THE RECENT FATE OF KING HIGHWAY BRIDGES – UPDATE 2013
The fate of old King road and highway bridges rests almost entirely to the dynamics of local initiatives and politics – particularly the interaction between of preservationists and local bridge authorities who are usually the owners of such structures. Since these old bridges are hard pressed to meet the needs of modern traffic and have suffered the effects of age, weather, and floods, they are in need of a high level of TLC which local interests are either willing or unwilling to provide. Below are some recent examples of the best and worst of these situations:
A LOSS –THE BEAR TAVERN ROAD BRIDGE, HOPEWELL, N.J**
This is indeed a sad story. About 10 years ago I had the opportunity to visit both the Bear Tavern Road Bridge and the Mine Road Bridge in Hopewell with an engineer from Mercer County, the owner of both structures. Both were built by the King Bridge Company in the 1880’s. At the time of my visit, the plans were to repair and strengthen these historic bridges to keep on serving local traffic. This was a popular move applauded by many citizens of Hopewell. The Bear Tavern Road Bridge was located near the point where, after crossing the Delaware, George Washington’s army forded Jacob’s Creek to attack the Hessians fighting for the English in Trenton during the Revolutionary War. After the repairs were made, it was assumed that the bridge was safe for a few more years. I included this story in my article on “The Preservation of Historic Bridges”, presented at the Historic Bridge Conference in Columbus in 2007 as an example of a successful preservation project.
Local citizens urging preservation.
Painting by local artist R.W. Browne of the bridge and site.
The bridge under pressure in hopes of restoration but closed to traffic in 2009 .
However, apparently because to 3 ton weight limit was not often respected by truck drivers using the bridge to access nearby Janssen Pharmaceutical Research and Development Center (A research facility of Johnson & Johnson, a New Jersey based company with major political clout) and some flooding of the creek, the bridge became damaged and was closed to traffic in 2009. Plans were made for a replacement bridge nearby. Local citizens interested in history and preservation of the bridge and its surroundings objected strongly to the new bridge plan which would obliterate both the bridge and the historic fording site mainly for the benefit of Janssen (also school busses and emergency vehicles). They mounted an active campaign to save the bridge and the site including having the bridge listed on the National Historic Register. Even the New Jersey State historic preservation organization listed the bridge and site as one of the most endangered locations in the State, but to no avail. There were bitter exchanges and potential court fights between the County powers and local historic and environmental interests with the result that the bridge was dismantled and stored for future installation in a local park.
At least the Mine Road Bridge survives for the moment!!
Damaged flooring and stringers after floor removed (not in bad shape) but removed anyway.
The Mine Street Bridge with its builders plate still in tact.
A GAIN – THE PIANO BRIDGE, DUBINA, TEXAS
The Piano Bridge, a Pratt truss built by the King Bridge Company in 1885. was rehabilitated in 2012 thanks to the combined efforts of the Texas DOT, local enthusiasts and a group of local contractors who removed the bridge from its piers, undertook an extensive refurbishing of the iron work and flooring, then lifting it back in place across the East Navidad River . All this work took place at the bridge site and it is has now been reopened for vehicular traffic.. This work was documented by “pontist” Julie Bowers of “Workin Bridges”. This bridge has been a local landmark for some time. Wedding parties have used the bridge as a site for memorable photos.
For more details, go to: http://thebridgehunter.areavoices.com/2012/02/28/piano-bridge-restoration/
A LOSS – THE “RED BRIDGE” in BADDECK, NOVA SCOTIA
We received word last fall that this 1883 King Bridge, one of two King trusses in Baddeck, was removed forcing a long detour for local residents. The builder’s plate was still attached in in the old photo above. Fortunately, we have not heard that its sister bridge, the Church Road King, pictured on the right, has suffered the same fate. However, there is at least one other King bridge that has been rehabilitated and still in use.
REVISITING THE KING BRIDGE IN BENSONSPORT, IOWA
This handsome truss bridge crosses the DesMoines River at Bentonsport, Iowa was first noted in our 2011 update because it had a most interesting history from the point of view of the King family. The trusses were built by the King Bridge Company of Cleveland in 1882 under a contract with VanBuren County, then rehabilitated after it was damaged by floods some years later, by George King, Zenas King’s nephew, who had created his own bridge company with another cousin George Wheelock, both of them having learned the bridge-building trade at the knee of Uncle Zenas. It now stands as the proud emblem of this historic area. Nathan Holth describes this bridge on his historicbridges website in the following:.
“There are several extremely rare and significant pin-connected truss bridges on the lower section of the Des Moines River. Each are distinguished as rare surviving examples of large, multi-span examples of their type. Among them, the Bentonsport Bridge stands out as a large, relatively complete, and early example. The bridge is a long, five-span truss bridge. Each span contains eight panels. One of the central spans was replaced after it was damaged in a flood in 1903. The span was replaced by the George E. King Bridge Company of Des Moines, Iowa, which was a spinoff of the King Bridge Company who built the original bridge.”
REVISITING THE YELLOW BANK CHURCH CAMPGROUND BRIDGE INHASTINGS, MINNESOTA
One of the first King bridges that came to our attention as we launched the Kingbridgecompany website was this interesting bridge which was located in Lac Qui Parle County in western Minnesota. It was documented by the Minnesota Historical Society in the following citation adapted from the National Register of Historic Places nomination form prepared by well-known “pontist” Prof. Fredric L. Quivik, Renewable Technologies, Inc. The Bridge was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989 and was moved by a private bridge enthusiast to the “Little Log House Pioneer Village in Hastings where it now is a local tourist attraction.
“The Yellow Bank Church Campground Bridge is an iron or steel, single-span, pin-connected through truss, with a wood beam stringer approach span at each end. Its truss arrangement does not conform to any common types, although with its diagonals at varying angles it resembles the Thacher truss patented in 1881. The Yellow Bank Church Campground Bridge is historically significant for its association with the King Bridge Company of Cleveland, Ohio, one of the important out-of-state bridge builders in Minnesota. The bridge is also significant as an example of the continuing experimentation with bridge truss configuration during the late 19th century. The Yellow Bank Church Campground Bridge retains excellent integrity.”
Now in an historical park.
James Baughn’s Bridgehunter website has the following description of this bridge:
“This unique and beautiful structure is one of those bridges that must be physically seen to be appreciated. This rare and historic bridge was removed from its original location and relocated to a private historical park just south of Hastings, MN, in Dakota County. The current owner used this bridge to replicate the main span of the famous Hastings Spiral Bridge that once crossed the Mississippi River just east of the current U.S. 61 bridge. A spiral approach that resembles the original was added to the south end of the bridge. The spiral is amazing, but the main span is even more. This is one of only a handful of known Thacher truss bridges to exist in the United States, with one, the Castillo Crossing Bridge, in Colorado, two in Iowa, one in Virginia, and possibly others. Other than its unique truss configuration, the most distinguishing feature of this bridge is its upper chord. The built-up chord’s flat panels make up the top and bottom of the chord, while V-lacing makes up either side–normally, it’s the other way around. This appears to be a design feature unique to the King Bridge Company. The center connections on the upper chord consist of bolted-and-nutted plates rather than pinned connections, and appear to be original. The bridge’s original railings, most likely metal lattice or similar, have been replaced with wood. The latticed portals and knee bracing are signature King Bridge Company features. The upper sway bracing consists of crossed rods with turnbuckles and a central built-up double angle member. The timber deck is most likely not original, but is beautifully weathered and looks appropriate on the bridge. The bridge retains its original floor beams, but it looks like the wood stringers have been replaced. This bridge is nearly identical to the Ellsworth Ranch Bridge in Emmet County, Iowa, which is only 2 years newer and also built by the King Bridge Company, and is featured on Nathan Holth’s excellent website. The only difference that I can see between the two bridges is the floor beams. This bridge features tapered floor beams more typical of pre-1900 bridges, while the Iowa bridge has straight double-flange beams. The bridge is located in what looks like a park that is set up to resemble old Hastings, and the bridge and its unique approach are a perfect complement to the park’s theme. The photos were taken from 220th Avenue.”