20 Mile Road Bridge

“Township meeting minutes, newspaper chippings, engineering records, historic photographs, and written personal recollections and oral histories. No primary or secondary documentation was located through these sources; no design or engineering plans were found.” This was the finding of the Historic Evaluation and National Register of Historic Places Assessment for the 20 Mile Road Bridge over the St. Joseph River, Calhoun County, Michigan. Commonwealth Cultural Resources Group, Inc. 1994.

Fabricated in 1906 and closed December 21, 1992. In service for eighty-six years and no records of its existence. After the bridge was erected over the St Joseph River it would be two years before Henry Ford’s assembly-lined, mass-produced, and affordable Model T would be available for the rural inhabitants around the 20 Mile Road Bridge. For a time, travel across the bridge would be by horse and buggy, and by farmers’ teams of horses.  In Michigan and across the country this would change as the automobile competed with the farmers’ mode of transportation, as an Erie County farmer was to discover to his dismay. His story was told in an article in the Conneautville (PA) Courier, “An Expensive Lesson,” re-printed in The Horseless Age, 1906.  

“An Erie County farmer was tried before an Erie alderman on Monday on a charge of obstructing the highway, the offense being a refusal on the part of the defendant to give half the road to an automobilist who came up behind the farmer’s team and wished to go by. It was proven that the farmer willfully held the place in the middle of the road, which was too narrow to admit of the machine passing without danger. The alderman found the farmer guilty and fined him $20 and costs.”

Always surrounded by farmland and on a road that remained unpaved, the 20 Mile Road Bridge stood as a silent reminder of advances made in bridge construction. It was fabricated with steel, and its abutments were made of concrete rather than the masonry of nineteenth and early twentieth century bridge abutments. Also significant is the bridge deck, made not of wood but instead of concrete in what is known as a “jack arch” concrete deck. Although there is no information about the company that fabricated the 20 Mile Road Bridge, a clue to the origin of the bridge could be found in the embossed Illinois mill stamp on the channel sections in the truss’s top chords.

The 20 Mile Road Bridge was the second of five historic bridges restored at the Calhoun County Road Commission in the Marshall, Michigan, garage and re-erected in the Calhoun County Historic Bridge Park in June 2000.

Vern Mesler 2020

A road bridge under inspection
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A road bridge under inspection