Our guest writer for this toolkit is Kitty Henderson, Executive Director of the Historic Bridge Foundation (http://historicbridgefoundation.com/).
Historic bridges give us physical examples of the progress and the development of engineering, architecture, art and technology. And unlike written texts or photographs, historic bridges are living history -- direct, tangible links to different periods in time.
Saving significant and illustrative samples of historic bridges allow us to look back in time, appreciate where we have come from, and plan where we want to go. Here are 10 tips for protecting and preserving historic bridges in your community.
Photo courtesy Brent Moore, Flickr
How to Preserve Historic Bridges
Adapted from "How to Save a Bridge" by the
Historic Bridge Foundation
Learn where they are located; when they were built and by whom;
what type of bridges they are; and what’s unique about their designs.
Also research when and how often the bridges have been repaired;
whether they have been moved; and whether they are scheduled for
1. Get to know the bridges in your area.
Photo courtesy Bruce Fingerhood, Flickr
To be considered historic, a bridge must
be at least 50 years of age and either
listed or eligible for the National Register.
Visit with the National Register office at
your state preservation office for help with
2. Find out if a bridge is
listed on (or eligible for) the
National Register of
Photo courtesy Michigan SHPO
Most likely your town, county, or state department of transportation
owns the bridge. Make an appointment with the owner and learn about
current or future plans for the bridge, such as replacement projects or
studies to determine next steps. Work with local, county, and state
officials to develop a management plan for existing bridges before they
are scheduled for replacement.
3. Determine who owns the bridge.
Photo courtesy Fred Dawson, Flickr
The primary preservation law applicable to
historic bridge projects that use federal funds is
Section 106 of the National Historic
Preservation Act of 1966 (NHPA). NHPA
requires federal agencies to take into account
how their proposed actions will affect historic
properties. For your bridge project, check if
Section 106 will take place or is already in
progress. If you cannot get a clear answer at the
local level, check with your state department of
transportation for assistance.
4. Understand what
procedures a bridge
project must follow.
Photo courtesy U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Flickr
Section 106 allows citizens to participate in any of the opportunities for
public input and comment. Citizens can also request to become a
consulting party to play a larger role in the process. Check out the National
Trust's Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act: Back to
Basics book, as well as the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation's
Citizen's Guide to Section 106 Review.
5. School yourself in the federal process.
Photo courtesy jimflix!, Flickr
In the rare event that a bridge project is not using federal funds,
connect with the owner to work out a solution. Sometimes a historic
bridge can be saved simply by raising funds to supplement its
rehabilitation or maintenance.
6. Work directly with the owner.
Photo courtesy Patrick Feller, Flickr
Saving a bridge requires the support of
more than one person, so start a friend's
group or a "Save Our Bridge" committee.
Make sure you have people with a variety
of backgrounds in the group -- historians,
architects, engineers, as well as those who
love the bridge and are willing to work
hard. Many times it is not just a lack of
maintenance that seals a historic bridge’s
fate -- it's public apathy. So use any and all
appropriate means to gather support and
inform local residents that the bridge is in
7. Seek out and organize
Photo courtesy Larry D. Moore, Flickr
As you move through the process, find out what
preservation solutions might be appropriate for
the bridge, such as rehabilitation for vehicular or
pedestrian use, bypass with a new bridge on a
different alignment, or relocation for pedestrian
use. On-site visits to the bridge, communication
with interested community members, and
communication with involved agencies may help
shed light on the best option. Don’t waste time
and effort fighting for a particular preservation
solution that has little support or is not feasible
when you might be able to achieve other
alternatives more easily.
8. Support appropriate
Photo courtesy cmh2315fl, Flickr
Some solutions may require a new owner for the bridge. Be
prepared to seek out organizations such as historical societies,
museums, rails-to-trails organizations, and other nonprofits to find
a preservation-friendly owner who will save the bridge either in
place or at a new location.
9. Seek a new bridge owner if needed.
Photo courtesy Dennis Larson, Flickr
A owner might be more willing to preserve a historic bridge or
consider alternatives to demolition if additional funds are brought to
the table to help rehabilitate or maintain the structure. Be prepared
to organize a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that can accept
donations or develop grants to raise funds.
10. Develop a fundraising strategy.
Photo courtesy Brent Wood, Flickr
Ten on Tuesday features ten preservation
tips each week. For more tips, visit