That’s No Courthouse! Iron Bridges and Flowing Wells

Hey there, fellow courthouse fans! We’ll get back to courthouses on Monday and hit them pretty hard over the next few weeks. But although I’ve taken more than 3,500 photos of courthouses across Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio, I’ve only had brief opportunities to take pictures of other structures that interest me. I’ve been diligent about only photographing courthouses in an effort to try and keep some sense of scope to the project, but occasionally an easy opportunity to do a little more came my way. Here are some of those photos.

I started my first attempt at this courthouse project in the fall of 2011 and got to about thirty counties before I gave up. I’d made my first all-day trip only to get home and find that every photo I’d captured had been taken under a bizarre incandescent setting on my camera that rendered them all blue-tinted and useless. Photoshop was no help, and the situation truly sucked. I was discouraged enough to stop the project, but I’d gotten the bug to document our local history and I didn’t want to fully give up. So I began to contemplate an easier photo collection to do, one that didn’t involve so many hours behind the wheel. The solution eventually occurred to me, and on December 22nd, 2011, I started taking photos of Delaware County’s historic iron bridges.

Delaware County Bridge 85: The 1905 Strong Cemetery Bridge at Strong Road south of Albany, Indiana near the Shoe Tree.

Though my family would celebrate Christmas later that morning, I was set on taking photos and woke up too early with a little bit of time to kill. An edict from my mom determined that we would be going away for the actual holiday in order to spend it in Edisto Island, South Carolina. My dad had died the previous April, and the prevailing logic was to take us away in order to avoid the difficult memories that would no doubt come into focus. It ended up being a good call, but I still had a few hours before we left. So I got in my car and wound up at the bridge south of Strong Cemetery in Albany.

It’s a good thing that I did, too! The bridge isn’t there anymore- it’s been disassembled and put into storage somewhere for future pedestrian use at what’s being called the Kitselman Pure Energy Park on the east side of Muncie. I’m happy that the bridge will continue to be used, but I know that Albany residents already miss hearing their tires thump slowly across the old timber roadway. The bridge, a pinned Camelback through truss, crossed the Mississinewa River with a span of 174.8 feet.  “Pinned” means that the bridge’s connections were pinned, instead of riveted. “Camelback” is a bridge design with a polygonal upper chord featuring exactly five slopes. And finally, through-truss means you drive through the bridge’s trusses- that they’re connected up-top.

Delaware County Bridge 161: The 1902 Smithfield Bridge at County Road 167S in Smithfield, Indiana

I went out recently to retake photographs of the remaining iron bridges, and I was dismayed to find that a bridge-closing bee has gotten into the bonnet of local officials. Here’s the Smithfield Bridge, south of Selma in eastern Delaware County. First off, any load restriction of three tons spells immediate trouble for an old bridge. But as a structure built in 1908 by Muncie’s own Indiana Bridge Company, the structure is historic and worthy of preservation. A riveted Warren through truss that spans 190 feet across the White River, the bridge has long been rated as structurally deficient- even though it still safely carried loads of traffic towards Wapahani High School each day up until its recent closure. Unlike a Camelback bridge, the Warren truss features horizontal top chord and equally-sized members. I crossed it numerous times over the years on the way to the reservoir to fish and back, but I never got a good photo until now- there always seemed to be an impatient driver ahead of or behind me. I guess this will have to do, as a single benefit of the old bridge’s closure.

Delaware County Bridge 45: 1902 Peterson Ford Bridge at Gregory Road in Granville, Indiana.

Here’s another one that officials recently shuttered- the Peterson Ford Bridge at Gregory Road in Granville, a few miles north of Muncie. Driving around the county was an innocent pastime that my friends and I often enjoyed, and I’ve gone over this 180-foot-long bridge countless times. It was rehabbed in 1985 with a metallic deck, and used to feature a narrow rubber strip that allowed bicyclists and wildlife to cross it. A rare ‘High Triangular Through Truss” bridge built by Indiana Bridge in 1902, the structure was severely damaged by the flooded Mississinewa River earlier this year and was permanently closed to traffic. As far as the photo, well- throw on the shades, because I weaved through the caution signs and backed out a quarter mile after taking this photo. It was worth it- those orange signs mean nothing to me.

Delaware County Bridge 131: 1897 Priest Ford Bridge at Priest Ford Road in rural Yorktown, Indiana.

But even if a bridge is shuttered to vehicular traffic like the previous two, it doesn’t mean that the structure will fade into obscurity. The 1897 Priest Ford Bridge outside of Yorktown was bypassed in 2001 but still plays host to countless idiots jumping off of it into the White River below. I know, because I was one of them during my misspent youth. County officials constantly seem to threaten to shut the bridge down or tear it out entirely to fix the problem, but I hope they don’t. With an original 200-foot span across the river (not counting the load-bearing pylon in the middle added during a 1974 rehabilitation), the bridge- a pinned, 11-panel Camelback through truss, remains the longest iron bridge in the county along with a nearby twin.

Delaware County Bridge 130: 1902 High Banks Bridge at County Road 300S in rural Yorktown, Indiana.

Just down the road, here’s Delaware County’s best-preserved old metal river crossing, the High Banks Bridge in rural Yorktown or Daleville- take your pick. Another pinned, 11-panel Camelback through truss bridge (but built in 1902), it was dismantled, rehabbed, and painted in 2009. The photo above is looking south. Solar-powered caution lights alert the wayward traveler to any road closures due to high water, and even though I’d crossed the bridge myriad times, I’d never seen the sign light up. But it was flashing the day I took this photo. Weird, since we hadn’t seen significant rain in about a week. I crossed the White River over its 200-foot span anyway.

The span is short, but the drop is far- I’d guess the bridge sits at least thirty feet above Williams Creek.

I’d gotten to all the iron bridges around the county by the end of 2012, but I soon fell down another historic rabbit hole in the form of artesian wells. Actually- I lied! I was reading about the Fulton Pipeline Bridge in Arkansas on BridgeHunter a few weeks ago when I spiraled into reading about the bridges in Delaware County again. Something stood out- an iron bridge I hadn’t taken photos of! I had to go out again to document it, the Abshire Bridge that takes Sunrise Road over Williams Creek southeast of Daleville. Built in 1920 as a riveted pony truss bridge with only a 48-foot span, the bridge isn’t the county’s longest or most interesting. But it is historic as our only remaining pony truss bridge, and my experiences have told me to get on out and take photos of this stuff without delay before they’re lost for good. What’s a pony truss bridge, you ask? Well, unlike a through truss bridge where you essentially drive through a tube of iron, the side trusses don’t connect on a pony truss- they’re designed for lighter loads.

If you’re interested, Williams Creek flows into the nearby Bell Creek which, after taking on the waters of Little No Name Creek as well, connects with Buck Creek just southwest of Yorktown. In town, it links up with the White River.

The Mahalasville Bridge in Yorktown.

There’s one more iron bridge I didn’t take photos of since it was a transplant, but we might as well mention the Morrow’s Meadow bridge, a Pratt pony truss bridge over Buck Creek in Yorktown. Originally fabricated by the Vincennes Bridge Company in 1920, this 90-foot span was originally one of two that made up the Mahalasville Bridge in Morgan County. It was moved to Yorktown in 2005 after a tree fell on the smaller, 73-foot span, destroying it. The remaining portion is enjoyed by Yorktown residents and those eating at the nearby Pizza King. Props to local officials for saving it, and here’s hoping something similar happens with the dismantled Black’s Mill Bridge off of IN-67 near Albany.

So I finally made it to all the bridges eventually. Like I said, my friends and I loved nothing more than to drive around aimlessly for fun. We’d take this turn or that, thinking we’d eventually figure out where we were and find a way home. We always did, but one day my friend Cody and I were entirely befuddled by what appeared to be the Biblical imagery of water pouring out of a stone.

Had we been smarter, we would have stopped and investigated. But we weren’t- we were total rubes! And we probably still are to this day. Eventually, though, I read an old article about flowing wells in the area and got a tiny bit smarter by going back to take some decent photos of the phenomenon over the summer of 2015. Artesian wells occur when a pipe is driven down into an aquifer under positive pressure, which makes the water flow up and out into the open, gushing out of the ground ceaselessly. Most of these pipes were driven during the area’s 1890s gas boom, and this is the artesian well at the ghost town of Granville. Clearly, it doesn’t pour from a rock, but it does sit between two phenomenal boulders. The road that you see curve off into the distance takes you right to the Peterson Ford Bridge.

Flowing well at River Valley Road in Moonville, Madison County, Indiana.

Here’s one in Moonville- probably my favorite. It sits about a mile west of the Delaware County border, but I included it anyway. As you can see, it churns out volumes of water at a fast rate, enough to carve a little rivulet down to the actual creek it serves. I found this well one day while on a lunch break at work. I backed out of the little driveway, ready to head back to the office, when I saw a sign with an arrow that said ‘Artesian Rest’. I figured there was another well along the way, but little did I realize that I’d just left the artesian rest and was in for a 16-mile round-trip around Madison County that made my hour-long break stretch towards two. It’s the only recent time that geography has pulled a fast one on me, and I remain ashamed. Damn you, Madison County!

Flowing well at Mt. Pleasant Cemetery in rural Daleville, Indiana. Mt. Pleasant Township.

This artesian well sits right down the road from the Highbanks Bridge at the foot of the Mt. Pleasant Cemetery in rural Daleville. It flows almost as often as it doesn’t, at least since I’ve driven by. But I’ve heard that the water is great to drink although I’ve never tasted it. I know how many times it takes to wash the dead out of clothes you buy from Goodwill, but I’m not sure how to wash water. Maybe by boiling it? Nevertheless, at no time have I ever found myself here with a camping stove or a propane tank, so the taste remains a mystery.

Flowing well at Black Mills Road in rural Albany, Delaware Township.

As we’ve seen, artesian wells tend to be located near old iron bridges, a phenomenon that I am sure can be attributed to the remaining examples being so remotely located that no one’s thought to plug them up or replace them for any good reason, at least not yet. These wells tend to flow when the aquifer is higher on either side, like in a valley, so it makes sense that they’re all near waterways and bridges. This one, in rural Delaware County near Albany, isn’t next to an iron bridge anymore, but it was back in 2009. Let me see if I have an old photo of the bridge…

…I could have sworn I did, but I guess I never took one. It was an old two-span pony truss replaced around 2010, although construction crews didn’t touch the well here. The red trail leading away from the well head is caused by its water traveling through and absorbing the mineral iron, which oxidizes once it comes out of the ground.

Finally, here’s an artesian well that time has forgotten. It’s located at Lee Pit Road south of the McAllister’s heavy equipment dealership just west of I-69 in Delaware County. The interstate traverses the countryside only a hundred feet or so behind this well- you can see a truck and a toppled sign in the background. So many people pass it, but so few know that it exists, and that’s the definition of cool in my book. I’ll have to come back during summer since the foliage makes this place even more special. The bridge -made of a prefabricated wooden fence panel- has seen better days, and there’s a ton of trash nearby. But this well is one of my favorite local spots to drink and just contemplate my thoughts. The water is cool and crisp.

Flowing wells and iron bridges: There are more of them nearby, but if I’d paused to take pictures of everything interesting I ran across while doing this project, the thing would never end. I definitely missed a lot, but thankfully I found the strength to limit myself to courthouses- almost. Non-courthouse images represent less than 1% of my total photo haul, but there may still be more interesting miscellaneous photos to share. Stay tuned, because I might decide to inflict even more of them on you!

Author: tcshideler

When I'm not driving around, drinking fountain pops, and taking photos of county courthouses, I like to perform and record rock music in my band, spend time outdoors fishing and camping, read, and watch pro basketball and hockey.

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