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Renovation of Historic Ind. Bridge Almost Complete

Thu May 26, 2011 - Midwest Edition
Braden Lammers

CHARLESTOWN, Ind. (AP) A bridge built a century ago is again nearing completion, which will allow access to an area along the Ohio River that was a popular tourist attraction 90 years ago.

The reconstruction of the Portersville Bridge, originally built by Vincennes Bridge Co. in 1912, has been moved from its location spanning Dubois and Daviess counties over the East Fork of the White River to Charlestown State Park. The bridge is being rebuilt to span Fourteenmile Creek in order to re-establish access to Rose Island, a former 1920s amusement park.

The project has been under way since November 2008.

“The bridge is expected to be completed in late June,” said Tom Hohman, director of Indiana’s Department of Natural Resources engineering division. “The completion date is somewhat dependent on construction weather, as it includes paving of a trail down to the bridge.”

Officials decided to use a pre-existing bridge even though the cost to dismantle, move, refurbish and reconstruct an old bridge was slightly more than the price of building an entirely new one.

“The cost of using the historic span was a bit more, but not much more,” said Jim Barker, engineer and president of Bloomington-based J.A. Barker Engineering Inc., which devised the plan to move the bridge. “It was equivalent.”

“But you have the advantage of having a piece of history,” Hohman said.

Barker added the opportunity to save a piece of public works architecture like the Portersville bridge is “really unique.”

A reason the cost of $2.4 million was still an advantage to the state park was the removal and reconstruction was paid for through grant funding.

“Back when this was proposed, we were looking for a historical bridge so we could get some grant money and we were able to do that,” said Larry Gray, property manager at Charlestown State Park. “We were able to get grant money to fund the majority of that bridge. The grant wasn’t available for a new bridge.”

He said while the bridge is designed to be safe enough to drive over with a vehicle, it will be used primarily as a pedestrian crossing.

The bridge is a “camel-back bridge,” consisting of two 178-ft. 6-in. spans and totals 357 ft. The bridge is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, even though the decking and railings being added to the bridge will be new.

“Most of the structural part of the bridge is original,” Gray said.

Barker said about 95 percent of the main tresses are the original portions of the bridge and the pieces replaced were largely because of localized rust.

To transport the bridge from its former location, it was removed using a crane to dismantle the bridge an entire span at a time, Hohman said. Once the span was removed, it was placed on the ground nearby and disassembled, each piece being marked for reassembly. During the process, the pieces of the bridge were cleaned, painted and inspected before they were put back together in Charlestown.

And the bridge is nearing completion. Once the bridge is finished, Gray said the park will likely pursue a second grant-funded project for archaeological work on Rose Island.

That work will explore the area that was an amusement park. The area was developed by David Rose in the early 1920s, which he subsequently named Rose Island, even though the land is actually a peninsula adjacent to the Ohio River.

“I can only assume he called it Rose Island to catch everybody’s attention,” Gray said.

The amusement park closed after it was destroyed by the great flood in 1937, but remnants of the tourist attraction still remain at the site. After the flood closed down the park, the land was part of the purchase for the Indiana Army Ammunition Plant. When the plant closed, the land was deeded to Charlestown State Park, but has remained off limits to park visitors for decades.

With the construction of a historic iron bridge providing access to Rose Island, the historical remnants, as well as new trails, will provide walking paths for visitors to the state park.

In addition, he said the park may put up educational features to explain what existed at the site, but leave the largely wooded area alone, Gray said.

“That whole area is historically significant,” he said.

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