I really liked the look of this beautiful bridge when we discovered it while taking a bicycle ride along the Rivergreenway near downtown Fort Wayne, Indiana.
The Wells Street is historically significant to Indiana because it is one of few surviving examples of a nineteenth-century iron truss bridge designed to carry heavy urban traffic. It differed from rural and neighborhood bridges of that time with its wider roadway and heavier trusses.
Some people thought that these heavy truss bridges were ugly (an opinion I do not share), so this span also has the more ornate decorative details that often distinguished the urban bridges built for heavy traffic in the heart of a city by dressing them up a bit.
Fort Wayne started as a military outpost at the convergence of the St. Mary's and St. Joseph Rivers. Fort Wayne eventually expanded to the north, east and west of the fort site, which became the center of town by the 1840s.
By 1859, a bridge on this site provided access to the nearby Bloomingdale neighborhood. This neighborhood was still largely residential at that time, but as then end of the century approached, it became increasingly industrial and commercial.
In 1884, this bridge replaced the old span, becoming one of a group of similar bridges build in this area over the next few years. New iron truss spans appeared at Spy Run (1888), Main Street (around 1890) and Columbus Avenue (1891).
These bridges really took a heavy beating over the years because of the heavy traffic they carried, and the Wells Street Bridge remains as the only survivor of this group today.
It also fascinated me to discover a connection between this bridge and one near Ann Arbor, Michigan that I wrote about here on Midwest Guest a couple of years ago!
The Wrought Iron Bridge Company of Canton, Ohio built the Wells Street Bridge, as well as the bridge over the Huron River in southeastern Michigan that I wrote about earlier. The company was a prolific pre-1900 bridge builder, erecting more than 4,000 bridges in 26 states, Canada and Mexico by 1882.
The company specialized in fabricating iron truss bridges, mass producing parts to build their designs and primarily selling them through catalogs and brochures. The company created custom designs for each individual site, often shipping the parts to a rail depot near their ultimate destination so local contractors could quickly and economically assemble the bridge on site.
There is an old rail depot near the Wells Street Bridge, although the bridge came first and may have influenced the Lake Shore and Western Railroad to build the Cass Street Depot here. The depot is now home to Fort Wayne Outfitters, which rents bicycles, canoes and kayaks.
The Wells Street Bridge is also unique for its Whipple Truss construction. This type of truss was an improvement over the older and more simplified Pratt truss used in many nineteenth-century spans because of an extended diagonal member that spreads across two panels, rather than one panel, to more evenly distribute stress and improve truss strength to carry heavier loads.
Squire Whipple designed this truss in 1846. While the Pratt truss was more common in Indiana's iron bridges, the Whipple truss became popular with engineers creating longer spans through much of the latter half of the 1800s.
Allen County Engineer William E. Goshorn and Fort Wayne engineer Alvin John Stewart, a road master responsible for many roads and structures for area railroads, both helped design the Wells Street Bridge.
The bridge's span is 180 feet long, and its roadway is 23 feet wide. There are also pedestrian sidewalks on either side of the bridge.
Decorative elements include fancy portals and cast-iron scrollwork throughout the structure.
Many of the decorative elements remain in place today, although the bridge is missing finials at its top four corners and some cast-iron flower motifs on the portal-bracing lattice. The lattice along the sidewalks also does not seem to be original to the bridge.
The Wells Street Bridge closed to vehicular traffic in the early 1980s with the construction of a new bridge a half-mile to the west along the St. Mary's River.
Things looked grim for the bridge as Allen County set aside money for the its demolition, but the City of Fort Wayne and area historic preservationists worked to save the span.
The Wells Street Bridge became part of the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.
Today it is on the area's Rivergreenway, a trail system that pedestrian walkways and bicycle routes along Fort Wayne's rivers. The bridge hosts many community activities as Fort Wayne rents it out for events like weddings or special events and I remember seeing flyers at the Fort Wayne Outfitters for events like evening yoga classes on the span.
Evenings also find the bridge lit with colored LED lights, installed as part of the city's Downtown Overpass Beautification and Lighting initiative in late 2013.
Thanks to Visit Fort Wayne for sponsoring my recent visit to Fort Wayne, Indiana, providing lodging, meals and help arranging interviews and tours of area attractions for my review, with no further compensation. I was free to express my own opinions about this stay and experiences, and the opinions expressed here are mine.
© Dominique King 2014 All rights reserved