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The History Of A Ruin

There are a number of common histories for buildings. The happiest is construction->continuous_use. Frankly, that’s less common than it should be. A history that we encounter a lot in our work is construction->use->decay->restoration->new_use. Sometimes there are two or more cycles of disinvestment and restoration, which I find maddening: ordinary maintenance would be cheaper and less intrusive than allowing a building to decay just to have to restore it. Wood and metal bridges usually have simpler stories because an unmaintained bridge tends to not last very long: the bare structure can’t rely on non-structural elements for partial support in the way we see happening with buildings. The Zoarville Station Bridge, which I discussed yesterday in terms of structure, has had both a second and third act.

The picture above gives a sense of the bridge, which is only 108 feet long, as it was in 1992 when it was recorded by HAER. Despite the overgrown deck, the iron looks to be in pretty good condition. Here’s a view of the end portal and the edges of the iron are crisp and straight:

It was constructed in 1868 at the Tuscarawas River in Dover, Ohio, by Smith Latrobe & Company of Baltimore. That company was renamed, and by 1877 was advertising as the Baltimore Bridge Company with Mr. Smith as the president and chief and engineer and Mr. Latrobe as an engineer, secretary, and treasurer. Smith had worked for Albert Fink, the creator of the truss style used here; Fink had worked for Benjamin Latrobe II, who was related to the Latrobes in the company. In short, bridge design was a small world in the mid-1800s.

A truss bridge represented a substantial investment at that time, in design effort, in material, in fabrication, and in erection. All but the last could be recovered by re-using a bridge if it was no longer needed. Truss bridges could also be relatively simply disassembled, which made moving one much easier than moving a modern plate-girder bridge. When this bridge was replaced by a modern concrete bridge in 1905, the contractor took the old bridge as part of his payment and then re-erected it at Zoarville, about five miles form Dover, and was paid for supplying it there. It was then abandoned in the 1940s, which means that the photos show conditions after more than 40 years without maintenance, which is remarkable.

The grounds where the bridge sits have been part of a Boy Scout camp since 1996, and the structure was thoroughly restored by 2008. The camp has some remarkable pictures of the bridge in its current state: here.

If you look back over the blog posts I’ve written about old truss bridges, most end with demolition or complete abandonment. Somehow this bridge survived demolition in 1905 and decades of abandonment covering more than the entire second half of the twentieth century.