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Breath of new life

Local group saves historic bridge
in Deputy from the wrecking ball

By Laurel Sparks
Contributing Writer

DEPUTY, Ind. (December 2004) – In the l800s, the people of Deputy, Ind., depended on the old “Lexington-Saluda Highway,” with its wooden bridge across Big Creek. They needed to travel the road to Paris, Ind., to collect their mail and buy supplies. But as the population grew, so did the demand for a “proper” bridge.

Deputy Bridge

Photo provided

The “Tobias Bridge” was rededicated
on Oct. 23 by county officials.

By l884, M.J. Tobias and his neighbors had convinced the Jefferson County Commissioners to build a new bridge of stone and wrought iron.
The “Tobias Bridge,” officially known as County Bridge No. 30, was dedicated in l885. The 110-year-old wrought iron truss bridge was rededicated on Oct. 23, 2004. Thanks to the efforts of the present-day Jefferson County Commissioners, County Engineer Jim Olson and Greencastle preservationist James L. Cooper, the historic bridge has been fully restored.
The cost to taxpayers was half the estimated cost to build a new concrete bridge, officials said.
Besides the Ohio River Bridge and an abandoned structure near Brooksburg, Ind., the Tobias Bridge is the last of Jefferson County’s wrought iron bridges.
When Olson learned that the bridge was scheduled for demolition, he conferred with Cooper and the project’s design consultant, J.A. Barker of Bloomington, Ind. Earlier surveys of historic bridges in Jefferson County had indicated that the Tobias Bridge was not badly deteriorated. It has a massive stone foundation and has retained all of its original ironwork.
When cost estimates came in, Barker was hired to develop new specifications. Gohman Construction Co. of Sellersburg, Ind., did the actual reconstruction.
At the October rededication, Cooper praised the beauty of the stonework and high buttresses of Tobias Bridge. In 1884, Tobias himself donated “stone in quarry sufficient to construct all the stone work necessary for the bridge.”
James Walker of Jennings County, Ind., was hired to build the substructure. However, much Indiana limestone and many days of extra labor would prove necessary because Walker discovered quicksand below the bed of Big Creek.
After consulting with a civil engineer, Walker amended his plans. He successfully petitioned the commissioners “to perform the additional wet excavation from the bed of the creek to the solid rock, at the rate of one dollar per cubic yard.”
He then pledged to do the masonry “in a good workmanlike manner” providing large, solid abutments to support the bridge. When finished, the substructure included about 1,000 cubic yards of limestone.
Cooper also praised the wrought iron superstructure constructed by Indianapolis Bridge Co. The author of “Iron Monuments to Posterity,” Cooper is an authority on Indiana’s metal bridges built before l930. He has also edited two manuals on the restoration of bridges. Cooper said he was pleased to find that Tobias Bridge retains its original railings, posts and decoration.
“There are not many examples left of the ribbon lacing that appears on the posts of this bridge,” he said.
The Indianapolis Bridge Co. built the superstructure and then transferred it in sections to Deputy by rail car. The wrought iron trusses were subdivided into 13 panels, each about 12 feet long.
Though the components weighed 58,000 pounds, they were re-assembled within two weeks. The bridge is 150 feet long and stands 21 feet high. Engineer Olson said, “The wrought iron materials contributed in their own way to the preservation of the bridge. Wrought iron construction rusts much more slowly than do modern steel bridges.”

• To visit the Tobias Bridge near Deputy, Indiana, follow Deputy Pike Road and turn north to County Road 1360 W. For information on Indiana’s historic bridges write James L. Cooper, Indiana Historic Bridge Workshop, 629 E. Seminary St., Greencastle, IN 46135.

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