Back in 1903, Penn Bridge Company of Beaver Falls constructed a 40’ long and 13’ wide pony truss bridge in Greene County, PA. It was used by local residents to not only drive their horse and buggies over Muddy Creek but to also transport farm animals across the water.
After a century of transporting people, goods and farm animals over Muddy Creek this bridge is on the market to be sold and relocated.
“We have been working on this probably since 2008, trying to get this bridge replaced. It was identified back then that it needed to be replaced [because of] the structural deficiencies,” said Jeff Marshall, Chief Clerk for the County Commissioners.
Generally, replacing this bridge wouldn’t be an issue, Marshall said. They would just tear the existing bridge down and sell it for scraps. Then they would build a new one. However, Marshall said they’ve been “jumping through hoops” with this process, because this is no ordinary bridge.
The now standing four panel rivet-connected pony truss bridge represents a part of Pennsylvania’s heritage. It is one of numerous metal truss bridges built during the Industrial Revolution. Tyra Guyton, transportation special initiatives coordinator at PennDOT, said these bridges tell the story of the industrial era and how important the iron and steel industry was in Pennsylvania.
Because PennDOT is responsible for maintaining safe transportation, these historic truss bridges are required by federal and state law to be removed and replaced. Due to the historic relevance of these bridges, this is not an option.
“We want to preserve a part of Pennsylvania history,” Guyton said.
In an effort to preserve this fundamental state history, PennDOT’s Historic Bridge Marketing Program started selling historic bridges. The one requirement is that the bridge must be relocated and the steel structure must be preserved.
“[Truss bridges] were never built for vehicles on the road today,” Guyton said. “[They] were meant for horse and buggies, so they’re not able to meet the needs of a particular crossing. Because of that, we want to save them instead of demolishing and replacing [them].”
There are only a handful of truss bridges that still exist today, so PennDOT preserves the historic bridges by selling them or putting them up for auction. The people who buy the bridges have the option to put them where they please.
“They put them on trails, somewhere where the weight load isn’t as much for the bridge to hold,” Marshall said. “You figure that bridge that we’re replacing was built back in the early 1900s, usually dealing with small cars, farm animals and trailers.”
There have already been around five inquiries about the pony truss bridge in Greene County, but there is only one serious offer from a local historic farm owner.
“He [the farm owner] has got a creek crossing that is giving him an issue, so he is trying to see if that bridge would fit that purpose,” Marshall said. “Right now, PennDOT, the county and the property owner that is interested are sort of … coordinating the level of interest, what’s going on, that kind of stuff … to see if the bridge can be located to this gentleman’s farm.”
The bridge is currently county owned, so the property deed would need to be transferred to the local farm owner. Marshall said they’re hoping for approval.
“We’re hoping for approval, because being a historic farm with a historic bridge on it kinda makes sense,” he said.
Currently, the pony truss bridge carries Township Road 634 over Muddy Creek. So, if the transfer of property deed is approved, a new bridge will need to be built for traffic to cross the creek.
“The plan right now will be to have that bridge removed, relocated and a new concrete unlimited bridge will be put there across the creek,” Marshall said.
The new bridge will be funded partly by the Federal Highway Administration because, as Marshall said, the county will only receive a small profit from selling the historical bridge.
“It’s not like we’re going to be making a lot of money off of selling this bridge,” he said. “It’s generally going to be a nominal amount.”
With many of the other historical bridges sold by PennDOT, the preservation of history comes before money.