Historic Bridges

Covered bridges, steel truss bridges, arch bridges, suspension bridges – all of these, and numerous other categories, are found throughout the United States. Many of these are historically significant structures.  Typically, the term historic preservation is accompanied by a mental image of a historic building, or so I would imagine. But, do we give bridges a fair amount of attention? Covered bridges are the easiest to recognize, possibly the most romanticized, but steel truss and arch bridges may be less recognizable and remembered.  The Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) documents buildings, while the Historic American Landscape Survey (HALS) handles landscape, and the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) documents structures such as bridges, railroads, ships, canals, and steelworks.  HABS, HALS, and HAER are programs of the National Park Service. Search the collections at the Library of Congress.

Historic bridges provide important information about previous transportation systems, routes, the locations of roads and towns, and by preserving bridges, original character of a roadway can be retained (think scenic byway).  They are just as important to historic preservation as buildings and landscape.  Many historic bridges fall into disrepair and the traffic outgrows the bridges. Sadly, instead of restoration, repair, or reinforcement, they are often replaced with new bridges.

Fortunately, many people begin with small, personal efforts to record and save structures, buildings, and landscapes. The efforts begin small and spread as other find their shared interests. Thank goodness for individual interests.  After all, HABS, HAER, and HALS can only reach so many properties scattered across the vast country in cities and down country dirt roads.  One such example of an effort is the website, Historic Bridges of the United States, which is a database of currently 29,164 bridges across the USA.  Civil engineers, preservationists, historians – all sorts of people contribute to this site.  James Baughn started the site , is the acting webmaster, and continues to add bridges. Everyone is encouraged to send information and photographs. [Read the background of the site and effort here.]

Viewers can search the database by specific geographic locations, designs of bridges, status, waterways, cities, years, roads, or builders.  Or viewers may browse randomly. The site also posts news relating to the bridges.  Even better, existing HAER reports on these bridges are listed on the website.  Each database entry includes a photograph (if available), a map with the bridge’s location, any known history, UTM coordinates, and its status.  It’s a great website and fun to browse, if you’re interested in bridges.  

The photographs below are from my Route 66 road trip in 2006.  

A rainbow curve bridge on Old Route 66 in Kansas.

A rainbow curve bridge on Old Route 66 in Kansas.

Sign at the end of the bridge. (Excuse the camera lens).

Sign at the end of the bridge. (Excuse the camera lens).

Sign at the other end of the rainbow bridge.

Sign at the other end of the rainbow bridge.