Virginia’s few remaining historic metal truss bridges, with their unique architectural qualities and irreplaceable role in the state’s heritage, are on Preservation Virginia’s list of Most Endangered Historic Places for 2020.
Within or close to PEC’s northern Piedmont service area, the only remaining metal truss bridges are the Waterloo Bridge and Remington Bridge in Fauquier and Culpeper counties, the John G. Lewis and Potomac River/Route 15 bridges in Loudoun County, the Aden Truss Bridge in Prince William County, and the Route 653 Nelson County Bridge, which is currently slated for replacement by VDOT.
Every year since 2005, the Preservation Virginia has released a list of historic features within the Commonwealth that face imminent or sustained threats, in hopes of encouraging citizens, organizations and local and state governments to advocate for their protection and preservation. The organizational released its 2020 list yesterday, as part of National Historic Preservation Month.
“Our state’s metal truss bridges are unique feats of engineering that connect people to local history and also bolster tourism by preserving the state's distinctive landscapes,” said Piedmont Environmental Council Historic Preservation Manager Kristie Kendall, who nominated these structures for inclusion on the list. “We are pleased that Preservation Virginia is highlighting both the troubling rate at which Virginia is losing these special structures and their place in our historic landscapes.
"Given their rarity, beauty, and historic import, every effort should be made to stop the loss of these structures before it is too late,” she said.
By the late 19th and early 20th centuries, hundreds of various types of metal truss bridges were built in all parts of Virginia. However, by the 1950s, many had been replaced by more modern roads and bridges. A 1975 study by the Virginia Transportation Research Council documented about 620 metal truss bridges. Today, only about 5% of those remain.
The Piedmont Environmental Council, a community-supported nonprofit organization focused on land use and conservation in the northern Piedmont, has advocated for the protection of several significant historic bridges, including the John G. Lewis Bridge and the state’s oldest metal truss bridge, Waterloo Bridge, among others.
Waterloo Bridge spans the Rappahannock River, historically a major route for moving agricultural goods from the Shenandoah Valley to the Port of Fredericksburg, and links Waterloo and Old Bridge roads in Culpeper County to Jeffersonton Road in Fauquier County. Known for its distinctive iron and steel Pratt through-truss, the bridge was built in 1878 at a river crossing that first served as a link to a bustling canal town and later became a pivotal river crossing during the Civil War, when an earlier bridge was destroyed.
It was the oldest metal truss bridge still in service in Virginia when it was closed in 2014 due to its dilapidated condition. PEC launched a years-long, community-wide campaign for the restoration of Waterloo Bridge, generating enormous public pressure and a $1 million gift to support VDOT’s rehabilitation of the bridge. The bridge is currently undergoing restoration and should be reopened for vehicular traffic in the spring 2021.
The one-lane John G. Lewis Memorial Bridge on Featherbed Lane in Loudoun County spans Catoctin Creek, a designated Virginia Scenic River for its natural, scenic and historic value. Built in 1889, the 157-foot, single-span steel pin bridge is the longest trestle bridge in Virginia, features unique pedimented sway struts, and is one of only five remaining bridges built by the Variety Iron Co.
Named for the architectural historian who got the bridge onto the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, it represents a rare example of late 19th century American engineering. In 2014, the weight limit on the bridge was reduced significantly after a routine inspection detected cracking in the truss’ steel connections.
As part of a stakeholder group established by VDOT, The Piedmont Environmental Council championed a rehabilitation approach that will preserve the bridge’s historic appearance and truss structure. Its rehabilitation is scheduled to begin next winter.
The threats to historic metal truss bridges in Virginia are numerous. “The lack of a comprehensive VDOT database of these historic bridges at least through 2017 had resulted in inadequate stewardship and maintenance," Kendall said. "They are vulnerable to neglect and deterioration due to insufficient funds, inappropriate development and insensitive public policy.
“Recognition of metal truss bridges by Preservation Virginia as a 2020 Most Endangered Place will help raise awareness of the few that remain," he said. "We are hopeful this designation will focus our state agencies, community groups and citizens in an effort to develop positive preservation solutions for their future.”