CT's Historic Highway Bridges


Notable Bridge Designers and Builders of Connecticut



Designers

Alfred P. Boller (1840 - 1912) was a prominent bridge engineer of his time. Born in Philadelphia, Boller studied at the University of Pennsylvania and earned a higher degree in civil engineering from the prestigious Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute of Troy, New York in 1861. Working up the ranks in his profession, Boller ultimately co-founded and served as a senior member in New York's well-known Boller & Hodge engineering firm. In addition to designing the East Haddam Bridge, his resume included notable bridges in New York City such as the (1910) Madison Avenue Bridge (138th Street), (1905) 145th Street Bridge and the (1895) Macombs Dam Bridge (W. 155th Street). Boller continued to influence bridge building in Connecticut through his tenure as a consulting engineering for the Connecticut River Bridge and Highway District.

Thomas Ellis Brown (1854-1922) was in his day better known as a mechanical engineer than as a designer of bridges, though his improvements on the bascule won him widespread recognition. He attended the Columbia School of Mines, but did not graduate because of health problems. From 1875 until 1884, he was employed as a surveyor and engineer on a number of railroad and elevated-railroad projects in New York City, as well as working a short time with the eminent bridge engineer Alfred Boller on a drawbridge over the Harlem River. In 1884, Brown became chief engineer for the Otis Elevator Company, where he played a large role in the development of hydraulic and electric mechanisms for elevators. Among his notable projects were the inclined elevators installed in the Eiffel Tower in Paris in 1888 and 1889 and the elevators for the Woolworth Building in New York City (1914). In 1891, Brown was named Consulting Engineer at Otis, a position that allowed him to take on outside work as well as continue doing special projects for the elevator company. Brown designed several funiculars in this country and abroad, as well as a number of elevators for European tunnels, including elevators for the London Underground built in 1905 and 1906. As early as 1896 he had turned his attention to the problems of movable bridges, winning a $5,000 prize for an innovative design for a Brooklyn, N.Y. bascule. Other movable bridges designed by Brown were erected in 1908 and 1914. In 1918 he patented the balance-beam design used in the Mystic River Bridge (Patent No. 1,270,925).

Edward W. Bush (1871 - ?) was a central figure in the construction of some of Connecticut's most prominent historic highway bridges. Born in Port Jervis, New York, Bush earned a degree in civil engineering from Pennsylvania State College and moved to Connecticut in 1898. Bush served as an engineer on numerous bridge project across the northeast and Quebec. Most notably, he served as the engineer-in-charge of the Bulkeley Bridge, Connecticut's last monumental stone arch. Moreover, Bush worked in conjunction with Alfred Boller, designing the piers and approach roadways, as well as serving as supervising engineer of the East Haddam Bridge. Bush further contributed to the advancement of bridge building in Connecticut as a member, and later president, of the Connecticut Society of Civil Engineers.

Edwin Dwight Graves (1865 - ?) was the designer of Connecticut's formidable Bulkeley Bridge. Raised and educated in Orono, Maine, Graves moved to Connecticut in the early 1890s to pursue bridge building. Before designing the Classical Revival Bulkeley Bridge, Graves designed and built several other bridges across the Connecticut River including crossings in Thompsonville and Middletown, Connecticut and White River Junction, Vermont. The stress of planning not only the construction of the Bulkeley Bridge but adjacent causeways as well pushed Graves to suffer from an unrecoverable mental breakdown in January, 1906.

Builders

Berlin Iron Bridge Company Connecticut's leading manufacturer of bridges began as an offshoot of the tinware firm of Roys and Wilcox, an East Berlin maker of tinners' tools and other metal-forming mechanisms. In 1868 a separate company was set-up to produce roofing material, metal-clad firedoors and shutters, and later structural ironwork. The success of the Corrugated Metal Company, as it became known, was infused in 1877 with the capital investment and vision of S. C. Wilcox. Wilcox realized that the plant had the capacity to manufacture highway bridges and the following year, the Corrugated Metal Company purchased rights to William Douglas's patented "parabolic" or lenticular truss. Within months Corrugated Metal produced the first of the lenticular bridges that would soon dot the landscape of the Northeast. Douglas, educated at West Point, joined the company as treasurer and executive manager and continued to refine his design; he was awarded a second patent in 1885, by which time the company had changed its name to the Berlin Iron Bridge Company. The Berlin Iron Bridge Company prospered in the growing iron bridge business of the late nineteenth century. At a time when the durability and longevity of wooden bridges was being questioned, iron bridges offered a more economical and versatile alternative to stone arches.

At its height, the Berlin Iron Bridge Company was probably the largest structural fabricator in New England. Some 400 workers were employed at its East Berlin plant, with another large group of workers in the field during the construction season. There is no definitive count of the company's bridges, though at least 600 are known to have been completed during its first ten years, and the company itself claimed at least 1,000. Most were in the Northeast, though even today Berlin trusses survive as far away as Texas. A few multiple-span bridges were of tremendous size, but most were a single span in length, with through-trusses used in crossings over 100 feet and pony trusses for shorter spans. The lenticular design accounted for the bulk of the company's output, although it also produced other bridge types, specialized industrial structures such as dock cranes, and ironwork for roofs and buildings.

The Berlin Iron Bridge Company was absorbed in 1900 by the American Bridge Company, a largely successful attempt by J.P. Morgan to monopolize the country's structural fabricating industry. Almost immediately, some former Berlin Iron Bridge employees started a new firm, the Berlin Construction Company, which soon regained much of its predecessor's influence in the New England bridge market. It remains in business today as Berlin Steel.

American Bridge Company was formed in 1900 by the same interests that controlled the United States Steel Corporation and was an attempt to monopolize the nation's bridge-building industry. Wintin a few years of its founding, American Bridge had acquired 28 other bridge-building companies and could claim over half the structural-steel fabricating capacity of the country. The American Bridge Company represented both a horizontal near-monopoly in fabricating and further vertical intergration for the already closely controlled steel industry. American Bridge was organized as a wholly owned subsidiary of U.S. Steel, and from 1904 on, had its headquarters in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In its early years the company relied upon affiliated firms to erect its bridges, but by the 1920s it was undertaking construction contracts under its own name.

Although never in complete control of the bridge market, the American Bridge Company supplied a substantial portion of the steel bridges purchased by state and local highway officals in the early 20th century, and there can be no doubt that the company was the single most important fabricator of the period.




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