Center Street Bridge
On a daily basis I am reminded of the magnitude of preserving the few remaining historic landmarks within the Borough of Conneautville, as the windows in my home look out at Center Street Bridge. Two months after moving into our home, I began writing letters to the County Commissioner in an effort to change the Center Street bridge project (MPMS #00360) to a rehabilitation project rather than replacement. I have proposed the establishment of a rehabilitation plan to be coordinated between the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commissions Bureau for Historic Preservation, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, and the Crawford County Commissioners to bring back this meaningful, centralized historic structure in the Borough of Conneautville. The following is a bit of research to substantiate my claim of historical significance for this neglected architectural landmark.
The middle nineteenth century was an exhilarating period of scientific and engineering advances substantiated in structural design and building methodology remarked upon as revolutionary in scope. The architecture of the Center Street Bridge in Conneautville is a significant reminder of those momentous engineering advances as it was developed during a time when Gustave Eiffel perfected the potential of truss design which led others to build upon his engineering knowledge. No other country experimented or built as many metal trusses as America during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, when hundreds of patents, for iron bridges were granted. While many came from trained engineers, others were drawn up by crafters, millwrights, and mechanics. The unschooled "apple-tree engineers" tried to make improvements, but most of their designs were impractical. While metal trusses continued to be fabricated into the twentieth century, many built in the nineteenth century are in use today.
The Center Street Bridge or Conneautville Bridge is listed in the Historic American Engineering Record (Library of Congress) Call number HAER PA-627. The fact that HABS HAER even documented this bridge demonstrates that this is one of Crawford County's most important truss bridges. The significance of the Center Street Bridge is that it is an unusually ornate example of a late nineteenth century, pin-connected Pratt through truss roadway bridge. In a Through Configuration, traffic travels through the superstructure (usually a truss) which is cross-braced above and below the traffic. The Center Street Bridge is one of four surviving Crawford County bridges built by the Youngstown Bridge Company of Youngstown, Ohio, a nationally significant metal bridge manufacturing firm.
Between 1850 and 1860 the population of Conneautville increased from over 700 to 1200 people and the village expanded across to the west bank of Conneaut Creek, necessitating the first bridge at this site; a wooden span bridge. In 1892 the Crawford County Commissioners embarked on an intensive bridge building and replacement campaign that lasted through the remainder of the decade. During this campaign research into which county bridges to replace indicated the original wooden bridge on Center Street was dangerous and the recommendation by County officials was immediate replacement. Due to the fact the Borough of Conneautville had eight bridges to keep in repair, it was recommended the County bear the cost of replacing this bridge. With recommendations for an expansion of eighty feet in length, a steel Pratt through truss bridge was shipped to Conneautville from the Youngstown Bridge Company in March 1896 and erected on site in June of that year. In August viewers reported to the Crawford County Court that they had inspected the Center Street Bridge and found it to be a "substantial and artistic structure". The Center Street Bridge was one of at least fifty metal truss bridges erected in Crawford County during the last decade of the nineteenth century.
The Pratt truss was originally designed by Thomas and Caleb Pratt in 1844. The Pratt design was developed during a transitional time in bridge building from empirical to scientific bridge design. The Pratt truss came to be favored for its straightforward design, strength and adaptability, and by 1870, in a simplified, all metal version, it had become the standard American truss for moderate road and railroad spans, and remained so well into the twentieth century.
From the historicbridges.org website we find the following information that informs a concern for historic preservation of this landmark. This bridge is a beautiful structure, among the finest in western Pennsylvania! The bridge is a Pratt through truss with pinned connections. The bridge consists of five panels. There is v-lacing on the verticals and sway bracing. The sidewalks on both sides of the bridge are cantilevered, and are riveted to the floor beams in a somewhat unusual way. An otherwise short through truss, it is still decorated like a king. Plaques are mounted on the lattice portal bracing. There is a unique decorative pattern placed above the portal bracing. The railings are highly ornate from the decorative posts, to the ornate lattice and arch-like designs on the railings themselves. The design of these railing panels is not unique, but it is perhaps the least common of all railing designs, in some cases due to other examples being demolished. It retains the beauty of the simple lattice design below, with the attractive arch pattern above. The bridge holds a great deal of historic integrity with the only misfortune being the ugly modern railings on the bridge. The Center Street Bridge stands out in a rich collection of metal truss bridges in Crawford County and is historically and technologically significant due to the embellishment of latticework portal bracing, radiation pattern knee braces, finials and decorative cresting above the portals and ornamental railings along the sidewalks. The Youngstown Bridge Company contracted for a fair number of Crawford County Bridges. Of those, the Center Street Bridge is the finest remaining example.