Historic Bridge Dedicated at Charlestown State Park, Indiana Today

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Now there’s a dry way to get to one of the most historic and scenic spots in Charlestown State Park, thanks to the relocation of a historic bridge that was officially opened and dedicated this morning.

The vintage 1912 bridge once crossed the East Fork of the White River near Portersville in Dubois County. In the 1990s, when the structure was going to be torn down after being closed for several years, the DNR explored the possibility of acquiring it and moving it to Charlestown. State park management had sought a way for pedestrians to cross Fourteenmile Creek to Rose Island since Charlestown opened in 1996.

“Rose Island” was the name of an early 20th century amusement park on the land across the creek. The land is really a peninsula formed by the creek and the Ohio River. The land, still commonly called by the name of the defunct amusement park, is also noted for Devil’s Backbone, a natural formation on the site overlooking the Ohio.

Remnants of the amusement park, which was destroyed by the 1937 Flood and never reopened, still remain. Archaeological investigations and historical research designed to help better define the telling of the Rose Island story will begin later this year.

In October 2008, the bridge was disassembled and moved the roughly 98 miles to Charlestown via 12 semi-trailer loads by CLR, a construction company from Vincennes. Once partially reassembled, the structure was moved into place at Charlestown by 260-ton crane on Nov. 13, 2010. Force Construction from Columbus reassembled the bridge and constructed the necessary bridge components to make the structure usable at Charlestown.

Final construction cost of the project was approximately $2.575 million. Federal Transportation Enhancement funds accounted for $1.44 million of that total. The balance came from state funds.

Charlestown property manager Larry Gray said the relocation project made economic sense, compared to the potential cost of new construction.

“(Relocation projects) are not cheap to do, but we got a lot of grant money with it,” he said. “We also knew that if we were going to design and build a new footbridge, those are terrifically expensive.”

Jim Barker of J.A. Barker Engineering in Bloomington designed the relocation project.
 “It was a chance to save a unique, once-important bridge, and allow it to teach about our public works history while also continuing to serve the public,” Barker said.

The bridge, according to John Carr of the DNR Division of Historic Preservation & Archaeology, qualified to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The bridge was designed and built by Vincennes Bridge Company, a major bridge company that closed in 2006 after 107 years in business.

Carr said that the Federal Highway Administration called the bridge “the oldest known extant camelback through truss” built by Vincennes and “among the longest camelback structures in Indiana.” He said it also was a state rarity.

“From my own knowledge of bridges, relatively few camelbacks still exist in Indiana,” Carr said.

The bridge has a romantic history, too. Back in the early 20th century, the chief engineer for the original project roomed at a house overlooking the job site in Portersville. One of the homeowner’s daughters later wed the man in a ceremony performed on the bridge.

Thanks to innovative Hoosier thinking and patience, the bridge has made another match. In essence, Charlestown saved the bridge, and the bridge has greatly improved the Clark County state park.