Historian hopes Niles made ‘historic’ choice on bridgePublished 5:27pm Thursday, February 7, 2013
Local historian Donna Ochenryder says she is hoping Niles residents went with the “arched aesthetic” option when choosing the railing style of the new Main Street Bridge — especially now that voting is over.
That option is the one, she said, that most closely resembles the iron “bowstring” bridge that spanned the St. Joseph River from 1868 to 1919 — the date when the current bridge was constructed.
In Ochenryder’s opinion, the “bowstring” is the most historically important bridge in the city’s history.
“All I want to do is make people aware of the history of the Main Street Bridge,” Ochenryder said. “I hope — if it wasn’t voted for — that people will say we didn’t truly understand what was going on and that we would like to re-open the ballot box.”
Results will be made public at Monday’s Niles City Council meeting.
In illustrating the “bowstring’s” importance, Ochenryder read a quote by F.J. Plym appearing in “The Ford, the Ferry and the Bridges of St. Joseph” by Ralphy and Mary Ballard.
On June 11, 1919, Plym said of the bridge: “I suggested that some action be taken to preserve and make records of this interesting structure. As far as I know, it is the only bridge of its kind in existence … when this bridge is destroyed, in all probability there will never be another one like it.”
The history of the Main Street Bridge can be traced back to the mid-1800s.
The first main street bridge was a wooden one built in 1845 by Henry Holmes for $2,000. A second wooden bridge was built in 1854 for $2,500.
“It was not built do handle the water situation with the ice and kept washing away,” Ochenryder said.
The iron “bowstring” bridge replaced the wooden bridge in 1868 and stood for 51 years before being torn down and replaced by the bridge Niles has today.
Construction of the new bridge is expected to cost $6 million. The bridge will be moved about 20 feet to the north at the west end.
The project is being funded by the Michigan Department of Transportation.