Bridges are important structures which facilitate crossing of rivers, gorges, railroad tracks, and many other impediments that stand in the way of going to and from destinations. Bridges come in six types: girder, arch, cable stayed, truss, rigid frame, and suspension. Each type is meant to serve a certain purpose, both structurally and practically.
Of all the bridge types, the truss bridge is the most fascinating and, in my opinion, the most beautiful. Truss bridges are simple skeletal structures which contain beams which are mainly straight. By design, the individual beams are only subject to tension and compression forces and not bending forces. The many small beams that make up a truss bridge can support a large amount of weight and span great distances. Trusses are classified by the basic design used: the Warren truss, the Pratt truss, and the Howe truss. Each design is identified by its diagonal members, which all (except for the end ones) slant down and at an angle – either toward the center or away from the center.
It is a simple type of structure yet, in the use and arrangement of the beams and trusses, its design creates a graceful web of strength and functionality. The Wells Street bridge, built in 1884 by the Wrought Iron Bridge Company of Canton, Ohio, is a beautiful example of a restored truss bridge spanning the St. Marys River in downtown Fort Wayne. Access to the Wells Street Bridge is from either an inconspicuous entrance located on Superior Street or a somewhat convoluted drive off Wells.
The Bridge does not disappoint. The Bridge’s portal is ornate with small amounts of red coloring standing out against the blackness of the structure. As I walked the bridge, I admired its simple structure and its straight iron trusses – the thinner lengths of iron crisscrossing the heavier beams. The construction is artistry at its best – the sturdy solid beams softened by the finials and scroll work of the upper portions of the bridge.
The dark brown waters of the St. Marys River flow underneath, visible through the cracks in the weathered wood deck. Each side of the bridge is suited for foot or bicycle traffic with the pathways elevated about a foot from the broad bed of the bridge. The width of the bridge accommodated trolley rail cars in earlier days.
The Wells Street bridge was constructed in what originally was a residential neighborhood, but over time became dominated by commercial and industrial uses. The bridge has been closed to vehicular traffic since 1982 when a new bridge was constructed nearby to the west. The Bridge was restored and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.
I can only imagine what it was like to have seen the original bridge as shown in the post card image below.
After visiting the Wells Street Bridge, I decided to drive out to the rural southern part of Allen County and photograph two other truss bridges I knew existed. Although Allen County has perhaps a half dozen other truss bridges of various sizes located at different points along the St. Marys River, the St. Joseph River, and smaller waterways, two of the larger bridges are located in the rural south part of the county: the Bostick Bridge, threatened by its condition and now closed to traffic, and the Marion Center Road Bridge.
My search for the Bostick Bridge took me down country back roads, barely wide enough for two vehicles. As I drove up to within a few feet of the bridge, I immediately noticed the flaking paint and the worn beams. The Bostick Bridge was constructed by the same company that built the Wells Street Bridge, and, even though some of the same features were evident as I eyed the construction, the rural Bostick Bridge is not as ornate as its city cousin. It is also a one-lane bridge, and, unlike its two-lane counterpart, requires a certain “bridge etiquette.” Similar to arrival at a four-way stop, drivers must determine who crosses the bridge first. No right or left turns – one or the other driver must be willing to give.
Today, the Bostick Bridge, a one-lane composite roadway across the St. Marys constructed in 1894, is closed – its aging hulk considered unsafe to vehicle traffic. Roads are sparse in rural southeast Allen County, and the bridge stands in the way of residents who live on each side – forcing them to drive extra miles to arrive home. Most residents just want the bridge gone – it is an inconvenience – it is a nuisance – it is not worthy of existence. But fortunately, not all feel that irritation for the bridge.
ARCH, Fort Wayne’s historical preservation society, has been working to save the bridge. Last year the bridge was given a reprieve with tentative plans to dismantle the bridge and move it to an alternate location. With care and restoration, what a magnificent addition to a park or other community-centered project!
The Bostick Road Bridge in southeast Allen County
My third and final quest for the day was the Marion Center Road truss bridge, another one-lane bridge joining the banks of the St. Marys and located on the Marion Center Road. Marion Center Road is a gravel road and, as I drove the road toward the bridge, my truck kicked up dust and dirt, reminding me of my childhood days visiting my great grandfather’s farm in rural Hendricks County.
Although a truss bridge, the Marion Center Road bridge is slightly different in the way the structure was erected. The structure is slightly off “kilter” with an appearance of being skewed. The west side is anchored a few feet ahead of the east side, and the pattern is continued the length of the bridge. The Marion Center bridge was constructed in 1895 and is the least ornate of the three bridges, but it still brings yet another dimension to the variety of truss bridge structures located in Allen County.
The Marion Center Road truss bridge
Bridges are amazing structures which afford us the opportunity to journey to places we otherwise could not reach. We take them for granted and don’t realize just how much we depend on them until one is closed for any length of time or perhaps permanently, as is the case with the Bostick Bridge. Allen County’s old iron truss bridges are a treasure that should be cherished and restored.
The sturdy truss structures with their ornamentation and their massive yet simple construction harken back to times when residents took time to stroll across them, to guide their carriages through the trusses, and to admire their intricate ornamentation. What a shame that, in today’s nonstop 24-7 world, our aging truss bridges are seen as nuisances to be unceremoniously demolished rather than respected and admired.
In my research, I ran across the picture below of an ornate bridge in Pennsylvania. What a magnificent and breathtaking bridge and what a sight it must have been, and I say “must have been” because the bridge fell victim to demolition in 1970. Something that we, as Allen County residents should never allow to happen to our few remaining truss bridges which are, indeed, span-tastic.