I love finding little links between states as we travel across the Midwest, so it was fun to find this historic metal truss bridge, originating in Ohio, at a metropark near Ann Arbor, Michigan.
We often visit a string of metroparks spread along the Huron River in Washtenaw County, and it's always fun to check out the rapids at Delhi to see if the kayakers are running them.
So, it was disappointing when they closed the bridge offering the easiest access to the park in 2005 and watch as area residents rallied and posted signs imploring authorities to save the span.
Thankfully, efforts to save and rehabilitate this pretty little bridge prevailed, and the span reopened to traffic in 2008.
Today, what many consider as one of Michigan's most scenic spots carries a designation as a local historic district (the only bridge in Michigan with this designation) and carries park traffic, plus traffic to the historic village of Delphi Mills about 6 miles upstream from Ann Arbor.
Saw mill owner Jacob Doremus platted the settlement in 1836, just before Michigan became a state. The thriving village had two flour mills, a woolen mill, a saw mill and a plaster mill during the mid- to late-1800s. Delhi also had a railroad depot, cooper shops, a lumberyard, a stockyard and a grocery store during this era.
A wooden bridge built at the site in 1851 meant residents no longer had to ford the river in horse-drawn vehicles.
The mill next to the wooden bridge closed and the Wrought Iron Company of Canton, Ohio, contracted with the county to replace that bridge, as well as five other bridges along the Huron River, in the late 1800s.
The company fabricated each bridge to a specific site, so no two were exactly alike, but selling the bridges in parts and shipping them to the rail depot closest to their destination meant local contractors could quickly and economically assemble the spans.
The Wrought Iron Bridge Company became one of the country's leading bridge manufacturers, erecting nearly 4,300 spans in 26 states, as well as Canada and Mexico, and employing over 270 people by 1882.
The eight-panel Pratt truss bridge built at Delhi in 1888-1890 is one of only a few drive-through wrought iron bridges still in use in Michigan.
A tornado swept through Delhi Mills on June 6, 1917. The twister cut a half-mile-wide and 25-foot-long path through the area, lifting the bridge off of its abutments and throwing it into the river.
The county responded by establishing its first chapter of the American Red Cross to help with relief work as many became homeless with nearly every home in the village destroyed or heavily damaged.
The county rebuilt the bridge in 1918, most likely from parts salvaged from the destroyed span, according to an historic inspection in the early 2000s.
In 1940, Henry Ford purchased most of the property at and around the bridge with the idea of building a water-powered facility at the Delhi Rapids, while allowing the Road Commission to continue using the property they developed as parkland.
Ford failed to develop the property as a mill, and the Huron-Clinton Metropark Authority purchased it around the time of Ford's 1947 death.
The one-lane bridge became a local landmark, but by the early 2000s, there were plans to replace it with a new two-lane bridge.
Bridge supporters worried about losing an important part of the area's history and the adverse impact a new bridge would have on the ecology of the river, the popular river rapids, and the park's beauty.
Today, the 109-foot-long bridge is the major pathway to the Delhi park and an access road for the Village of Delhi Mills, which still has nearly 50 houses and a population of about 123.
Interested in the history of some of Michigan's other historic truss bridges? Check out Historic Highway Bridges of Michigan by Charles K. Hyde.
© Dominique King 2012 All rights reserved