- Associated Press - Monday, June 22, 2015

BRAZIL, Ind. (AP) - Parke County may be well known worldwide to tourists for its covered bridges, but Clay County has more than its share of metal bridges that put it on the map for historic purposes - and ones that could make the county a new recreational area in the Valley.

“People all over the country are ooohhhing and aaahhhing over what we have, and we don’t realize it,” Robert Hostetler, one of Clay County’s historians, recently said. Hostetler works with his family at Lynn’s Pharmacy in Brazil and spends hours of free time studying the county’s history and bridges.

“We were asked to be considering what important stories the county has for the upcoming bicentennial celebration of the state,” Hostetler said. “I went to the Library of Congress web page, and when I typed in Clay County, this bridge popped up - nothing else.” It was the Feederdam Bridge.

Clay County’s Feederdam Bridge is an integral part of its history as well as an integral part of the history of our nation’s bridges. It has been said that Daniel Harris, the “Father of Clay County,” came to the area of the current Feederdam bridge while camping and river exploring with his son. He so fell in love with the area, he decided he wanted to live there. So as an early statesman, he worked to organize the founding of Clay County, carving it out of sections of Owen and Vigo in 1825.

By the 1920s, the bridge area was a vital spot for recreation, for church goers, used for picnics and all forms of activities, including being the site of a dance hall and roller skating rink.

“It was a place where people came together,” Hostetler said. Actually, there was a town that was platted called Anguilla (Latin for “eel”) that never came to be - one of Clay County’s “ghost towns,” he said. “There was a dance hall; churches baptized people in the river; there were social gatherings. That’s where people went - it was a recreational area for our ancestors.”

Early travel started across the Eel River when a ferry operated at the Feeder Dam Bridge from 1850 until 1878, when Muehler and Notter were commissioned to build a wooden covered bridge.

After this bridge burned down in July of 1894, the county contracted for a wrought-iron span to be set upon the stone abutments from the original bridge. It has become known as The Feederdam Bridge, getting its name during the Indiana canal days, prior to 1850s, because it fed water to the canal. The bridge has served as a county bridge as well as a state bridge during the Governorship of George Craig - when he straightened out Indiana 59 - and then back to a county bridge. It has withstood the test of time for more than 125 years, Hostetler pointed out.

The importance of this bridge is explained by Dr. James L. Cooper, Professor Emeritus of history, DePauw University, and author of “Iron Monuments to Distant Posterity: Indiana’s Metal Bridges, 1870-1930.”

“He (Cooper) is considered the Father of Bridges to the state,” Hostetler said. Cooper, a Greencastle resident, has published several books on Indiana bridges and has studied the structures since the late 1970s, marking over 70,000 miles of travel to document Indiana’s bridges. “He has a passion for this,” Hostetler said. “It was an incredible undertaking, and now the database the state uses is the database Dr. Cooper created.”

Sitting among underbrush between Brazil and Clay City, a short distance from Indiana 59, now with trees growing up in it, the Feederdam Bridge is listed as National Historic Landmark in the Library of Congress and is one of the last remaining examples of the double-intersection Pratt bridge, also known as a Whipple bridge, according to Cooper.

The Pratt truss bridge was invented by Caleb and Thomas Pratt in 1844 and was part of the transition to iron and then to steel. It was advantageous because of its efficient use of metal and ease of construction, according to Cooper. By double-intersecting the Pratt, Whipple trusses lengthened the span.

At 206 feet, the Feederdam Bridge is the longest of the Clay County bridges. C.F. Hunt out of Indianapolis made one of the last of the Hoosier-built Whipple trusses. There are 16 Whipples left in the state, Cooper said. Two of the 16 were erected in 1894, the last year of any survivors.

“There’s no other one like it… Architects see the splendor and can’t believe we have trees growing up in it,” Hostetler said.

Another of Clay County’s important bridges is the Jeffers Bridge, designated unfit for use by County Commissioners just in the past few months. Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology engineering professors and students have studied this bridge because of its skewed nature. Offset about 10 percent from one another, the 18-foot high trusses rest upon concrete abutments and wing-walls.

The Bowling Green Bridge is an example of a simple Pratt, extended and widened by curving the top chord into a Parker truss. The state highway department designed and had built a number of Parker through-truss spans between the late 1920s and the mid-1940s, according to Cooper. The Indiana Department of Transportation has been taking them down over the past decade and replacing them with post-World War II design, pre-stressed beam structures. This is another of the disappearing designs of historical bridges that helped build our nation.

Near the Feederdam Bridge, lies the Aqueduct Bridge with a span built in 1880, the oldest extant span in Clay County. The earlier span located there may be the only Cleveland Bridge pony-truss still extant in Indiana. The newer span was built in 1920.

But not only are these bridges important to the history of Clay County and to our nation’s bridge designs, but they could hold a future recreational possibility for this county that really has very little else to offer, Hostetler said.

Hostetler and several community members are looking into the feasibility of using these metal bridges as river access points and historical sites, opening the Eel River for recreational use.

“We have over 50 miles of navigable river in the county, but there is no legal access point for canoeing and kayaking,” Hostetler said. “No other county has this … The boy scouts have a million-dollar facility on the Clay/Putnam County line and the Girl Scouts have a camp known nationwide - but no public access to the river … If the DNR had a river emergency, they currently have a difficult problem to drop a boat over a 4- to 8-foot bank for river access.”

Hostetler said grants are available for such projects, but currently those funds are going everywhere but Clay County. The historic bridges and access points could be created at no additional cost to the taxpayers, he said. It would be a great development for the county and visitors from other counties could make use of this new recreational opportunity, he said. The Eel River is a slow-moving river, great for canoeing, fishing and kayaking.

If the project takes off, one could access the river at the Poland Bridge, head for the Bowling Green bridge and on to the Feederdam Bridge and end up using the tow road that connects the Feederdam and the Aqueduct Bridge as a walking or biking trail.

“Today’s youth want something like that,” Hostetler said. “We would have something that other surrounding counties just can’t offer. Plus, we would be preserving these historic bridges.”

The Feederdam bridge was such an attraction to our ancestors, Hostetler said, “It was an attraction to early settlers as a recreational area, as a religious area. County officials had picnics there. Everybody used it over the years. Now it’s just going to waste.”

Currently at the Jeffers Bridge, there are two signs boldly stating: “Road Closed and Bridge Out.”

“Is that talking about the bridge or our past?” Hostetler said. “Our ancestors thought enough of this area to develop it and treasure it. What are we doing with it?”


Source: (Terre Haute) Tribune-Star, https://bit.ly/1dVgVik


Information from: Tribune-Star, https://www.tribstar.com



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