BAY CITY DAILY TRIBUNE - Friday, Jan. 10, 1890.
STORY OF A BRIDGE.
Well Known Authority Furnishes The Tribune
With a Most Interesting History.
Story of the Long Controversy Which Ended
in the Splendid Structure Just Built.
The new Third street bridge is now open for foot passengers, and will be open for general travel with teams in about a week, an event over which all will rejoice. The route of travel across the bridge has been closed for over a year, greatly to the damage of the adjacent property owners, and to the serious inconvenience of the people of Bay county and vicinity. The new bridge is erected on the site of the bridge of the old Bay City Bridge company. This old bridge was constructed by a corporation known as the Bay City Bridge company in 1864. The principal stockholders of the company who constructed the first bridge were William F. Glasby and Uri Gilbert of East Saginaw and W.H. Gilbert of Bay City. Dr. Charles A. Bogart was the first secretary of the corporation. The capital stock of the company first organized was nominally $25,000, but the actual cost of the bridge was about $18,000. The bridge was opened for travel in May 1865. Gradually the original owners of the stock sold out their various interests to other persons until the bridge was owned by the First National bank of this city. When that bank failed the stock was turned over to the depositors, and passed under the supervision of the late Capt. J.P. Phillips. At this time Honorable S.M. Green was secretary of the company. During this time and about the spring of 1869 the water in the river was very high, and a jam of ice, logs, lumber, timber, and rubbish formed just above the bridge until the river was filled to the bottom. The jam extended the whole width of the river as far as Sixth street in this city. By this accumulation the water was raised and the tremendous pressure above gave great force to the current below, and the bottom of the river was washed out and lowered until all the earth in which the piles for the foundation for three piers west of the draw were driven out and washed away and the piers stood on nothing. The bridge was wrecked, but Capt. Phillips was equal to the emergency. He went to the woods and cut long white oak piles fifty or sixty feet long, drove them firmly into the river bottom, made new piers, jacked up the bridge and made it passable at very little expense. About 1872 or 1873 the majority of the stock of the old bridge company passed into the hands of Messrs. Isaac H. Hill and Charles E. Jennison, who soon reconstructed the old superstructure with iron. While these things were going on the capital stock of the bridge company was doubled from $25,000 to $50,000, and on this new capital paid large dividends. The stock was a fancy article; some years it paid as high as 20 or 30 per cent and, as it was steadily getting better and more valuable, the stockholders did not like to part with it. Tolls were collected for crossing the bridge; two cents for foot passengers, twelve cents for a single horse, and 25 cents for a double team. It must be acknowledged that the bridge was well cared
for in all those years and the service to the public was generally good. But the people did not like to pay the toll. That was the rub. Many people, on both sides of the river, after they had paid their two cents at the toll gate and passed the bridge used to stop and swear awhile at the situation.
In 1879 E.S. Van Liew, then on the board of supervisors, from West Bay City presented a petition to the taxpayers asking the board of supervisors of Bay county to buy the bridge and make it free, or construct a new free bridge. The board was loth to act in the matter; Mr. Maxwell, Mr. Nathan Knight and other leading and conservative members of the board opposed it. They said that it was impossible for the county to own and manage the bridge properly without daily violating the law, that the board could only legally expend one thousand dollars per year, without a vote of the people annually, and the expense for turning the swing, for light, and repairs would amount to more than $3,000 per year for each year. Besides this they said, the county agencies were not adapted to handling the property. If a vessel should run into it, or if it should break down, the board of supervisors could not be called together in less than ten days, and then they could not lawfully expend but $1,000 for repairs, and if the breakdown was serious and cost more than that sum to repair it an election must be held to vote the money, of which thirty days notice must be given. And they insisted that the cities and not the county should buy the bridge or build a new one. But the cities did nothing. It has been observed by many that the common council of Bay City has long been eminent for its incapacity to deal with matters of large importance. But in the meantime, the public demanded a free bridge. The pressure became overwhelming and finally the board of supervisors submitted a proposition to the electors of the county which was voted upon on the 3rd day of April 1882, to raise the money to buy the bridge and the proposition was carried. The sum voted was $25,000, payable in cash to be raised by direct taxation that year. A committee was appointed by the board of supervisors to buy the bridge, or to enter upon the construction of a new one, composed of A.G. Maxwell, Ira E. Swart, William Gaffney, and Morris Westover, with power either to buy the bridge or construct a new one. Negotiations were reopened at once, but the owners of the bridge would not sell it for the money voted. The committee went right ahead and secured a landing place on Welch's dock on the West Bay City side at the foot of Scott street, and commenced to prepare for the construction of a new bridge from Second street in Bay City to Scott street in West Bay City. Option contracts were obtained for the land, for spiles, and for the iron work, and proceedings for the construction of a new bridge were vigorously pushed forward. But as it was evident that a free bridge one block from the foot of Third street would destroy the value of the company's bridge at that point, the owners Messrs. Hill and Jennison concluded to sell, and accepted the sum of $22,000 for the same. The property was paid for in cash and turned over to the county on the 3rd of January, 1883.
Having purchased the bridge and paid for it, the board of supervisors offered it to the cities as a free gift, but they would not accept it, and it remained to be managed by the committee of the board until the bridge commission hereafter mentioned was created.
The old bridge was too light and too narrow for the growing traffic that passed over it, and became unsafe after a time. The swing pier was built by driving a solid circle of piles in the river bottom about forty feet in diameter; these piles were drawn together with chains and an immense iron band was shrunk on around it while hot to draw the piles together closely. When these piles were driven, the bark was on and the foundation of the swing pier was as solid as a rock. But by the lapse of time and the action of the water, the bark on the piles in the pier fell off and dropped down in the water. The effect of that was to leave spaces between all the piles and afterwards the whole pier would swing from side to side, and the swing would act like an immense "teter board." With the least touch of a vessel, the action would be so violent as almost to throw the swing into the river. With a heavy wind, the swing could not be closed. Various experiments were tried to remedy the evil. Wedges were driven in between the piles and an immense king bolt was put in, but it was impossible to make the swing stay in its position. There was danger of great loss both of life and of property every moment. The county had been sued for injuries on the bridge, and a jury had awarded the claimant $10,000. The board of supervisors hastened along. They had submitted a proposition to the people to bond the county for $75,000; $15,000 for a swing for the Twenty third street bridge, and $60,000 for a new bridge at Third street. The proposition had been approved by the people at an election. The $15,000 had been used in the Twenty third street bridge. Competition had been invited for the building of the new Third street bridge; it was very sharp, twenty bridge companies were represented, and the contract was awarded to the Milwaukee Bridge company, the lowest bidder to construct the new bridge. The work of taking down the old bridge was begun. Large contracts and purchases were made by the Milwaukee Bridge company towards the progress of their work of construction, when the circuit judge granted an injunction restraining the tearing down of the old bridge and the negotiation of the $60,000 of bonds. This order placed the county in an embarrassing position. They had entered into a contract with the bridge company, which the United States courts would enforce and on which it was liable for large damages. It had, by agreement, sold the bonds to a Toledo bank; $20,000 had been paid on them, and it was liable for damages on that contract. The order was soon modified so as to permit the completion of the sale of the bonds. The board of supervisors, fearing that the county would be mulcted in further damages, closed the bridge. Travel was wholly suspended, and the old bridge, so far as public use was concerned, was a thing of the past. The results of the injunction were disasterous. The bridge company cancelled its orders for iron work. The contractors for removing the old bridge ceased work, and there was a pause in the proceedings for two or three months. Finally, Mr. Maxwell suggested the idea of a bridge commission. He and the Honorable H.H. Hatch drafted the bill for its creation and secured its immediate passage by the legislature. The commission was created, the bonds legalized, and provision made for additional funds with which to complete the work. The work was promptly resumed and the bridge is now practically completed. The engine to turn the swing, the gates for the protection of people from accidents, and the house for the engineer will be put in before the opening of navigation.
And she is a daisy. As Ben Fletcher of the Detroit, Grand Haven, and Milwaukee railroad would say, she is one of our twins. The other ain't yet born, but to be born at Belinda street.
There were 1,340 piles used in the foundation and approaches, none of them less than 40 feet in length, many of them over 50, and a great many of them more than 2 feet in diameter. There were 1,100 cords of rough stone used in the bridge and approaches, and 1,150 cubic yards of cut stone work. Over 3,500 barrels of water lime cement were used in the work and over 650 tons of steel were used. It is 17 feet high above the high water stage of the river and tugs can go under it without opening the swing. Thus, one of the greatest annoyances is removed. It is so strong that a train of cars could cross it. Each span of 143 feet would bear the weight of over 100 tons. There will be no penalty for crossing the bridge faster than a walk. Omnibuses, loads of stone, sand, gravel, fish or ice, no matter how heavy, can go across it at a gallop if they want to. Four teams can drive abreast across it at once. It is by far the best bridge in this section of country. There is no bridge equal to it in Michigan. The bridge at Toledo is like it. It is the same width, and in many other respects similar. That bridge is 1,200 feet long and cost $375,000. This bridge is a better bridge than the Toledo bridge. This is 815 feet long and cost in round figures $140,000; showing the favorable contract that was made by the county with the Milwaukee Bridge Company. Some important modifications to this contract have been made by the commission, which from the first has shown remarkable capacity to manage its concerns. Of the members of the board, Honorable John Welch, president of the commission is perhaps entitled to the most credit for the improvements made in the plans and approaches, but all the members deserve well for their services. Of the supervisors, Mr. Frank Puddy, Messrs. Swart, Knight, Schmidt, Leng, Pratt and many others rendered valuable services. To Mr. Maxwell must be awarded the credit of insisting on the employment of a competent engineer, and of pressing the matter forward with unceasing energy and pertinacity. The steel used in the bridge was all tested by scientific men. Every pound of it is perfect. The work of the engineer has been enormous. Every bolt, rivet, stone and plank has been seen by Mr. Brawner as it was put in the work. And finally, the Milwaukee bridge company has faithfully performed its contract in a broad spirit of liberality, and the work will remain a monument of its capability and integrity.