1914 Leeper Bridge, South Bend, Indiana
(first posted 10/7/2015) This is the final part of this two-part series about bridges in the United States. See Part 1 here. As the automobile became popular, the nation’s network of unpaved, narrow roads became insufficient – and so did the narrow stone, iron, and wooden bridges on them. State and local highway departments began to be formed during the 1910s to address the situation. Over time, they paved, straightened, leveled, and widened roads, and built new, wider bridges.
Reinforced concrete construction became a reality during the early 20th century. Concrete had existed before that — the Romans built some bridges with an early form of concrete. But it didn’t become a major player in infrastructure until the automobile era. Iron and steel truss bridges have a certain beauty to them, but that beauty is largely borne of function. In contrast, concrete can be formed for beauty. This ornate 1914 bridge in my hometown of South Bend, Indiana, carries Michigan St., former US 31, over the St. Joseph River. The lamps on the bridge are reproductions of the original lamps installed when the bridge was built.
1906 Jefferson Blvd Bridge, South Bend, Indiana
South Bend is known for its beautiful bridges. This lovely structure carries Jefferson Blvd. over the St. Joe in South Bend.
1935 concrete-arch bridge, Decatur County, Indiana
Many concrete-arch bridges are utilitarian, like this one. It was built in 1935 to carry US 421 north of Greensburg, Indiana. It features a 20-foot-wide deck, typical of the period. But standard road and bridge widths have done nothing but grow since then – today, 12-foot-wide lanes are the norm, and specifications call for shoulders even on bridges.
This bridge carried only local traffic for a few decades, ever since I-74 was built nearby and US 421 was routed onto it. But several years ago Honda built a plant about a mile and a half down the road; they manufacture Civic sedans there. It brought truck traffic down this old highway and across this bridge, which had received poor ratings on its last inspection. Repairs on a too-narrow bridge probably didn’t make sense, and this old bridge was replaced in 2014.
1951 Cataract Lake Bridge, Owen County, Indiana
Sometimes, an old bridge gets renovated rather than replaced, like this great open-spandrel concrete arch bridge over Cataract Lake south of Putnamville, Indiana. A spandrel is the space between the arch and the deck. The concrete-arch bridges I’ve shown so far feature closed spandrels – you can’t see through them, like you can on this bridge. Open spandrels can create an air of grace.
1923 Brush Creek Bridge, Cherokee County, Kansas
What’s unfortunate about these open-spandrel bridges is that when you drive over them, their beauty is beneath you, out of sight. Fortunately, concrete is enormously versatile and can be formed into other bridge shapes, with above-deck beauty. This bridge on Route 66 west of Galena, Kansas, is of a type called both a rainbow arch and a Marsh arch, named for its designer, James Marsh. Bridges of this style were once very common across the Midwest. This one is far too narrow for modern traffic. Fortunately, this bridge was left intact when a new, wider bridge was built nearby.
1933 William H. Murray Bridge, Canadian and Caddo Counties, Oklahoma
Concrete is great, but you just can’t beat steel truss bridges for adding character to a highway. This is one of my favorite: a 3,944-foot-long, 38-span pony-truss bridge that crosses the South Canadian River west of El Reno, Oklahoma, on old Route 66. It is just a delight to drive across it and experience all of those yellow trusses whizzing by at speed.
Unfortunately, it is slated for replacement. It’s another case of a too-narrow deck and a poor ratings at its last inspection. Here’s hoping this great bridge is left in place and a new bridge built alongside it. What would be even better is if this bridge could be fully restored and used for traffic in one direction, while a new bridge carries traffic the other way.
1941 Astronaut David Wolf Bridge, Indianapolis, Indiana
That’s what the city of Indianapolis did with its last steel truss bridge, which was built in 1941. In those days, the city hadn’t annexed this area yet. These were the boondocks. But this road was important enough to be a state highway, and the state built this bridge. Today, it’s in the middle of one of Indianapolis’s major shopping destinations. To handle the traffic, the city widened this road to four lanes – and restored this bridge and built a standard-issue concrete bridge next to it. Eastbound traffic flows across this old bridge. I shot this video to record the joyful experience of driving over a truss bridge.
1931 Xenia Bridge, Carroll County, Indiana
A great thing about iron and steel truss bridges is that they can often be disassembled and reassembled on a new site. When Indiana has needed to replace its truss highway bridges, it has been pretty good about offering them for reuse. I found this former highway bridge on a back road southeast of Delphi, Indiana.
1913 Houck Iron Bridge, now called Gray Bridge, Putnam County, Indiana
I got to see one reused truss bridge in its original and new locations. The Houck Iron Bridge was on a back road northeast of Greencastle, Indiana. It had been unsafe and closed to traffic for a long time when I came upon it. The county eventually got around to replacing it.
1913 Gray Bridge, née Houck Iron Bridge, Delphi, Indiana
Fortunately, the town of Delphi wanted it. They had it disassembled and shipped north about 70 miles to their town, where it was restored and reassembled on the town’s extensive trail system. It’s now known as the Gray Bridge, to match its gray coat of paint.
1923 Devils Elbow Bridge, Pulaski County, Missouri
Some bridges are restored in place. This is the bridge at Devils Elbow in Missouri, on old Route 66. I snapped this shot in 2013 before its restoration. (And there’s a bonus Roach of the Road™ Curbside Classic crossing it.) I’ll have to go back one day to capture it in its renewed glory.
1892 O’Neal Bridge, Boone County, Indiana
This bridge on a back road in Boone County, Indiana, was restored in about 2010.
1925 & 1933 concrete-arch bridge, Indianapolis, Indiana
Some bridges just aren’t very lucky. This concrete-arch bridge was built with two lanes in 1925, and two more lanes were added in 1933. It carried US 52 for decades, until that highway was routed around the city on an Interstate beltway. The city took over the old road, including this bridge – and then ignored the bridge until it was in deplorable condition. From a cost perspective, this was a smart move: they would have had to pay for all of the maintenance, but the Feds would pay for a huge chunk of replacing it. The city saved big by letting this bridge crumble away.
1925 & 1933 concrete arch bridge, Indianapolis, Indiana
I live near this bridge and documented its destruction. This is when I learned that a closed-spandrel concrete-arch bridge is filled with dirt! I was sad to see this bridge go, but it really had become a basket case and demolition was the only solution I could see.
1925 SR 37 bridge, Morgan County, Indiana
Even though truss bridges can often be disassembled and moved, that’s not always enough to save them. This three-span pony truss bridge used to carry State Road 37 north of Bloomington, Indiana. A new alignment of 37 was built about 40 years ago, leaving this bridge to carry local traffic. It, too, was badly neglected, and at its last inspection it was called “basically intolerable” and was put on the demolition list. It’s closed to traffic today, awaiting its replacement.
1893 Bridgeport Bridge, Ohio County, West Virginia, and Belmont County, Ohio
Sometimes, they’re simply too far gone to be saved. This unusual, ornate bridge of wrought iron once carried the National Road and US 40 across the Ohio River backchannel between Wheeling Island in West Virginia and Bridgeport, Ohio. Its narrow deck and terrible condition made it a target for replacement, and a modern concrete slab bridge was built alongside it during probably the 1990s. This bridge was then left to rot. In an illicit mission a few months before this bridge bit the dust, I walked out onto it – tricky and stupid, as the deck had been removed – to have a look. I’m no civil engineer, but it looked like a basket case to me, with rotted structural members everywhere. Some of my bridge-loving colleagues say that the rot could have been cost-effectively replaced in a restoration. Maybe they were right, but it’s moot now: this video shows its demolition.
2011 Main Street Bridge, Columbus, OH
Plain bridges are built so often today because they are cost-effective to construct and maintain. But beautiful bridges can still get built. It just takes leaders with a vision – and money.
The city of Columbus, Ohio, is committed to enhancing the downtown view along the Scioto River by building beautiful bridges of many kinds. I happened to be in Columbus on the day this inclined arch suspension bridge over Main Street opened to two-way traffic. It cost a whopping $60 million to build, which I gather is still a sore subject with the locals. But look at what an architectural legacy they’ve built for the generations to come, a signature of this city, a structure that helps distinguish Columbus among other cities of its size.
Beautiful bridges can’t always be saved, can’t always be built. But isn’t it great when it happens?
Very interesting ! .
The video link for ” 1893 Bridgeport Bridge, Ohio County, West Virginia ” is no good .
Fixed! Thanks for mentioning it.
The Leeper Bridge in the first photo reminds me of one of my favorites, the Colorado Street Bridge in Pasadena:
The Leeper Bridge….
That is a rather unfortunate name, isn’t it?
The Locals actually call it ‘ Suicide Bridge ‘ , for some years it had FUGLY anti – jumper railings that were 12’ (maybe more) higher , they finally removed those useless things the last time it was rebuilt .
This beautiful bridge is constantly used in movies and T.V. shows .
A couple years ago I was driving underneath it and noticed a BMW convertible posed hanging over the railing…..it spent Friday night , all day Saturday and about 1/2 of Sunday up there , I never found out what movie it was in .
Lots of back stories about Suicide Bridge including some young idiots who used to toss derelict Motocycles over the high railings in the 1970’s , to watch them smash into the concrete was below….
The Cataract County Bridge brings to mind the same type of bridge in my home state California, the Big Sur bridge, Monterey County, California, Route 1:
You raise an interesting point about above-deck beauty. Maybe taxpayers will grumble less about bridge architecture if drivers crossing the bridge can admire it.
The simplicity and beauty of the Varina-Enon Bridge on I-295 near Richmond, Va., is hard to ignore, even when rushing across at 65 mph.
And looking to the right while traveling southbound across the bridge (off to the right side of the picture, directly in front of the bow of the ship sailing upstream) you can see Henricus Plantation, the reconstruction of the 1611-1622 settlement, second English settlement after Jamestown. We get a wonderful view of the bridge from the heights of the site.
The settlement of Varina was established by Pocahontas’ husband, John Rolfe, who was the first to successfully cultivate tobacco in Virginia, which changed the fate of America. My ancestor Seth Ward lived there after he immigrated in 1619 before buying 60 acres across the James in 1634. The previous occupants had been massacred in 1622.
I drove across the bridge a few times when they were rebuilding several of the I95 bridges in Richmond, a traffic nightmare. It’s weird having the suspenders in the middle.
Very interesting articles. Thanks for these. I used to have really good pictures of the McCullough Bridge in North Bend, Oregon but can’t find them. Here’s one from pinterest:
Here’s one I took of the Hawthorne Bridge up in Portland:
Mike George that is the famous Steel Bridge by the way. The Hawthorne is Green and does not have telescoping decks.
My best bridge story is probably this one.
The railroad bridge in the picture is just west of the McCullough Bridge that I posted above. (I took this shot from it.) Years ago my grandma was friends with an older couple from her church. One day at a meal the old dude told us a story. He used to work for the railroad and one of his jobs (guessing in the 60’s or so) was manning the booth to operate the rotating bridge.
The crossing is open by default, and only closes when needed for a train. Or (and I’m sure this is no longer the case) for the employees to walk to and from the land. One night as he was just sitting out there minding his work, he got robbed at knife-point by someone who had, presumably, waited for a train to pass in order to get onto the rotating bit.
I have fished off that railroad bridge and spent many years riding the dunes behind the bridge with off-road vehicles.
Nice! I didn’t go to Horsefall all that often. I was more into Bastendorf and the like.
It is nice to see newer bridges designed as something more than simply utilitarian structures. One example where I think this was achieved well is in Quincy, Ill., where US-24 crosses the Mississippi River.
The older 1920s-era steel truss bridge was kept and restored (now serves eastbound traffic), while a new cable bridge was added – not parallel, but at an angle – in the 1980s. The new bridge (I know the 1980s doesn’t exactly qualify as new, but it’s close enough for me) really contrasts well with the older structure.
The City of Quincy has a riverfront park in between the bridges, which is quite nice. The below image is from Google StreetView, so it’s not of the highest quality, but hopefully the point comes across that the two bridges create a unique visual amenity for the park, and they’re neat to drive across, too.
I’ve been across both of those bridges many times during my days of living in Hannibal.
In 2008, when the Mississippi River flooded, there was about 4′ of water over the deck on the west end of the eastbound bridge. I have a picture of it somewhere, and the way the deck emerged from the water had a delightfully eerie quality to it.
Well done! Driving though Connecticut in 1993 I noticed several bridges that had stylized concrete automobile nose sections built into the supports. Does anyone know where they are?
Sounds like the Merritt Parkway (CT Route 15) in Fairfield County, CT. Built in the 1930s, all bridges (both overpasses and bridges carrying the parkway) are built of concrete (and some steel) and every bridge is unique in style. Some are Art Deco, some are Moderne, some rustic, some classical, and some quite fanciful. My favorite is an overpass that has steel railings representing spider webs, with a metal spider in a different place in each panel.
Route 15 continues north toward New Haven onto the Merritt’s less-famous sister, the Wilbur Cross Highway, and the bridges become much more utilitarian as the road was built in the 40s and 50s, but a few bridges are noteworthy. One overpass has statues of Greek figures holding old-style tires, which actually may be the one you are thinking of. Another overpass, coincidentally the bridge carrying the road to downtown New Haven, has the Yale seal over the right side lanes, and the Harvard seal over the left lanes. Meaning, of course, that Yale is the right way, and Harvard the wrong way.
I have always internally thanked those responsible for the Bridges of Merritt Parkway. Their legacy is that I will chose to drive there when faster routes are available. The bridges are not always kept up but the creativity that was allowed to flourish in their building is a joy.
Where I live, the new Tappan Zee Bridge construction over the Hudson dominates the landscape. It will follow in the recent style of using radiating cable support, hung from two W-shaped 420 foot high towers.
The notable feature in the River for the past year has been the 100 meter high super crane that came through the Panama Canal to service the project.
It joined numerous smaller pieces, giving the river the look of a scene from “Torah! Torah! Torah!”
That would be Tora! Tora! Tora!, unless you were watching the Jewish version.
You’ve got some good ones in here; I recently saw the Jefferson Avenue bridge on a recent trip to South Bend and I’ve been across the Devils’ Elbow Bridge – it’s restoration is quite good.
The picture of the deteriorating 1925 and 1933 bridge in Indianapolis hits upon something somewhat close to home – the ravages of snow removal material on bridges. Calcium chloride, magnesium chloride, and sodium chloride just don’t play nice with steel whether exposed or in concrete. That a bridge was able to go so long being ignored is a testament to how well it was built, much like it’s a testament to a car engine on how long it can go without an oil change.
South Bend was touched by the City Beautiful movement and George Kessler in particular, who designed the city’s park and boulevard system.
And yeah, it’s amazing that the Indy bridge lasted as long as it did under such neglect. The other side of the bridge was even worse with fully exposed rebar.
Were the lamps on the Leeper Bridge originally gas lights or electric?
I don’t know for sure. I’m guessing electric.
Good stuff, thanks for sharing. I had three bridge projects over the last year that I was responsible for as resident engineer. Two were scary piles of sticks over railroad tracks, but I did have one nice old girl we replaced. She was built in the 20’s with a deck(wood) rehab in 1981. Unfortunately no one wanted her, so she’s probably at your local Walmart as patio furniture now. This is after the contractor stripped the decK, broke her free, and was swinging her over to level ground to be cut up in to truck size pieces for the trip to the recycling yard.
From the other side of the river.
The twin bridges that always hold the biggest place in my heart are the Bourne and Sagamore Bridges that cross the Cape Cod Canal. They bring back great memories of summering on the Cape every year with my extended family as a child. Both are single arch bridges constructed between 1933-1935.
Lanes are decidedly narrow and a bit nerve-wracking to drive across with a car in the lane next to you.
Try it in a box truck. Not fun as I discovered.
I always try to stay in the right lane when crossing one of them.
My Great Uncle Arch once navigated an aircraft carrier through the Cape Cod canal, one of the highlights of his WW2 career. I should really do a Quayside Classic on that.
Thanks for the article Jim, l like bridges!
Essex or Independence class?
Independance – CVL 29 Bataan
Update to 2021, The Bourne and Sagamore Bridges are due to be replaced. They are structurally deficient and do not meet modern DOT highway standards. They were built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and they still own and maintain them but they want out. Upon completion of the new bridges, ownership will be transferred to the state of Massachusetts. Replacement is only in the planning stage at this point.
Oregon has some really nice Art Deco style bridges on Highway 101, probably built as WPA projects.
One bridge memory that stands out for me: In the mid-1950s we lived in Arkansas a short distance from Memphis. Every time we drove to the big city across the “new” (truss) four-lane bridge spanning the Mississippi River, I was fascinated by the adjacent bridge upstream. It was a railroad bridge to which were added a single lane on either side in a cantilever fashion for vehicular travel in each direction. At that time, the approaches were still in place, but blocked off.
A railroad bridge over the Ohio River between Indiana and Louisville used to carry one lane each direction of vehicular traffic too.
I really enjoyed these. Thank you!
Two special bridges come to mind. One is the Mendota Bridge in Minneapolis and the other is on the road west out of Pittsburgh (unfortunately I don’t know the name).
West End Bridge, perhaps?
The Fort Pitt Bridge on the main drag, I-376 (Parkway West) is a double-decker but otherwise unremarkable.
You may be thinking about the McKees Rocks bridge too, it crosses part of the Ohio and then part of the Rocks before finally descending onto PA 51.
The Bridgeport Bridge was a fright…it was on the other side of Wheeling Island from the Suspension Bridge covered in Part 1. More than once I’d have that fleeting thought…”does this thing fall into the river while I’m on it”?
Super narrow and deteriorated — yes, I can well imagine everyone breathed a sigh of relief when the new bridge was built.
BTW, I totaled a car coming off that new bridge and entering Bridgeport. There’s a stoplight just beyond the OH 7 overpass and I totally didn’t see it. Socko.
The Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge in Boston, MA is spectacular, particularly at night. It’s a cable-stayed bridge built as part of the “Big Dig” which put Interstate 93 underground through Boston. It carries 93 over the Charles River.
It’s as shame that more of these beautiful old structures couldn’t be saved, restored or moved somewhere else and made into a foot only bridge. Nothing makes my day more than seeing an old structure like this saved and re-utilized.
Really a shame about the Bridgeport bridge–I’ve never seen a decorated iron bridge of that sort. From your photo and the comments, it sounds like it was overdue for replacement, but it would have been nice if it had been repurposed somehow. Very striking.
The Cataract Lake bridge reminds me of my favorite Richmond bridge, the James River Railroad bridge (AKA Atlantic Coast Line bridge). As the name implies, it only carries rail traffic, but it can be seen from several adjacent bridges and local parks, and it’s a very graceful open spandrel concrete bridge. Built 1933. I don’t have access to my photos at the moment but here’s one I found online:
If the Bridgeport bridge had been well maintained, it could have been a pedestrian bridge. It truly had become inadequate to carry modern traffic, just because it was so narrow. But it was an unusually designed and styled bridge, and it was a loss when it was demoed.
Wonderful series. Outside of the somewhat famous London Bridge in Lake Havasu City, AZ, I had no idea that bridges were periodically restored and moved to new locations to the extent they are. I really enjoy biking trails and would find an old repurposed bridge to be a cool feature on a trail ride.
I really need to go look at London Bridge ~ I remember when they brought it over for tourism , have not been to Lake Havasu since 1969 .
All these pix and stories are great .
Seems like cable stayed bridges are making a renaissance in bridge design compared to yhe generic 70s to 90s. There is one in Pasco, WA, a pedestrian one here in San Diego, and a very recently opened one in Portland OR. That one has pedestrian and cyclist lanes on the outside, and busses, streetcars, and light rail down the middle.
Of the major cities I have visited, Portland has to have the highest density of bridges, over the Willamette River which separates downtown from much of the rest of the city.
From the cable car to the hospital complex (Portland has amazong transit options).
There are several bridges further downstream to the left, including the lift bridge from earlier in the thread.
I am almost certain I had a view of the Jefferson bridge during one of my many stays in South Bend, from my hotel room. I think the other side of the street from the hotel was a college football hall of fame or something significant. Beautiful part of town.
I have really enjoyed this series. The photos as well as the text are very engaging. I’d love to see more bridges from other parts of the country. We have lots of iron, wood, and steel-truss bridges here in New England.
Here’s a pic of the restored Devil’s Elbow, MO bridge. I mentioned that in a post I wrote several months ago about a cross-country trip.
The Mendota Bridge in Minnesota, 4114 feet long, built in 1926 and rebuilt in 1992. The deck and all vertical columns were removed, only the arches were kept.
Crossed this bridge thousands of times, from a kid to my last day at work. I started a new job near Ft. Snelling in 1992. The bridge was the shortest route to work, had to wait a year or so before it reopened.
Then there was the 35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis, what a fiasco that was.