic volumes.
Another thing we have around here is fords with a lower-case f. They’re on roads with very little traffic and low water levels. There’s two within ten minutes’ drive from where I live. As befits a dry country, there might be no water at all, but it’s more usually ankle-deep. But when the floods come – maybe every ten or twenty years – there can be a metre or more. These days they’re marked with graduated posts to tell the unwary driver how deep the water is.
You’ll see more of my bridge pics at my Flickr space — search there for “bridge.”
A great look into the architectural history of bridges. Thanks for sharing Jim!
I am very much a bridge architecture appreciator. When I was four, one of the first coffee table books I ever picked out was one on bridges around the world. I’ve been interested ever since.
Great article of particular interest to me.
One of the subjects covered in the Industrial Technology class I used to teach. Kids would make a bridge from balsa wood and we would test to destruction. One of the more interesting parts of the class was the film “superbridge”, a nova film about the construction of the bridge across the Mississippi at Elgin Il.
Excellent article, Jim, as always. You’d probably enjoy a visit to Acadia National Park up here in Maine. John D Rockefeller built many stone bridges as part of a network of carriage roads, used by walkers, bicyclists and equestrians. A little different aesthetic than road bridges, but they were designed to fit perfectly in their landscapes. http://www.acadiamagic.com/carriage-roads.htm
This bridge carries Park Loop Road over Eagle Lake Road near Bar Harbor:
Always nice to see other Mainers on here. Your Acadia picture also brings to mind the stone arch bridges on the Blue Ridge Parkway in NC.
I’ve heard of this, or seen photos of it, somewhere before. Very cool.
Many of the bridges from the article are now just for pedestrian traffic. But there are some pretty interesting bridges that were built that way. Here is an example I found this summer in Maine.
the actual bridge
Pedestrian bridges can be an interesting subject themselves. While it’s not old at all (built 1991) there is a pedestrian bridge in Richmond that spans part of the James River, from downtown Richmond to the Belle Isle park. The unique thing about it is that it runs underneath the Lee Bridge which carries US 1 over the river, completely suspended by wires from the Lee Bridge. As it is built to sway with traffic and wind, it’s an interesting experience to cross!
Maine also has a couple of concrete arch bridges, one from 1926 at the reversing falls at East Blue Hill. That one needs to be replaced and the locals are pushing for an aesthetically pleasing choice. Maybe they’ll get it, since the state just built a brand new one over the Kennebec River in Norridgewock.
It all comes down to money in the end.
Wonderful; I love old bridges of all kinds. On the Oregon coast, we have a number of spectacular reinforced concrete bridges on Hwy 101, designed by the noted Conde McCullough, and built by John Holt. To protect the rebar from corrosion from the salt air, these bridges have been plasma sprayed with zinc to act as a sacrificial anode.
Sadly, when the really big earthquake hits the coast here, they will all come down.
When I was in Oregon about 10 years ago, I remember being enthralled by the art-deco concrete bridges (the one across the Umpqua River stands out in my mind). On several occasions I stopped to photograph those bridges — something I’ve rarely done anywhere else.
This was a great article; I’m looking forward to Part 2.
I gather Oregon has a wealth of lovely bridges. One of these days maybe I’ll make it out there to see. One of my roadgeek friends lives out that way and posts pics of old wagon trails and abandoned roads and old bridges and it just makes me want to buy plane tickets immediately.
Time for another CC get together?
Counties in Western Oregon are awash with money. They get a hefty percentage payback from federal timber sales (at least when I used to live there), so the bridges are rather extravagant.
Damn that is a lovely bridge Paul!
A wonderful topic. Growing up on the Mississippi River, I could see the only railroad bridge between St. Louis and Memphis while sitting in the living room. Google “Thebes River Bridge”. It was built in 1905 and was load tested prior to opening with twenty locomotives chained together. It is stone and still in daily use. The wild part was hearing the occasional tugboat hitting a pier – it would wake the dead! Legend has it a few workers fell into the pier during construction and they were left inside. More legend is that a few other workers fell into the river, one of whom did survive and swam ashore downstream.
I’m looking forward to tomorrows installment.
Trying to find a picture of the Thebes Bridge that showed both its stone arches and trusses was not fruitful, but I did find this picture of the Mississippi River Bridge at Cape Girardeau, the next bridge to the north. This bridge is now gone, but I’ve been over it many times. What is seen in the picture wasn’t an unusual occurrence.
This page has a few pics: http://bridgehunter.com/il/alexander/thebes/
I find narrow, long bridges like the one you pictured to be highly anxiety-provoking. A little too claustrophobic!
It’s interesting some of these were taken during pronounced flood conditions.
The old bridge I have pictured was a tad on the narrow side. Since the statute of limitations has passed, I will confess to having driven across it at 65 mph, 10′ lanes and all.
I am not aware of any stone arch road bridges in Mid Michigan and the only two through truss bridges I can think of have been gone for 20 years or so. The Michigan Central Railroad did however build several stone arch bridges in the 19th century that still carry active rail lines over a creek in Mason and a road in Dexter.
Nice article. I’m looking forward to part 2.
Since you are able to offer even more than what Jim did, the submission form is at the top of the page.
Hope you will write these up. This could turn into a nice series.
Here I am being a wet blanket. I love these great bridges as much as anyone but safety has to com first. There is a certain fraction of drivers who cannot or will not pay attention all the time. A stone abutment is a terrible thing to run into. Same with steel. Modern bridge design, while soulless, is cost effective and reduces the abutment problem considerably.
I would love to see some interesting designs of modern safe bridges.
Good point. I see sometimes crushable barriers being erected in front of these bridges and abutments to absorb impact.
Great article! I can see that I need to get out of town more to see some of these local gems. Looking forward to part 2.
This reminds me of a drive in Pulaski County when I came upon an old single-lane wooden deck bridge with a posted weight limit that was lower than the 77 New Yorker I was driving. A combination of youth, stupidity and impatience went to work on me as I ever so slowly creeped across. My faith in the conservatism of those who calculate maximum weights was confirmed.
Every now and then there’s a news story of some toad in a straight truck or semi who tries to cross an old wooden bridge and ends up damaging or destroying the bridge. Glad you didn’t make the news in your New Yorker.
Reminds me of the 80’s movie ‘Funny Farm’ with Chevy Chase. There is a memorable scene involving a moving truck and a covered wooden bridge…
Where I live, Butler County, Ohio, just outside Cincinnati, our township was full of the pony truss bridges, one of my favorite designs, but just about all have now been replaced due to increased traffic and weight requirements.
I miss them. The photo was one very near where I live I found on the web.
A couple of hours drive from my house is the longest covered bridge in the world in Hartland New Brunswick Canada, built in 1901.
It’s fun to drive across as it is only one lane and it is difficult to see cars on the other side (nearly 1300′ away).
It’s quite a famous bridge as it is a National Historic site and has been featured on stamps and even a “Google Doodle”.
NB used to be full of covered bridges, but time and the odd flood has taken a lot of them away. They used to be rebuilt when that happened, but now they are usually replaced with steel ones. It’s a shame.
I just visited the Hartland bridge on Wednesday for the first time. The locals drive across it like they’re rushing to a fire!
Very nice article. Old bridges have been a big time hobby of mine since I was a little kid. Mom and dad used to take me to a nice old 1800’s covered bridge in Salisbury center. We also visited Delhi and Downsville and of course the Newfield covered bridge off Rt 13 past Ithaca, NY. We used to also have many old iron girder type bridges with wood and steel decks but sadly many have been torn down or destroyed. I started taking pictures during the 90’s and later of any old bridges I could find and started a nice scrap book. With the new Millennium has come massive scrapping of these beautiful old structures and many in this scrap book are long gone memories.
Now I can appreciate the need for safety and understand today’s crazy pace needs to be available right this second traffic but did they really need to tear down so many of these rare and beautiful structures all at once? Pennsylvania is especially bad having bucket loads of these structures torn down due to a policy that it cannot be left standing after the new bridge is built because of some safety baloney. In NY, we have many still standing old bridges with a new one built right alongside the old one and there are no safety issues with pedestrian use of the old closed bridge. It is a PennDot rule that infuriates me to no end. Apparently it is more important to scrap the metal for money than save a super rare and historical structure.
Something interesting to note is the very low life expectancy of today’s slabs of cement bridges. About 25-30 years is it. Most of the 50-‘s to 70’s bridges have been replaced with new ones in the area. Meanwhile there are still numerous steel arch or wood or covered bridges that are in service that date back to the 1850’s! And many of these have had only a deck replacement or a few paint jobs or basic abutment replaced due to river flooding. Which begs the question if these old structures can last over 100 years why can today’s so called advanced technology slabs of cement only go 25-30? Answer- it’s all about the mighty dollar. Functionality and low costs have taken away the longevity and beauty and instead replaced it with something nobody in the future will ever remember or care about which is fine for everyday roads and highways but really sucks for neat old fashioned towns, cities etc with a bent on the historic.
I think much more could and should be done to preserve the dwindling number of these awesome old structures for future generations to enjoy.
The problem (which was brought up in the article) with the old bridges is that some of them are just too narrow to give safe berth to two cars at once.
Outstanding article, very well researched and well written. It is good to see that some of these bridges hail from my part of the country (I live in southwestern Indiana). One of the factors that leads to the preservation of old things is poverty; many of the rural counties in Indiana are under-populated and don’t have the tax base of their more urbanized brethren. That is why Parke County, Indiana retained their covered bridges when other localities replaced them with concrete and steel, Parke County just couldn’t afford the new bridges. Of course now that has worked out for them, at least for a couple of October weekends. Unless I’m mistaken you can still actually drive over some of the Parke County covered bridges. We haven’t been up there in several years but in the past some of the county roads still crossed some streams via covered bridges.
Oh yes, Parke County’s poverty is history’s gain. And you absolutely can still drive over some of the covered bridges there.
Same with nearby Putnam County, which has a bunch of covered and metal truss bridges:
The Canton (Massachusetts) Viaduct was built in 1835 and is still in service 180 years later. It carries trains on the main Boston to Providence line including Amtrak, Acela Express and MBTA Commuter Rail. It originally just had a single lane tunnel for vehicles, but at some point a second one was added, as you can see in the picture.
A wide view from the air.
Awesome post, Jim – really enjoyed the tour, history and photographs. (Also liked the burgundy Chevy Nova on the Wheeling, WV bridge!)
THANK YOU everyone who added pictures and comments about old bridges ! .
This makes the reading even better , keep it up .
Having lived in Southern Indiana most of my life, it was interesting to see many bridges that I am very familiar with. In fact, the bridge between Knox and Daviess counties is only about 4 miles from here. That steel deck is not fun to try and ride a motorcycle across. It almost feels like you are riding on ice. If I remember correctly, that deck was installed to replace the former wooden deck that had an overloaded grain truck break through about 30 or so years ago. The bridge was posted at that time , so the truck was not supposed to be there. When US 50 was realigned years ago, this one was replaced by another steel bridge a couple of miles down stream. That one was demolished in the late 1990’s when 50 was further aligned and made a 4 lane highway.
The old bridge can be dangerous to start across as it is one lane and you can’t see oncoming traffic from either end .
Thanks for a great article.
What a great feature. The stone bridges are fascinating as there are almost none to be found where I live. Looking forward to part two.
Excellent article, can’t believe I missed it first time around.
Speaking of US 40, it also sports the country’s oldest cast iron bridge – the Dunlap’s Creek bridge. It was built in 1839 in Brownsville, PA, and is still in daily use, albeit with an extended deck:
There was an old steel bridge that once carried US 40 across the B&O Railroad tracks near Mount Airy, Maryland. The bridge was removed when Interstate 70 was built. The abutments for the bridge still remain, but the “Steel Bridge” is gone. I am trying to find a photograph or two of that old bridge for use by Mount Airy’s Historical Society. Can anyone help me?
I enjoyed seeing the photographs of all the old bridges.
The Starrucca Viaduct in Pennsylvania is pretty impressive. Built in the mid 1840’s and still in use to this day.
Here’s a pony truss bridge in Colebrook CT, that only appears in times of drought – the rest of the time it’s under the manmade Colebrook River Lake. It marks the grave of the town of Colebrook River, which was slowly bought up by a water company over decades to build a reservoir. Nearby is old Route 8, which was also partially drowned. I drove over that road last Fall during a time of low water; it’s spooky to imagine the old automobiles which last drove over it; you can still see a ghostly white line in places.
photo didn’t post – trying again –
The state of Maine has been pretty well represented here in previous posts but there is a very unique bridge that I’ve not seen mentioned. The town of North New Portland is most famous for “The Wire Bridge”. It is a wooden suspension bridge suspended by steel cables. The towers are wood structures covered in cedar shingles that cars drive through. They support the steel cables that support the wooden deck. It looks like the love child between a covered bridge and a suspension bridge. The bridge is about 200 feet long and spans the Carabassett River.It was built in the 1860’s and is still open to vehicle traffic under 3 tons. It’s only wide enough for one car but the road it’s on doesn’t see much traffic anyway. The best part is that when you drive on it it pitches and sways like an amusement park ride, but it’s been doing that for over 150 years.
The old steel truss bridge across the American River in Folsom, California has in interesting history. It was built in 1893 to replace an earlier bridge on the site. In 1918 a new concrete arch bridge (still in use today) replaced the old steel truss bridge, so in the 1930s the truss bridge was relocated all the way to Siskiyou County near the Oregon border, where it carried traffic across the Klamath River. In the late 1990s a modern bridge replaced the truss bridge across the Klamath, at which point the truss bridge was relocated back to its original 1893 location, restored, and now serves as a pedestrian bridge.
A good history of the bridge with a lot of pictures here: https://historicbridges.org/bridges/browser/?bridgebrowser=california/folsomtrussbridge/
There is a relatively new bridge (<10 yrs.) that I use on my work drive which crosses the highway.
When I am at the light and a semi drives past, you can feel it bouncing slightly like a giant leaf spring. Several other parallel bridges also crossing the highway are also newer, and I've never felt them doing the bounce. I wonder what the difference is.
I hope it's normal.
Great article Jim-in the 1950’s and 60’s I lived in Raytown Missouri; there was a wooden bridge in Raytown over the now long gone Rock Island railroad. I haven’t been there in years; I doubt if it is still in use. I spent a lot of time in Northwest Missouri in the same time period-there were a lot of steel truss bridges that were built in the 1920’s in the model T era. The roads were narrow and I remember in the 70’s as cars and trucks got larger signs as you approached the bridges warning they were single lane bridges. Likewise, they’re long gone replaced by steel and concrete bridges.