This blog reports events and interesting tidbits from Rensselaer, Indiana and the surrounding area.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The bowstring arch bridge

At the north end of Laird's Landing, the public access point to the Iroquois River that is east of Rensselaer, a two lane rut leads into the woods. If you follow it a while, it eventually turns away from the river where a tiny creek joins the river. At that point a little path crosses this creek and continues along the river.
When I was there recently, it had just snowed, and the passage across this tiny creek looked treacherous. With new snow on what might once have been a bridge, I did not know how slippery the logs or planks might be. But by taking my time and getting low to the ground, I made my way across.
A hundred yards or so further on I caught sight of my goal.
Once there had been a bridge here, but now there are only ruins of a bridge. However, those who put together the Jasper County Interim Report: Indiana Historic Sites and Structures Inventory thought it was important even though the road bed is long gone. The Report was published by the Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana in 2002 with funding from a number of sources, including the National Park Service and the Lilly Endowment.
This bridge is an example of a bowstring truss bridge according to the Report. The Report estimates that it was built around 1900, and gives it a Notable classification. Outstanding is the best that an item can get, and there are few of those. Notable is the next category down, and this ranking is still rare enough to be special. (Grade inflation did not hit the Report.) The vast majority of entries (over 90% and maybe over 95%) are simply Contributing.
From the little I could find on the Internet, this type of bridge has was popular in the 19th century and then died out. There are plans to preserve this one by moving it to Rensselaer and using it as a pedestrian bridge over the Iroquois River in the Austin Park. Delphi, Indiana has decided to preserve old bridges, and they are proud of a bowstring arch bridge that they restored. I am sure they would be happy to take this one if Rensselaer did not want it.
Here is a closer look at the support structures or trusses.
The foundation is an impressive mass of stone. However, at the bottom of the east side, there is some degradation of that foundation.
I am not sure how well the history of this bridge is known. From a reliable source (Judy K): "It initially was thought to be a bridge moved there from elsewhere, but it is now believed to be original to that location." I have also heard that it was a private bridge, not a bridge on a public road. If it was, it was a pretty substantial structure for private use.

I was surprised to see that the river had frozen over even though we still had most of December ahead of us. The river has some rapids downstream from the bridge, and the water is deep and quiet in some places, and that may account for the ice.
And here is the trail back to Laird's Landing. This is not a place a lot of people go, especially not in winter. But if you want a little adventure, try it.


Desert Survivor said...

Interesting bridge. You're managing to make Rensselaer seem like a pretty cool place!

Michael J Oakes said...

It is a pretty interesting bridge, and I can imagine its use in the Austin park area.

Why preserve it, though? Given its current state and location, it must be that few people in the area have much interest in it. If so, (1) would transplantation, preservation and re-fitting be a good use of taxpayer funds? (2) In a county so dominated by Republicans, who usually promote themselves as defenders of a free market economic system with minimal government intrusion into private and commercial lives, isn't this something that leaders ought to oppose?

Ed said...

I coulda swore this still had wood planks on it back in 98.