Heartland, Part 4 (Beyond Covered)

On June 18, 2017 · 2 Comments

I couldn’t seem to shake my ever-growing fascination with bridges during my recent Heartland excursion. It started a few years ago, specifically with covered bridges, and expanded to various other styles for some unknown reason. I wouldn’t put this particular fascination at the same level as my county counting or my brewery obsessions although it always seemed to lurk in the background. By that, it meant I probably wouldn’t travel too far out of the way to see a bridge. I didn’t feel any special need to map any of my individual visits either. Nonetheless, certain particularly peculiar bridges might merit a minor detour. A few made the grade this time around too.

Dromedary – Bactrian – Mottville

Mottville Bridge

As an example, an obsolete bridge over the St. Joseph River at Mottville, Michigan might seem like an unlikely place of pilgrimage. However I stopped there anyway. Last summer I couldn’t get to Cass and St. Joseph Counties on my Michigan trip and it left an ugly empty doughnut hole on my map. Little Mottville sat practically astride the two as did its lovely camelback bridge, just on the St. Joseph side. I left my car at a little park at the edge of the bridge and strolled into Cass. This became an extremely rare "walk only" county capture (photo). That’s right, I crossed into Cass on foot! I’ve done that only one time previously, maybe twice, as I noted a couple of years ago.

I was there in Mottville, the bridge was there too, and I figured I might as well look around (map).

Mottville’s camelback bridge actually demonstrated genuine historical significance and architectural grace. The website HistoricBridges.org practically gushed about it being the "longest example of a curved chord through girder bridge" and "the maximum potential of the bridge type." The town also showed abundant pride in its engineering marvel.

Michigan served as the epicenter of the camelback style during the 1920’s. The state even took it a step further by increasing the prevailing standard 60-foot spans to 90-foot spans. The bridge at Mottville was truly unique because it included three spans, extending to 270 feet (82 metres), perhaps the only remaining example of this type. That significance led to its preservation even after it needed to be replaced. It also led to the creation of the little park where I left my car to visit Cass County on foot. They built a new bridge a few feet away.

East LaPorte Street Footbridge

East LaPorte Footbridge

As hard as I looked and as hard as I tried, I couldn’t find a lot of interesting things in north-eastern Indiana. Farms sprouted out there after settlers chased away the remaining Native Americans. Then nobody did anything and nothing else happened, or so it seemed. I apologize for making it sound boring because, in fact, I enjoyed the scenery. Nonetheless I found little to captivate a geo-geek who enjoyed oddball attractions.

Our route departed Fort Wayne on U.S. Route 30, heading diagonally northwest towards the bottom of Lake Michigan. That took us through Plymouth. Rather than bypass it, I noticed I could drive into town and visit an old footbridge (map). Granted, it didn’t offer much of significance beyond the local community although it fell along our path and it seemed like a nice place to stretch our legs. That’s how we found ourselves on the dead-end of E. LaPorte Street at a rickety bridge only six feet (two metres) wide. I hoped to sneak in-and-out quickly, unnoticed, and of course the nearest neighbors happened to be working in their yard. They looked at me with weird stares. I deserved it because after all I was walking under, around, and over this not particularly spectacular iron-and-wood bridge taking a bunch of photos like I’d discovered El Dorado.

The footbridge crossed the Yellow River, connecting Plymouth’s commercial district to a residential area. It seemed superfluous today although it probably mattered more in 1898 when automobiles barely existed. HistoricBridges.org liked this one too. As the site said, "This extremely rare and highly unusual bridge is the only one of its kind in Indiana." Then it went into excruciating detail describing its unique features.

Red Covered Bridge

Red Covered Bridge

Then I returned to my more traditional interest in covered bridges. Two examples crossed above Big Bureau Creek in close proximity to Princeton, Illinois. The first one took an appropriately descriptive name, the Red Covered Bridge (map). It included an amusing sign above the entryway, an obvious nod to tourists.

Five dollar fine for driving more than twelve horses, mules or cattle at one time or for leading any beast faster than a walk on or across the bridge.

It reminded me of a similar sign I saw on the Cornish-Windsor Bridge between New Hampshire and Vermont a few years ago. That one seemed to be a bargain by comparison. It levied a fine of only two dollars and it applied solely to horses.

The Red Covered Bridge dated to 1863. It was once formed part of the old Galena Trail coach road. One would hardly know that today. Newer roads turned this into a sleepy stretch in the middle of nowhere long ago. That made it great for visiting, though. I could walk right across it and not worry about getting squished. Still, I paid attention because an actual road ran through it.

Captain Swift Covered Bridge

Captain Swift Bridge

The second covered bridge didn’t have the same pedigree. I’m pretty sure few would consider a bridge built in 2006 to be "historical." Still, I didn’t need to drive out of my way to see the Captain Swift bridge so I stopped for a few moments (map). It looked old because its design included a lot of traditional features. However, it conformed to modern traffic and safety codes. The deck carried two lanes of vehicles just like any other 21st Century bridge, the only difference being its wooden cover.

I found an article that offered a simple explanation. Tourism. The earlier Captain Swift bridge — not covered — was "simply rusting away." Local officials thought a modern covered bridge might pay for itself. It would attract visitors who would then spend money in town. It worked for me. I bought gas in Princeton on the return trip to the Interstate after I visited the bridge. Bureau County could chalk me up as a success, albeit a sample size of one.

This wasn’t the only time a pit stop played a role in my trip. I captured a county that way too. Illinois’ Kendall County fell just a few feet north of Interstate 80. I noticed I could take an easy exit and drive just across the county line to a gas station, and return to the highway without minimal effort (map). These things really did figure into my driving calculations.

Oh, and I found Captain Swift. Apparently he really was an actual seafarer. Eventually he left the sea and wandered into the Midwest to became an early pioneer in Princeton, Illinois.

Articles in the Heartland Series:

  1. Why, oh Why?
  2. How Not to See a City
  3. Foiled by Memorial Day
  4. Beyond Covered
  5. Not Just Farmland
  6. Americana

See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr

On June 18, 2017 · 2 Comments

2 Responses to “Heartland, Part 4 (Beyond Covered)”

  1. Jody S. says:

    If you’re traveling west on I-70 and want a teeny, tiny detour to see a pretty bridge, get on rt. 40 at Hagerstown. I’ve driven past Wilson’s Bridge every time. I think I’ll make it a field trip sometime for my homeschooled kids since it is right there. Funny how we always miss the things close by.
    http://mht.maryland.gov/nr/NRDetail.aspx?NRID=673 (That’s a link to a pretty picture and some information.)

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