Bridge to the 19th Century

Author: 
Grace Shackman

Bridge to the Nineteenth Century: Can Bell Road's span be saved?

The Bell Road Bridge in Dex­ter Township is on the Na­tional Register of Historic Places. The plaque so designating it, however, is sitting in neighbor Bill Klinke's garage—because for twelve years the nineteenth-century "iron through-truss bridge" has been rust­ing away on the banks of the Huron River. As the Bell Road Bridge lies there, overgrown with brush and poison ivy, it seems impossible that it could ever rise up out of the muck again. Yet citizen efforts have already saved two similar bridges downstream.

In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the Huron River was spanned with iron bridges at ev­ery mill town—including Dexter, Scio (at Zeeb Road), Osborne Mill (at Tubbs Road), and Geddesburg (near present-day Washtenaw Community Col­lege)—as well as in Ann Arbor and Yp-silanti. Another iron bridge crossed the River Raisin in Manchester.

The bridges came in kits, like giant Erector sets, the pieces sent by rail. Locals assembled them and rolled them on logs down to the river to place on abutments made by local stonemasons. They were a lot better than wooden bridges that needed continual upkeep.

Iron truss bridges, patented by broth­ers Thomas and Caleb Pratt in 1844, are supported by a series of iron triangles held together with iron pins. A "through-truss" bridge has a top section that helps hold up the sides. "These old bridges supported more weight than you would think," says Richard Cook, who helped save the Delhi Bridge downstream of Dexter. "They car­ried not just horses and wagons but heavy steam-powered agricultural equipment."

In 1832 Samuel Dexter, the founder of Dexter, and Isaac Pomeroy built a sawmill a mile below Portage Lake. A later owner added a gristmill, and the hamlet of Do­ver grew up around it. At its peak it had a church, a hotel, a store, a blacksmith shop, several dozen houses, and a post office. A drawing in the 1874 County Atlas shows a wooden bridge across the Huron there. But by the time an iron bridge was installed in 1891, the village was waning; Dover's post office was torn down the next year. The bridge was named after John Bell, whose farm was across the river. By 1915 Dover no longer appeared on maps.

The other surviving bridges also served mill towns. Samuel Foster, a miller from Massachusetts, answered Dexter's invita­tion to work at his mill in Dexter. Eventual­ly Foster started his own mill downstream, where Zeeb Road crosses the Huron; the village of Scio grew around it. Foster later built a second mill downstream at Maple Road. The settlement there, originally named Newport, became Foster's Station but was never very big. There was an iron bridge there as early as 1876.

Another iron bridge was built in 1888 at Delhi. At its peak this village, founded in 1831, was a railroad stop with five mills, a school, and a post office. The last mill was dismantled in 1906, and the stones from the mills spilled into the river, forming the rapids that are now the main attraction at Delhi Metropark.

During the twentieth century, the iron bridges disappeared one by one from the Huron, until only three were left— Bell Road Bridge, the Del­hi Bridge, and the bridge at old Foster's Station, now known as the Maple/Foster Bridge.

In 1992 the Bell Road Bridge closed for awhile after a drunk driver ran into a post. It reopened with a load limit of four tons, which made it impassable for garbage trucks, school buses, delivery vehicles, and fire engines. Its abutments were crum­bling, and in 1995 the Washtenaw County Road Commission put the replacement of the Bell Road Bridge on its wish list for the state's Critical Bridge Fund. Admin­istered by the Michigan Department of Transportation, the fund covers almost all the cost of repairing or replacing failing bridges. In a typical CBF project, the local government pays just 5 percent of the bill; 15 percent comes from the state and 80 percent from the federal government.

The road commission wanted to re­place the narrow iron bridge with a two-lane concrete span. Neighbors pushed in­stead to repair the old bridge, arguing that it was good enough for a small rural road, and that emergency vehicles could cross the river on North Territorial Road a mile south. They attended road commission, township, and county meetings, gathered hundreds of petition signatures, and got the National Register designation.

Eventually the road commission agreed not to replace the bridge. But in 1997 the bridge was taken down; its abutments were so weak that it was feared a spring flood might wash it away. It's been sitting on the riverbank ever since.

Three years later the same is­sues arose downriver, when the road commission decid­ed the Maple/Foster Bridge was unsafe and needed to be replaced with a bigger, stroriger span that could carry emergency vehicles and school buses. Again, neighbors ral­lied. They formed the Citizens for Foster Bridge Conservancy and raised more than $40,000 to hire an engineering firm. It re­ported that repairing the bridge was feasi­ble, though costly. Barton Hills, northeast of the bridge, offered to put in $250,000 from an escrow fund built up over years of refunds from state road repair money. (Barton Hills is a private village, and it pays for its own street repairs).

In 2003 the road commission spent five months repairing the bridge—replac­ing the timber deck, improving guardrails, and installing cable to strengthen the sides. Roy Townsend, the road commission's di­rector of engineering, estimates the total cost was about $800,000, so the road com­mission paid about $550,000.

Two years later, the Delhi Bridge was closed by the road commission as unsafe. Because the abutments needed much work, the cost of renovating the bridge would be even greater than for Maple/Foster—and there were fewer neighbors with deep pockets like the residents of Barton Hills. Still, a citizens group, the East Delhi Road Conservancy, raised $50,000 from the Kellogg Foundation and $10,000 from in­dividual donations and sales of lemonade and T-shirts.

An engineering study, paid for jointly by the road commission, Scio Township, and the conservancy, showed that the bridge was in good enough shape to reha­bilitate—if money could be found to do so. Then the conservancy discovered that Critical Bridge Fund money could legally be used to restore historic bridges. Al­though MOOT agreed, the road commis­sion was leery, joining the effort only after state representative Pam Byrnes convened a meeting with all the stakeholders.

In September 2005, when the Delhi Bridge was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the way was paved for repairing it with CBF money. With 95 per­cent of the cost covered by the federal and state government, the road commission agreed to put up half of the local contribu­tion; the other half was split between the Delhi Road Conservancy and Scio Town­ship. When the cost of the projected repair ballooned to $1.2 million, Huron-Clinton Metroparks chipped in $15,000.

The last hurdle, paying for the upkeep, was cleared when the bridge activists gath­ered enough signatures to ask the township to form an assessment district. About 120 nearby properties will pay around $30 a year to help maintain the bridge.

For further protection, the group got the county to establish an East Delhi Bridge Historic District, encompassing just the bridge itself. This designation ensures that the bridge may not be changed or moved without permission of the county's historic district commission.

"It was a grind," admits Cook. "It took a couple of years, endless meetings, and beat­ing our heads against the wall." But he adds, "Very few get saved. We're very happy."

In fact, according to Townsend, this was the first bridge in Michigan to utilize CBF money for a historic rehabilitation. Because it was historic, the state waived the requirement that the bridge have two lanes. Instead, a traffic light will be put up, perhaps on side poles to make it less ob­trusive. The bridge is scheduled to reopen in June.

Only five Pratt through-truss bridges survive in Michi­gan, and three of them are in Washtenaw County. The restored bridges at Foster and Delhi are the only two still in use in their original locations. The fate of the third, the Bell Road Bridge, remains uncertain.

The cost of saving the bridge hasn't been calculated, but it won't be cheap— Townsend says the abutments would have to be replaced. If it ended up costing $1 million—halfway between what was spent at Foster and at Delhi—then the lo­cal 5 percent match would be $50,000.

Cathy VanVoorhis, one of the leaders of the Bell Road group, is still hopeful. She says that the bridge isn't in bad shape-that most of the rust is on the parts attached to move it, and that it's easier to work with on the ground. "It's not abandoned," she says. "It's a project sitting there waiting for funding."

Dexter Township supervisor Pat Kelly says she wants the bridge saved, but "it's not likely to be rehabilitated anytime soon. In these economic times, there is no way." Meanwhile, Bill Klinke is keeping the bridge's historic plaque safe and dry. "It was the least I could do," he says. "I was hoping someday someone would call and say, 'Let's put it up.'"


[Photo caption from the original print edition]: A 1936 photo of the Delhi Bridge in its prime; in contrast, the Bell Road Bridge sits unused and rusting, and its historic plaque is in a neighbor's garage.

[Photo caption from the original print edition]: A $250,000 contribution by Barton Hills helped save the Maple-Foster bridge, an important route into the village.

Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman

The George Matthew Adams House

Author: 
Grace Shackman

How a Saline parsonage wound up at Greenfield Village

Seventy years ago, Henry Ford moved Saline’s former Baptist parsonage to Greenfield Village. These days it’s being used to demonstrate what a typical Victorian residence of the 1870s looked like. But that wasn’t the reason Ford wanted the house in his outdoor museum in Dearborn: for him, the important thing was that it was the boyhood home of the inspirational newspaper columnist George Matthew Adams.

Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman

The Dexter Underpass

Author: 
Grace Shackman

Commuters cursing delays at the narrow railroad underpass on the west end of Dexter should direct their anger at Charles Warner’s cow.

The bridge over Dexter-Pinckney Road was designed in 1890 by Frederick Blackburn Pelham, the first African American to graduate from the University of Michigan in engineering. But it might never have been built if Warner’s cow hadn’t calved on Sunday morning, March 20, 1887.

Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman

Brewed on Fourth Street

Author: 
Grace Shackman

At the Michigan Union Brewing Company and the Ann Arbor Brewing Company, Ann Arborites could pick up beer by the pail.

The Ann Arbor Brewing Company at 416 Fourth Street was the only brewery in the city to survive Prohibition. Yet its product was not greatly valued in its hometown. "It was considered good only for putting out fires," claimed the late Carl Horning in a 1995 interview.

Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman

The Pumas

Author: 
Grace Shackman

Carleton Angell's beloved sculptures return to the Natural History Museum

The two pumas that guarded the Ruthven Museums Building on North University for sixty-six years are missing. Generations of kids had clam­bered over the stylized black cats, and countless museum visitors had posed for pictures standing in front of them. But last July, a hole was noticed in the head of one of the pumas.

Officials first sus­pected vandalism. "They've been hit with paintballs. They were once trimmed with masking tape to look like zebras. And they've been painted green (probably in deference to a certain Big Ten ri­val)," writes museum employee Dan Madaj. But a more careful look made it clear that the real culprit was years of exposure to the ele­ments. The big cats were removed for restoration and replace­ment—the first time they'd left their perches since museum sculptor Carleton Watson Angell put them there in 1940.

A farm boy from Belding, in west Michi­gan, Angell overcame great obstacles to build a career as an artist. Born in 1887, he got his first art lessons as a child from a customer on his father's milk route. But then his father died, and his mother moved back to her hometown of Hion, New York, where Angell worked for seven years to save up for art school. He finally enrolled at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1909, at age twenty-two. Afterward he worked at the American Terra Cotta Company in nearby Crystal Lake, making decorative panels for building facades but lost that job dur­ing an economic downturn. He returned to Illinois, worked in his brother's grocery store, and married Gladys Thayer.

But Angell continued sculpting and drawing, and in 1922, when he was thirty-five, his persistence finally paid off: he got an offer from the U-M to be a half-time instructor at the College of Architecture and Design. By then he and Gladys had three children, so to supplement his income, they ran a boardinghouse at 1438 Washington Heights (about where the new School of Public Health building is today). Their daughter, Jennett Angell Hamilton, re­members watching her dad strip the sheets from the beds and bring them down for her mother to wash.

In 1926 Angell was offered additional work at the U-M Museum of Natural His­tory, which was preparing to move from State Street to North U. Celebrated indus­trial architect Albert Kahn designed the V-­shaped building, but Angell contributed many decorative details, including the bronze front doors and the limestone bas-reliefs of animals and naturalists on the facade. And even after the building opened in 1928, he continued to produce busts of important people connected with the museum, both living and dead. They were placed in alcoves around the rotunda as he finished them during the 1930s.

The pumas were his last major contri­bution to the decoration. In an article in the August 17, 1940, Michigan Alumnus, Angell explained that although lions are often chosen to guard public buildings, he preferred Michigan's native cats. After building scale models to check the propor­tions, he constructed full-size figures of wood, wire, plaster of Paris, and clay. From these he created plaster molds, which were used to cast the final versions in terrazzo, a stone aggregate. Sixty-six years later, the terrazzo finally began to show its age.

Angell's main job was to make mod­els for dioramas, miniature re­creations of natural and historic scenes. He worked with scientists to mod­el extinct animals from fossil skeletons, and with anthropologists to show how people in different cultures lived. He often depicted American Indians, whom he typi­cally showed at work—making pottery, drilling, carrying things.

None of Angell's Indian dioramas are still on display, but it's interesting to wonder how he would have reacted to the recent protest by art students who charged that the museum's current repre­sentations of Native Americans are racist. Angell worked hard to create accurate de­pictions. Jennett Hamilton recalls how the family traveled to a reservation in Missaukee County, where her father spent nine hours sculpting an Ottawa chief named Henri. When the chief died soon afterward, the Angell family went back north for the funeral.

His work at the museum led to com­missions from other university depart­ments, community groups, and individu­als. Angell eventually completed hundreds of local projects, including a bronze bas-relief of philanthropist Horace Rackham in the Rackham Building and a plaque at An­gell School depicting the school's name­sake, U-M president James B. Angell (the two Angells were believed to be distant relatives).

By 1936 Carleton Angell was earning, enough that he and his family were able to leave the boardinghouse. They lived at 933 South State Street and 1217 Lutz before building a home at 3125 Hilltop in the early 1950s. Angell created Arborcrest Memorial Park's Four Chaplains monu­ment in the family room at the Hilltop home. It depicts four clergymen—two Protestants, a Roman Catholic, and a Jew—who died after giving up their life jackets to others when their ship was tor­pedoed during World War II. He complet­ed another commission—relief panels for the Washtenaw County Courthouse depict­ing local life—in the home's garage. Daughter Jennett remembers how when he was done her father enlisted her husband and brothers, along with every other able-bodied relative and friend he could find, to help him deliver the massive artwork.

Angell died in 1962 from a massive heart attack. Though he was seventy-four, granddaughter Barbara Gilson says that his death came as a shock, since he seemed in good health and was by then taking care of Gladys, who had suffered a stroke. Dariel Keeney recalls, "The last thing my grandfather said to me on my last visit to him in the hospital, hours be­fore he died, was 'Take care of your grandmother. She is so precious to me.'"

Since their installation, Angell's pumas have served as symbols of the museum, standing out in all weather. Over the years various small repairs were made, but last July's discovery made it clear that the time had come for a com­plete overhaul.

This time the museum is taking a twor pronged approach. The Fine Arts Sculp­ture Centre in Clarkston made molds from the original figures and then cast replicas in bronze. The Venus Bronze Works in Detroit has added a black finish to the bronzes, and also has restored the original terrazzo figures.

The pumas are expected back around the middle of May. The bronze cats will take over the plinths outside the doors, while the terrazzo originals will be placed in a yet-to-be-determined location inside the museum. On June 2, the museum will celebrate their return with a Puma Party, including a display of Carleton Angell's work in the rotunda.


[Photo caption from original print edition]: Farm-boy-turned-artist Carleton Angell created much of the ornamental detail on the Ruthven Museums Building, including the ornate bronze doors and the bas-relief sculptures on the facade. The two pumas guarding the entrance were the final touch—Angell chose Michigan's native cats instead of the customary lions.


[Photo caption from original print edition]: Bronze replicas of the pumas were cast at the Fine Arts Sculpture Center in Clarkston. The Venus Bronze Works in Detroit has since added a black finish to match the terrazzo originals.


Hey, were you looking for the Summer Game code? You found it! Enter MALACHITEMOUNTAINLION on your play.aadl.org player page.

Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman

Living Well at Observatory Lodge

Author: 
Grace Shackman

Once the height of local luxury, the vintage apartment building has a new lease on life.

When Cathy Nowosielski was a U-M medical student in the 1970s, she passed Observato­ry Lodge, at Observa­tory Street and Washington Heights, every day as she walked between her sorority and the old University Hospital. A panoply of almost every Tudor detail ever used, the 1930 apartment building has turrets, oriel windows, half-timbering, a slate roof, cooper eaves, and stained-glass windows.

Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman

415 West Washington

Author: 
Grace Shackman

The garage at the center of the greenway debate

When the Washtenaw County Road Commission built a garage at 415 West Washington in 1925, no one dreamed that its future would ever be so hotly contested. But today, the Arts Al­liance of the Ann Arbor Area, Downtown Kiwanis, and the Allen Creek Task Force have all taken an interest in the crumbling masonry structure.

Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman

David Byrd Chapel

Author: 
Grace Shackman

The stone which the builders rejected

When architect David Byrd was building the chapel that bears his name, he put a quotation from Psalm 118:22 over the front entrance: "The stone which the builders rejected." Joe Summers, vicar of the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation, which now occupies the building, finds the message very apt, since the church was built from discarded construction materials and by people who were in danger of being passed over because of their race. "It's a metaphor for all the outcasts that society rejected," explains Summers.

Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman

Reinventing the Farmers' Market

Author: 
Grace Shackman

An end to "dead man's alley"?

Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman

The Earhart Mansion

Author: 
Grace Shackman

"Not too many in Ann Arbor lived such a life," says Molly Hunter Dobson of her great-aunt and great-uncle, Carrie and Harry Boyd Earhart. The Earharts' 400-acre estate along the Huron River included a small golf course for "H. B." to practice his swing, forty acres of woods where he went horse­back riding, and formal gardens and a greenhouse where Carrie indulged her love of flowers. Today, most of the estate has disappeared, swallowed up by Concordia College and the Waldenwood subdivision. But the stone-walled mansion the Earharts built in 1936 still stands on Geddes Road near US-23.

Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman
Syndicate content